At The Circle K

I eat my breakfast at the Circle K. It’s a two-block walk at 6:30 am, when I tend to want coffee. The gourmet pastry shop across the street closed down months ago. The sandwich shop by the U-haul dealership is shuttered and up for rent. Walgreens is there. I could buy a bag of coffee at Walgreens and take it home and make it, but they don’t open ’till the lazy hour of eight. Home prices are skyrocketing in South Portland but everything good keeps closing. What can you do?

This isn’t the beachy-yuppie side of South Portland, nor is it the shopping mall end of things rife with hipster cafes. It’s the middle-ass, no-man’s-land between the two, where there’s a huge ugly intersection and nothing else but: 1: a cemetery; 2: a used-car dealership with about five cars; 3:a U-Haul lot; 4: a dirty Circle K gas station; 5: a sticky-looking Dairy Queen. Walking past these attractions makes me feel like a kid, when I found these kinds of things interesting. I mean, you could buy a forbidden sugary slushy. You could touch a car with a number painted on the window. Cool!

I cross from the car dealership across the road to the Dairy Queen and through the lot to the Circle K gas station and convenience store, where the pumps bleat pre-recorded advertisements at the poor suckers buying gas. Inside the convenience store, I’ve become used to selecting a medium coffee cup and filling it with “Columbian dark roast.” Sludge. Trucker’s coffee. There is a pastry case, but everything in it looks like a waste of two dollars and fifty cents. On top of the case is a basket of plastic-wrapped banana bread slices, which I learn were made by a lady that works there. This far exceeds my expectations for a Circle K, and I’m thrilled.

I buy my breakfast in a forgettable transaction and walk outside again into the crisp August morning. The chill in the air feels mountain-ish. I’m wearing long sleeves for the first time in months. The gas-smelling breeze feels clean and healthy and so nice it erases everything bad that happened yesterday. It’s the end of summer and the weather feels celebratory. I sit on a red, dirt-encrusted bench outside the Dairy Queen, sip my coffee, and unwrap my banana bread, looking at the back of a cinderblock car wash. This is my neighborhood cafe. Not a hipster in sight.

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