A Convenient Change
Rumor has been circling on the street that the Tedeschi’s in Newton Highlands was bought by 7-11, but the sign has stayed the same. When I heard the rumor of the sign staying the same, I thought it easily could be true. I believed that convenience stores were sad and depressing, and that the people who worked there took little pride in what they did. When I would go into the Tedeschi’s on Dedham Street I would want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. But for some reason, the mystery of the sign intrigued me. I knew I had to step forward to get to the bottom of it.
I knew beforehand that Tedeschi’s usually doesn’t allow people to loiter in or around the store, especially people with a pen and paper taking detailed notes. I went anyways. I had a feeling that this Tedeschi’s would be like no other.
When I walked in the store, I was blown away. Almost instantaneously, it surpassed my expectations and changed my perspective of what a convenience store could be. The former Tedeschi’s had had obnoxious posters of ethnically diverse people eating fruit that blocked the windows and any natural light, causing the inside of the building to look exactly the same at any one of its 24 operating hours. But now, half of the walls were huge windows, allowing for beautiful lighting. Also, the store wasn’t so dirty.
When I first walked in, I felt a surge of adrenaline. I suppressed my fear of the store and my fear that people working there would hate me. I looked around making sure that there were no people in the store who would judge me. Panic washed over me. I began my prepared speech: “Hi, I’m a student from Newton South and I was wondering if I could observe and write an artic–” Dave cut me off right away.
**Mmmmph,** he said. I knew I was not going to like him. He uncrossed his arms to point at another employee, Kid. I walked over to Kid, who was cataloging the amount of products on the shelves with a super cool-looking tablet. He was dressed hella hip to the now. “Hi, I’m a student from Newton South and I got assigned an observational piece and I was wondering if I could hang out for a bit and take notes on what happens. I know this is a 7-11 Tedeschi’s and I want to see people’s reactions to the confusing message,” I said.
“Okay,” Kid replied. He looked up soulfully. “Just don’t get in the way.”
I was ecstatic that this would pay off. I walked to the back, where I would camp out for almost the entirety of my observations. I got out my pen and paper and started to write. That was when Joe, the patriarch of the store, came up to ask, in a cautious yet dominant tone, if he could help me. I gave him an abbreviated version of my speech about writing an observational essay. And then, pointing at Kid, I said that he said I could. Joe nodded and said, “All right.”
That was when I was officially “in,” and I started my three-hour period of note taking. The store started out quiet, as I expected it might. One person was behind the desk, and three others had tablets strapped around them as they cataloged merchandise quantities. The tablets were so dope. They were basically 13 inch by 7 inch by 1 inch slabs that were strapped onto the employees’ bodies with one long strap that went on the left shoulder, over it, and down the right side of their backs, in such a manner that the tablet stayed perpendicular to their torsos. Everything was going smoothly until Joe’s rich baritone voice called out.
“Yeah,” replied David,
“Where are you?” Joe belched out.
“Right here by the medicine,” David said from a maximum of seven feet away.
“What?” (Joe’s hearing had been declining with age).
“Where are you?” David said, looking for Joe so they could meet in the middle.
“Come here. Do we have this?” Joe said, shaking the object in question.
“So somebody left it for us.”
“I don’t know,” David replied.
This conversation revolved around a drinkable yogurt left by someone who didn’t want to throw it out and thought that their time was more valuable than that of the people who worked there.
I thought it was peculiar that the employees would care about something so minute, but it made me see a different side of them. I saw two people who cared about what they did and where they worked. It was admirable. But, all in all, I thought that their conversation was hilarious. In fact, the ending line seemed to foreshadow what was to come: strange happenings.
After the yogurt incident, the store plateaued at an eerie calm. That was when I switched to taking notes on my phone. It looked less pretentious and I thought it would make people were less apprehensive to come near me. It was just me and the 7-11/Tedeschi’s team in the store, and it was going well. I was a fly on the wall, but also one of the gang. As said in the play Oliver, I was “part of the furniture,” but a constructive part, like an ottoman. It was silent in the store. With a lack of distraction, I was able to notice everything around me. The store was beautiful, the atmosphere bewitching. Half of the walls were windows, filling the inside with natural light, but also showing me what I was missing by spending three and a half hours in the store. The world outside was alluring; it was a gorgeous day. Through the window, I saw Juice (Lucas Lopes) biking by. How naive he was then, with one hand on the handlebars and no helmet. I wished I was out there, like him.
