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The Academic Value of Gas Station Food

I might be the first teacher in the history of Furman University to spend class time discussing the food at our nation's gas stations.

The discussion was academically viable. I promise.

We have been studying a play called The Flick by Annie Baker. In order to give these Psychology and Communication majors an idea of how actors prepare for a role, we have been using Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions to get into the minds of the characters.

Yesterday we were talking about the character Sam. He’s 35, lives in his mom’s attic, and has been working at a run down movie theatre making $8.50 an hour the past several years. In one scene of the play Avery, a 20 year old newly hired college student, asks Sam what he wants to be when he grows up. “That’s the most depressing thing anyone has ever said to me,” Sam says. Then, after a minute, he tells Avery he wants to be a chef.

Blackout, end of scene.

I asked my class if we believed that Sam was doing anything to make his dream of being a chef a reality. “Not really,” a few of them mumbled. I agreed with their tepid assessment. “Of course he isn’t. He isn’t in culinary school, he isn’t applying for jobs in restaurants. And I seriously doubt Sam is spending his mornings practicing how to make balsamic reductions.”

I was getting pretty worked up, so I kept going.

“I mean I doubt that he even goes shopping for food! I imagine his idea of grocery shopping is picking up some things from the QuikTrip!”

One of my students raised their hands. I got so excited. What did I say to spark this insight?

“Ummm…what’s a QuikTrip,” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Quik Trip? QT? It’s a gas station. They’re all over the place down here. They’ve got sandwiches and things like that. You’ve never seen one?”

“Well I’m from Connecticut.”

“Great,” I said, trying to relate this concept back to her own life. “Connecticut gas stations work the same way. Which ones do you go to up there?”

“Mostly Cumberland Farms. Which is weird because it’s obviously not a farm.”

Now I have been with these students now for almost six weeks. We’ve had good discussions, they’ve answered my questions.

Nothing prepared me for the wave participation that happened next.

“We have WaWa where I’m from!”

“I like 7/11.”

“Sheetz! Sheetz is the best! They have the most amazing Macaroni and Cheese bites!”

“Macaroni and cheese bites,” I said. “What were your doing that made you eat Macaroni and cheese bites from Sheetz? Actually, forget I said that, I don’t want to know the answer.”

“Spinx is pretty good,” another student continued. “I had a chicken biscuit from there once.”

“Yeah, they’ve got good fried chicken.”

“Fried chicken at the Spinx??”

“Yeah it’s good.”

“Not as good as the fried chicken at WalMart.”

“No Publix is the best.”

“Don’t sleep on Spinx.”

“Ohhh you know what else Sheetz has,” the Macaroni and Cheese girl continued. “They’ve got these milkshake things that are amazing.”

“YESSSSS!” a whole section of the room shouted in unison.

A girl from New Zealand sits in the front row. She was silent during the discussion. “Is this horrifying you,” I asked her.

“We eat Vegemite. I have no room to talk.”

This led to a conversation about what Vegemite is, a question no one could answer. I eventually found a way to tie our gas station discussion back into the play and class resumed its intended course. I have to admit though, it was a fun ten minutes. As everyone left class I felt like we all knew a little bit about where each other came from. About what we were really like under these masks we wear to class.

And if that’s not the point of theatre, I don’t know what is.

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