Eating Airhead Gummies and Speaking with a French Accent in an East Oakland Convenience Store Parking Lot

We had 40 minutes to kill between dropping off our friends at the airport and picking up Evaline at the zoo, so I resorted to the obvious choice: pizza. Hazel and I share a love of East Coast pizza, so we navigated our way to a joint I know and like. She could hardly contain herself. (She may like thin-crust pizza more than I do!).

But it was closed.

And so was the next place. And the next.

In fact, there were hardly any restaurants or grocery stores anywhere and the buildings that were still standing, were boarded up or closed. It was all parking lots and liquor stores, grass growing up through the pavement, broken light posts, missing fire hydrants.

A place not taken care of.

We drove for blocks and blocks. I said nothing, just let her take it in, come to the realization herself that there’s work to be done.

“There’s nothing here,” she said.

“But there are lots of people here,” I said.

After checking the clock, I resorted to pulling into a convenience store parking lot.

Brunch for us would be a bag of all-in-one assorted Doritos/Cheetos/SunChips/Pretzels and a Grape Crush Gatorade. For dessert, Airhead Gummies.

It was heaven for an 8-year-old: sitting in the backseat with her dad, popping junk food, and using the brightly colored gummy shapes to tell stories.

She held a blue mustache-looking gummy between her nose and her upper lip.

“Mawhnjaay,” she said, pretending to stroke it.

I dug around to find another blue one.

“Mawhnjaay,” I replied.

And then we ate our mustaches.

Within 20 minutes, I was pretty cracked out on sugar. To be honest, my stomach was feeling pretty terrible.

“See that house,” I pointed to a pink wooden single-family home right next to the parking lot. “Think about it,” I said. “They don’t have any restaurants to eat at.”

She didn’t say anything.

“Where are the grocery stores?”

Still nothing.

It’s a delicate thing: lifting the veil of innocence.

I checked the clock.

“We gotta get Evs.”

We rolled up our bags of junk food and exchanged high-fives. I hopped out of the backseat and walked around the car to the driver’s side—a short distance, but by the time I sat back in the driver’s seat, it was like a whole different reality lay in front of us, like we had sneaked into a wormhole of time we weren’t supposed to have found.

It wasn’t until we were on our way home, retelling our travels to Evaline, that I learned what the experience had been like for Hazel.

“We drove down a road, and there were all these people but no places to eat. Nothing was open, everything was boarded up or broken. We drove and drove, but we couldn’t find anywhere to eat.”

“Wow,” said Evaline, her teenage tone betraying the word itself, before laying her head against the window to sleep.

Two young minds at work in their own ways.

I thought about the leftover quiche in our fridge as I pulled onto the on-ramp, passing a display of orphaned hubcaps lining the mangled fence.

And then I caught Hazel’s eyes in the rearview, Gatorade stain around her mouth: a glimpse of our 20-minute hiatus from the world, or a swan-dive deeper into it.

Pursing my lips and squinting my eyes, I put on my best bad French accent.

“Mawhnjaay,” I said.

And she laughed.