Friday, 2 May 2014

The Really Massive Corner Shop

Dan Patrick, Houston Republican candidate for lieutenant governor recently induced an outbreak of frowning upon the brow of Congressman Joaquin Castro - identical twin brother to Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio. I say recently, but I don't actually care enough to find specific dates, so let's take it as read that the following events occurred at some juncture later than Achitometl's ascension to the throne of Culhuacan in the Valley of Mexico in 1388, but not later than the present. Anyway, Dan Patrick had apparently posted a picture of himself stood next to a man dressed as a beaver on his facebook page, dignifying the image by stating to my great delight after our (primary election) win Tuesday, I got a call from the owners of Buc-cee's who said they wanted to meet and support me, thus accounting for the beaver, this being the mascot of Buc-ee's, which Wikipedia identifies as a chain of convenience stores located in the Central and Gulf Coast region of Texas. Like so many Texans, I love Buc-ee's, Patrick added. The service is great, the food is great, especially my favorite, the pastrami sandwich, and of course my wife loves the clean bathrooms.

Well of course she does.

Buc-ee's owners Don Wasek and Arch Aplin have contributed over sixty-thousand dollars to campaigning Republican candidates over the last few decades, so it probably isn't such a big surprise that they should back Patrick; although some guy called Jeff Nalado, acting as general counsel for Buc-ee's has publicly stressed that the owners of the chain are the ones supporting Patrick, not the corporation itself, and that as a company, Buc-ee's does not support political candidates.

Nevertheless, Congressman Joaquin Castro was sufficiently disgruntled to state that he would not patronise Buc-ee's, objecting to their support of what he called a fearmongering immigrant basher.

I am disappointed to learn that a popular and well-respected retailer would lend its corporate brand to a candidate for state-wide office who has built his career around dividing Texans and bashing immigrants, solely for his own political gain, he further explained in a written statement; and so arose a number of online campaigns in support, all calling for a boycott of Buc-ee's, and in turn the inevitable responses from those vowing to make an extra effort to shop at Buc-ee's on the grounds that anything which pisses off a few liberals must be worthwhile, responses such as this from some guy on facebook, a Libertarian both politically and grammatically, although I've helped him out some and fixed up the punctuation here and there:

For those of you who attempt to hurt a business based on its political affiliation, you are practising the same discrimination you rail against. You may as well hang a black man for being black or refuse service to an atheist. I am a Libertarian, but I have seen this too many times from the democrats' side. They accuse Republicans of fighting dirty while pulling crap like this. This man is proudly standing up for what he believes is best for Texas, and you go after his family by trying to take food off his table.

How dare you?

How dare any of you?

You are committing the most cowardly version of assault there is. You would be committing less of a sin if you simply kicked his ass. At least that would not steal from his family. You claim to want what's best for Texas. What happened to us being the friendly state?

If you were born here and are acting like this, I will be happy to escort you to California where you will be welcomed with open socialist arms. Chances are, though, that California is where you originate from because they have invaded Austin and brought with them this type of bullshit. Look around Texas. You won't find this crap anywhere but Austin. Texas has conceded that city to the liberals who believe government can run our lives better than we can. Personally, I have rarely had the opportunity to shop at a Buc-ee's, but because of this, I will stop in every time I see one from now on to help counteract the loss of income from you ill-informed tyrants. And, it will make me feel good knowing that I've helped to punch a bully in the mouth.

You hypocrites! You demand freedom from government oppression while dishing out your own version of capitalistic oppression. I would like to personally dress up in a beaver outfit and beat the shit out of each one of you liberal oppressive if you're successful we'll bring you down so we can give your money to who we want pieces of crap, just so you could get your picture in the paper getting your ass kicked by a theme park icon.

It could of course be a parody, but how does one even tell? It is an argument I have encountered on a few occasions, all of them through a computer and not one in real life thankfully, an argument amounting to will no-one think of the poor starving millionaires asking only to make for themselves an honest gold-plated crust? It is the argument of someone who has thrown themselves wholeheartedly into helping out with their own exploitation, pulling the wool down over their own eyes and paying for the privilege, secure in the knowledge of having done the right thing.

