Yesterday, as my friend Justin and I traveled from Fargo to our hometown of Hatton, ND, we stopped at eight convenience stores. If you’ve never been to more than one gas station in the Midwest, you might assume they’re all the same. You’d be wrong. Here’s a summary of our trip:
Stop ‘N Go – Fargo, ND (71 miles from home): I bought some iced tea here, as well as gas (currently priced at one soul per gallon). Like every other convenience store in Fargo, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this one. Everything is where you’d expect it to be, and it’s all very boring.
Cenex – Harwood, ND (64 miles from home): Harwood Cenex is the most perfectly designed convenience ever in the history of Earth. It has every food item you might expect to find in a gas station, and more. When you walk in, the bottled drinks are directly to your right. Keep walking, and you hit the fountain drinks and then the coffee and cappuccino. These curve around, until you find yourself unexpectedly walking past the onion rings, cheese sticks, rotisserie chicken, and other fresh-cooked fatty things. A slight left, and you’re right at the counter. This is only a sample, of course. The whole store is full of food, in well-stocked, well-spaced aisles. If there are convenience stores in heaven, they are exactly like Harwood Cenex.
Stop & Shop – Grandin, ND (45 miles from home): Stop & Shop is, in many ways, the opposite of Harwood Cenex. It’s on the other side of Interstate from the town, and the outside looks creepy and sketchy and not friendly at all, covered in words like “Food” and “Fuel” and “Groceries”. But inside, it’s like entering a new, crazy universe just bursting with character. The walls are adorned with things an old-fashioned, light-up Pabst Blue Ribbon clock and a North Dakota Centennial Flag from 1989. They’ll sell you a rake there, or a garden hoe. And, best of all, cappuccino is only $1.09 for 20 ounces. You can’t beat that!
Tesoro – Hillsboro, ND (33 miles from home): Hillsboro Tesoro used to pretty much wall-to-wall booze. Now, apparently, they keep it all hidden somewhere. As anyone who knows me could tell you, I’m no drinker, but at least it used to be interesting. Now it’s just nothing.
Cenex – Hillsboro, ND (33 miles from home): Directly across the street from Tesoro, Hillsboro Cenex is most notable for two things. 1) New release rentals are only $2 each if you get two of them, which is nice if you happen to live in Hillsboro. 2) It has a Burger King attached to it, which is even nicer if you happen to live in Hillsboro. I grew up in Hatton and went to college in Mayville. Neither of them has a Burger King. I used to dream about living in Hillsboro for that reason alone.
Cenex – Mayville, ND (16 miles from home): Mayville Cenex is *the* convenience store in my college town, so I spent a lot of time there for several years. It’s easy, then, to think of Cenex as an average gas station. It isn’t. It has a rack of inspirational Christian books in it, which is pretty awesome. Also, it has a cream dispenser instead of cups, which is pretty kooky.
Tesoro – Mayville, ND (15 miles from home): Mayville Tesoro is Cenex’s weird little brother, and it has the worst layout I’ve ever seen. It’s a tiny little box of a store, with the cashier enclosed in the center. As soon as you enter the store, you’re standing in line to check out. The aisles are extremely close together, and it’s impossible to find what you’re looking for. It’s the anti-Harwood-Cenex.
Cenex – Portland, ND (13 miles from home): Portland Cenex is huge, and is full of empty space. The shelves it does have are filled mostly with motor oil and spare tires. Also, it closes at 6 PM. What a weird, pointless inconvenience store.
Ampride – Hatton, ND (Home!): Being at Ampride is actually very much like being at my parents’ house. I can’t begin to be objective about it. In fact, they recently replaced Piccadilly Circus Pizza & Subs with Hot Stuff Pizza and SmashHits Subs. At the same time, my parents remodeled their kitchen. It doesn’t matter. Both of those places are still home.
In August, I’m heading off to Missouri for graduate school. I’m not really looking forward to the actual process of moving, except that I’ll probably get to stop at a bunch of interesting convenience stores on the way.