“At night I dream that you and I are two plants
that grew together, roots entwined,
and that you know the earth and the rain like my mouth,
since we are made of earth and rain.”
― Pablo Neruda, Regalo de un Poeta
“The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life.
For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.”
― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
I was looking forward to an easy day – especially since it was supposed to be my day off. But the phone calls kept rolling in, the emails kept coming, everybody wanted a piece of me. By the time I made it home… there was nothing left. Another day stolen by the man.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
—-The Beatles, Blackbird
A lot of people wax enthusiastic about Buc-ee’s. These are giant, giant convenience stores, now mostly set along Interstate Highways in Texas as immense gas stations.
Most people rave about their clean bathrooms. In 2012 the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s won the Cintas Best Restroom Contest. When I was in college, a long, long, time ago, I ran a gas station in the middle of nowhere (sadly, it’s long closed now) during the summers and vacations. I would open up the small bathrooms ’round back at closing and hose them down good. That seems enough for me.
A typical Buc-ee’s has 60 gas pumps, 80 soda fountains, and 31 cash registers. You order your food from tablet-equipped kiosks and your selection is cooked (probably microwaved) to order. When I worked at that gas station in the 70’s I had two pop machines and a couple of shelving units full of candy, but … well, I mostly sold a lot (and I mean a lot) of cold beer.
There was one guy that would stop by every day, purchase a longneck bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the machine and a small bag of beer nuts. He would pour the sugar-coated nuts into the bottle of Dr. Pepper – some would always foam out. After selling him these for a few years I decided to try the concoction myself.
It wasn’t as good as I had hoped.
So, finally, after hearing so much about Buc-ee’s and seeing the beaver shirts – even eating a bag of beaver nuggets that someone gave me, I decided to stop at a Buc-ee’s and see what the hoopla was about. I don’t remember where I was coming from but I pulled off the interstate and parked along the grassy border (full of people letting their dogs shit) and walked in.
I was not impressed. It was huge… but simply more of the same. The restrooms were clean, I’ll give them that. I bought a fountain drink, and the ice was cold – so no complaints there. But it seemed to be so big and so tacky that it went beyond amusing to obnoxious. Actually, it was worse than that – it was boring.
When I walked out to my car the villainous bird in the photo was giving me the evil eye. He was hopping around looking for dropped Beaver Nuggets or any other misplaced sugary snack.
He gave me the creeps.
The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.
—- Salvador Dali
Oblique Strategy: Overtly resist change
This is adapted from something I wrote twenty years ago – updated it a bit.
As I left work to run an errand over my lunch hour the “low gasoline level” alarm went off in my car. It’s a gentle, yet jolting alarm; a soft, insistent “bo-ing” and accompanying orange light in the shape of a symbol of a gas pump. I drove a block down and filled up the car with gas.
The gas station was one of the new ones that offer everything under one roof. Twenty pumps, cold drinks, car wash, hot food, air and water, pizza, oil and washer fluid, magazines and lottery tickets, toys and office supplies, maps and pornography. An entire modern civilization springs up in this little store with its spreading shade-wings across the oily tarmac. An oasis, a tacky colorful monument to gaudy garish American Vulgar Capitalism founded, owned and operated by a family of Pakistanis.
I finished pumping and walked to the store to grab some juice. As I was walking I could see through the glass door a sign hanging from the ceiling. It was bright red neon; near the back of the building, yet very visible and obvious. It said:
I was tired and cold and my brain was fuzzy. I allowed my thoughts to believe the evidence of my eyes. Why would a cheap-ass convenience store offer Zen Food? What is Zen Food anyway?
A momentary fantasy floated through my brain of exotic, delicious, far-eastern culinary delights. Spicy colorful mixtures, displayed on steam tables, savory herbs and succulent vegetables prepared with ancient recipes and exotic skills. I allowed myself the luxury of imagining for a moment I had stumbled on something special, a precious mystery hidden away in the most common of locations – a gas station.
As I, with a spring in my step, eagerly entered the store it was suddenly obvious that an advertisement hanging from the ceiling, an inflatable pack of cigarettes, had concealed the first three letters of the sign:
I pulled a V-8 out of the cooler. The day suddenly seemed colder, barren, a little more bleak and a lot more ordinary.
“Any technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech – and both are still dangerous to this day – but human beings would not be human without them.”
― Isaac Asimov
A cold snap came through New Orleans the day after Halloween. When we came back to our room in the old guest house in the Garden District an unseen Prometheus had lit the gas space heater in the bathroom, filling the cracked and colorful old Art Deco tile designs with a warmth of blue, red, and orange.
The other day I had to go out to work at seven in the morning on Saturday. I didn’t have to stay long and as I was leaving I stopped by the Gas Station in front of the Wal-Mart across the highway from where I work. As I stood there, holding the nozzle, I watched some quick news bits and commercials (Soft Drinks and Candy – stuff for sale in the Gas Station Convenience Store) on the flat screen television attached to the top of the gas pump.
I looked closer and found that there is a network and web site for the programming that services the screens over the pumps – Gas Station TV – GSTV.
I have lived long enough to see society “progress” from when we were lucky to pull in three black and white channels on rabbit ears wrapped with aluminum foil to boost the signal to now when there is a special network dedicated to delivering programming to people while they gas up their cars.
This is truly the best of all possible worlds.
I had no idea what an EBT Cash Benefit Card was. I had to google it. I guess that’s a good thing. I guess people that go in to work at seven AM on their days off don’t get EBT Cash Benefit Cards.