Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Morning in Little Rock, and the South University Kum and Go is a buzzing hive of activity. City workers, UALR students, police officers, and a thousand other types of morning commuter zip around the parking lot, jockeying for position at the twenty or so gas pumps, then heading inside for what some say is the most important meal of the day — and in these parts certainly the most rushed: breakfast. The scene inside the store is just as busy as the one in the parking lot as people line up to buy the Red Bull energy drinks, snack cakes, and 32 oz. cans of Miller High Life that keep this city running. Jerrod and Vanessa are behind the counter, just as they are most mornings, keeping things moving so that we can all get to work on time. They're both friendly in a hurried, efficient way, and they watch out for things that might be out of the ordinary, from the taking down of license plate numbers from people who attempt fuel pump drive-offs to Jerrod's running off an older man in biker leather who has been standing at the door for at least 20 minutes inexplicably shouting "DUH!" at every person who walks through the door. It's a gas station, sure, but it's something beyond that: it's where a lot of what my dad calls "just folks" come to break their fast and start their days.
Wednesdays at the Kum & Go are particularly busy, because it's on Wednesday that the signs go up: "$1 PIZZA SLICE." Pepperoni, sausage — even the egg, cheese, and bacon "breakfast slice" — all just one dollar? It's too good a deal to pass up, even better than the "2 for $2.22" hot dog deal that can net a full lunch (with kraut, onions, and all the fixins) for under a fiver, even with a drink and chips. And sure, there's ham and cheese croissants and donuts available, and the K&G kitchen has even been known to whip up a very passable biscuits and gravy, but there's just something about eating pizza for breakfast on the cheap that keeps me coming back again and again.
You don't eat gas station pizza expecting anything gourmet, and you don't eat gas station pizza without feeling a little bit of guilt. My mother certainly raised me better than shoveling in a greasy triangle of sausage, processed cheese, and something can only charitably be called "crust" as I'm navigating the traffic on University avenue, dodging freshman driving in the big city for the first time, Reagan-era boats with rims bigger than my Nissan Versa, and the 18-wheelers who have come from I-30 into town to bring us all what we consume. No, you eat this food, this "pizza" because it's cheap, and while it doesn't necessarily taste good, it hits those spots in your primate brain that make everything feel better, at least in the short-term: salt, fat, pure carbohydrate. You eat it because sometimes you have to give your Lipitor prescription the finger. You eat it because it costs only a dollar, and precious little can be gotten for that meager amount these days.
I suppose that a larger conversation about gas station pizza might include discussion of why a slice on any given Wednesday is cheaper than, say, a piece of fresh fruit, and while that's a valid topic and something that we should be quite concerned about, I'm afraid I just can't be bothered to address it until I've finished these two-for-a-dollar Slim Jims and Strawberry Diet Coke.
Kum and Go is located at 6201 Colonel Glenn Road, right below any sense of dignity you have about what you put in your body. One dollar pizza lasts all day every Wednesday.