Three Stores

The Shop-n-Go on Hammock Road set the standard. All other convenience stores are measured against its specifically soothing scent. I can close my eyes and recall it even now, more than forty years later. It is hard to discern exactly what comprised it. A tinge of bleached mop water, menthol cigarette smoke through the air-conditioner filter, withered hot dogs rolling endlessly, lingering tendrils of Opium, Poison, and Drakar Noir. Deeper into the scent there is cardboard, sweat, gasoline, Circus Peanuts, even cash emulsifying into something delicious and enticing.

At first, before puberty, it was a far-flung distant peak to conquer, a Saturday morning excursion requiring some planning. Count up your change, clip your Army canteen to your belt loop, throw a leg over the Mag Scrambler and away you go, one full mile way. Once I got there I would be in no hurry to leave, eating Boston Baked Beans and mastering the esoteric disciplines of Tron, greatest of all arcade games.

The Cumberland Farms on U.S. Highway 19 in Homosassa Springs, near the north end of Sugarmill Woods subdivision, served as a way station from my earliest days of independence driving between Mom and Walt’s home on Anna Maria Island, and Tallahassee. It was situated near half-way in the 300 mile trip, with a turning lane into the pumps. Biscuit sandwiches were always fresh, and the smell of Fabuloso in the bathroom strong enough to get you high. I would tell strangers in the parking lot, “This is the nicest store in Florida, you’re in for a treat.” I had that much confidence in the staff and whomever sat atop the Cumberland Farms franchise. I drove down there once on a rescue mission, to intercede when Walter and his assistant, Sergio, broke down in the old Winnebago. By the time I got there they were hardly in distress. The suffocating July heat had me wincing when I got out of the car. Not those guys, accustomed to the Yucatecan summers they were sitting in the shade, eating grapes and cheese off a paper plate.

The Homosassa Cumberland Farms fell into decline. My last stop there was shocking. It was dingy and fetid. One manic fluorescent bulb flickering in the ceiling. The leathery cashier fared no better, acrid ammonia misting from her pores. I worried for her, and I didn’t want to ever come back. At some point I noticed the sign changed. It’s now USA MART.

I moved to Portland, OR in the mid-nineties, which was an incredible time to be alive. Six of us struck out from Montana, lead by the un-shrinking confidence and vision of Herman Jolly. Mad Cowboy Disease, his melancholy solo masterpiece, was powered by Plaid Pantry coffee and Copenhagen. Now that Cousin Todd is gone, these songs are as close as I can get to the secure feeling I always had in his company, goddamned genius gentleman that he was.

Some of us were there to pursue dreams of making a life with art at the center. I guess I was pursuing a dream of helping friends pursue dreams of a life with art in the center. We split into two households, not half a mile between us. Across from the purple house I lived in, was a 24 hour Plaid Pantry.

The Plaid, as it looked from our front stoop. Pretty convenient.

The Plaid Pantry experience was utilitarian. I don’t remember the staff, or any notable hot menu items. I mainly remember Hamm’s, the beer with a cartoon bear mascot.

We crossed 30th Ave back and forth like tin ducks re-stocking the fridge. I do think they sold pancake mix, my other staple. Portland was a big city to me at the time. The biggest place I’d ever lived. My entire universe ran from that Plaid Pantry to Little Baja, where most of us worked up on Burnside. The Pacific Northwest’s largest importer of piñatas and terracotta, and don’t you ever forget it. “Gotta Lotta Terra Cotta”, yeah, that was me.

Litte Baja


7 Responses to Three Stores

  1. Ahhhhhh!!! Juancho is baaaack! YAY!! Life has gone straight downhill since BRC went into hiding. Might this mean it’s safe to come out? The image of your tin ducks will carry me through the day! (Oh, no. Is it sacrilegious to use emojis on BRC, which got along just fine, thank you, without them when we used a rich vocabulary instead?)

  2. Emojis are welcome! I don’t want to be a Luddite about it. For some reason these three stores just kept visiting me in my thoughts so here they are. I don’t remember any other standouts, but if I do I will add them.

  3. Aw man! I love these recollections of your rich past. the way you came…the way we came. Not to wax too nostalgic though, but I understand.
    I feel similar about mine I think?

    We had a Little Baja in Moss landing, Ca., I passed it a thousand times on my way to surf the north jetty or north on Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz. I don’t know if it was the same or related to yours. Late 60’s and on. Exactly same inventory as yours though.

    Spitballs across the universe my would be brother.

  4. Ah, yes, the venerable Shop-n-Go! We had one near me in Temple Terrace, luckily on the near side of one of the busy streets I was forbidden to cross on my Rampar (but frequently did). Pedaling the mile or so through the neighborhood past the boat ramp and through the woods with the giant pit of broken glass I would salivate thinking about the Now&Laters, Lemonheads, Fortune Bubble gum I would spend my pilfered-from-Mom’s-change jar coins on. Donkey Kong, Centipede, Dig Dug, all had their turns as the resident game at the ol’Shop-n-Go, but Galaga likely ran the longest. We’d hang out for long stretches watching our buddies or some other player try to get to the next screen, sucking on cavity-creators feeling high from the sugar rush. I wish I could recall the demeanor of the employees as we loitered around the store day after day. In my later years there I would opt for Slim Jim “beef jerky”, chewing it slightly and then wedging it in my lip like a dip to keep the salty flavor in my mouth the whole ride home. I was sad to see, upon revisiting Temple Terrace, that the store had become an office for some middling GIS firm.

    Thanks for the memory jog, Juancholio.

  5. I remember when I moved to Denver from Winter Haven, Florida, one of the many, many shocks was discovering that the convenience stores were called “U-Tote-M.
    Say what?
    My main memory of going to the U-Tote-M was walking there in Dr. Scholl’s Foot Sandals (remember those? wooden soles) without socks and it beginning to snow before I got there and walking home with frozen feet. Snow was also a shocking discovery to me. I mean, I knew about it in theory but the reality was disconcerting.

  6. The Shop-n-Gooooooooo! Wacky Wafers and Tron, all of my allowance gone in a sweaty afternoon. I still remember visiting you and Todd at your place in Portland, damp and colorful. I remember how important The Plaid was to your daily existences.

  7. I can’t wax poetic about any convenience store, being too old to have experienced them in my youth. For me, it was Andy’s Confectionary near my bus stop or, earlier, Kasler’s Dairy, which served banana splits in wooden troughs, enough to discourage my plump self from ever considering ordering such a thing.

    But your writing is music still. This line resonates deeply, perhaps because I’m another liberal arts person who still cannot find my own calling: “Some of us were there to pursue dreams of making a life with art at the center. I guess I was pursuing a dream of helping friends pursue dreams, which is an elusive art in its own right.”