And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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Convenience Store Dialect

Do you ever feel your dialect start to kinda mosey one way or the other, depending on the situation? Jeez, see, I’m doing it already. “Kinda mosey”–straight up rural Iowa. 

About a month or so ago, I started working at a gas station part time to supplement my bakery job and my standardized patient job (more on that job in another post, because it is a fascinating job and there are entire blogs dedicated to being an SP that are well worth a read). It’s a little gas station on the edge of town, around a cluster of blue-collar business, across the highway from Menard’s and close to some farms and the road to smaller nearby towns. As a result, we get a lot of regulars in who like to stay and chitchat. They know the cashiers’ names or some have house accounts at the store. You also get the travelers: truckers, families, couples, business trip folks. Most of the customers, though, are from pretty rural or working class backgrounds. As I started falling into the groove of selling them beer and lotto tickets and cigarettes (I’m still learning what color the different brand of “lights” are since they can no longer write “light” on the packaging), I noticed that my voice started slipping more and more into the Midwestern twang. My g’s started slipping off the ends of my words, I catch myself saying “It works pretty good”, making my inner bespectacled English teacher cringe, and my inner flannel-wearing small town gal stretch out comfortably. 


I don’t know if my voice is a natural parrot, but I tend to subconsciously sponge up whatever dialect is being tossed around the most. When I went to school farther north, my voice acquired that slight Minnesotan stretch, the Norwegian “oooahs” and “yas”, so much so that when I visited my brother in Oregon he said, “You sound like a Minnesotan. It’s freaking me out!”


At any rate, I’ve done a pretty decent job of assimilating into the gas station culture. I banter with the customers and wanted to share some of the more entertaining characters and moments.

About every day my favorite customer comes in. I don’t know his name, so in my head I call him the Grumbly Cowboy Guy. Ol’ Grumbles has a studded cowboy hat, a jean jacket, and palms dark brown with dirt. He comes in and starts muttering things, a long narrative in a voice so gravelly that it seems like a joke or a cartoon character. Yesterday he was talking about everything from gardening to pizza. “Grumblemumble went to the pizza parlor and got a Canadian bacon pizza with sardines, I don’t know if you like fuggin sardines, but I love ’em, and they put some fucking pineapple on it. Grumblemumble fuggin tomatoes you can take ’em, I hate ’em, fucking Wal-Mart parking lot, fuggin old tires to grow potatoes. Oh, and a box a’ them USA Golds, will ya, darlin’?” I turn around to get the cigarettes and try not to crack up. 


This weekend an aging lady came in and immediately asked me, “Do you have kids?”


“Don’t. Don’t do it!”

A few minutes later her surly teenage son came in and ignored her as he resolutely looked at the pop bottles in the cooler, and again I had to keep myself from laughing.


On one of my days during training, my coworker Leslie was helping me out, then she frowned out the window at something poking its nose out of a horse trailer. “Hold on… is that a camel??” It was. We both stared in shock and started laughing. You don’t see that every day.


Then there’s my coworkers. Oddly enough, it’s all women who work at this gas station, and usually there’s only one person working at a time. 

The first woman I met was Polly. I got to work on my first day and found her, middle aged, dyed hair, skinny, leaning against the side of the building and smoking. She greeted me, then put out her half-smoked cigarette against the brick wall and then showed me inside. “You’re working with Leslie, huh?” Then she gave me one of these knowing looks that says, “You don’t know what you’re in for.” 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing!” she said breezily. “I’m not saying anything. You can judge for yourself.”

I nod and shrug.

“The thing is,” Polly continues. “She’s so scatterbrained sometimes…I like her a lot, I really do, but….well, you’ll see.”

Once Polly took off, I met Leslie, a long-haired woman who was, surprisingly, passionate about organic and healthy foods. Odd for someone who works at a convenience store. “You met Polly?” I affirmed that I did. “I like Polly a lot, I really do, but she gets so nervous sometimes. She got into a bad car accident a while back and I think it  did some damage–she gets such bad anxiety now.”

There’s a few other ladies as well, some in their 50s, one is 16, and then there’s Grandma. Not my grandma, but everyone’s Grandma. She’s in her eighties and makes most of the homemade food in the store. Her potato salad is the shit, and I told her so, though maybe not with those exact words. “How does your mom make it? Does she make it with big chunks of potato?” 

“Yeah, she cuts them up into cubes.”

“See, I don’t like that, where you bite in and get a big bite of potatoes with no dressing. So here’s what you do. Take your mom’s recipe or whatever you like, but then you shred the potato up. Cook it and then rub it lightly over the grater. That’s what you gotta do. You gotta shred it.”


Sometimes I sit in the gas station and think about what a loser I am; 23 with a teaching degree that I refuse to use…working late on a Friday or Saturday night instead of “partying” like I’m “supposed” to do. I hate that phrase, “supposed to.” Because sometimes, something truly weird will happen at the gas station and I’ll realize, this is where the stories are.