Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Chocolate Gas Station (Not What You Think, I Swear)

“You Pakistani. I know you Pakistani.” said the owner of the second closest gas station with a tsk and a wink, wagging his finger at me like he found me out. I had been hiding it all along. I was from Pakistan and only he knew because he could see through my gawky white girl disguise.

Except, I am not, nor have I ever been anything remotely close to Pakistani. I don’t even recall ever having known a single soul from Pakistan. Apparently though, at least to the guy who owned the second closest gas station, I looked Pakistani.

People have always tried to guess what I “am.” Strangers come up to me regularly with accusations of Italian, Cuban, Syrian, Belgian, Brazilian and all sorts of other random, moderately brown nationalities. I’m not any of them, unless of course that whole story about Mario Lanza being my real grandfather is true, which would make me one quarter Italian. Actually, I’m pretty much a French heavy blend of white trash with rumors of Cherokee thrown into the mix for added interest. I don’t think I look particularly ethnic at all, though it’s true that I could probably pass for a lot of different nationalities, except maybe Ghanaian or Nigerian. I also don’t think anyone would ever mistake me for Cantonese either, but then again, I didn’t think I looked Pakistani. The guy who owned the second closest gas station disagreed.

I went to the second closest gas station because the first closest gas station involved an elaborate U-turn, green arrows and a one way street. It was a pain in the ass to get to from my direction and it didn’t have a little quickie mart. The second closest gas station was way nicer and had a tiny little shop. It wasn’t one of those mega-mart kind of gas stations though. It didn’t have twenty pumps and a store where you could buy a year’s supply of chemical laden junk food. It had but one pump and a shop the size of a walk in closet where a few items were displayed on wooden shelves and the attendant sat behind a glass window watching a small black and white TV. This sounds like your basic, low end gas station, but there was nothing low end or basic about the second closest gas station. It was an extraordinary place that I fatefully found because of my aversion to U-turns and one way streets.

There was no magic in South Florida, I complained. Florida felt barren compared to the narrow, pot holed streets of Atlanta which were shaded by fifteen story oaks and magnolias – trees I imagined had survived Sherman’s burning. Houses in Florida were low, tasteless architectural atrocities erected in the 60s when things like seahorse bird baths, concrete dolphins and a yard made out of gravel instead of actual grass were the height of class. The new houses, gaudy faux Mediterraneans, were just as bad, and I don’t even have to get started on the people in South Florida. Everyone was nouveau riche or trying to be. The women were gold diggers. The men were con artists. I hadn’t met a soul who wasn’t shallow, materialistic or just stupid, and dammit all to hell, there was just no magic.

You couldn’t escape the magic in Atlanta. It dripped from the cape jasmine in Druid Hills, fizzed like Coca Cola in Inman Park and sparkled it’s way through Virginia Highlands. I supposed that in Florida the magic, if ever it had existed in the first place, had eroded like a beach in a Hurricane – another fatality of over development and Northern influx. But readers, I was wrong. There is plenty of magic left in Florida and plenty of magic where you are too, but magic is fickle. It likes to be found. Who on earth would ever have thought that the very first magic I found when I moved to Florida would be hiding at the second closest gas station? Not me.

Something was wrong with the credit card machine at the lone pump, which forced me to suffer the dreadful inconvenience of actually having to go inside and interact with a real human being. At this point in my life, I wasn’t too keen on real human beings. You couldn’t trust them. They were all fucked up, annoying liars. All of them. The whole entire world. There wasn’t a decent person left, especially not in South Florida, where the silt and sediment of society sunk and settled here at the bottom with no place else to go. We’re surrounded on all sides by water. It’s easy to get stuck on a peninsula so all these idiots end up here and have no way out and nowhere left to go.

I was so put out that I actually had to go inside to pay. The following week, the credit card machine STILL wasn’t fixed. What was wrong with these damned people? Why couldn’t they get their one, lone pump fixed? The week after that the guy recognized me and accused me of being Pakistani. God only knows what he said to me. It involved more winking and finger shaking.

Dammit. The Pakistani owner of the second closest gas station was sexually harassing me and I knew he was because every time I filled up my car as I was on my way to work at the Bubblegum Kittikat. He only saw me when I was dressed up with my hair curled and too much eyeshadow. I decided to get gas during the day when I looked normal. Same thing happened.