The conscious choice to not buy a sodding Three Musketeers bar at a Buc-ee's outlet, or even to suggest that others might refrain from purchase of sweeties at the same, is not simply akin to invasion by dangerous totalitarian Communists, it is the exact same thing; and even more exhausting is that it is telling people what is best for them, and what is best for them would be their cutting out all of this telling people what is best for them.

I generally dislike politicians regardless of their hue, but I like Castro on the grounds that he and his identical twin brother have occasionally got into trouble for pretending to be each other at important functions - which at least suggests personality - and because he's pro-Mexican. Furthermore, I would suggest that political office is one that in an ideal world requires intellect, and that intellect tends not to be found in the man or woman who spends too much time blaming local problems on all those brown people coming over here taking our jobs and eating their funny food and that. Someone once attempted to explain the somewhat right-leaning immigration policy of UKIP - an unpleasant English fringe party - to me by means of an example so simple that even I would understand it. You know that Mexican border about a hundred miles south of you, he began, presumably failing to realise that I live in a city with a 63% Hispanic or Latino population, and that I would be a fucking idiot to live here if I didn't like Mexicans. The argument was unconvincing.

This war of words between Patrick and Castro served to elevate the Buc-ee's phenomena a little further within my consciousness, it being something which had nagged at me for a time without my quite knowing why. How had this debate become so heated? Why would anyone care so much as to wish to dress up as a beaver prior to the dispensation of rough street justice? I had a faint impression of a world divided into two, those who had been to Buc-ee's, and those who were yet to have the opportunity to visit the store in question, like it could be considered an experience. I knew that I myself had been to Buc-ee's, and furthermore I'd been to the most amazing Buc-ee's in the known galaxy, the one situated just past New Braunfels as you head out towards the People's Republic of Austin, about which Wikipedia states:

The New Braunfels travel center is the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet. The store features 120 fuel pumps, 31 cash registers, 4 Icee machines, 80 fountain dispensers, tubing and water gear for the Guadalupe River, and a farmer's market that features Grade 1 fruit and produce.

The New Braunfels, Texas store was named the 2012 Best Restroom in America by Cintas.

Isn't it just a really big motorway service station?, I wondered to myself, barely able to recall anything of my visit, or visits as I had a feeling my wife and I may have stopped there several times.

If it was really so amazing, why couldn't I remember?

The first expression of this corporate entity I'd noticed when I came to live in Texas was its mascot, a cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap drawn as though by an enthusiastic ten-year old who had learned how to copy the Disney characters, but still didn't quite understand what made them tick. Buc-ee, who is depicted from the shoulders up on the signs at an uncomfortable angle, like he's broken his neck but has learned to live with it, was inspired by the better drawn and significantly cuter Bucky Beaver who advertised Ipana toothpaste back in the 1960s, and even had his own spaceship. I'm not sure whether the name was revised so as to avoid any perceived breach of copyright, but it seems an ill-considered change to me. The hyphen, the phonetic ee, the possessive apostrophe - as a name it's a mess, something that might work sprayed wildstyle on the side of a New York tube train, but awful as a molded plastic logo beneath that funny looking beaver. It aspires to be cute but, to paraphrase Bill Griffiths, ends up exuding a kind of desperation that cuteness only accentuates. Poor Buc-ee - he makes even Chuck E. Cheese seem like he knows what he's doing.

Determined to penetrate the mystery of the world's biggest corner shop, to quantify the appeal that had apparently thus far eluded me, I had to ask myself what is the magic of this thing we call Buc-ee's?, and so a visit took place. My wife and I were going to Austin anyway, so it wasn't like it was out of our way. We passed the billboards announcing that we were approaching Buc-ee's with merely five miles to go, then only two more miles, then the mystifying and faintly sinister the eyes of Buc-ee's are upon you, which delivers no real information and is probably funnier if you follow their semi-regular series of purportedly humorous billboards carrying messages like don't stay thirsty, my friends, and ice, beer, jerky: the three food groups.

Ha ha.

