There’s a 7-Eleven in Florida that is one of my happy places. It looks out onto what I guess could be considered a busy road. It’s wide and has four lanes but I don’t remember many cars. To the left is the beach and to the right is the place where I get my nails done. I know the shops, the restaurants, the houses well. I just don’t know the name of the street. It’s at the corner of Gulf Boulevard, in Treasure Island, if that helps.
I can’t remember the first time I went into this particular 7-Eleven. I think it was when I put gas in my rental car. There was a little sign saying you had to pay before pumping, so I trotted in, wallet in my hand, my mother’s voice about how easy it would be for someone to mug me ringing in my ears. I went years without a handbag, just carrying around my wallet, hearing her warnings. The closest I came to being mugged was in a parking lot in Stratford Upon Avon in England. I heard my mother’s voice then, too. But that’s another story.
When I tried to pay the tall male clerk said, ‘Yea, that sign doesn’t apply to you,’ and he chuckled.
Because I was Canadian? A woman? I had no idea what he meant. I just felt like I was special the way he said ‘you’. Later I saw the sign indicated this policy was in effect at night, but by then I’d already spun all my theories of what it could mean.
The second time I went in was very early in the morning in the week before Christmas. There was a time when getting out of bed for me took an act of God. I would curl up in warm sheets and hit snooze over and over. My father used to get up early and feed the birds until we complained at the noise they made. Dad was a fan of animals and mornings. In many ways he knew what was important in life, but he was not a fan of hot weather, although he rallied to trot through Disney World with us, and later with his grandchildren. After he passed away my mom, who loved hot weather, started renting a condo in Florida at Christmas. I fell in love with it and the neighbourhood it was in the minute I laid eyes on it. I loved the thatch roofed local bar called the Ka-Tiki. I loved the houses on the road that ran parallel to the beach, especially one that had an outdoor ceiling fan. I looked for it each time I walked by. I fall in love with houses all the time, but I’ve only ever fallen in love with two stores while travelling: A clothing shop in Bellingen, Australia called Retro Bello and a 7-Eleven in Treasure Island, Florida.
I think I was heading to get some milk for my mother’s tea when I ventured into the convenience store the second time, the air conditioning greeting me along with a hello from the clerk that marked my first visit. I saw the coffee pots at the back of the store and headed to them, telling myself convenience store coffee would be pretty dire. When it sits on those little burners is gets a wooden, scorched-earth sort of flavour. And it’s generally weak. So even as I walked toward it, I was preparing myself to be disappointed.
What I saw was not one pot, not two pots, but several pots of coffee. The handles announced the type and I perked up, impressed by the selection and finding my favourite dark roast. Then I saw something that truly thrilled me: International Delights creamers. Lashings of it in those cute little white pots with the covers you peel back.
I love International Delights coffee creamers. I love the French Vanilla flavour and the Bailey’s and the Hazelnut. I love going to American grocery stores and looking for new flavours. Once I saw After Eight and to this day I am disappointed I did not buy it.
I don’t think I can express the simple joy I had standing there in shorts and a t-shirt and sandals, pouring French vanilla creamer into a cup of coffee. As I stood at the cash I wanted to tell the clerk how happy I was, but those are the kinds of things that make people think you are weird. I know this, first hand.
When my sister flew in a few days later I took her to 7-Eleven and showed her the coffee station and the little creamers. Instead of being delighted, she couldn’t believe it as I poured them into my coffee. ‘They’re not good for you,’ she said, sounding much like my mother and her wallet warnings, rather aghast at my stupidity. I am very careful with my diet, but if International Delights cream was laced with arsenic, I think I’d still drink it.
‘I know. But they’re fabulous.’
She looked askance, added one to her coffee, and we walked over to the beach to drink it. It was one of those moments you know you will remember forever. Maybe not the day, or what you were wearing, but the feeling. That all was right in the world. That despite a dodgy bank balance (me) you were indeed pretty blessed. That life was good.
As Florida became a tradition, so too did the 7-Eleven. After a night out dancing at the local bar my brother and another sister and I went there for pizza and ate it on the beach walking home. We bought cold beer there and red wine when we ran out and didn’t have it in us to walk to the Publix. We had so many good times in that little patch of Florida.
We’ve logged many Christmas trips, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone how much I love the 7-Eleven, but I’m saying it now. It makes me happy, whatever I’m picking up and whoever I am with.
Maybe its crazy that I find so much happiness in a chain convenience store in Treasure Island, Florida. But I do. I think my Dad would, too. He liked coffee, loved air conditioning, and always enjoyed a chat with a stranger. Sometimes when I sit on the bench and drink coffee with my sister I like to think he knows where we are, and the happiness I feel.
I didn’t make it there for the holidays this year. I hope to return soon. But in the meantime, there’s a certain pleasure in knowing it is there, waiting for me. That the coffee is brewing and the waves rolling. Maybe I’ll find the After Eight flavour on my next trip.
May the coming days bring everyone good coffee, good times, and the simple joy I find at 7-Eleven in Treasure Island, Florida.
Happy 2023. #seveneeleven#7eleven#retrobello#bellingen#creamernation