Death of a Circle K

I suppose you would have to be on foot, or very bored, or have a sense of observation verging on desperate to notice it. It is another hunk of American refuse--a great, big, ugly, dead thing sitting there at 12th Street and McDowell, as relevant and as fascinating as a bald tire in a vacant lot.

It is a closed Circle K.
How can a Circle K close? A place unregulated by the rising and setting sun, the sleepless fluorescent descendant of an Edward Hopper painting. It is an oasis of hot dogs, cigarettes, beer, diapers, Pepsi, toothpaste, Penthouse, Playgirl, Allure, Easy Rider, the Arizona Republic, Mad, beef jerky, Hostess products, condoms, eggs, toilet paper and three sizes of coffee featuring a variety of flavored creamers.

You don't think about your pulse; it's just there. And you don't think about Circle K.

But when your pulse stops, it's generally a cause for mourning. When a Circle K stops, it's generally a cause to keep on driving.

That's what the two matching pink signs posted out front say; it's now an inconvenience store. Well, that's pretty funny. The signs are nailed to a wall of particle board that the Circle K people have put up over the entire front of the store. That board is cheap, dismal stuff, the kind that covers blocks of building fronts in dying towns, the kind they use after riot looting. The signs instruct you to "please shop at the following stores," and proceed to list your second-, third- and fourth-best alternate CircleK choices, all within easy driving range.

During the daytime, cars signal turns into the parking lot, and you can see the looks on the drivers' faces when they take in the big, pink message. Those looks cannot be described by the following words: loss, sorrow, melancholy, despair, wistfulness. It's more of a frown-squint-unsquint reaction that translates to a mild, internalized "oh, shit." Then they drive away, presumably to shop at a following store.

At night, even though the lights still shine out from the inside over the particle-board wall, it's pretty easy to tell the place is closed. The "Circle K Food Store" sign in the parking lot is as dark as an empty stomach. Nobody pulls in. Unless he needs to turn around.

But then, just how sentimental can you get over a Circle K? It's like getting worked up over a pencil stub. Who knows why they shut down this particular store? It's not in the greatest neighborhood, but right across the street is Good Samaritan Medical Center, and you can bet that place never closes. Look just beyond 12th Street: There's the Outpatient Surgery sign extending its hopeful/tragic innuendo. You'd think there would have been a steady stream of expectant fathers in search of smokes, maybe concerned, hand-wringing friends and relatives stumbling in at all hours just to get out of that place, looking for time-killing relief from a magazine or a Twinkie.

Apparently not.

They've got a padlock--no, two padlocks, one for each door--on the Sparkle Ice machine that sits next to the store's entrance. But the machine is still plugged in and humming away, probably still filled with $1.25 bags of block ice that are not destined to be chipped into pieces that will tinkle in somebody's glass.

In a thousand years, an archaeologist could have a field day excavating this parking lot. It's a lowbrow time capsule where empty Thirst Buster cups are scattered like arrowheads, and every bit of disregarded filth tells a story, or at least pipes up with a nasty little remark.

Of the concrete blocks that are in front of each of the six parking spaces, two are crooked, both askew in the same direction--northeast, about 20 degrees off. How a concrete block can be ripped off its steel fixture to end up pointing toward where a car would pull in, I don't know. And there is grease stain upon grease stain, oil dropping upon oil dropping in each space. Countless cars must have parked and idled here while someone went inside to score necessities, but how long does that take? The asphalt looks like dead cars have slept here.

In an ancient, more private America, there were phone booths. You could close the door, remove yourself from the elements, shut out the world, speak softly and hear easily. Now public telephones are about as discreet as boot-camp latrines, and the bank of four machines standing at rigid attention--with two directories each hanging at the ready--is testament to that. Was there a rule that callers had to have transferable finger grime in order to use these phones?

Well, just because some people don't have cars--let alone car phones--doesn't mean they don't have important calls to make. A small ad says you can "talk here for as long as you like for $1.00." And you can see that people had some intense conversations here, probably for as long as they liked. Packs of GPCs are crumpled on the ground, butts are strewn about, and a bumper of beer in a brown sack has been placed at the foot of one phone. Empty.

Strangely, very few who used these phones had scraps of paper to write on, yet many had pens. Numbers at all angles adorn the aluminum hutches like secret codes; those who didn't have anything to write with just crosshatched right into the metal.

Who is Dalia? Her number is there, but whoever had to remember it is long gone.

Hope comes in many forms, and don't ever let anyone tell you that a night of cheap sex is not one of them. And, along with drunken fun (alcohol) and relief from headache pain (aspirin), this Circle K offered a few things to help the mating game.

Three busted-down newspaper machines are sitting right outside the front door--offpremises, to be exact. And they are: Swingers, where you can "meet someone tonight"; Pleasure Guide, where you can "get lucky tonight"; and The Beat, where I guess you can beat off tonight. All three stands have had their fronts smashed in and are empty of papers, except for Pleasure Guide, which has a few left. This sounds funny, but to see them sitting there, half-tilted in the weeds, it's not. Or maybe it is.

So where do Circle Ks go to die? Wherever we leave them. Only God--or the people at Circle K--knows what will become of this off-white cinder-block corpse with the I-beam overhang. Maybe it'll be turned into a 7-Eleven.


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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap