Like Starbucks and nationwide pharmacy chains, fast-food eating places and suburban mannequin houses, gasoline stations, by and enormous, share a top quality of near-universal uniformity. You solely have to step into them a couple of occasions earlier than you understand intuitively the place the whole lot is: there’s the money register, the refrigerated drinks, the all-important toilet. For drivers and vacationers on the highway, the connection with this area — a familiarity constructed up 5 minutes at a time, cease by cease — is a necessity and a banality. It’s a reality of life, in the identical vein as loss of life and taxes.
However gasoline stations, for all their mundanity, nonetheless carry a whiff of risk. (Or is that simply the odor of petrol fumes?) You’ll be able to thank the thought of the highway journey for that, and all of the senses of nostalgia, journey, and boundlessness that it engenders. Solid underneath the nice and cozy glow of the Nice American Highway Journey™, gasoline stations turn out to be a supporting participant. Not only a waypoint to take a piss and refill the tank, however to refuel in all senses of the phrase. Right here, there are surprising pleasures to be discovered, whether or not within the varieties of individuals you come throughout, the idiosyncratic souvenirs you would possibly discover subsequent to the Band-Aids, or the bounty that awaits within the second-most necessary spot in a gasoline station.
I’m speaking in regards to the snack aisle, after all. That’s the place the magic occurs, particularly if you’re simply setting out in your journey. There’s all the time a lot packed onto the cabinets, a whole universe of snacking, regardless of the restricted area inherent within the phrase “gasoline station mini mart.” Chips and pretzels, cookies and crackers, nuts and bars, jerky and fruit leathers, the gum and mints that present some semblance of freshening up throughout hours on the highway. It may be a spot of similitude throughout metropolis and state traces, or a website of discovery, relying on whether or not the gasoline station shares regional specialties.
For me, the sameness of the choices — unsurprising, comforting, assured — whereas on a journey to someplace new is half of the enchantment. Having grown up in automobile nation and logged a cumulative whole of a pair hundred thousand miles (not less than) in 20-plus years’ price of household highway journeys, I do know precisely which snacks to achieve for every time I discover myself in a gasoline station.
And now I go alongside this arcane data, a time-tested combo, on to you: Gardetto’s and Bitter Punch Straws, by no means one with out the opposite. The Gardetto’s, a proudly Chex-less medley of rye toasts, pretzels, and miniature breadsticks, supplies crunch and the salty-savory umami that could be a telltale reward of MSG; the Sour Punch Straws (suppose that puckering, baby-shaped sweet in tubular kind) supply a vigorous chewiness and vibrant, mouth-puckering tartness tempered by candy corn syrup. Consumed individually, in a single senseless stream of hand-to-mouth coordination, the onslaught of salt and sugary acid, respectively, is an excessive amount of. However eaten in alternating mouthfuls, they someway steadiness one another out, creating a specific type of gustatory concord solely achievable by means of the mad-scientist melding of synthetic flavors and preservatives fine-tuned to the nth diploma.
Pure junk, pure treasure. Although I do know with certainty that this mix will depart me feeling horrible in roughly 20 minutes, tooth squeaking from the straws’ corrosive cocktail of sugar and citric acid, physique weighed down by at least 5 servings of flour, oil, and seasoned-by-the-heavens rye chips (these elusive gems of the pack).
However you are taking the dangerous with the great. That’s the promise of the gasoline station: principally nondescript, generally shitty, however not with out the odd excessive right here or there. I used to be reminded of this just lately after I went to a close-by gasoline station looking for my signature Gardetto’s and Bitter Punch Straws. One look and I knew the place to go for my snacks: in a single aisle, the final pack of Gardetto’s; on the opposite facet, my favourite blue raspberry Bitter Punch Straws, the one taste provided. I paid on the counter, by means of a plexiglass divider that went practically all the way in which as much as the ceiling. The cashier, a person my dad’s age, face obscured by a masks, watched me battle to open the plastic bag for my buy. My typical technique of surreptitiously licking my thumb to higher separate the pressed folds of the bag, now extremely unsanitary in hindsight, was rendered off-limits in COVID occasions.
“Need to know a trick to open it?” he requested me, simply after I had managed to lastly get the bag unfolded.
He took out one other bag, pressed flat from the pack, and confirmed me the seam alongside the correct. Simply slide your finger underneath that line, and the bag ought to open, no spit required. “I discovered that from TikTok,” he stated, sounding happy with himself. “ these hacks? No less than that’s one thing I discovered from them.”
I couldn’t assist however chortle, caught off guard by the pleasure of this encounter, the primary one I had shared with a stranger in a very long time. We wished one another a very good day as I left the shop, snacks and newly acquired data in hand; I believe we loved the change, a rarity amongst interactions between retail employees and clients, usually filled with automated niceties. The surprising delight of our dialog adopted me all the way in which dwelling, the place I opened the bag of Gardetto’s and a pack of bitter straws. They tasted simply as I remembered. Perhaps even just a little higher. On the gasoline station, you all the time discover what you’re in search of, and then you definitely discover what you didn’t know you wanted.
Naya-Cheyenne is a Miami-raised, Brooklyn-based multimedia illustrator and designer.