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Something Like a Bodega: Your Corner Store Wherever You Are

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


Image viaThe famous bodega scene in Reality Bites Clique Clack

Today is the last day of Bodega Week—a first ever bodega-centric celebration on our sister site Racked New York (not to mention on cousins-of-Racked, Curbed New York and Eater New York).

There are some of you who may not know what exactly a bodega is. While they're not necessarily exclusive to New York City, they are definitely urban. And to many urbanites, they're a part of daily life—whether they enjoy bodegas or don't.

That said, just because you may not be familiar with the term "bodega," or live in a large city, doesn't mean you haven't been somewhere rather bodega-like.

Bodegas are your corner store—they're frequently open around the clock. They sell sodas and beer, newspapers and gum. They specialize in not specializing in groceries—stocking a limited array of often over-priced and occasionally outdated foodstuffs. Yet, they frequently make decent breakfast sandwiches for a song and always have that one basic ingredient you almost always forget at the grocery store. Also: Lottery tickets, toothbrushes, Kettle Chips, cigarettes, single-serve pain relief, Hi-Chews, ice, sandwiches to order, masking tape, light bulbs, batteries, chips and salsa, and passable coffee all the time.

So—whether your bodega is a convenience store or a gas station, a deli or a pharmacy—you know what we're talking about.

I love a bodega/convenience store/gas station/deli/pharmacy. They're full of surprises. Each one is different. And, while they sometimes don't have exactly what you want, they almost always have some slightly off version of it. And, well, variety is the spice of life.

My appreciation for convenience store culture probably began the first time I saw Reality Bites (Best Movie Ever), circa middle school. That scene where Lelaina, Vickie and Sammy (and Troy but he's such a wet blanket in that scene he's almost unattractive (almost)) go to that gas station convenience store to abuse Daddy Pierce's gas card. They're stoned. They're broke. They discover that Evian is naive spelled backwards. They dance to the Knack (OMG). The clerk yells at them. It is simply perfect.

I wanted to be them. Of course now, in retrospect, it's hard to fathom wanting to be an underemployed resident of Houston who needs someone's dad's gas card to buy dinner—but it was the '90s and they were so sort of effortlessly, counter-culturally cool. They were having so much fun, and, holy hell, they all look so good—accidental thrift store vixen and her sidekicks the '70s fetishist riot grrrl, the gay '80s holdover prepster with a soul, and the dirty-haired philosopher/musician in cords. And, omigod, has anyone ever looked better in secondhand Levi's 501s and a pocket tee than Winona Ryder at that very gas station? But, I digress, that scene is perfect. It's such a young people coming of age in America moment—I'm smiling just writing about it.

But it's not just in the movies and on TV—these places do become a part of your life. You probably went to a convenience store after school in, like, 8th grade—played a crusty, 20-year-old arcade game and paid for a Slurpee in coins. A few years later you probably knew someone who worked at the deli, who you'd go harass while they were working and who sometimes might undercharge you here and there for gum or Snapple. A few years after that—but before you were old enough to, say, go to a bar—you might've stopped at that gas station convenience store before a long night's hang. You might've picked up, say, some Marlboro Lights, a French vanilla cappuccino and a pack a Skittles before spending the next several hours driving around listening to the Smiths and smoking for effect. At the end of that long night you might've stopped at a different gas station convenience store just to use the bathroom despite withering glares from the not thrilled with life person working the graveyard shift behind the register. And it might've been the best summer of your life.

And now: You can't tell me you've never stumbled into one of these places at the end of a banner night out. For Diet Coke and some sort of snack you often don't manage to eat but then wake up next to the following morning, already late to work. And that on your way into work you've never stopped at one of those places (hey, maybe it's the same one you left six hours ago swinging your sandwich around over your head in its unbranded, black plastic bag after almost knocking down the rack of sensible nuts and dried fruits and struggling to find your wallet). Where you order a greasy egg sandwich, grab a Vitaminwater and hope they help get you close to being back to zero.

Not to mention: Discovering the local joys of another city's convenience marts. To wit: Light beer laced with Clamato and the largest Rice Crispies Treat ever (it was $10!) outside Dallas. Little beer-shaped shakers of spicy, lime-flavored garnish salt and green chili flavored nibblies in New Mexico. Really impressive doughnuts in Los Angeles; an unparalleled variety of pretzels in so many different sized packages in Pittsburgh; Old Bay-laced everything in Maine. Then there are best convenience stores in the world: Wawa and Sheetz. They're rather similar in concept: A wide selection, bright spaces, better service, and touch screen sandwich ordering. It's also worth noting that the coffee accoutrements selection at Quick Chek is particularly inspiring.

(I can be a clothing snob, but my pretensions tend to stop at snacks.)

So, yes, we all have a bodega. And these bodegas have a tendency to weave themselves into the fabric of our lives—becoming integral parts of happy memories and funny stories. And, yet, haters gonna hate: Of course the too cool for schoolers lament poor service and spoiled milk and high prices. But, hey, you wouldn't want to work there either; that can happen at Whole Foods; and hello—you're paying for convenience!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a package of that nut brittle stuff, some floss, and a 35 cent banana.

· Love, Frank [Racked]