AM/PM Review

Interior of an ampm store

This innocuous looking convenience stand attached to gas (petrol) stations serves a double purpose: yes, one is to satiate the hunger of the weary traveler and yes, two, it also exists to reinforce the mechanical oppression of capitalist society. Let’s start with the name. I don’t know about you but for me the immediate association with AM/PM immediately brings up the famed German Expressionist drama “Von Morgens bis mitternachts” (From Morning to Midnight) by Georg Kaiser. The German connection is no coincidence. I did not take notes but from my foray into this mechanical jungle of oppression fueled by the gasoline engine of modernity, I am fairly certain that they referred to the sausages spinning in agony over and over like the proletariat, a life of pain and pointless toil intended only for consumption, as weiners. Misspelling aside, the WIENER is of course a Viennese hot dog, and with Austria being the birthplace of Hitler it doesn’t take either a PhD in European History nor a food handling certificate to connect the dots. A double blind study of a motorist on the I-5 from San Diego to Los Angeles will most certainly reveal that the driver who, while driving, was engaged in a discussion about the Second World War and the rise of Nazism and who suddenly had hunger pangs was twice as likely to order a sausage from AM/PM than someone discussing the Mexican War of Independence. In the latter case, AM/PM has their bases covered by also offering a faux “Mexican” offering in the form of taquitos, nachos – again bastardized forms of Mexican cooking that is not such a subtle way of reminding us who is in charge. However, the AM/PM luckily avoids the traps of post-colonialism. It harkens back to the fecund period of the early 20th century where the collision of nascent theories of psychology, even as primitive as Krafft-Ebbing, and the performing and visual arts created a dialectic that gave birth to a renaissance in modern arts and letters.

Scene from Georg Kaiser’s Morn to Midnight, Berlin 1921

All of the offerings at AM/PM come at a very reasonable cost, which reminds me again that in the third act of Kaiser’s play, the Salvation Army plays a distinct role. The superficial “charity” of cheap processed food parallels the plight of “The Clerk” in Morning to Midnight. But most importantly one needs to remember that primary function of the service area is to fill up the gas tank, not the stomach. In order of priority “feeding” the automobile, a demon engine of civilization is first, evacuating the bladder or bowels is second, and feeding the human engine is, in our society, last.  This is in stark contrast to pre-modern societies and nowhere is this expressed so well as in “The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology” by Ernst Kantorowicz. Similarly, the proximity of the toilets to the roasting hot dogs brings to mind the opening of some of Strindberg’s most Freudian plays, notably the dung heap adjacent to the castle in “Ett drömspel” referencing the absurdity of our own anatomy and nearness of the sexual organs to the anus. Sweden too suffers from an overabundance of hot dogs, but I believe the situation in that country is not as dire as here with AM/PM.

In summation, a visit to AM/PM is not necessarily an “execrable” experience, but a familiarity or better yet, a more than passing knowledge of German and Swedish expressionist drama will only make your experience richer and more fruitful.

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