Baltimore: The Long Walk to a 7-Eleven

The first thing I needed to do as soon as I checked into the hostel was get food and superglue. Food, because I was on a budget, and mostly because the hostel had a kitchen and a really nice breakfast nook. Super glue because the sole of my boot had been falling off ever since I got on the plane (interesting that it wasn’t falling off anytime before that, when I could have done something about it).

I hobbled (more than usual—think already normally limping person with a loose shoe sole) to the reception to ask where the nearest convenience store was. The receptionist didn’t know, so she had to search online. The nearest one, she said, was about three blocks away. She gave me directions and off I went.

And went.

Away from the Baltimore Cathedral, past the Enoch Pratt Free Library, down streets with closed storefronts.

I was beginning to get worried, and was also starting to think that maybe my friends (most of who had seen The Wire) were right about Baltimore being dangerous after all, when I saw the side door with the unmistakable 7-Eleven sign on it. I turned the corner, found the front door, and went in.

To my delight, not only was it a 7-Eleven, it was a huge 7-Eleven. This is where I’m going to pull out my third world resident card: the 7-Elevens I’m used to are cramped and tiny, with limited choices, some of them under lock and key.

This one was also cramped, but it also had a full self-service coffee bar, as many choices as sugar and creamer and milk—fresh milk, some of them not even from cows—as one would find in a hipster coffee shop. All for customers to mix into their considerably cheaper than a hipster coffee shop coffee at no extra charge.

It also had a wide food selection—really delicious-looking salads, sandwiches, and wraps in sizes enough to last me two meals. What amazed me the most was it had stuff like almond milk and Greek yogurt on hand—things you’d only normally find in high end groceries. I kind of wanted to live there.

I only got a small carton of milk, some yogurt, a nail clipper, and of course, some Kray-Z Glue, but I really believe that the trip was worth it, if only to see the possibilities that convenience stores in other countries hold.

The trip back to the hostel didn’t seem so long or so scary, especially after I had glued the sole of my boot back on. I enjoyed looking at the buildings, though I was sad that their better days seemed long past (I hope not). Wherever I go, I always manage to stumble on the more run-down part of town—it’s happened in places like Taipei, Tokyo, and La Union—and it’s always offered a different perspective, one with its own despairing yet hopeful mood that’s sometimes found its way into my writing.

I get back to my hostel, store the food in the refrigerator, and headed out to dinner just around the corner. The sun has gone down and the chill is up and what’s the first thing I see? The glowing red and green sign of a way nearer, probably way safer 7-Eleven.

So much for the receptionist’s googling skills (and knowledge of the neighbourhood).


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.