(In)Convenience Store Truths
FRIEND, Neb--A fly landed on Glen Steffensen’s hand and suddenly a table that was alive with the gravelly laugher of four elderly men fell quiet. No one moved. All eyes turned to Marvin Kraus. Slowly, he lifted the flyswatter he’d been holding, placed it in prime position and with one flick of the wrist, thwack!
He hit Steffensen's hand but missed the fly.
“You didn’t hit hard enough,” Steffensen, 84, said.
“He didn’t want to bruise you,” Gerald McCullough, 64, said. “Then you’d be screaming for health care -- ‘Obama, Obama, send me a check.’ That’s what everyone thinks, that he’s going to send them a check.”
“There ain’t no Santa Claus, is there?” Kraus, 69 said.
This is how talk of politics and the economy spill out at a popular gathering spot in Friend, Nebraska: the Speedee Mart. The convenience store has six window-side tables, and McCullough, Kraus, Steffenson and Gene Roll, 65, can be found sitting at one at least once a day, and often twice.
“We have to get the news in the morning and we have to get the news in the afternoon,” McCullough said.
That day the “news” ranged from how Kraus had gotten the best seat in the place (it was the easiest from which to watch women walk by) to how the cost of living was rising (McCullough had just paid more for his pick-up truck's shocks than what he’d paid for the tires).
Meanwhile, the price of crops is falling, he said.
“I don’t think they realize,” McCullough said of city dwellers, “that we got to keep the food chain going or there’s going to be a problem.”
“As long as there’s food in the grocery store, they don’t think about it,” Kraus said.
“I really think though in the city, it's a lot tougher than here,” Steffensen said. They were hit a lot harder by the recession, he added.
“Because we live within our means,” McCullough said.
“When our parents lived through the 30s we had to live through it too because they never got over it,” Kraus said. “So who we are today is because of who they were.”
“That’s right,” McCullough said. “We’re in the shadow of it.”
Roll didn’t say much, just sat drinking a 63 cent cup of soda (which along with coffee, "just went up from 42 cents,” Steffensen said). Suddenly, talk turned to how the country could use the money that’s being funneled into the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Keep the money here!” Roll said.
Steffensen nodded in agreement.
"Still," he said, even with the country's problems, “it’s the best place to live.”
"It is," Kraus said, adding a few minutes later, “And there’s better days ahead."
“I hope,” McCullough said.
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