Recently, I made the punishing three hour drive through endless miles of desolate wasteland (otherwise known as nature) between Longview and College Station for (you guessed it) another horse show for my eldest and most expensive daughter Ally. Just outside the fair city of Madisonville, there arose out of the horizon the towering Buc-ee’s sign. A visit to Buc-ee’s convenience store is an event that I find almost as disconcerting as a horse show.
Whenever my family stops at Buc-ee’s, the kids rush for the doors like it’s Christmas morning-if Christmas was held in a cavernous gas station convenience store and Santa was a massive hillbilly rodent, the Buc-ee’s mascot-a beaver, I’ve been told. But Buc-ee’s isn’t just any gas station convenience store. It’s like a redneck Neiman Marcus.
One of the main draws of Buc-ee’s is the immaculate condition of the entire facility, something I truly appreciate. Unfortunately, this attracts other people besides me, hordes of other people. And while I am thankful to have a men’s room available on the highway that doesn’t look like a murder scene, there is a certain sterile, assembly-line quality to the place, like a medical research facility, but with pecan logs and Corn Nuts.
To maintian this disarming cleanliness, Buc-ee’s employs a fleet of janitorial staff, the Buc-ee’s Secret Service, each armed with a broom and dust pan. These ubiquitous employees lurk around the property watching your every move, making you feel guilty about your own germs. A parking-lot diaper doesn’t have a prayer at Buc-ee’s.
When you walk into Buc-ee’s, the cashiers closest to the doors purport to greet you with a friendly “Welcome to Buc-ee’s!” but the so-called greeting usually comes across as a 500 decible accusation. “You mean you haven’t bought anything yet?!!!!”
Along with this eardrum- shattering welcome, your nose is immediately assailed with marvelous smells. Apparently, the Buc-ee’s policy is to only sell food that is cheap and completely void of any nutritional value, which means it’s delicious-and will likely kill you.
As I was trying to avoid being trampled near the fudge, the employee behind the counter, adorned with shower-cap, plastic gloves, and a hazmat suit, insisted that I choose a sample. The Buc-ee’s fudge counter is like the Baskin Robbins of fudge. The choices are endless, and a little ridiculous. Green fudge, really? I nervously hesitated as the fudge lady wielded her fudge slicer like a battle axe and awaited my choice. I finally chose a flavor that sounded edible (the soft praline), and received my precious sliver. Unfortunately, she expected money if I wanted any more.
The only exceptions I’ve found to the mouthwatering choices at Buc-ee’s are the Beaver Nuggets, which seem to be a cross between Kellogg’s Corn Pops and packing peanuts, and the jerky. Apparently jerky has become chic these days, and Buc-ee’s has a veritable jerky boutique. I always thought jerky’s sole purpose was to keep cowboys alive in the desert. Maybe I’ll give jerky another chance the next time I have a hankering for heavily seasoned zombie flesh.
Ally always feels like it is her solemn duty to order food from the Buc-ee’s computerized menu. There is a slight delay between the food ordering and its arrival to give the impression that the food might have been cooked sometime earlier than the previous month, so once her food is ordered, Ally also feels an obligation to take her bathroom break after everyone else has already taken care of it and she has assured us that she didn’t need to go. Inevitably her food order number is called while she is using the facilities, and I’m left holding her chicken nuggets while dodging Icee-crazed kids scrambling toward the legions of flavored frozen foam dispensers (if only I could join them).
A visit to Buc-ee’s is never complete without at least one restroom visit. Even if you don’t need to “go,” you go for the spectacle, if nothing else. The men’s room at Buc-ee’s is like an airport hangar, and it’s clean enough to eat off the floor. (I think they serve nachos in there.) The only complaint I have is that the 200 urinals are packed so closely together that you’re wearing the deodorant of the guy next to you when you step away.
On the way out of Buc-ee’s, amid my relief, I’m always amazed by the staggering selection of merchandise emblazoned with Buc-ee the beaver’s smiling (or horrified glaring) face. They have everything from baby bibs to underwear. Yes, gas station underwear! The last time I bought underwear at a gas station . . . . Well, never mind.
I recently read that more Buc-ee’s stores are in the works, and because of my family’s fondness for stopping there, it looks like there will likely be many more visits in my future. So I guess I’ll put on my big boy, gas station underwear and order some jerky.