Typical Customer

Created from eighteen Gas Stations Between Austin and Marfa, Texas

From 2012 to 2015, I spent a great deal of time at gas stations throughout the United States. They have been in moments a shelter, office, and market. They have warmed me amidst heavy snows in New Jersey, provided me with coordinates throughout the islands off the coast of Maine, and showed me the faces of men working the refinery lands of Houston, Texas. Amidst these stations, I have experienced time and time again the way in which kindness and utility bring together locals and passersby amidst neon-lit aisles and top forty radio, coffee syrups and lottery tickets.

 Amidst these vital road institutions, is the gas station clerk. They are the facilitators of a fundamental commerce, between here and there. They know the prices of all the cigarettes off the top of their heads, will reel off the exact number of scratch-its with a flick of their wrists, and remember your name if you visit often, or sometimes even just twice a year. They have told me stories about giving up everything to move here and open their stories from Pakistan, Uganda, and Vietnam. 

As an homage to these necessary yet often overlooked bastions of the wayfarers, I visited eighteen gas stations located amidst the 428 miles that stretch between Austin and Marfa, Texas and spoke with their clerks. What follows is an inquiry, from their eyes, reflected back at us, called Typical Customer. Who are we, when viewed from behind the counter?

 This work posits that we are all, sometime and somewhere, a typical customer. We walk in a prescribed path: dazed to restroom to fountain to counter to car. As we walk that path, as we do what is needed, who are we to the facilitators of this space? What reflections resonate, after we are gone, in the gas station?