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La Bella Quiktrip




Mega Fix


TWA Flight 800






(Courtesy of the Cashill Newsletter - August 30, 2000)

By Jack Cashill (as seen in Ingram's Magazine)

I am driving through the Tuscan countryside just outside of Firenze (Florence for ye Philistines), a countryside that in late October is even more ripe and luscious than advertised, but I absorb almost none of it. My eyes move in a rigid triangle from gas gauge (empty) to roadway (hairy) to gas stations (closed).

In her precious best seller, Under The Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes talks about the "luxuriousness" of Italian life. What makes for this luxury are quaint little customs like three hour lunchtime gas station breaks. These customs, I assure you, are more quaint on paper than in reality. In reality, full bladders and empty gas tanks subvert the wonders of lush Tuscan landscapes and leave one daydreaming of mere stateside QuikTrips.

Ah, La Bella QuikTrip! How to summarize its wonders. In this, the Best of Kansas City issue, we have no real category for what QuikTrip epitomizes--i.e. industrialized service delivery (ISD). One often thinks of "franchise" in this context, but all 325 QuikTrip stores are fully owned and operated by the parent company. Still, regardless of who owns them or how we define the category, QuikTrip wins.

ISD is America's great gift to the world. In the second half of the century we standardized service much the way we standardized manufacturing in the first half. True, not everyone appreciates the gift--like the farmer in France who has become a national hero for assaulting a McDonald's--but a gift it is, especially for the traveler.

There is only one reason a McDonald's exists, here or abroad. It provides a better, more affordable, more consistent service than heretofore existed. Much nicer rest rooms too, and that's all part of the experience.

No one is ever forced to go there. Those who object to McDonald's--or Walmart, or KFC, or, yes, even QuikTrip--do so because they presume that their tastes should trump the masses'. As travelers, they would prefer the locals remain poor and comfortless so that, in their eyes, native customs will remain quaint, native towns picturesque. The golden arches might improve the local economy, but they ruin the enlightened traveler's snapshots.

Still, it's hard to travel when you have no gas. In Italy, one can find McDonald's and KFC's, but no QuikTrips, nothing close. In fact, I do not recall seeing a convenience store. A country that would shut its gas station for three hours at lunch time, probably doesn't even have a word for "convenience."

Admittedly, the country has endured for millennia without a QuikTrip, and a delightful country it is. But at this moment of my life, with a car full of anxious travelers--three of whom adamantly refuse to "go behind a tree"--I can not help thinking about how much more delightful Italy would be with a string of handy QuikTrips.

The QuikTrip would nicely fill the few real wholes in Italian cultural life. The most obvious is the absence of the convenience store/gas station. In this category, QuikTrip is the best there is. I don't how they do it, but at 4 AM, QuikTrip staffers are universally polite and perky in their neat burgundy shirts. Even on Maine Street--amidst a clientele of hookers, hobos, and sleepy cops--the bright and cheery store radiates civilization.

To be sure, Italian service people are more responsive than, say, the French, but no one would ever accuse them of perkiness. QuikTrip offers basics that Europe simply doesn't. Like fountain drinks. A bottle of coke anywhere in Europe cost about as much as a gallon of gas-a whole lot, and ice, if it exists, is always an imposition. At QuikTrip, a small child could shower in ice. The fountain offers twenty spigots with at least eighteen different choices of soft drinks, a dozen different shapes and sizes of cup, and an industrial strength 64 ounce soda pop that sells for less than a buck. Is this a great country or what?

Then, too, QuikTrip sells at least a score or more varieties of the ultimate car food, beef jerky--I lean towards the beef teriyaki myself. Jerky, I realize, is something of an American luxury, an acquired taste. It is not a basic necessity like, say, a Diet Dr. Pepper over crushed ice. But this, the jerky-deprived Italians may never know.

The single greatest flaw in Italian culture--if you don't count its historically corrupt and incompetent governments--is breakfast. The basic Italian breakfast includes one cup of coffee, no refills, and a hard roll with the taste and consistency of wallboard. This breakfast costs about $8.00.

By contrast, America offers the best and cheapest breakfasts in the world. Those who wonder why Americans are so fat need only to get in line at Shoney 's breakfast buffet where folks will knock down 2,000 calories of biscuits and gravy before they get to the eggs and sausage, and all this at half the price of an Italian wallboard roll. If Europeans had salad bars and breakfast buffets, they would all be fat too.

QuikTrip, of course, has no breakfast bar, but it has been in the forefront of the great American coffee-drinking renaissance. Even the humblest QuikTrip offers at least half a dozen kinds of coffee, including gourmet brands like Colombian Supremo, about five different strains of capuccino, and a few kinds of frozen capuccino to boot. For under two bucks, a patron can cop a 24 ounce cup of java and a couple of fresh donuts and enjoy a better breakfast than the average Italian has ever known.

True, I do not know of a QuikTrip with a cobblestone piazza out back where the patrons sip coffee, ogle girls, and have pigeons poop on their head. But I am confident that if QuikTrip chooses to go this route, they'll have bigger cups of coffee, better looking girls and more discreet pigeons than anywhere in the free world.




Posted: August 30, 2000
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