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Dan Conradt: Convenience store dining delicacies perfect for field trips

"We're not going to miss the bus, are we?" Steven asked. There was a hint of panic in his voice.

A lighted sign over the cash register had a pop company logo on one side and a clock on the other. It wasn't yet seven o'clock.

"We've got plenty of time," I assured him. "We're only a few blocks from school."

Steven marched through the convenience store like a boy on a mission, and I tried to keep up. He was there to select a lunch to take on a day-long field trip. I was there to pay for it.

We walked past the kinds of things you might need at inconvenient times, but didn't need badly enough to warrant a trip to the supermarket: white bread, motor oil, cat food, baby wipes, Wisconsin road maps, ice cream and Tom Clancy novels.


Later in the day I'd be able to get a slice of hot pizza. At seven in the morning the store smelled of fresh-baked doughnuts.

Steven pulled a readymade turkey-on-rye out of a cooler, then put it back. He did the same with ham-and-cheese on whole wheat.

"I'll take this," he announced, showing me a box lunch with all the parts for building three mini pizzas.

"You won't have a microwave on the field trip," I explained. "Are you sure you can eat it cold?"

"Positive! I've had them before."

Side dish selection

Choosing the entree was easier than expected, but I knew the side dishes would be a challenge. We stopped in front of a rack filled with a dozen different kinds of chips, and I started to wonder if we might not miss the bus after all.

Sea salt and vinegar? Cool ranch? Barbecue?


Ripples or regular?

Bag or tube?

Sometimes life is just too complicated.

"How about a bag of carrot sticks?" I suggested after three indecisive minutes. He gave me such a pitying look that I quickly added "Or a box of Ding-Dongs?"

He finally settled on something with "fuego" in its name, and I knew where we were headed next:

"I'm going to need something to drink."

Drink decisions

We reached a compromise between milk (my suggestion) and something "fortified with extra caffeine." Steven selected a big bottle of something designed to replace electrolytes, though I wasn't sure he was going to lose a lot of electrolytes on a school field trip. Mostly, I agreed to it because the beverage was a cool shade of blue.


There's a reason why I'm not in charge of meals at home.

Steven wandered off into another aisle, then excited poked his head up over the shelf between us.

"Can I get this?" he asked.

He was holding a pickle the size of a shoe. It was floating in a bag of green juice and reminded me of something I once saw in a Lon Chaney movie.

"You want to get a pickle?" I asked. Now there was a hint of panic in my voice.

"Yeah! I always take these on field trips!" he said. "They're great!"

It was like Tony the Tiger endorsing a pickle.

I said "Yes" to the pickle.


Time to spare

We'd spent enough money to buy a respectable meal at a nice sit-down restaurant. I paid my bill with the help of two pennies from the plastic take one/leave one cup on the counter, and didn't even feel guilty about it.

We got to school with five minutes to spare.

"Thanks for buying my lunch, dad," Steven said through the open window after he'd hopped out of the car. "It's going to be awesome!"

He turned and ran toward the school, and I called after him "Have fun on the field trip!"

I stopped at the convenience store again after work that night to put gas in the car, and curiosity drew me back inside.

Sometimes the only way to fully understand something is to experience it first-hand.

It might have been the best pickle I'd ever eaten.

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