As our lives become increasingly more fast-paced, the corner store has become a beacon of our convenience-craving culture. It's there for us when we need gas for the Daihatsu, another Huggies mega-pack, a 40 of "eight ball," no-less-than-80 ounces of Slice, and just don't have time to sit in the damn line at Winn-Dixie. And it's in these Gas and Sips, Little Generals and Stop 'n Go's that we find a cure for our vices and thereby a peculiar cross-section of our local culture emerges; after all, the products in convenience stores are meant to appeal to these hurried, impulse-buying masses. So therefore, the products contained therein represent what we, the Orlando buying public, are all about, follow?
Now, I'm not talking about 7-Elevens here though I'm always impressed by their ability to turn any food into some sort of hot dog or taco shape they're pretty much the Wal-Mart of convenience stores and don't have any kind of indigenous feel, and thus will remain outside of my scope here. Plus, they quit selling Girls With Really Stupidly Gigantic Hooters magazines and never have boiled peanuts. These things are important. Even if I'm not buying any of these items, it's these unique products that make me always frequent the EZ-Marts over the 7-Elevens.
What follows are the essentials that make up a good convenience store. Not all stores have them all, but good stores have most of them:
Boiled peanuts. Stocking the standard Mickey's brand is acceptable, but if you've your own homemade version, then double the coolness points.
Tom's snacks. Tom's snacks are essential. I've always told anyone who'd listen that nacho cheese was far too bold and distinct a flavor to confine to tortilla chips, like Frito-Lay foolishly believes. And huzzah, good old Tom's satisfies that hunger with glorious Nacho Rings. The Bacon and Cheddar Fries and Taco-flavor tortilla chips are also lovely.
Beer and beer-like products selection. Call me a beer snob, but nobody should have to settle for the sad smattering of domestic beers that always populates every corner-store cooler, and there are imports other than Heineken and Corona, y'know.
Porn. If you're getting your beer, might as well pick up an easy date.
(Tobacco) pipes. Um, because my cigarettes keep falling apart?
Weird ephemera. I'm talking stuff like handgun ashtrays, bulldog belt buckles, trucker hats, T-shirts and other stuff that keeps you wondering who the hell is buying (or will ever buy) clothing in a convenience store.
Ephedra-laden and -like stimulants, diet and stamina pills. After the 80 ounces of Mountain Dew wear off, then what?
Unique food. For example, my old favorite from the now-gone Spur on Princeton: the fried chicken gizzard platter, with potato logs and cole slaw. Not that I ever ate it, I just liked seeing it on the menu.
Here's a rundown of some of my favorite area convenience stores. It's not comprehensive, of course.
Ivanhoe Grocery (1820 N. Orange Ave.) The steak-and-cheese all-the-way, no mayo holds a special place in my heart. It's probably made from the Costco version of Steak-Umms and American cheese, but it's the best Costco-version-of-Steak-Umms-and-American-cheese sandwich you've ever eaten, for under $3, anyway.
BP Express Mart (6793 E. Colonial Drive) They've got a wide selection of cheap sandwiches, Jamaican beef patties, motherfucking two kinds of boiled peanuts and a smattering of smoking devices. No porn, though.
Kwik Stop Food Store (131 Lake Ave., Maitland) Though the beer selection doesn't venture into import territory too often, there's a huge wall of it, which is impressive. Plus, there's some cheap pizza that's halfway decent, and rolling papers. Tip: If you use the rolling papers first (wink, wink), the pizza tastes awesome!
Jamajo Grocery (4901 E. Colonial Drive) There's not much of the fun stuff here (e.g. papers, pipes or porn), but the subs and sandwiches will make you a regular.
Citgo Expressway Mart (520 S. Orange Blossom Trail) This place has got everything bandanas, gold watches and the biggest selection of 40s ever. What's not to love?