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When is big too big?

By Angela Reinhardt, Staff Writer

            There he was. Peering at me from across the restaurant waiting room in his buck-toothed, Barney-Fife wonderment. At the center of a man’s shirt was the red-capped, chubby-cheeked beaver, Buc-ee’s beloved mascot.

            My mind was sucked into the shirt’s swirly tie dye pattern like Beaver Nuggets down a black hole, back to my first visit to the place I’ll loosely call a gas station and less loosely call hell on earth.

            Over the summer we took a weekend trip to Chattanooga and passed a Buc-ee’s billboard near Calhoun. My husband and I promised the kids we’d stop on the way home. The four of us had all heard the buzz. We’d seen friend’s social media posts announcing they’d made the trip – their photos taken proudly by the Buc-ee’s beaver statue – and we were curious.

For the uninitiated, Buc-ee’s is a Texas-based travel center famous for its unparalleled size, seemingly endless menagerie of snacks – including an extensive jerky, fudge, and barbeque selection – home goods, and the purported “cleanest restrooms in the America.”                        They’ve even got their own branded items and no shortage of Buc-ee’s merchandise. The chain has world records to back their bigger-is-better motto, too. The one in New Braunfels, TX is the largest convenience store on the planet, coming in at 66,335 sq. ft.

            But theme parks on their worst day seem tame compared to the unbridled chaos that greeted us. Like starved vultures, people circled the huge parking lot in search of an empty space. Its 120 gas pumps seemed to extend over the horizon — I swore I could almost make out the curvature of the earth on the far side, but cars still had to wait in line.

            After we passed the unexpected 50 lb. bags of deer corn stacked outside, inside somehow managed to be worse. Despite the store being over 53,000 sq. ft. it was elbow-to-elbow. I’ve been in big crowds, but this one seemed to check all sense of civility and logic at the door. It felt like navigating through a bunch of carpenter bees who can’t fully control their bodies, and who didn’t care to. Lines started from undesignated points, confusingly merged in areas, and tapered off into nowhere. People would haphazardly dart across the store with no concern for people around them. In the short time I was in there, two people ran into me and didn’t apologize.

            Forget the clean bathrooms and jerky counter, I was done.

            “Just grab some Beaver Nuggets and meet me at the car,” I said.

            After about 15 minutes my family came out with the nuggets, Buc-ee’s most popular snack, and a few mediocre turkey sandwiches we ate on the way home. I later asked my kids what their takeaway was from the experience and they said, “Lots of meat” and “body heat.”

            I’m only marginally joking when I tell people I think I have PTSD from my first (and maybe last) Buc-ee’s trip. Usually I’m countered quickly with something like, “Whaaaaaaat???? I love their brisket sandwich.”

            I can get brisket somewhere else.

            Buc-ee’s is a spectacle and destination, but when is big too big? I’m reminded of the novel Day of the Locusts and the mob at a movie premiere where one man is trampled to death. I joked with my kids that if you fall down in a Buc-ee’s that might very well happen. You’d be found after business hours, dead with Beaver Nuggets and taffy stuck in your hair. (All joking aside, I did find an article about a four-year old nearly being trampled in a crowded Alabama location.)

            The Rome-News Tribune recently reported sales tax revenue spiked after the Calhoun store opened. Call me irresponsible, but I don’t care. Buc-ee the mascot is cute, but I’d still forgo the revenue to keep the gas station/theme park outside Pickens County lines.

            Beaver nugget anyone?

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