Where’s the convenience in convenience stores?

How many times have you seen a building on a corner lot being cleared out to make way for a filling station? It seems like they’re popping up everywhere. Did you blink? Oh! There’s another one.

Likewise, we’ve watched the simple two-bay service station with the Coke machine chained to a concrete post grow into something generically referred to as the “convenience store.”

Need new floor mats? No problem. Fresh donuts? Get a dozen for me. Maps, paperbacks, camera film, belts and belt buckles, pet food, canned spaghetti, goofy license plates and souvenirs for your cross-country road trip … there’s not much you can’t get.

Gas-station convenience stores have become the ultimate in “end-aisle shopping,” where every aisle is an “end” aisle that’s loaded with impulse-purchase items. The marketing logic is solid and it works. You eventually have to come inside to pay for the gas (unless you’re a hot-shot techie who can actually figure out how to swipe the pump with your credit card). And at that exact moment your senses are bombarded with colorful displays and the sweet smell of fresh muffins and corn dogs.

But the attached convenience store is a mixed blessing, a lesson in courtesy … or lack of it. Even with a gas station on just about every corner, there’s no shortage of lineups at the pumps. Why? Because the guy you’re stuck behind is inside the convenience store waiting in another line to fill up his barbecue tank, or some other task that has nothing to do with actually paying for the gas and keeping the line moving.

Perhaps it’s the excitement of unearthing hidden treasure between those four glass-and-shiny-metal walls. Maybe it’s the selfish attitude that each one of us is the only person on Earth who matters. Regardless, the gas lineup is not a personal parking space. It’s made up of a bunch of other people trying to get to work, home from work, to a dentist or doctor appointment or to a school function.

That’s where a frustrated Richard and his daughter Emma were off to.

“I can’t believe I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes for the (guy in front of me) to move.”

Of course, I’m waiting behind Richard on this busy Wednesday lunch hour, which has just become one hour and 10 minutes (and counting).

Despite a nearly empty parking lot dangling off the side of the store, the owner of the silver sedan chose to leave his vehicle in the gas lane while he bought what amounted to three enormous bags of, well, pretty much everything.

Ignorance is bliss. With three vehicles — and seven people — in this particular lineup, each waiting 10 minutes minimum, there’s more than an hour of lost wages, lost time and lost sanity.

Since so much of our lives are spent waiting in lines, you can understand, and have probably lived with, the frustration of it all at one time or another.

So, what’s the proper etiquette? Do everything in your power not to make everyone else a victim of your schedule (or nonschedule). Go ahead and buy your lottery tickets (but scratch them somewhere else, please), beverages or newspapers, etc. That’s expected and it only takes an extra 30 seconds.

But if you find yourself on page 20 of the latest bestseller, trying on T-shirts or wondering why you always get the shopping cart with the bum wheel, you should first pay for the gas and move your … car.

Make others wait 10 or 15 minutes while you shop and they might as well be wasting their time shopping with you.

Consideration for others should be common sense, but, as is often the case, normally competent people trade in their good judgment as soon as they pick up the car keys off the kitchen countertop and head out the door.

This is just another example of that mentality.

Convenience stores are great in the sense that you can pick up bread, milk and movies while you’re getting gas — that’s the convenience part — but don’t turn it into an “inconvenience” store for other drivers who are just trying to get on with their day.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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