Buc-ee’s Is Too Damn BigPhoto used under Creative Commons license from Wikimedia Commons Travel Features gas stations
The legend of Buc-ee’s has spread far and wide over the last decade. If you’re in tune with the gas station wars, you’re probably heard the tales of the Texas chain with the massive stores, huge selection of food, and, most notably, the cleanest bathrooms you’ll ever find on the highway. I’m not typically one to drive through (or even to) Texas, so I never got to experience the wonder that is Buc-ee’s until they recently opened two locations in Georgia. And now that I’ve been to the Warner Robins store three or four times, I’m left with one major thought coursing through my brain: Buc-ee’s is too damn big.
I’m no expert on the standard size of gas stations, but I’m pretty sure you could fit five or six QuikTrips into a single Buc-ee’s, with enough room left over for a RaceTrac or two. I don’t even think it’s fair to call Buc-ee’s a gas station; Buc-ee’s is basically a K-Mart that only sells junk food and Buc-ee’s shirts. (Oh, and The Office Funko Pops, for some reason.) It’s overwhelming, and not really in a good way—especially when the store is packed, which it has been every time I’ve stopped.
Most of that space is devoted to food, with a grill, a bakery, a station in the center devoted to BBQ, a selection of sausages, all the prepackaged chips and candy you expect from a gas station, and an entire wall’s worth of various jerkies. If you don’t need any road trip snacks, you can search through the store’s clothing section for all your cartoon beaver needs, or find the kind of old-fashioned or aspirational wall signs your parents or grandparents probably decorate their house with. The far wall of the store comprises a small bunker of coolers stocked with soda, beer, and other drinks; if central Georgia somehow came under attack, I’m pretty sure I’d feel safer hunkering down in there than I would any local bomb shelters.
Most of the destination gas stations—your QuikTrips, Sheetzes, and Wawas—sell food heated up or prepped onsite, and leave the packaged stuff to the major brands. You’re not going to find a RaceTrak-branded knockoff of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Buc-ee’s is different in that it has its own branded products in addition to the big names. Yeah, they usually cost more, but the quality does seem higher. So if you’re desperate for some chocolate and peanut butter, and want to pay a little bit more than what Reese’s will set you back, you can try a Buc-ee’s Overbite; this thick little treat, in the shape of the face of Buc-ee himself, coats an ample helping of peanut butter inside a variety of chocolate, from milk to dark to white. The store’s preeminent snack is Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets (uh, its mascot, Buc-ee, is a beaver), which are small chunks of puffed corn (think Corn Pops, but without the milk) with a light hint of brown sugar and caramel; there are a bunch of different flavors of Beaver Nuggets, and although the original is a little bland to my tastes, the Bold-n-Sorta Spicy variety had a bit of that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos oomph but with a bit less burn. (It will still make your fingers all gross and sticky, though.) You’ll find all kinds of chips, crackers, jerky, nuts, and various candies with Buc-ee’s toothy grin on the outside, and what I’ve tried has all been good.
The highlight, though, and pretty much the only reason I’ll stop at Buc-ee’s in the future, are those bathrooms. Each stall in the men’s room is its own little walled off private grotto, ensuring complete privacy. Feel free to just hang out in there; there are like a dozen or so stalls in the Warner Robins location, so you don’t have to worry about holding up a line, even with a store as crowded as this one. (It’s a different story for the women’s room, of course; every time I’ve been to a Buc-ee’s there’s been a line out the bathroom door for that one, while men just stumble straight into their luxurious personal stalls like a bunch of doofuses.) They seem to have a janitor permanently stationed in there, to immediately clean every stall as soon as it’s used—at least there’s been a man with a mop just hanging out in the bathroom every time I’ve visited. These really are the perfect highway restrooms; they’re large, private, and clean, three things you won’t find at any random BP or Shell.
In terms of actual services—food, drinks, bathrooms—Buc-ee’s earns its rep as the king of the interstate gas station. Why wouldn’t I want to stop there, then?
Well, again, because it’s too damn big. Which means it attracts too many people with their too many cars. Which means navigating a Buc-ee’s, both its parking lot and the store itself, becomes a logistical nightmare—especially if you’re one of the 10% of customers wearing a mask, and trying to avoid getting too close to anybody else. (You will fail at that. You will be in close proximity to other people your entire time in Buc-ee’s. It is definitely a post-pandemic gas station.)
Buc-ee’s is a lot like Disney World: it’s huge and yet there’s still people everywhere. You’ll be walking through Buc-ee’s and realize you’re suddenly stuck between two different lines, and you have no idea what either one is for, or where they actually end. If you’re not careful, you might accidentally walk away with a Sausage with Tortilla on a Stick. Is the store this big in order to accommodate the number of people who want to come here, or do so many people stop specifically to check out this absurdly huge gas station? It might sound like the most obvious thing ever to say that if a building was smaller it would have less people in it, but I’m positive that the heavily touted size of Buc-ee’s is the main reason many of its customers come in the first place. Buc-ee’s is pitched somewhere between a gas station, a department store, and a tourist attraction, something that’s made possible and even amplified by its enormous size. The novelty of such a huge gas station, along with the store’s rarity outside of Georgia, definitely compels people to stop, but its legendary size is the first thing anybody ever hears about Buc-ee’s. That size is the draw, with its newness, its scarcity, and its South of the Border-style, pun-heavy highway billboard campaign lower on the list of reasons to visit—to say nothing of its actual food.
That size is also a detriment to the most important aspect of any business on the highway. You’ll spend way more time at a Buc-ee’s, and trying to get to a Buc-ee’s, and trying to get out of a Buc-ee’s, than you will at any other gas station. Every time I’ve been, the parking lot has felt like Atlanta’s Downtown Connector at rush hour, just stop and start until you’re able to make it through the crush of cars and find a spot. Despite a legion of gas pumps, you’ll probably have to wait in line to actually pull up to one. Leaving might be the hardest part—not because you’ll love it so much you want to stay, but because the parking lot is so crammed full of vehicles that it’ll take you several minutes just to get back to whatever road the highway exit is on. (It took me just about 10 minutes to get out of the parking lot on my most recent stop. No joke.)
Buc-ee’s isn’t something you just pop off the highway to hit real fast. It is not a quick trip. Buc-ee’s is a commitment. Even if you know exactly what you want from the store, and don’t plan on getting gas, a stop at Buc-ee’s will require a half-hour, at minimum. If you just want to grab some food and use the bathroom during your drive, or get gas as fast as you can before getting back on the highway, you can scratch Buc-ee’s off your list. It’s simply too damn big and crowded for anybody who’s just looking for a gas station. Buc-ee’s is a legitimate experience, and not necessarily one I want to have when I’m trying to get to wherever I’m going as quickly as possible.
The mascot’s cute, though. I’d give Buc-ee himself a hug and a friendly pat on the head if I ever met him. And that’s something I can’t say about any of those other gas station chains.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.