Wednesday, July 20

Gas Station T-shirts in Ocala, FL

My son and I had been in Ocala for a track meet, so we decided to eat downtown after the sporting event. We enjoyed the the restaurant and the art walk that was happening, but we eventually had to start the long qdrive back to Jacksonville. I used my GetUpside app to find a Shell station where I could get gas and some caffeine for the ride home. As we made a U-turn to get to our destination, we noticed a weirdly-busy Italian ice shop (Jeremiah's), but that was just the beginning of our trek into the Central Florida Twilight Zone.

The Hi Way Express gas station had seen better days. Initially, I tried the west side of the property to get gas, but those pumps had been cemented over, so I had to back in to an available pump. Since I had a 2+ hour drive, I decided to get some liquid energy after refueling the vehicle. My son was almost asleep already, so I locked him in the back seat, stressing that he honk the horn if anyone got too close. 

I entered the convenience store, and I wasn't really impressed by any particular element. It was small, and it had a small selection of drinks. I didn't even notice that some inventory went nearly up to the ceiling. I got in line behind some women looking for a specific ice cream flavor. This was humorous because no one should expect more than vanilla or chocolate at a gas station and because the frozen ice place next door probably had whatever flavor they needed. They wanted strawberry or key lime. Weird. But they were also seemingly buying their week's groceries at a gas station, so it almost makes sense.

Before I could make my purchase, another patron asked where the t-shirts were. The cashier pointed to the back wall and gestured up. He was right. T-shirts in square plastic bags all along the back wall. Black or white. The other patron, now seeing the shirts that I too had not seen earlier, began browsing. However, it didn't take him too long before he cut back in front of me to ask if they had brown t-shirts. The cashier responded that they only had black or white. No colors, including brown. Disappointed, the patron asserted that if the Hi Way Express carried brown shirts, people would buy them. At this point, the man went back to shirt shopping, leaving me to finally complete my purchase.

I couldnt help but ask the cashier why the Hi Way Express in Ocala sold t-shirts. The answer? "Because people buy them." I couldn't argue with that logic, especially while considering the other shopper currently in the store with me. I just had to wonder whether this gas-station-t-shirt-phenomenon was unique to this establishment, Ocala, or Central Florida. I've gone into lots of gas stations in Jacksonville without ever seeing anything similar. However, I have seen some Jaguars shirts and Duval Light shirts at a couple of places. Maybe plain t-shirts are sold in parts of Jacksonville where I don't tend to exit my vehicle. 

Yes, people in Ocala buy t-shirts at gas stations, but why? Does it have to do with the horse farms in the area? Maybe ranch hands use up shirts rather quickly in the Florida heat. Or lots of locals enjoy late-night tie-dyeing or silk-screening? Is the James Dean / Fonzy look? Does it have something to do with meth? And most importantly, would brown really sell as well as black or white?

If you accidentally find yourself in Ocala, buy a t-shirt at a gas station and send a photo to me. I'll try to remember to do the same next time I visit that part of the state, or if I happen to find t-shirts at a local dive gas station.

I met a guy who used to live in Ocala, and while he couldn't confirm the existence of t-shirts at various gas stations, he did tell me that in his current state of North Carolina in similar neighborhoods people buy these t-shirts to wear until they get too dirty and then toss the shirts out instead of washing them. While it's hard to believe this waste, he seemed fairly confident in the explanation. Honestly, I hope even homeless folks wash these shirts and dry then on a park bench, even without soap.

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