“I am NOT Pakistani!!” I argued for like the 300th time.

The owner of the second closest gas station laughed.

“You need chocolate. Yes, you are very much needing of chocolate.” He said. “I see you every week and I say to myself – she is very much needing of chocolate.”

And then he gave me chocolate. GAVE IT TO ME. For free.

Now one thing that can stop me in my tracks and get me to pay attention to anything, is chocolate. Usually the mere mention of chocolate will suffice. I don’t even need to eat it. I love chocolate so much that I’m even happy to just talk about it. I am also guaranteed to forgive almost any offense and love anyone who declares me “very much needing of chocolate.” If you give me chocolate for free I will definitely be your best friend.

Forget all that trite crap you hear about chocolate making you feel like you’re in love. It doesn’t have that effect on me at all. It just tastes good. When I eat chocolate I don’t feel like I’m in love, unless of course you mean in love with the chocolate. I’m not a chocoholic. I think that’s a stupid name. It makes me imagine a person out of control, in some sort of cookie-monster-esque feeding frenzy with brown smears all over her face. This is not me. I don’t just indiscriminately consume mass quantities of chocolate just because it’s chocolate. There are certain kinds I won’t even eat at all. I like the good stuff. I’d rather pass on the Nestle and hold out for the 70% cacao bittersweet and I extend this philosophy to many other areas of my life. Wait for the good stuff. Don’t settle for the cheap shit just because it’s there and it’s easy. As with hot cocoa (and coffee), there is no gratification in instant.

Normally my cynical self would have sworn up and down that the owner of the second closest gas station was trying to poison me with roofie-laced candy so that he could take me out back and have his way with an unconscious and stupefied me. He wasn’t. The owner of the second closest gas station was a nice man.

He came out from where he was watching PBS (there was a pledge drive) on his little black and white TV and stood surveying his wares displayed on the simple wooden shelves. I bet he built those shelves himself. For the first time I looked at the shelves too.

I expected to see some Skittles, Almond Joys maybe, a box of Nerds, some Trident and Altoids but instead I see a display of the most high quality chocolate in the world. We’re not talking Hershey Bars here. I mean Valhrona, Swiss, Belgian, French, Scharffenberger, brands I’ve never heard of, orange infused, bittersweet, Mexican chocolate scented with cinnamon and smoky chilis, and it is all in a gas station, people. A gas station!! What had to be the finest display of international chocolates outside of some foofy place in New York’s SoHo, sat right here in front of my face in the most unassuming of all gas stations, less than two miles from my parents’ house.

The Pakistani man scratched his chin. He furrowed his brow and said things to himself in Urdu that he thought I could understand because of my secret Pakistani-ism. He picked up a box of sesame truffles and sniffed them. Then he passed his hand over a bar of bittersweet Valhrona. Finally he decided that the chocolate I was very much needing was Mexican.

“Spicy.” He said. “Eat this. Almond, cinnamon. You are needing of spicy. Yes.”

He broke off a jagged bit of the Mexican chocolate for me. First it tasted like cinnamon. Then it melted and I felt the ground almonds. Next it tasted like chilis, smoke - all things black and mysterious and wonderful.

“I love this!!” I said, and immediately considered booking the next Mexicana flight out so I could trek to the mountains to live in San Miguel de Allende where I would spend the rest of my life eating this chocolate and painting self portraits of myself with a moustache and unplucked eyebrows. Sometimes I still think this would be the perfect life. Except for the moustache.

“You see! This very good for you. You eat little chocolate every day. You be very happy. But not a lot chocolate every day or you get too fat and never find a husband.”

This is actually excellent advice, which I follow fairly well. Eat a little piece of fine chocolate every day but not too much or you’ll get fat. Chocolate is good for you. All sorts of studies prove it, with antioxidants and whatnot, but I’m not just talking about that. It’s good for your spirit to stop what you’re doing - be it running incessant errands, getting gas, standing in some never ending line with a bunch of idiots at the DMV, or sitting at your desk at your boring assed job in some grey cubicle under piles of paperwork – to do nothing for a small moment except treat yourself to something exceptional. Then sit there and really savor it. Eat it little bits at a time. You’ll have to because good chocolate is strong in the same way as espresso and red wines. If you do this, I promise you will feel like all is right in the world again. And if you don’t like chocolate, which I think is a measure of insanity, then find some other wonderful, rare, fine thing that you love as much as I love chocolate and treat yourself to that.