But then Joe’s voice brought me back to reality.
“Where are all the 7-11 energy shots?”
It brought shivers down my spine. He was my anchor in that experience in more ways than one. When he called out in distress, my only reaction was to get to the bottom of it. I turned just in time for Kid to respond dutifully.
I assumed their task of cataloging caused the outburst, but, regardless of the reason, it made me focus my energies on not just the store, but the relationships it builds.
Shortly after, the store started popping. People came in and out, one after another. They were the first people to come in while I was there. I was terrified. Every person that walked through the door was a wild card. I did not know what they would do or how they would react to my being there.
A woman came towards me. Traveling down the nut and seed aisle, she grabbed one pack of sunflower seeds and looked around the section for another two minutes. She picked up another package, some granola-nut bars, and checked the nutrition facts. She ultimately decided on getting two bags of sunflower seeds. Then she went to check out. She continually asked the employee at the register how to pronounce his name: “Havide? Havidede? Ahhhh!” She then left triumphantly. Behind the counter, David shrugged.
Through my grueling hours in the corner of the store, I witnessed many patterns. There were the people who went straight from the door to the counter asking for “cigs,” referring to them strictly by their brand of choice (Marlboro, Camels Pall Malls, etc). There were also the people who, in a similar fashion, went straight from the door to the counter asking for lotto tickets. They would buy some scratch tickets and go immediately to the scratch station, a meek plastic podium with big lotto brands pasted on the side, a place where dreams go to die.
Amidst it all, there was one man who stuck out to me, mainly because of how ordinary he was. He was an old Asian gentleman in his mid-sixties, wearing a black jacket and workboots. He was so ordinary that I hadn’t even recorded his presence the first time he was in the store.
One other guy stood out to me, as well. I never spoke to him, but I feel we made a special bond. He personified the expression “beige don’t age.” I had no idea how old this guy was, but he was wearing a Florida baseball cap and a BC Law sweatshirt. He seemed very cultured. He was in the store for 10 minutes while he planned what he was making for dinner with his mom and dad on the phone. He walked about the store, going from aisle to aisle. Looking at ingredients, he talked loudly on the phone, not caring who heard. He decided on making a chicken dish with veggies in a Pyrex. He was planning on putting it over rice soaked in chicken broth. He hung up the phone after five minutes of talking and continued to look for ingredients and, eventually, snacks for later. It was 1:30 when the Asian man in the black coat returned for a second time to buy scratch tickets. I watched him hustle in and hustle out in a matter of seconds.
Then, I heard an employee let out a small burp. Soon after, all that excitement died back down as people filtered out the store doors. For ten minutes, I was left to fend for and amuse myself, which became easier as I got more comfortable in the store. Kid came to talk to me. He asked me about my research and how it was going. That was when he told me the answer to the mystery of the sign, why the store was the way it was. He told me that 7-11 had bought Tedeschi’s, but noticed its separate value and kept it as a separate branch. That was why there was two of everything, one of each brand.
A mother walked in. I could tell she was a mother by the extremely scared and self-conscious way she clutched her bag. Then, I saw two heads poke up above the rows of merchandise. It was Ben Robinson, a close family friend of mine, and Jake Rogers, a boy I only knew in passing. They looked like they just had come from the gym. After a minute, everyone had left, and a man walked in with his young son. While managing his energetic son, the man tried on sunglasses from one of those glasses trees. He found a pair he liked and wore them around the store. His kid, running around, started coming towards me. The man noticed, looked up, and swiftly grabbed his kid’s arm, pulling him away from me. I took this to heart. This man was not the first and would not be the last person to objectify me as something to fear. It was not that I am scary, but that I appeared scary, undesired, sketchy, wrong.
I realized that there was a clear divide between the people that came in the store. Some were one with the store while others feared those who belonged there. Which one was I? I was fluid. In the same moment, I feared and was feared. I did it all. As I walked out of the store for the first time in what felt like years, I knew I had been changed. I had become what I originally feared: a person at one with 7-11/Tedeschi’s.