The store when we came to it was indeed basically the world's largest gas station - or petrol station, as my English upbringing still compels me to term it, albeit to a lesser extent. We parked and entered a vast room in which one could have concealed a couple of jumbo jets had the ceiling been a little higher. We were in the company of what seemed like thousands of people, all browsing aisles of beef jerky, fruit, pickles, sweets, cakes, nuts, corn chips, and chocolate bars, with chiller cabinets full of ice, beer, sandwiches, and food in the shape of Texas. My wife went to use the rest room and I looked around for a dining area, a restaurant or café or something that would distinguish the place as being at least on the same level as a Happy Eater. The closest was the food bar specialising in pulled pork which I suppose once it had been pulled by one of the attendant pork pullers could be consumed off the premises, perhaps as one drove away, cheerfully washed down with the first of many beers. I didn't make too close an inspection, as I am yet to discover just what pulled pork is, and am at present still making the most of this state of innocence. My wife came back and we went further into the store, inspecting the aisles of clothing, T-shirts, barbecue aprons, and baseball caps with amusing slogans relating either to the excessive consumption of beer, shopping at Buc-ee's or amusing marital dysfunction. The clothing department was decorated, as are a surprising number of things in Texas, with barbed wire motifs and the skulls of longhorn cattle. For a moment I considered the possibility of whether the skulls might themselves be on sale, even if there might be one with the Buc-ee's logo painted at the centre of the forehead; but I knew I was letting my imagination run away with me, although such a thing would certainly have brought the store a little closer to the nirvana promised by its reputation. We went ahead, leaving the clothing department behind, passing rack upon rack of country music CDs in search of further material at which to scoff.

For those who like myself have never seen the show, I understand Duck Dynasty to be a documentary series about the lives of amusing rural folk typical of the poke them with sticks and watch them jump freak show that is disingenuously referred to as reality television. Duck Dynasty merchandise is everywhere at present, and Buc-ee's hasn't been left out of the loop in this respect. Camouflage tins of beans sporting pictures of bearded men seemed incongruous near the entrance, but deeper into the store such material blends in with the rest. At the far end, in amongst bags of animal feed, fishing equipment, and everything a hunter might require aside from an actual firearm, the Duck Dynasty promotional products become as one with everything else in a vague sea of green and black. The absence of guns came as no surprise given that they're really not quite so ubiquitous here as everyone seems to believe, but much of the other stuff was astonishing, mainly because I had no idea what any of it was for. I took a photograph of something called a Redneck Timer because its purpose seemed unusually ambiguous, but I left it at that because there didn't seem much point in filling up my camera with endless images of the incomprehensible.

More surprising was how I found that as we left I had experienced a reversal of opinion regarding Buc-ee's. The light hearted slogans of the T-shirts hung upon the wall had somehow got to me, or at least the spirit in which they were presented as something you might want to wear had done its work. Buc-ee's was really just a big, stupid gas station selling meaningless crap to numbskulls, but it didn't know that it was just a big, stupid gas station selling meaningless crap to numbskulls. It believed itself to be something else, and stupid though it certainly was, pointing this out felt akin to kicking a child, or at least kicking somebody with the mind of one. Buc-ee's didn't really care that I had come with the intention of disproving the existence of God, it just hoped I had enjoyed myself and thanked me for my visit.

Outside I posed for photographs next to the bronze sculpture of Buc-ee the beaver. It wasn't a great sculpture, bearing no resemblance to the poorly executed cartoon mascot, and my wife and I agreed that the big beaver teeth were really the only feature that distinguished the sculpture from one of Popeye or any other cartoon character. Nevertheless, we still had to wait for the three families in front of us to have their pictures taken with the unconvincing statue. My photographs show a fat English guy stood next to a brown blob of bronze. Neither of us came out of it looking good.

In conclusion, whilst Buc-ee's may indeed stock some half-decent things to eat, drink, listen to, wear, or fire at ducks, and is very probably good of its kind, aside from maybe a choccy bar, there wasn't much I would have wished to buy anyway, so I guess that would be me also filling up on the bread stolen from the mouths of an innocent millionaire's children.

If people wish to give their money to possibly horrible politicians then that's what they should do, and hopefully the rest of us will have more sense than to vote them into office. If you dislike the way someone is spending their money, then there's no reason why you should be required to give them any of yours. Neither is there any reason why you should be prevented from telling anyone about it. It's not that complicated, and it really is just a very big corner shop, and nothing more.

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