After about 50km I stop at a gas station to refill my water bottles, wash my face, and take a pee. As soon as I walk into this place that is so much more than just a gas station I am assaulted by the odor of deep-fried everything. There is also a grey haze hovering languidly, like the droopy-eyed gaze of the man in a chair in the dining area, in what one would expect to be relatively clean, relatively fresh air. The whole… I don’t even know what to call this place—gas station-cum-deli-cum-burger/pizza/taco joint-cum-convenience/hardware store—is full of smoke. I think I’m the only one to notice this.
I’m continuing to look around and observe what all is going on here, what all is contained within these smoke-filled walls. I notice a rack of t-shirts in a corner, and with them stacks of sombreros. In another room, kind of off to the side is a pool table. An old black and white western flick is showing on a flat-screen television near the entrance. A middle-aged man with an enormous gut is slumped down in a chair at a cheap, wooden table watching it while he plays with his phone.
I wash my face, and find a room down the hall where the bathrooms are that has a tanning bed confined within. I take a few pictures, none of which are satisfactory. I walk back into the main room. The haze hasn’t lessened. I’m looking for some sort of real food. Something that’s not deep-fried, or from the numerous Tyson™ CAFOs I’ve passed on my way here, or in a can, bag, or plastic wrapper. In short I’m looking for a fruit or a vegetable, one that hasn’t been processed into anything, but there’s not even a single apple or banana in the dump. This, I think to myself, is the American Dream. This is the greatest achievement of the Westward Expansion, the Industrial Revolution, and all the technologies that have come since. This is what people slave their lives away for: to come into and shop at a dirty, smelly convenience store where one may purchase a hammer, a box of nails, a roll of duct tape, several cans of tuna, a loaf of Wonderbread™, some yellow mustard, a jar of mayonnaise, a jar of Cheez Whiz™, a hat to shade the sun from his eyes while he’s driving his Big Truck, a bottle of Coke™, several packets of ramen, a case of beer, two slices of pizza (or maybe some chicken tenders instead), sides of fried okra and baked beans, and a Snickers™ bar for dessert. And don’t forget the motor oil to wash it all down to keep things running smoothly.
To think that it’s taken me weeks traveling on a bicycle to finally arrive here, at this particular intersection, on this particular road in Arkansas, to at last discover this great pinnacle of human productivity. I’m so thunderstruck that I think perhaps I should just turn around and go home, or maybe I should just stop everything right here, right now, and roll out my sleeping bag on the floor because I would never have to leave, or be in want of anything ever again.