Dr. Oatman, please pick up, pick up! It’s Martin Blank! I, I’m standing where my, uh, living room was and it’s not here because my house is gone and it’s an Ultimart! You can never go home again, Oatman… but I guess you can shop there.
I have watched my little town more than double in size since Y2K. I do not attribute this growth to the millennium bug; however, bug like growth is not a bad metaphor. I watched as the small town market was replaced by two national chains. I watched as the number of liquor stores increased just a head of the population, from one to over six liquor stores! The most disturbing change is the metamorphosis of one convenience store.
When we first moved here there were only two gas stations in town. One is on Main Street; it was probably the fist in town to fuel a horse-less carriage. The other is a Texaco station located on 7th street just down the block from my house. For years it was used as a landmark. Texaco was the first business in town to break the unwritten small tasteful sign rule. It had a huge sign that you could see from just about anywhere in town. The store was operated by a nasty woman in her fifties. She was a tyrant and tended to stomp around and mumble below her breath about someone named dumbass. I didn’t ask. She not only worked but seemed to live there as well. Every time I stopped for something, at any hour, she would be working, sometimes at the counter and sometimes in her little office. Her employees were almost always elderly and creepy.
I remember one woman clearly because she was disturbing on many levels. She was probably in her seventies, but it was hard to tell. She didn’t have many wrinkles but she did have thinning hair dyed in the most alarming color of Burgundy. Her hair would hover over her head like wine colored smoke. She had green sparkling eyes; you couldn’t tell if they were vacant or diabolical. This only added to my uneasy feelings. It was the fact that she always wore gloves that really creeped me out. I am not talking about evening gloves, or mittens, or leather gloves. I am talking about transparent plastic gloves, like you see in an examining room of a really poor vet. They were loose on her tiny hands and always seemed to be falling off. She was a nice enough lady, but allays made me feel un-easy, she made me feel like I was invading her little doily filled living room to use the bathroom. Everyone I know who met her had the same impression.
She was not alone in regards to creepiness.
Just about every employee seemed to have something odd about them. One had an odd tick, another had a huge booming voice, and another had ultra slow motions like she was working underwater. Each employee seemed that they were hired specifically to creep out customers. They all dressed well, were well groomed, and friendly, but somehow you got the impression they were quirky extras waiting on movie set. It is admirable for the owner to hire people with handicaps; it just seemed difficult to determine exactly what handicap they had. Is there an outreach program for the terminally creepy? Are hairy warts, missing teeth and abnormal sweating considered a handicap? Is excessive nose hair and constant snorting covered in the ADA?
7-11 take over
A few months ago the Texaco was sold and re-modeled. Now it is a 7-11 and every thing has changed. I bet there is a three-ring-binder someplace that dictates the layout and contents of each store. Seemingly overnight the store was re-modeled and had the same look and feel of the 7-11s I remember in Sacramento. For example the first thing 7-11 did was to take out the office and increase the exotic cigarette stock. They added a clock radio that plays only hip hop music, and install shelf after shelf of cheap useless nick knacks. Where the shelves of oil and other automotive fluids was the space is now filled with Trolls, lighters, cell phone holsters, lottery ticket scratching tools, aluminum straws, bobble heads, skull ash trays, tribal beads, incense holders, and aroma therapy candles.
In the same three-ring-binder, there must be rules for hiring employees. With the old Texaco every employee was middle age or elderly and they all had some kind of disturbing creepy feature. 7-11 on the other hand seem to value young healthy energetic people with serious self image issues. Each new employee of 7-11 has at least four of the following, Tattoos, face piercings, shavings or hair modifications that only a clown could love, clothing with a high metal content, extreme jewelry of one type or another. Also it seems there is a requirement to have painted face, fingers, or nails, usually in black. The employees seem to be required to chain smoke and only come into the store to take money; otherwise they are outside leaving a cloud of smoke for customers to walk through.
I am not sure how to feel about this change yet. In California I always lived with in walking distance of a 7-11. Then again, in California everywhere is with in walking distance of a 7-11. When I was younger I loved 7-11, it was the only store that sold Clove cigarettes and Coke Slushees. For some reason this was incredibly important to me in the early eighties. I don’t smoke anymore but, I still love Slushees. In California, the two things you could always count on when visiting a 7-11 was that they had what you wanted (Clove cigarettes and Coke Slushees) and that the guy behind the counter used English as a second, maybe third language. Its like the 7-11s of my youth followed me to Colorado, it took nearly ten years for them to get here.
A great balance was made in the translation from Texaco to 7-11. Equal but opposite, it was like bizarro world of connivance stores. Out with the old, in with the young; out with the twitching drooling blue haired women, in with the black lipped, purple hair, nose pierced hooligans. Take away the old coffee pot and bring in a Slushee machine. Out with the maps and oil; in with the funny cigars and finger puppets. It was a great transition from side show to carnies.
I have to say that the new 7-11 is efficiently run. The store is clean, smells good, and the kids that run the counter are familiar with high tech electronics. This alone makes buying stuff double quick compared to the Luddites that used to work there. But it has lost a lot of the small town charm. For years and years I always knew that whenever I came into the store I would see something new. Once the manager hired a man to work the night shift, he was the greasiest man I have ever seen. He had a comb over that started with a yard of what looked like ear hair and ended in a ponytail. Always interesting never dull, like a neighborhood side show, or carnival.
I hope the people who used to work at Texaco found good jobs elsewhere. I think the new owners missed a bet; they should have mixed the two groups of employees. Maybe they would learn something from one another. Maybe they would be a dangerous combination. Like acids and bases, maybe they are not meant to mix
It will be a difficult transition. It’s tough to watch my little town grow and lose its innocence. It’s like watching the Honeymooners suddenly replaced with Married with Children. It’s a shock, and you hope it gets funnier, but you can never go back. I will just have to adjust and enjoy our new neighbor. If I need some small town charm I can always go to the Booze barn in Ault. So I will continue to visit the local 7-11 and give them my business. I worry about the other businesses that seem to pop up as a city grows larger, like pawn shops, check cashing stores, and palm readers. Hopefully 7-11 is not a harbinger of things to come…
I find it easier to interact with tattooed faced pin heads than blue haired toothless hags.
I hope this doesn’t make me a bad person.
Oh and how I love Coke Slushees!