The Last Breath of Summer, in Japan NC

I am here in High Point NC, just off of Exit 111 of I-85. I have a client meeting at 7pm, and with an hour to go I pull into a Marathon gas station on Hwy 311, the gateway to the Furniture Capial of the World. I need to use the restroom.

It is just starting to rain, and as I step out of my car, I smell Summer, three weeks gone now. The rain seems a bit warmer in temperature than the air it is falling through. The moisture has re-activated the rust, and stirred up all the motor oil on the ground.

I walk into the store with eyes peeled for the rest room. The usual rows of candy and pork skins are in my way. I make my way toward the beer coolers, and notice something a bit weird; a huge Budweiser banner hangs above the coolers. But, instead of a NASCAR theme, or pictures of pretty blondes, the banner also says “Japan” and shows pictures of flowers I am not familiar with.

As I exit the restroom a few minutes later, I see characteristics of a very different convenience store. There is an open kitchen, but it’s inhabitants are not cooking fried chicken and country ham biscuits. The cooks are Japanese, which I infer from the bamboo and Japanese print curtains that frame the kitchen. Another huge banner with the same flowers lists a menu of stir frys and noodle bowls. One gentleman is dressed like those guys at a Japanese steak house whom cook food at your table. He even wears the tall chef hat. The other gentleman wears a white t-shirt and a Bass Pro Shops hat. Styrofoam containers are stacked everywhere, to the ceiling.

I then notice a part of the store near the kitchen, blocked off with a two foot high wall. There are laminate tables and booths, to eat in. The décor looks as if the furniture was bought out of an old Golden Skillet restaurant. Around the outside of the short wall, spilling out into the rest of the store are benches nailed to the wall, with small purple Papa San pillows for comfort. Here, overweight people wait for their orders; staring at who walks in the store, or talking on their cell phones.

I pay for a pack of gum before leaving, waiting in a long line of people placing food orders. A blonde woman of about 40 takes their orders between ringing up gas purchases. She then walks the orders over to the gentleman in the chef hat. The first time she does this, I notice she has a faded blue tattoo on the back of her neck.

The woman in front of me, wearing an Alan Jackson t-shirt, smiles at me, and without my asking a question says, “The food is really good here.”

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