Crude (snake) oil by the barrelful
If the mom-and-pop gas station is dead, Wilco is its funereal knell. The I-75 WilcoHess service plaza of Jackson, Ga. (renamed after the longtime
rivals set aside their creative differences and formed a diesel-pumping
supergroup), postures itself as an erudite foil to the glossy, prefab, overproduced
fueling stations that dot the highways and byways of this nation. My recent
stop at this Wilco station exposed the true nature of this façade. Wilco (The
Gas Station) runson a series of
clumsily executed pop-philosophy clichés that reflect the sensibilities of a
once-great truck-stop empire in its twilight, struggling for relevance in a
world it no longer understands.
Wilco’s approximations of Americana play on the homespun
kitsch of a vintage Esso station. It’s midcentury Shell by way of Star Motors,
a union that would work were it not also attempting a cheap knockoff of Mobil’s
rustic charm.They are, at heart,
making a futile claim to blue-collar bona fides in their deconstruction of America's workhorse—the trucker. The store’s merchandise pairings form
binary oppositions, an ostensible structuralist analysis of trucking’s inherent
dualities: the natural and the artificial, the sacred and the profane, the
meditative and the mindless.
It’s a rote exercise of covering bases in ways that can’t
help but insult the audience’s intelligence. Baskets of fruit (“The original
fast food!” a handwritten sign reads.) sit atop motor oil racks. Crucifix
statuettes are stacked caddy-corner to idolatrous crystal figurines. Jeff
Foxworthy’s faux-lowbrow comedy shares a shelf with the book-on-tape versions
of R.A. Salvatore’s faux-highbrow fantasy-fiction. No amount of implied
authenticity vis-à-vis discounted trucker hats could mask the banality of this
critique. To Wilco, the trucker’s paradox—long hours of physical inaction
wedded to the mental toil of endlessly repeating stretches of pavement—is pure
Quasi-erotic porcelain figurines and Zippo lighters embossed
with crude representations of Jesus and Mary are Wilco’s sole moments of
inspiration: a much-needed reprieve from what would otherwise be a derivative
retread of the decades-old work accomplished by far superior truck stops (the
legendary service plazas of the D.C.-to-Boston I-95 corridor come to mind).
Even at its best, it’s cheap populism in the guise of trenchant critique.
During a brief exchange, a Wilco employee told me my visit
was a “fool’s errand.” He didn’t know how right he was.