Here’s how a flat tire can give you an understanding of American society.
We were driving back late Sunday afternoon after a long weekend in Michigan when we stopped in Dundee for gas. While I was putting gas in the tank, something was taking air out of the tire. Flat.
In my younger days I would have pulled out the jack and got to work. I am older and wiser now, plus I belong to AAA. I made the call. There would be an hour wait.
My wife pulled out her computer and started doing work for school, but what was I going to do?
“Easy,” she said. “Look at all the people here. You should write a column.”
Hence was born the first Lindeman Convenience Store Sociological Study of America.
I figured it this way: nothing gives you the real feel for America like a gas station convenience store. Some people might think of the Statue of Liberty or some other monument as a symbol for America, but the real symbol is the fast food store. It captures us perfectly: quick stop, lots of choices and who cares what it costs? Cars aren’t the only things that get filled up.
So I pulled out my trusty clipboard and stationed myself outside, watching for the tow truck and watching the front door of the store. Here are the results.
In one hour, 110 people came out of the store. It was a steady stream of customers. The first thing you need to know is that many of them didn’t buy anything. I am assuming they were going in to use the restrooms. I supposed I could have investigated that a little more closely, but I opted against the idea.
There were 13 people who came out with big bags full of stuff. I can’t imagine what they had in those bags or how much the contents must have cost. Everyone else came out carrying individual items.
The winner? Pop (or if you don’t live in Ohio, soda) of some kind. Twenty-five people came out with bottles or gigantic cups the size of trash cans full of pop. This includes four Slurpees and four energy drinks. Only four people bought water. Five more bought coffee.
This made me think … these people just came off the highway and presumably most are getting back on. They filled their gas tanks, emptied their bladders and then bought copious amounts of carbonated beverages before getting back on the road. Drinking all that liquid and driving on Michigan’s roads, which generally are equivalent to a mountain bike trail when it comes to their condition, and I can say one thing for certain — all those people are going to be pulling off again in 45 minutes to repeat the process. It’s a never-ending cycle!
I can see why when I was a kid they tried to make you pay for gas station restrooms — you know, you had to put a dime into a lock on the stall door to get it open. This didn’t work because people just climbed over the stalls and then trashed the restrooms when they were through. However, there is a fortune to be made for someone who figures out how to make this work.
The good news, at least in my thinking: only one person came out with cigarettes. Only two came out with 12-packs of beer (well, it was Sunday afternoon). The bad news: only one person walked out with a newspaper. So that means newspapers and cigarettes share an equal role in American society.
Various other people came out with snacks or candy bars or dangerous-looking sandwiches. I guess the whole thing was summed up best by one little boy. He was, shall we say, a tad overweight and came out of the store straining under the load of bags of chips and a Slurpee. America in a nutshell … or maybe more appropriately in a convenience store mammoth plastic cup.
Of course, I’m in no position to make a judgment, since I was the guy waiting around for someone else to come change my tire.
Oh yes, about that tire … well, that’s another story altogether. Let’s just say it turned out I was learning something else about America: nothing ever is simple. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.