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Even a convenience store can turn into a Nerd Trip! Earlier this week, I caught an episode of Modern Marvels on the History Channel all about convenience stores. As much as I enjoy visiting historic homes, I also like to know how stuff works, particularly things in everyday life that we may never think about. (For example, I think airports are fascinating, there’s so much going on).

A blurry photo from a local convenience store

A blurry photo from a local convenience store

The Modern Marvels show traced the evolution of the convenience store to where we are today. We learned about the invention of the TurboChef oven (an interesting combination technologies) and how it revolutionized the preparation of hot foods. The oven really took off around 2003 or 2004 when Subway installed them in their shops, and I do enjoy a tasty toasted sub!

As a side note, knowing I’d probably be writing about this, I took some pictures in my local convenience store (Yes, it’s nerdy). The pictures are a bit blurry because I was worried someone might ask what I was doing, so I tried to be surreptitious.

Anyway, I never really thought about all the things needed in a convenience store or the processes needed to get them there. I was in a 7-11 recently, and the clerk had a computer pad with his inventory on it. It looked like he was tethered to a cable, but he said he could carry it around the store and zap barcodes to reorder products. It’s like a special 7-11 iPad. I told him I thought it was cool. I am sure he thought I was crazy, but he probably sees that a lot.

While I do like the convenience store, I must confess that the hot dogs and spinning “taquitos” (taquitoes?) scare me. Seriously, I never see anyone eating those. But, since the convenience store is a “Modern Marvel,” you better believe that the foods are closely monitored. And yes, one time I asked a clerk about how long those spinning things sat on the rollers, and he assured me that they are only there for a limited amount of time.

My dad was a fan of the convenience store, so I try to take his attitude that it’s kind of an “adventure” when you go in there. The stores are designed to be like a carnival for the senses, and as Americans, we love to buy stuff (especially my dad).

So many beverage choices!

So many beverage choices!

While shopping in a drug store just before the holidays, it stuck me as absolutely amazing the amount of different products and choices available to us – so many choices that it can be overwhelming. There may be comfort in the continuity that you can get these same things anywhere at nearly anytime, and yet, as a nation, we often bemoan the loss of uniqueness and regional flavors (And if you’ve ever read Fast Food Nation, there are concerns about economic fairness and opportunities for the people working there).

I think this back-and-forth tug between the celebration of mass efficiency/standardization and the desire to preserve individuality is one of the mixed messages in American culture (And there are many others). So you see how, to the Nerd Trip brain, a simple stop at a convenience store can become a metaphor of what’s great and conflicting about our society and economy.

The next time you stop in for chips or a drink, take a moment to appreciate this modern marvel. Now we need to see if they’ve ever done a show about the airport!

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