Mecca. Graceland. A converted Iowa cornfield.
Doesn't much matter, really.
With a pilgrimage, see, it isn't really about the "where." The "where" can be a lake or a lamppost or a lean-to. It's about the "why." Which, of course, leads inevitably to a "what" -- a person, an event, a creation; something that takes that lean-to and transforms it, lends it new weight and significance, grants it a rebirth, of sorts. And, perhaps most importantly, draws to it those who would best appreciate it.
The very best part about being a cranky, suspicious codger (which, faith, I am) with regard to marketing pitches and publicity stunts and the like is that every great once in a while, an idea comes along that genuinely does strike your fancy, and you get to let your guard down, allow yourself to be willfully taken in, and get caught up in all the silly fun of it. It's like watching a good, dumb action flick -- or, better yet, like that scene in The Phantom Tollbooth in which Milo blissfully turns his brain off in the "Doldrums." It's not good to do permanently, but every now and then, it's awesome.
Because every now and then, something like this happens. And really, you have to hand it to the folks at 7-Eleven and Fox. Real-world Kwik-E-Marts? I can't recall another marketing campaign since I was, oh, say, 10 or so that made my heart skip a beat quite like this one did. There are clever ploys, and clever ploys; exceedingly rare are those ingenious and exciting enough to make me want to drive to a different area code.
Which is why, when my wife suggested that we drive the 300 or so miles from our home in (practically) Austin to Arlington and drop in for her brother's birthday, I perked up a bit. Arlington, you see, is about an hour outside of Dallas, one of the 12 cities chosen nationwide to host a Simpsons-style switchover.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love my brother-in-law, and would certainly have gone up anyway. (It's strange, but true: I love my in-laws. Not sure how I won that lottery.) But when you're on a pilgrimage, and you run into others going your way, you don't turn 'em down. Even Chaucer'll tell you that much.
My wife and mother-in-law actually got to go first -- they had business in Dallas while I was otherwise disposed, and decided to drop by, since I'd been yammering on about it so. They returned with strange, wonderful artifacts: Buzz Cola, pink-frosted cake donuts with wholly unnecessary sprinkles, a Squishee cup ... it all seemed so oddly ... familiar, as from a dream.
A dream that came true (now that's how you execute a segue) the very next evening, as my sainted, lovely wife made the trek again, this time with a seething me in the driver's seat. (She didn't know it then -- or maybe she did -- but we would spend a good two-and-and-a-half hours there. That, fellas, is a keeper.)
And, of course, it was just a 7-Eleven, with a foam-rubberish faux facade, a few plastic cut-outs of familiar yella folks, and some other goodies inside. They were out of Krusty-O's and the fabled Blue Vanilla Squishee. But I nabbed me two Radioactive Man Comics (one to read, one to keep sealed [good thing I'm already married]), and talked to a girl who'd driven in from Oklahoma.
Right on, sister.
See, because it isn't about the cereal. Or the talking keychains. Or the foam rubber. It's about the journey.
(And besides, I think you can still pick up Krusty-O's and the other stuff at just about any 7-Eleven, while the promotion's still going.)
Next pilgrimage: Texas Chainsaw Nightmare?
(More snaps of our Kwik-E-Mart pilgrimage here.)
Brian Villalobos lives in Austin, Texas (practically), writes on film and TV, and totally cried at Stuart Little.