TWO ANECDOTES FROM A MOTORWAY SERVICE STATION. (OR: NEW ADVENTURES IN TRANSITIONAL SPACE).
With Edward Hopper paintings.
Returning from visiting my parents, my friend Stuart and I stopped off for a much needed break at a motorway service station. When you’ve been sitting down for such a long time in a car, it is sometimes nice to get out and do some more sitting down.
When I saw that the service station’s cafe was a Cafe Ritazza (a franchise apparently unique to transitional spaces such as railways stations, airports and motorway service stations), I remembered that the guy at the Cafe Ritazza in Glasgow’s Central Station, a month or so back, had given me one of those rubber-stamp loyalty cards.
I handed my loyalty card to the server but he’d never seen such a thing. In fact he freaked out a little bit at the recognition of his cafe’s logo on an alien document as though it were an artifact from some doppelganger-populated parallel universe.
Of course, loyalty cards and things of that ilk often don’t work at the service station versions of cafes or shops. But Cafe Ritazza is ONLY a service station franchise. It doesn’t exist in town centres! So where am I supposed to use this thing? I suppose I might only be able to use it at the branch I got it from but considering it’s based in a train station and gets its entire custom from commuters who may never tread foot there again, a loyalty card seems like an odd thing to issue.
But perhaps that’s the plan. By giving a loyalty card out that can only be used at the Glasgow branch, one will have to go out of one’s way to travel to Glasgow to use it. The chances are, a commuter coming from London or Birmingham will have to change trains at Preston or Crewe. Of course you may as well buy a coffee from a Cafe Ritazza while you’re there, making them the victors.
Given that such a trip would cost around £60, you would be excused for thinking that a Cafe Ritazza loyalty card may rely upon a false economy.
Fortunately for me, I live in Glasgow. I also kept my receipt from this service station branch and will force them to reward my loyalty upon my return to Glasgow. Pretty soon, the pleasure of gratis coffee will be mine. All I have to do is sacrifice having coffee at one of my favourite comfortable west end cafes in favour of drinking Cafe Ritazza machine-brewed swill from a paper cup beneath the hard lighting and indecipherable tannoy announcements of Central Station. After nine trips like this, I’ll get a free one. Cashback.
We moved over to the comfy brown leather arm chairs to innocently enjoy our coffees and contemplate my unstamped loyalty card.
No sooner had we sat down, an old man approached us from the next table over where his wife watched on patiently.
“Excuse me,” he politely said to us, “but is it compulsory to eat one of those?”
He was referring to the giant chocolate muffins we had bought to go with our coffees.
“No,” I laughed, slightly confused, “it’s just that they’re so good.”
It occurred to me that I was quasi-quoting Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction – the bit where he is asked by his hitman colleague why he eats pork.
It seemed to satisfy him and he went back to his table where his patient wife rolled her eyes, suggesting that the old man’s antagonising of young people were a regular occurrence.
“What the hell was that about?” asked Stuart, modishly offended by the intrusion.
The old man, of course, was pointing out the absurdity of our situation. Here we were in the middle of nowhere: a strange little bubble of humanity at the side of a motorway where no life has the right to thrive and we were sitting on leather comfy chairs with a pint of black coffee each and our ludicrous chocolate muffins. We may as well have been adrift in outer space, in orbit around Saturn while enjoying a jacuzzi.
Not only did I suddenly feel like a fashionable McSheep, I also felt out on a limb like an Edward Hopper character floating in an uninhabitable abyss absurdly nurturing a grande Americano.
Service Stations are weird places.