Ever bum-rush a convenience store counter with a camera on your shoulder and a health inspector by your side? I spent yesterday doing exactly that and while it didn’t shatter my malaise, I did giggle a bit. You would too, if you spawned the kind of reactions I did today. From the flock of migrant workers who fled their shade tree luncheon as soon as I popped the tailgate on Unit 4, to the young mother who threatened me with a beat-down should I foolishly point my camera at her ‘hot-mess self‘, to the geezer by the freezer who insisted on giving me unsolicited directions to US 421, it was a great day for a connoisseur of the absurd.
It began, like so many good stories do, with a hot dog chili recall. Seems the fine folks at Castleberry’s dropped a little botulism into their marquee condiment and before you could say ‘Roll that beautiful bean footage’, a full blown recall was in effect. Bulletins, buzzers and a few belches rang out as the Department of Agriculture scrambled their forces to yon horizon, in an all-out quest to find, document and eradicate the troublesome foodstuff. Trouble was, Castleberry’s makes an uncanny canned chili; its popular Bunker Hill brand considered an essential accoutrement for the self respecting frankfurter. Aghast at how much sour chili still sat on shelves, the Ag Department goons called for back-up. That’s where I come in…
“Sir, I’m from the Department of Health. Can you show me to your hot dog chili?” A tiny, otherwise wisecracking woman, Sandy Ellington was all business at the counter. It worked too. Every time she approached a hapless cashier with her just-the-facts demeanor, they politely complied, few ever asking about the goofy cameraman trailing her every move. I can accept this kind of reality suspension on an episode of COPS, where not once so they show the shirtless felon look directly into the lens and ask “Just who the &^@% are you?”. That’s happened to me plenty, so much so I’m a little surprised whenever it doesn’t. This time I’ll chalk it up to Sandy’s authorities softness. I guess when you’re being quizzed about the squalidness of your toppings by an insistent Den Mother, you don’t notice the dude behind her with the loud shirt and heavy lens.
In the end, Sandy got her ill chili and I got my story. Along the way we visited wildly diverse retailers, from the squat brick building at the corner of Crackpipe and Drive-By, to that roughneck outpost just off the highway, to the Middle-Eastern feel of the little gas station at the end of Dingleberry Road. Only twice did I get any static, once from a gentlemen who felt my presence was delaying the purchase of his forty ounce adult beverage (I acquiesced. He imbibed.) and an ugly brush with a cashier’s wingman (You know, that creepy old dude who hangs out by the register and pulls Marlboros through the hole in his throat?). Seems Tex didn’t like Sandy’s questions, the logo on my lens or the cut of my jib. Profanity ensued. Sure, I could have stuck his dumb ass on the news, but hey - I’m a uniter, not a divider.