I tried to share an anecdote yesterday, and somehow lost the last 90 percent of the post. Maybe it was a sign. It might not have been a good story, I don’t know. I amused myself telling it, but that’s isn’t very hard to do. Thinking about recreating it right away, I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. It might have turned out like Major League 2. So, I’ve decided to go a different route. This is part anecdote, part tribute to the fundamental role that a convenience store can play in your college experience.
Nestled in god’s country, aka Lancaster County, F&M is really in a great location for convenience stores. Wawa, Sheetz, Turkey Hill…you name it, and you can find it in central PA. I like to think it’s the state’s dedication to processed foods that allows this nirvana to exist. The closet store to campus, the one within walking distance was T-Hill. Now, I’ve already shared some great T-Hill stories. There was the ice container/urinal confusion, the chimmichanga night, T-Hill was a very important place, no doubt. It was also right next to the beer distributor. One stop shopping.
Now, originally, a little bit farther down the street, a distance at that time I would have considered not-walkable was a Mobil station. It started as just a run of the mill gas station, I’m sure they sold jerky and dip, but not whole lot else. It wasn’t a true convenient market. Of course, this didn’t hurt its significance. I went to college with a kid namedThe Swan, and he used his Mobil credit card as currency. Could he buy beer at the Mobil? No, but he could trade copious amounts of free gas for cash or goods. And, since he didn’t ultimately pay for any of this gas, the term “Free Mobil” was born. I don’t want to make The Swan seem like too much of a brat here, he was far from the only kid walking around with a Mobil card, but no one used it with his panache.
There’s something special about getting something for free when you are in college. It feels better, I think. Even if you are one of a bunch of bratty kids at a stuffy liberal arts school, its still a good time. A friend of mine’s father was actually referred to as “Free Rick”, because he always took us to dinner when he was in town. It was a nickname that carried the proper amount of revelry, and eventually the term spread to other generous parents. What a glorious time it was.
I don’t think the concept of “free” really peaked, however, until Mobil complemented their gas station down the street from campus with a Tom’s convenience store. It remains the only Tom’s I’ve ever seen before or since, but it was something like a 7-11. It was a little more upscale than the T-Hill, and not only that, but you could use your Mobil card there. T-Hill doesn’t have credit cards. At least not to my knowledge, otherwise I’d be piling up half-gallons of ice cream on credit. The evolution of “free Mobil” to “Free Tom’s” was really something else.
It increased the scope of the bartering system. You could essentially low-budget grocery shop in Tom’s, and also they always stocked a wide variety of cheap and useless items that looked good to college students, especially those that may have had a beverage or two. I remember a lot of bad sunglasses being bought at Tom’s. That might have been their signature item, and I don’t think they would have caught on so swimmingly if the whole “Free Tom’s” culture didn’t exist. I like to think that Tom’s was specifically marketing to us, stocking their shelves with the kind of crap that idiots like us would find attractive. It was like they had the light-up yo-yos, and we were the mesmerized people walking by on the sidewalk. This was only a suspicion of course, until they started selling bb guns.
I can’t think of a more enticing, or more irresponsible thing to stock on the shelves of Free Tom’s. Really, what were they thinking? Like a hardware store putting the shovels and sleds out front before a storm, they knew what they were doing. It wasn’t long before a couple of my friends has secured one. I think we briefly touched on the story here, but essentially what happened was, they fired the gun across the sidewalk at the building that was right next to ours. We knew the girls that lived in the apartment that was targeted, and I believe the shot may have been because of a cat in the window. I don’t remember exactly, but I do know the window unexpectedly cracked under the force of the bb, and the authorities were called.
This of course, led to the police at our front door, and the following legendary exchange:
Cop: Give me the Gun.
Anonymous: What gun?
Cop: Give me the Gun.
The bb gun is then retrieved from underneath a sofa. I’m happy to report that no charges were filed, but unfortunately the bb gun was confiscated. The real beauty of the situation, though? A replacement bb gun was simply a quick trip Free Tom’s away. Thus we arrive at the moral. The best things in life? Free. And, there it is.