On a recent trip north, I wandered into a gas station convenience store to buy a lottery ticket and a Gatorade. Upon entering the store, I noticed right away that the clerk behind the counter was a little off. He kept reminding the customer in front of me to “keep it cheesy” as he swayed back and forth, apparently unable to stand still.
I watched and listened to the interaction from a couple of aisles back until I became aware that I was alone in the Chevron with this guy. I approached the counter and hoped that I could just pay and leave. No such luck. As “Mr. Cheesy” rang up my lottery ticket and orange Gatorade he announced to me, very matter of factly, that he once “made a bomb with one of these,” referring to the Gatorade bottle. I must have had a look on my face because he then said, “Yeah, you tell someone that on the 4th of July and they tell you right on! Any other day and they look at you like you are a terrorist.”
His unhinged laughter followed while I stood still staring at my lottery ticket. Mr. Cheesy then went into exact detail about how he constructed his bomb using gun powder and charge wires while I clutched my Gatorade. Feeling the need to respond, I nervously said, “We made bottle rockets with baking soda and vinegar this summer” (As if that is even remotely the same). Call me crazy but weird dudes that can make bombs out of Gatorade bottles make me a little nervous.
After my awkward statement I regained control of my Gatorade and got the hell out of there. I arrived back where Zach was and told him all about my harrowing ordeal with a potential domestic terrorist. He, of course, was amused.
A few days later I ventured out again to buy yet another lottery ticket (one billion dollars sounded pretty good) and saw the guy standing outside the convenience store chain smoking with a guy that looked like he may have helped with the bomb making.
I kept driving until I found a Circle K. Upon entering the store, it was apparent right away that the clerk was having a heated conversation with someone on his telephone. Awkward, but not terrorist status. I worked my way up to the counter and waited while he yelled at his girlfriend. How did I know it was his girlfriend? I knew it was his girlfriend because she was on speaker phone.
Imagine trying to ask for a lottery ticket while two people are having a heated phone conversation. Somehow, I managed to get a ticket and get out of there before becoming part of the conversation. I left there thinking this must be a town-wide thing – weirdos at every convenience store.
As the lottery jackpot grew larger, I couldn’t help but want another ticket, so this time I sent Zach. Same order – one lottery ticket and an orange Gatorade. Zach purposely went to the Chevron on the corner so that he could witness Mr. Cheesy for himself and, according to Zach, he did not disappoint. Zach made his way to the counter and almost immediately our domestic terrorist friend handed Zach a pile of papers. Bewildered, Zach looked at the papers and realized they were schematics for a gun. The weirdo explained that he had just ordered a new one off the internet (off the internet!) because his old one had blown up. “Blown up” seemed to be a recurring theme.
Zach dropped the papers on the counter and exited the building. He may or may not have paid for the Gatorade. In the following days we debated about what was going on in this particular town. Was everyone on drugs? Perhaps. Was the guy at the Chevron really that scary? Was he serious about the bombs and guns? Does anyone at the corporate level know that Circle K employees have heated conversations on speaker phones during work hours? And more importantly, who the hell is doing the hiring at these places?
One thing is for certain. It gave me a new appreciation for our small-town markets and stores where the most you may get accosted with is gossip and compliments about your hair. This summer’s road trip once again proved to me that there is still no place like home. Oh, and if you are wondering, I didn’t win the lottery.
Cassina Farley can be contacted at email@example.com