When my eyes tire from the hours of screen-staring which naturally occur during quarantine, I like to drive. I race to the Hudson River, hike, then roll back to my nest, weaving my way through nearby townships on the way back home. My house is tucked between rolling hills of concrete and ancient strip malls, and I typically don’t look very hard at the grey rectangles that are gas station markets.
I realize, though, that no matter how full of dusty milk these mini markets may be, they’re extremely important to the American media landscapes depicting adolescence around the 2000s. This topic may seem niche, but it speaks to how 2000s kids grew up.
The middle-class American teenager’s ultimate freedom has been the driver’s license. But I remember from high school that once I actually got in the car, I quickly realized that there aren’t many places to go. The fantasy of exploration and discovery is revealed to be an illusion as the 16-year-old stares through her windshield, and she may find herself at a convenience store out of simply having nowhere else to go.
2000s coming-of-age movies get this; the gas station market becomes a place of growth and reflection, illustrating the insatiable yearning of young adulthood. Something about the aesthetic of a variety of colorful cheap foods and slushies elicits the uncertainty of youth. During adolescence, individuals have not yet differentiated into their career-donning adult selves. The multitude of snacks as a background in mini market scenes subtly reminds viewers that teenagers have a lot of choices to make (and are often unequipped to do so). How am I supposed to know which major I want to be? I can’t even decide between Doritos or Pringles.
Superbad is known for its mini mart and liquor store scenes — protagonists bicker, conspire and mess around in these often ignored settings. An iconic convenience store scene in the dark comedy Juno shows a frantic Juno buying her third pregnancy test of the day, gulping down an entire bottle of Sunny D. A short scene in Ladybird shows the newly-of-age Ladybird buying cigarettes, a lottery ticket and a Playgirl magazine in the same setting. (Ladybird was made in 2017, but it effectively captures the moment of 2002.)
At Cornell, the freshman adoration of Nasties seems to subconsciously appeal to our affinity for plentitudes of cheap snacks. Freshmen may find themselves drawn to the horribly-lit yet colorful store because the space allows us to feel the way we did in high school, aimlessly floating into convenience stores.
As we grow up from the phase of wandering 7/11 stores, we begin to opt more often for Wegmans or Greenstar (or Trader Joe’s!) We know we want that one type of chickpea snack now, and we know we maybe want to go into comparative literature.
Emma Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She currently serves as Arts Editor on The Sun’s board. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.