First Customer

Earlier tonight, before visiting my mom, I stopped at this 7-Eleven at the intersection of White Road and Quimby Road in East San Jose to buy a cup of coffee. 

As some of you know, there’s nothing extraordinary about my visit to a 7-Eleven. In fact, eleven months out of the year, it’s my first stop every single day. (During the month of December I buy seasonal eggnog lattes at Starbucks.) 

Tonight, there were three people in the store: two young men in saggy jeans who were buying energy drinks and junk food, and an older gentleman who bought Scratch-Off tickets and a pack of cigarettes.

While I don’t go to this particular store too often, every time I stop there I think back to its grand opening. About 37 years ago, a group of us waited and waited for the owner to unlock the door for the first time. I was so committed and eager to be the first customer, that I grabbed the first candy I could get my hands on and put it on the counter: Plain M&Ms.

It didn’t take long for the 7-Eleven to become the neighborhood hangout. There was habitually someone outside playing songs on a boom-box, and on occasion there would be a few kids popping and locking to Kano’s “I’m Ready,” which was always entertaining.

It was one of the few places you could visit with no money in your pocket and still have a good time. Of course, if you had money, there was only one way to spend it: arcade games.

I — and everyone else in the neighborhood — learned how to play Space Invaders and Pac-Man in 7-Eleven. The line to wait was often two deep. If you wanted to play, the unwritten rule was to place your quarter on top of the glass near the game’s joystick.

If the wait for Pac-Man was too long, I’d walk to Klondike’s Pizza, which was a few doors down, and play the video games Galaxian and Sprint.

I’d like to believe that I had great prowess as a gamer, but I think it was a combination of expertise and money spent. The only person I couldn’t beat was a guy we named “Cuban.” He was damn good. We never knew his real name, but he seemed to embrace the name we gave him.

On my way out of 7-Eleven, I pointed to the area of the store that housed the arcade games, and I said this to the clerk, “This 7-Eleven used to have Pac-Man and Space Invaders right there.” He said, “Wow. That must have been a long time ago.”

It sure was.

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