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If you live outside of a metropolitan area, you’ve probably seen and perhaps had the privilege to visit a gas station/fast food road stop. Most often these combos show up in small towns that have people who need to eat, but just not enough to support a fast food joint with its own doors and bathrooms. Maybe the idea morphed from those rest stops along the toll roads, but those are more like food courts/restroom plaza/with small gas station cashier booth, each with its own clearly designated area. They’re a genre unto themselves.

My favorite gas station/fast food combo is our local Shell/McDonald’s. Not only can you fill your tank and grab a Big Mac combo in the same stop, you can also grab some tourist items to memorialize your trip to our part of Michigan. The layout was well planned. As you wait in line for your Big Mac or McNuggets, you’re pushed passed the souvenirs. You can try on sweatshirts and ball caps and choose a coffee mug with various featured wildlife, including moose, which we don’t see in our part of Michigan, but which seem to be generic symbols for woodsy.

No child can avoid seeing the rack of Beanie Babies, which cause many, many tears and, should you choose to actually purchase one, need to be carefully selected to avoid those that have made their way into the “restaurant” area to share lunch with a child who just wouldn’t let go until they had a Happy Meal toy to distract them.

Perhaps my favorite is the disjunction between the homey saying plaques to the left of the line with the foam beer holders to the right. Together these items display America’s gender spectrum, particularly for women. To the left a warm, fuzzy image of mom in an apron, plump and cooking who wants to always be kissed goodnight, knows no strangers in her kitchen, and finds home wherever her heart is. To the right a tattoo-bearing, gun-toting scary bitch. A hat that proudly proclaims “Bitch” in pink studs and glitter. Just “Bitch.” A beer koozie that proclaims there’s nothing scarier than a woman who knows how to use a gun.

Nothing screams “hick country” like these two sides of the aisle. If I were coming to this area as a tourist, it might be enough to cause me to turn around, to hug my children or girlfriend more closely as we sidle back to our car and go the other way on the highway. Well, maybe after I get those McNuggets with the Sweet Chili sauce. That stuff’s like fast food crack.

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