Desolation Row

Stopped for coffee at the first 7-11 I spotted on Boulevard. Looked OK until I got out of the car and started walking toward the door. I spotted a guy next to the garbage can by the door talking in a low tone, either to himself or me – not sure – I could not understand what he was saying, he was looking at no place in particular. His hair was shoulder length, dirty and matted, he was in his thirties. I avoided eye contact and walked into the store thinking maybe I made a mistake, but I wanted a cup of coffee. 

Standing in line at the counter were three disheveled young men, one black, two white, street people by the look. An older white man was at the back end of the center aisle, poorly but warmly dressed with a furtive, cautious look about him. He glanced at me and continued looking over the goods on the shelf. He had the look if not the intent of a seasoned shop-lifter, except he did not look like he could escape if he had to, no quick movement left in that body. 

Another street person, a black middle aged lady in layers of baggy cotton fleece walked up to the counter just in front of me, looked me over, assessed I was no threat, and waited her turn. She looked over at the chicken in the food warmer on the side of the counter. “What is that?” she appropriately asked the counterman, a jovial, chubby Indian man of about thirty. “Yes, chicken” he said. “How much?”

“Ten pieces for five dollars.”

“I’ll take ten pieces.” 

“Do you want all BBQ?”

“Mix it up, they all look good.”

She reached down the front of her sweatshirt and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. She had also picked up a couple of small items, a bag of chips and a candy bar.

He used some tongs to pick out the 10 pieces of chicken from the warmer, he counted aloud as he placed them in a bag. When he was done, there was one small piece of chicken left on the trays. I thought he would throw it into the bag also, but I was wrong. Not a lot of generosity in this 7-11. He told her the total was eight dollars and sixty-three cents. She handed over the ten. He made change, put the chicken into a separate plastic bag, explaining exactly what he was doing. About this time a lady in nurses’ scrubs walked in with a ten-year-old girl. She asked if there was any pizza while I was paying for my coffee. The clerk told her the pizza was sold out and there would be no more tonight. The nurse was upset. The clerk turned to me and said “These street people, they buy it as fast as it is ready, early in the afternoon, before they get too drunk.” He laughed. Jovial guy. The little girl asked if she could have a hot dog as I left the store. The guy sitting next to the garbage can was still there talking to himself. A man in painters’ whites got out of his white panel truck and walked into the store.

Earlier in the day a counter man at a convenience store about a mile away was slashed by a customer. I wonder how the guy at this 7-11 can be so jovial. 


Richmond, VA

Ray Ryan is a writer who has been going to Life in 10 Minutes classes for the last year. Retired and enjoying the freedom and time to think back, express himself and discover more every day.

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