I began to look forward to getting gas. I loved stepping into a secret, unexpected world in what looked like your average shitty quickie mart. I tried all kinds of chocolate. There was always something different. The owner was always excited to share his new finds with me. One day I asked him how this all came about, because honestly, I didn’t even think he would be allowed to sell these fancy chocolates in a gas station. I figured the snooty chocolatiers would only want their creations sold in gourmet shops and I was right. The owner of the second closest gas station was buying his chocolate retail, just like any other customer, and reselling it for the same price. He did this simply because he loved good chocolate more than anything else in the entire world and he wanted to share it with people he felt were “very much needing of chocolate.” Like me.

“Not about making money.” He explained. “More about making happy.”

The owner of the second closest gas station and I did not share a common nationality, culture or religion. We shared a common language, which was definitely not Urdu or whatever they speak in Pakistan. We shared a love of magic and mischief and very good things. We were kindred spirits- semi-sweet, smooth and occasionally spicy.

*** Unfortunately, a couple years after this story the chocolate gas station was sold and it became pretty much like every other gas station, though I will attempt to drive by where it used to be and get a picture of how it looks now. Now I buy my fine chocolate at the fancy grocery store or in neat shops that I find when I'm on vacation.

Also, I'd like to share with you some fellow chocolate lovers. Go visit them and give them some love. Chocolate Bytes and Chocolate Obsession are my two favorite chocolate bloggers.

And I almost forgot to mention The Chocolate Traveler! I keep a tin in my purse. It's one of the most perfect inventions ever.


Mim said...

mmm chocolate. You just made my mouth water.

I think that it's funny that in trying to not fish a picture compliment out of you, I still got one. That makes me feel special...and sneaky :)

AFC 30K said...

I used to work at Thorntons in England. I love them and regukarly give Wifey a box containing just 4 hand picked choccies...


Mrs. Qball said...

I saw on Yahoo news this am that Godiva is up for sale...Maybe a new business venture for u?

JDogg said...

Some of the best hand made chocolates I've had.

I'll bring some down from NY when they won't melt so easily.

jeff said...

With all your Florida vs. Georgia stuff... in which state did you meet your husband?

MP said...

Damn you....I'm so hankering for some dark chocolate now. Mmmmmmm.
Oooo, I do have some Skinny Cow fudge bars in the fridge here at the office..that will have to do.

Subservient No More said...

I met my husband in Florida while he was on vacation, but ultimately I had to import him from San Francisco.

Kandace said...

Damn you and your chocolate, now all I want is some fine chocolate:)

Anonymous said...

Burdick's in Walpole NH!

Whiskeymarie said...

Um, yeah- thanks. Now I remember that I ate the last of my usual bar of lovely dark chocolate that I keep tucked away. Like you, I only eat a bit at a time- it's really all I want.
I had some crazy dark chocolate a while back that had dried berries and black pepper in it- it was amazing & now I can't remember what brand it was.
Damn- no chocolate today...

A Margarita said...

You are so right. Not just about good chocolate, or good wine, or enjoying something to its fullest and dedicating all your focus on the aforementioned thing, but about finding magic wherever you are. Having lived in Florida for several years, I know what you mean about the shallowness but if you “stop and smell the flowers,” to sound cheesy, you see the “magic,” even though I think it’s harder to find with each passing year.

Thinking of places that still have some sort of “realness” to them, there’s one place that hasn’t changed much since I was little. Of all the beaches, I like Hollywood Beach, in spite of or because of all the foreign tourists. It’s a little bit trashy, seedy, rundown, but it’s still real and it’s got some of the best pizza I’ve ever had.

I’m a regular reader, jut not a regular commenter. A lot of times, I feel I have nothing to add because you always hit the nail directly on the head.

bssc23public said...

Even though I love chocolate and even made the pilgrimage to Hershey, PA, I found your article amusing for other reasons.

I have the same appearance as you. I also get Cuban, Italian, Brazilian etc comments. I have also gotten Tahitian, Israeli, Egyptian, Lebanese, Mexican and so on. People will come up to me and speak in foreign languages, thinking that I am one of them. I know enough Spanish to say, no hablo Espanol. So, I undertand completely.

Anonymous said...

