An Ode to Gas Station Pickles

Yesterday my friend bought one. A gas station pickle. You've probably seen these, though likely the sight didn't register in your conscious brain. There's a class of "foods" sold only — or mostly — in gas stations, the presence of which goes largely unmarked. Hot sausages, pork cracklins, an assortment of clear-plastic wrapped pastries and fried pies, triangular sandwiches, eggs floating in pink brine. Deep down you know this stuff. Have you ever bought any of it?

At one time or another I've eaten all of these things. But I can't say I highly recommend it.

I was surprised when my friend Maxwell bought a pickle. It was the size of a handgun, suspended in a plastic womb of green amniotic fluid. There were three varieties of pickle in the semi-refrigerated display case: Kosher, Hearty Dill, and Hot Mama. Maxwell remarked that the pickle itself wasn't nearly as disturbing as the illustration on the package, which depicts an ideal pickle shaking off bulging droplets of pickle juice. There is indeed something obscene about it — especially in the case of the Hot Mama, in which the lumpy emerald tube is dolled up like a prostitute. Maxwell purchased a Hearty Dill. Dill is not ordinarily an herb described in such terms, but I suppose hearty could refer to the pickle itself. It was definitely an ample pickle.

Thirty minutes later, back in my office, I received a text from him, with a photo of the pickle. A bite was missing, and he captioned it "f'nasty."

I'm sure the executives at Van Holten's — the company responsible for the pickle — would be saddened to hear this review. Van Holten's is a proud company, or a shameless one, I'm not certain which. They sell pickle brine: "Use it as a shot chaser or a drink mixer either way it's DILL-ICIOUS!" That's hard to imagine. Even worse is Pickle Ice, which is basically pickle brine popsicles. I'm not making this up. Or how about this: "Our Big Papa Dill Pickle Lip Balm is formulated specifically designed [sic] to aid in hydration."

Pickle lip balm.

Van Holten's has been around for over a hundred years, which is easy to believe. It's much easier to believe, in fact, that someone started a company selling individual pickles in 1900 than in 2000. But I bet pickle lip balm wasn't one of their original products. I bet that's a recent thing. So the next time you're sleepwalking through a board meeting, entertain yourself by picturing the scene in the Van Holten's conference room five or ten years ago. A bunch of graybeards contemplating their own extinction in the form of graphs covered with downward plunging lines. "What do we do?" they plaintively inquire, and over in the corner the young hotshot pickle genius spots his opportunity, rises dramatically, and after a pregnant pause, speaks the immortal words, "Lip balm, gentlemen. Lip balm."