It’s cold outside, unusually cold for 3 a.m. in September, but I can forget the fact that my legs are freezing off because I’m about to enter a magical, warm and sparkly kingdom. It’s been a long three months, but as the fluorescent lights of Wawa come into focus, I feel safe again.
The dark world that exists on the curbs of University Place melts away as the double doors close behind me. I can feel the group of bright-eyed freshmen behind me experience the same unadulterated bliss at having entered a slice of heaven on earth. I stop, causing the awestruck frosh to bump into me because they temporarily forgot I existed in the excitement of entering what they call “The Wawa” for the first time.
I have a moment of panic. Last year, I would purposefully stride into the Wa and know exactly what I was getting, but now I am faced with indecision. Do I go left and scour the aisles for something unhealthy, like chips, or do I go right and explore every option on the touch-screen menu for something equally unhealthy, like chicken strips? And if I did turn left, would I head for the pseudo-healthy rabbit food so that when I wake up tomorrow I’ll feel 10 percent better than if I were to gorge on that pack of Doritos? Do I get a drink? What if I want a milkshake? (Note: Wawa milkshakes are amazing, but trying to drink them is borderline masochistic because even the extra thin one is the consistency of ice cream and all you have to conquer it is a soda straw.)
I stand there, watching the cashier stare at me in a mildly concerned manner, because the fact is — I’m lost. Three months away have turned my finely tuned senses to mush, and I no longer have the security created by a year of daily visits to the Wa. Last year, my cravings came in phases that each lasted a couple of months, at which point I would get sick of the previous craving and scratch it off my list of things to buy. I started out meaning well with spicy turkey wraps and Caesar salads before slowly progressing to the chicken strips, giant bags of chips, extra-large mac and cheeses and finally, during finals week, the 10-inch meatball hoagies.
After a summer without Wawa, the beauty of the routine is gone, and I’m left standing helpless, overwhelmed by the array of choices. The freshmen behind me move forward cautiously, as if it is too good to be true. Soon all hell breaks loose and they ransack the store mercilessly, running from the drinks aisle to the chocolate, loading up on Tastykakes and chips and giant Coke bottles. Their enthusiasm stirs something in me and I am reminded that I have a year of experience under my belt. I head to the touch screen, order myself a meatball hoagie, some chicken strips and a bowl of mac and cheese, grabbing a bag of chips on the way to the counter. It’s time to play catch-up for the past three months.
As I leave the store with a bag that looks way too big for one person to manage — don’t worry, I’ll handle it — I realize that this was not simply my first Wa run of the year. This was my first Wa quest — the first of many more to come.
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