Slush Fun

In the last few years, it seems every other corner in Colorado Springs sprouts a newly built “Kum & Go” gas station. Kum & Go’s bright red-and-white oval signs beckon consumers to plentiful pumps and come-hither convenience stores. Kum & Gos are clean and spacious, with competitive fuel prices. Started in Iowa by Krause Gentle Co. (hence the “K” and “G” in the name), Kum & Go operates 400 stores across 11 Midwestern states; rapidly adding more. They’re even gobbling up unwanted locations of my favorite childhood hangout: 7-Eleven.

7-Eleven, of course, is the remarkably resilient convenience store of the baby-boomer generation and before. 400 stores is a drop-in-the-bucket to 7-Eleven. Worldwide you’ll find almost 70,000. It’s safe to say 9 of 10 Americans – at some time in their lives – pass under the bright green, red, and orange of a 7-Eleven sign.

7-Eleven roots to 1927, when “Tote’m” Stores launched in central Texas (yes; a totem pole in front of every one). In the post-WWII era, Tote’m rebranded as “7-Eleven” to acknowledge an unprecedented window of operation – earlier in the morning and later at night than most others. Today of course, coupled with gas stations, 7-Elevens keep those doors open round the clock.

Last Thursday – and every year on “7/11” – 7-Eleven offered a free small Slurpee to all who passed through its doors. (I like number-calendar play, don’t you? “Pi Day” = 3.14, “Fry Day” – National French Fry Day = 7/13, and “Star Wars Day” = May the Fourth.) Best Slurpee trivia: its genesis was at Dairy Queen, where a franchisee put Cokes in the freezer and stumbled upon a soda slush he labeled the “ICEE”. 7-Eleven bought the license, changed the name, and the rest is history. Still one of the bestselling drinks anywhere.

This week, I find myself vacationing in the small coastal town where I spent many a childhood afternoon heading to 7-Eleven. I missed out on last week’s free Slurpee, but I went to one of their stores the day after just to have a look. I can’t tell you the last time I’d been in a 7-Eleven but know this: they haven’t changed much in fifty years. You’ll still find an entire aisle of candy. Hot dogs still rotate on heated rollers behind glass, ready for purchase. Doughnuts age in a plastic bakery case. The Slurpee machines grind away towards the back, beckoning with their cups and colors.

I’ll give you five reasons why 7-Eleven was the ideal destination for a tweenager of my day. First, 7-Elevens were located close enough to residential neighborhoods to get there on foot or by bike. Second, 7-Elevens were small; therefore, not intimidating. (A kid-sized grocery store, if you will.) Third, 7-Elevens parked a couple of pinball machines in the corner of the store (I can still hear the “knock” sound when you’d win a free game). Fourth, 7-Elevens had an entire aisle of “coin candy” (dozens of options for your hard-earned penny, nickel, dime, or quarter). Finally, 7-Elevens had Slurpees – the coolest kid drink around.

When I visited 7-Eleven last week, I bought a Slurpee for old time’s sake. Guess what? They’re exactly the same – that slushy mix of syrup, CO2, and water. You still choose from several sizes of paper/plastic cups (although now you can “Big Gulp” if you must have 32 oz.). The drink still rotates and mixes behind that round glass window; a tempting peek at the flavors before you commit. The straws still have that open spoon on the ends. And a Coke Slurpee is still the fan-favorite (I’d choose Cherry were it not for the stained lips). Frankly, the only difference between today’s Slurpee and the one in the 1970’s: you can buy a refillable cup for discounts on future purchases.

Kum & Go also offers a refillable cup – the $50 “gold” for unlimited coffee and soda for a year. But that’s hardly kid stuff nor kid prices. I only go to K & G for the gas anyway. But take my advice and stop into a 7-Eleven again. Buy a small Coke Slurpee (and a hot dog – they’re actually pretty good). The pinball machines are history, and the candy costs a lot more than a penny. Otherwise it’s like a step back in time.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the CNN.com article, “It’s 7-Eleven Day…”

Wait For It

Let’s wager a guess over something that happened to you in the past few days. It probably happened several times in the past few days. It wasn’t by choice, nor were you alone.  It might even be happening right now. What is this recurring, oft-maddening event in your daily world (and mine)? Somewhere, for some good reason, in person or in the car, deliberately or unintentionally, you found yourself waiting in line.

Call it a common courtesy or call it the primary by-product of consumer demand. Waiting in line is a timeless (or time-wasting) necessary evil with no satisfactory alternative.  While the world behaves efficiently with smartphones, computers and even data-consuming “IoT” appliances, those snaking, switch-backing, several-option, several-category lines of humans seem to grow ever longer.  Including traffic on the highways – another version of waiting – you’ll spend one to two years of your life in line.

Consider some of the common reasons why we wait in line:
– store cashiers
– airport security
– phone calls (on hold)
– amusement parks
– voting
– public restrooms

If I wrote this post fifty years ago, I would’ve listed the very same reasons why we wait in line.  We have options now, but let’s face it; those options are waiting-in-line in disguise.  Store cashiers now work side-by-side with an area of self-check-out machines (which draws its own line).  Airports promote pay-for lines like TSA Pre and CLEAR.  Telephone on-hold mechanisms offer callbacks instead of waiting (“for an additional $0.75”).  Disneyland installed “FastPass” lines; again, for a fee.  Voting can be done by mail (forcing your ballot to wait in line instead of you).  And public restrooms?  Okay, there’s no option to waiting for the potty.  Maybe reconsider that second beer.

The Brits refer to a line of people as a queue.  I like that (and not just because we need more words beginning with the letter “q”).  Leave it to those on the far side of the pond to class up the most mundane activity imaginable.  At least we have our phones as distractions when we “queue”.  But the old-fashioned distractions still work.  It’s why they put candy bars by the cashiers, magazines in the waiting room, mirrors by the elevators, and televisions in the airport.  Anything to help you forget you’re waiting in line.

Julio C. Negron

You’d think waiting in line is mindless – no-brainer science really – but I have experienced flaws in the system.  Recently in Lowe’s, waiting patiently in a single, central line at the self-check-out area, I was confronted by the person behind me, who demanded I “choose one side or the other” (as if logic demanded a separate line for each row of self-check-out machines).  My response to him was not one of my finer moments.  Another example – at the airport – my wife and I waited at the curb with a dozen others for the parking lot shuttle, only to discover the “front of the line” was a variable determined by the point on the curb where the driver chooses to stop his vehicle.  If you want to see what not waiting in line looks like, try to catch a parking lot shuttle at the airport.

In today’s world, we have new reasons why we wait in line:
– to purchase the latest iPhone
– at restaurants, with pagers (clever disguise for waiting in line)
on-line (i.e. for concert tickets or sports tickets at a specified time)
– Black Friday sales

Finally, we will always stand in line for our kids, whether to see Santa Claus at the mall or to buy something they simply must have.  Years ago, I remember taking my kids to the local bookstore for the latest “Harry Potter” (which they started and finished before the next sunrise).  It was the only time I’ve stood in line for the right to stand in line again.  The bookstore insisted on selling a limited number of tickets at noon, to be exchanged for the book later that same day, when the publisher allowed its release.

I believe the longest I’ve ever waited in line is five hours – to see the first Star Wars movie in 1977.  With no electronic devices to keep my friends and I company back then, five hours was even longer than it sounds, especially knowing two consecutive showings of the movie would run before I even entered the theater.  Then again, the truly morbid among us believe we are all simply waiting to die.  If that’s the case, let’s hope we’re in a really, really long line.