Scenes from a gas station; Tomah, WI

Gas stations are an important part of tour. Depending on your gas mileage and average bladder capacity, you’ll be stopping once every one to maybe three hours. Some gas stations are minimal affairs, a single booth the size of a toll booth with a crappy little cooler of soda. Some are ambitious one stop shops, housing all manner of fresh and semifresh food items, tchotchkes, car parts, and video gambling interfaces. Here’s one of my favorite fixtures:photo_2

This is a F’Real smoothie machine. Underneath it is a small freezer full of cups of unmixed smoothie base. You take off the lid, put it in the metal cup, specify the thickness you would like, and the machine does the rest. I don’t know why I like these things so much, they are not that spectacularly good and cost like three bucks (or 2 for 5). My bandmates think it is deeply weird and roll their eyes when I return to the van with robot-smoothie in hand. I will say that the blueberry-pomegranate flavor is quite tasty. But mostly I get a kick out of automated food service devices like this. You throw in an automated lid removal and flavor selection system, and you’ve got straight up George Jetson snacking.

Another fun part of the gas station experience is the occasionally absurd attempts at rebranding the same combination of coffees, too-large sodas, and disgusting roller-hotdogs that fall within the culinary tradition of American mobile convenience foods. This one made me chuckle:

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I like how the Best Buddy is not the biggest one. This hierarchy of buddy-size combined with the underlying weirdness of naming an item you consume a “buddy” is telling us something profound about consumption and loneliness, if only we are willing to listen. You’re never alone in your car driving across the American Tundra (currently negative 6 degrees), as long as you have a Buddy. The sizing and pricing of gas station drinks is insidious; vaguely predatory. The biggest one is not the best deal, because the more you drink the more you pee, the more you pee the more you stop, and the more you stop the more you buy. This effect is exacerbated when you’re working with frozen drinks, which have a time limit. No free lunch, etc. Anyone trying to sell you a Mega Buddy is not your friend.

In the bathroom, I was confronted with this:

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Maybe this is a state law thing rather than a reflection of a great need, but I have never seen so many sharps containers in gas station bathrooms as I have passing through Wisconsin. Every single one so far. I wonder how many of the people I see at the gas station are stopping at the gas station to shoot up. The gas station is basically the perfect place: ubiquitous, anonymous, lots of people passing in and out all the time. You could probably hole up in that stall for a good long while without raising any red flags. People would just think someone ate too many Loaded Grillers and Hunt Brothers Pizzas. I wonder what they tell you at gas station new employee training about dealing with the sharps container. It’s got the biohazard sign on it, so there must be some company that comes and disposes of the waste in an appropriate manner. You got your soda delivery guy and your contaminated needle pickup guy. The soda guy is coming as the needle guy is leaving, and they nod to acknowledge each other. They’ve never had a substantive conversation, but are cordial in that casual job-chat way, and seeing each other is one of the little parts of their weekly routine they look forward to. They’ve been seeing each other at the gas station for years, and the continuity is reassuring. The wheels of capital keep turning; sodas in, needles out.

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