Very sweet story. Just one question, however, if you hate Florida so much, why do you stay?

Pumpkin said...

I'm more of a 'savoury snacks kind of lass' however having read your post (you really do have a fantastic way with narrative lass), I do feel that I have to ask my friend to stop in at Thorntons before she crosses the water to visit me....damn I need chocolate and I need it NOW!!!
I'm also going to have a closer look at the place in which I live, see if I can't find something 'magical'about it, because I love the idea that there could be!!!

Anonymous said...

Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!! I'm dying to know what chocolate he originally gave you. I have a friend who is an amazing chocolate snob who imports her chocolate (we're in Australia) and I'd love to surprise her with something amazing.

Subservient No More said...

Anonymous, this is all in the past tense. I don't hate FLorida so much anymore. I had to learn to love it and through lots of stories like this one, I learned how to bloom where I was planted.

I do intend to move away once I have kids though. I want them to have seasons. That is probably what I miss the most.

Bss23- I ALWAYS have people speaking to me in other languages. Spanish constantly. I'm an honorary Cuban. The funny thing is, I have no idea why I look like this because my entire family on both biological sides are green eyed blondes.

Last Anonymous - the best chocolate treat I've ever had was XOXO Truffles from San Francisco. They ship all over the place and have really unique flavors. They have a very earthy, not sweet taste. I tend to like the spicier flavors and coffee.

Heather said...

That was a beautiful piece of writing, thank you so much for sharing it with me! If you don't mind, I've linked to you in an entry. :D

Subservient No More said...

Of course I don't mind. Link away. I am a link whore.

Eric said...

I agree great piece of writing.
"..where the silt and sediment of society sunk and settled here at the bottom with no place else to go."
What a great aliteration. Reminded me of a Film Noir Detective Voice Over

Dave said...

Hagen Daz now has mexican dark chocolate ice cream. It's delicious! Dark, smokey and spicey. Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember reading that the Mayans considered chocolate to be a sacred drink. Wise people indeed!

Leonesse said...

I am not a huge chocolate fan. Popcorn is my thing. I used to have it every night.

mmmmm, salty goodness.

bssc23public said...

You said that your family on both sides were green eyed blondes. Maybe it was a recessive gene. Or maybe you were adopted. I am half Japanese and half Irish but no one guesses that.

miss tango in her eyes said...

Sweet story! Put a smile on my face first thing in the morning.

6th Floor blog said...

I think American's in general are appreciating good food more. Good chocolates, good beers..etc.

I added both those links, I can never read too much about chocolate. Apparently Vosges now makes a bacon chocolate bar that I just have to try. There's a Vosges in Soho, so i'm going to go get some.

I think I like the term Chocolate connoisseur instead of chocoholic.

LaLa said...

This may be one of my all time favorite modern fairy tales: the Pakistani gas station owner who stocks gourmet chocolate to make people happy. I know it would make me happy. I'm sorry he's not there any more. That must have been a dark day.

Tere said...

It's true, you totally "pass" for Cuban! (and that's a high compliment!)

Anonymous said...

Chocovic are the hands down best single origin dark/semi-sweet choc. bars - and if you have access to them at Trader Joe's not $$$ at all.

To see the packaging go to
They are a wholesaler so I don't think you can make retail orders on their website - but gives you pix of what bars look like.

I first started buying them in Soho at Vosge (for $4.95 each) but now can usually get them at Trader Joe's for about $1.99 a piece.

misha said...

substitute richmond for atlanta and we are so similar. i was going to ask were the gas station was.... I love your writing. And am so craving good chocolate right now.

Geri said...

I just found you...and I'm never leaving. Aparently in Las Vegas, there is a chocolate shop that makes chocolate with crumbles of maple bacon. Seriously. I tried to order some online....The shipping cost more than the chocolate. But oh my dear, the next time I'm in Vegas, look out.
Chocolate AND Bacon?! Swoon.....

Anonymous said...

That is so funny that the guy insisted you were Pakistani! I am Mexican/ Spanish/ Guatemalan and look like it (I think), but i always get random ethnicities thrown at me. I've gotten White, Italian, Brazilian, Indian, Arabian, etc. One time I went into this Subway (run by i think some Indian people), and the same exact thing that happened to you happened to me except i didn't get chocolate out of it :( The guy just "accused" me of being "Indian" and was offended I was trying to "deny" it.

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