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April 4-10, 2007

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Convenient Apocalypse

By Chip McAuley

Cue the 1940s-style newsreel. Hear, amidst images of delighted hot dog eaters and Seussian slurpers of slurps, the disembodied prophetic voice of the retail god. But his is a seditious message. "Whereas decadence may have contributed to the fall of the great empire of Rome, convenience may very well be the Achilles' heel that wrestles the great American empire to her knees. And nothing is more emblematic, my fellow Americans, than the 'C-stores' across the country. With names like 'Fast and Easy,' these convenience stores open their doors like the Whore of Babylon, entertaining nearly every digestible whim and vice conceived by putrid humanity."

And that, of course, is why I like them.

Nowhere else can you get booze, porn, fake news, candy, meatius mysterius and all the icy-cold synthetic chemicals needed to wash it down with than at any local convenience store. These C-stores are the quintessence of America. Petaluma used to have a red-light district in what some would say were more honest times. Now we have 7-Eleven and, my personal favorite, the Fast and Easy Mart, where, at a single transaction, one can buy 10 sticks of beef jerky, a chocolate milk, three cupcakes, a lottery ticket, NoDoz and some tobacco. Should one, you know, choose.

Some (OK, many) have suggested that I should feel shame for my love of the C-store, open wide and willing to me as it is at all hours of the day and night. To them, I retort, "See the flag in the window there, comrade? It's my duty to patriotically patronize, to support that most American, and often most immigrant, dream and can-do attitude so often lacking in the declining middle class, of which I count myself and you a member."

Look around, I tell them, and see the crippled man, hobbling in to the C-Store at 9pm. He's a regular. The clerk already knows which five porn magazines to hand over. Where else is this poor, decrepit bastard, this refuse of a society gone quietly mad, going to come so close to so much beauty, so much to worship--and maybe even a complimentary cup of coffee, if he can carry it?

The C-stores are the great equalizers, the last bastion of the former American democracy. When they're criticized, it's only by hypocrites who hate America. These hypocrites predict a downfall equal to or greater than that of the Rome of yore. And when it comes, they say, it will because of our love of convenience, of alienation from the real world of hope and fear around us. Our downfall will come, they say, much like the name of the store itself: fast and easy.

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