A client confirmed for me what anyone who has spent time in Philadelphia knows by heart: Wawa is more than just a convenience store, it’s the nexus for peculiar Philly culture.
Philly natives know the drill at Wawa. It’s full of contradictory cultural norms.
- The Wawa Door Hold. You must hold the door open for the person behind you, especially if it means you must wait a few seconds for someone from the parking lot to catch up with you.
- Touch Screen Camaraderie. Wawa installed touch screen menus to speed up the line at the deli/hoagie bar, since we always like to chat with the person taking our order. This just means you exchange pleasantries with the counter clerk as you pick up your $2.99 Gobbler instead.
- Checkout Scramble. Lest you think that Wawa is an island of civility, the Modern Matriarch documents the events that occur when a new checkout line opens in the store. It’s every man for himself, and the Wawa Way is to not get upset if someone behind you makes a mad break for that surprised fourth clerk.
- Gas Pump Grace Period. Ever since the emergence of Wawa locations with gas pumps, a variation of the Door Hold rule stipulates that it’s fair game to make a quick visit to the indoor market shortly before or after filling your tank. This has been grandfathered in from the time when you used to have to leave a twenty with the cashier before pumping gas, then return to the cashier for your change.
And that’s the Wawa rule that got me thinking about a story idea yesterday, when I was pumping my own gas and watching an exchange between a fellow citizen and someone who was clearly not a regular Wawa visitor.
I’m gonna say that he had a Gobbler under one arm, since it’s only here for a limited time and all, when a ruddy face popped out from the minivan parked behind an idle car across the pump from mine. “HEY YOU!” the driver shouted. “You can’t just leave your car here and go into the store! I’m in a hurry and I need that pump!”
The driver can’t possibly be from around here, since the last thing you want to do to a native Philadelphian is encourage some passive-aggressive behavior. “Chill out, man! I just got my hoagie when I paid for the gas. It’s how this works here,” says Gobbler Guy.
Ruddy minivan guy starts bellowing obscenities, so Gobbler Guy leans against his car and unwraps his sandwich, savoring each bite. The minivan lurches around to my side of the gas pump. Uh oh. I’m only on gallon three. Once the angry guy was on my side of the pump, Gobbler Guy peels out, proving another Philadelphia law. Getting upset and acting out over something you can’t control only causes you to wait longer.