It’s easy to miss – the gritty convenience store on Somerville Avenue – when I’m running full-stride toward home on my predawn 4-mile loop. It’s always in my periphery, but I think of this joint as nothing more than a mile marker. I whoosh past the fluorescent glow covering the sidewalk, catch a quick glance at the craggy customer buying a pack of smokes on his way to some temporary construction job, and inwardly applaud that YES, I got that hill I hate out of the way, and I’m in the home stretch. It says 6:02 AM on my pink 20-buck plastic sports watch, and I’ll be done in less than ten minutes. I don’t think about the store. Don’t imagine myself ever going in. I’m decades past any post-kegger Marlboro Lights or Funyuns cravings.
But now I’m thinking about it.
Running, yoga, spinning, whatever physical movement I take on first thing in the morning, is my ticket into presence. Inhale, step, exhale, step. I get keenly attuned to what’s right in front of me. No guilt-laden memory lane fuck ups to stew over. Stay present, watch my gait, don’t trip off the curb. No future to dos or hellish lists of tasks to look over. Peek above and wink at the moon, listen for a distant yap from a dog navigating someone’s yard. Embrace the body’s miraculous ability to simultaneously heat my blood and cool my skin through the physical effort and mental discipline of running for a purpose. I’m present. And not thinking about anything. Certainly not about that gritty store.
But now I’m thinking about it.
Got home, finished up 47 pushups (my age), looked over at a half-full bowl of unclaimed trick-or-treat candy on my entryway altar table, and zeroed in on a fun-size box of Milk Duds. And then Bam. I was transported back to that damn store. Mental slides of the fluorescent glow, tattered awning, “get your lottery tickets here” sign, and 60-something year old cashier smiling and waving through the window during my run this morning flicked through my head. The slides turned into a movie reel of good times hanging out with my Pop and siblings every other weekend in the 70s and early 80s. The days when metal dental braces, painter pants, Donna Summer, Vans and big hair were cool. A dearth of disposable cash meant big fun came from small pleasures: throwing a baseball in the park, pizza and Charlie Chaplin silent films at Shakey’s (random pairing, but it somehow worked), Rocky double-features at the discount theatre a few miles away. And Milk Duds from the corner convenience store down the street.
Here’s ten bucks. Go to that joint down the street. I like them better.”
There was a 7-11 closer, but he insisted we walk to this one instead. “A nice foreign couple runs it. You give them my ten bucks. They can’t understand a word you say but it doesn’t matter. They work their asses off.” Fine, Pop, my preteen mind thought, giving no thought to where I spent a few bucks on a box of Milk Duds. As long as the candy shelves are full, I thought, who cares?
Until this morning, after I ran past this gritty little store, that made me think a little deeper. That man who smiled and waved through the window, I recalled, was the same guy sitting outside on a plastic chair earlier this summer encouraging me on with a “go get ’em girl!” greeting every time I strode by. Customers and suppliers going in and out never do it in silence. There’s always a shared laugh or slap on the back. Early morning. Fully present. Connecting with each other.
This little store, I realized this morning, probably has more soul than the Whole Foods I spent ten bucks at for a forgettable smoothie the other day. Or the Rite-Aid down the street with similar fluorescent lights blaring, but no one smiling or cheering me to go get ’em girl.
Maybe next run I’ll stop at this gritty little store, think of my Pop, think of the hardworking proprietors, go inside, and buy myself a pack of Milk Duds.