If you took me into a 7-11, blindfolded, I would still know where I was. They all smell the same inside, every one of them. And they always have.
Our little neighborhood in Sandy was a developing residential area. We didn't have a main street, or a shopping district. There were no small town stores or movie theaters or comic book stores or fire stations or barber shops -- just houses, a few churches and a couple of schools. If we needed groceries, there was a Smith's Food King, out on 9400 South -- the main road that bordered our neighborhood on the south side, but that was a little farther than young kids dared to venture -- you had to cross a vast dirt field to get there by foot.
Which means if we, as kids, had some birthday money, or weekly allowance, to blow, we had only other option....
Attached to the last street of our neighborhood, like a barnacle, or a growth, stood the 7-11.
The Sev, we called it.
In those days, our 7-11 was a small town American Main Street rolled into one location.
It was our malt shop -- our soda fountain. In the 70's and 80's, malts were Coca Cola flavored Slurpees, and Big Gulps. You could have the 32 oz. Big Gulp, the 44 oz Super Big Gulp or, starting in 1988, the 64 oz Double Gulp. The last one was so big, that at first it came in something resembling a milk carton. 64 oz doesn't seem so big these days. That's kind of sad, now that I think of it...
It was our corner candy store. And the candy was the kind to catch a kid's fancy -- Fun Dip. Nerds. Wax Cola Bottles. Tootsie Pops -- supposedly the Indian and the Star got you a free sucker (or bag of suckers, depending on which urban legend you subscribed to...I never got a free sucker). Candy necklaces -- it's hard to eat something you're wearing. Pixie Stix. Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum. Bubble Yum Bubble Gum. Big League Chew. Fruit Stripe Gum. Jolly Ranchers.
And the most taboo candy of all: candy cigarettes (you couldn't pretend to "smoke" for very long, because they were pure sugar, and dissolved instantly in your mouth.
The 7-11 was our book store. Or at least our magazine store. Ok, our comic book shop. Right there on the rack next to Us Weekly, People Magazine and Soap Opera Digest, sat the latest comic from Marvel -- The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. Or Spiderman. Or Superman. Or the Archie gang.
It was also our arcade. There were always two video games in the corner of the store, back by the cooler, just inside the front window. Pole Position. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Pac Man. Galaga. And, my personal favorite, Karate Champ. 8 bits of electronic glee!
It was our delicatessen, and our bakery -- though I could never bring myself to try one on the hot dog like items, turning endlessly on the heated rollers. I'm not convinced they were actually hot dogs...they were so dehydrated and shriveled that I'm not sure you could actually bite through them.
And, maybe most importantly, the 7-11 was where we got free air for our bike tires.
The one thing as ubiquitous as kids in Sandy, was the ever present sticker -- the Tribulus Terrestris, also known as the Goat's Head thorn.
This weed was everywhere, and it produced a nasty, spiky little thorn. We got them in our feet. We got them in our hands. But mostly, we got them in our bike tires. Every kid in Sandy learned to patch a bike tire, and after you got the patch on, you pumped in just enough air to get you to the 7-11, because there you could inflate your tires to twice the recommended PSI. Even if you didn't need air in your tires, if you were at the Sev, you let some air out, so you'd have an excuse to use the hissing air hose.
Hey, free air.
On a hot summer day, a trip to The Sev was almost a given. We'd start out, and often pick up friends on the way, and there was a good chance once you arrived at the 7-11, any number of other friends would be coming or going. You stopped and chatted. Swapped candy and stories.
The 7-11 was the closest thing we had to a social gathering place. It was where we went to feel like grown ups. It was where we satisfied our sugar cravings and got a head start on the root canals of later years. It was where we drank in the taste of summer, and caught up with the latest news and gossip.
I've never quite figured out what it is that makes a 7-11 smell the way it does, but maybe, just maybe, that is the smell of small town America, with a suburban 1980's twist, sprinkled with Slurpees and free air, and the tangy metallic taste of a quarter dropping into Karate Champ, intermingled with Grape Bubble Yum, and candy cigarettes, topped off by the fragrance of kids in various states of cleanliness and the odor of ten day old hot dogs.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's it.