By: Becky Koenig
It’s 1:45 a.m. on Saturday. The inky night air gives way to fluorescent brilliance as the door opens, revealing a colorful, plastic-wrapped world. An oasis in the Richmond Road desert, Wawa bustles with the activities of the faithful, who gather here in search of early-morning fellowship and made-to-order sandwiches.
The scene in a convenience store past midnight should be depressing, but not in this one. Stacks of old newspapers and a sparse selection of fruit cups would seem sad in any other context, but the atmosphere in this place is blithely cheerful. The pulsating rhythms of a Madonna song blasting through the sound system provide the perfect soundtrack to the animated conversations echoing amongst College of William and Mary students.
The Wawa crowd is a microcosm of the campus community: young women in heels chatter in the chip aisle — a little unsteady after their fall formal — guys in hoodies crack jokes while waiting for their flatbread creations, and a couple lost in a private moment leans perilously into a flimsy Entenmann’s display. One student, Clay Hudson ’11, takes a break from perusing the pudding to reflect on the scene.
“It’s an easy stop,” he said. “You just get what you want, and check out. It caters to your impulses.”
Hudson is a frequent Wawa customer, a fact which he attributes to living across the street in Dawson Hall. He often purchases late-night slurpees after ultimate frisbee games. When asked how regularly he visits the store, he pauses.
“Often; I’d say three times a week is being conservative,” he said, returning to his pudding decision.
1:58 a.m. A fresh wave of boisterous students crowd the sandwich counter. The couple has relocated to the coffee island. Leaning against a stack of cigarette cartons, a bleary-eyed police officer observes the hubbub. When approached, Sergeant Brian Carlson is surprisingly forthcoming about his professional experiences during the after-midnight Wawa shift.
“The craziest thing is, while I’m here people who are intoxicated will take stuff or eat something, and they’re looking right at me,” he said. “We wait until they’re out the door to give them a chance to pay for it. One girl was so incredibly gone she was eating yogurt with her hands and crunching Oreos into it.”
According to Carlson, trouble at Wawa is the exception, not the rule. “It’s crowded and loud, but for the most part, kids act right,” he said.
The deli staff banters behind the sneeze-guard as they frantically assemble hoagies: They are so overwhelmed with orders that there is no chance to get their view on the late-night shift. Muttering as he shoves past, an older man in a baseball cap tries to maneuver through the student crowd to put creamer in his coffee, offering his commentary on the conversations he overhears.
A smiling student in black and gold pumps waits in the mob with her friends for her sandwich; she’s just come from the Pi Beta Phi formal and is recounting the night’s events. Like so many of the College students pressed into the convenience store, she wishes to remain anonymous.
“They gave me number 69,” she said, giggling and pointing to her order receipt.
Her description of life in the convenience store in the wee hours? “Ridiculous,” she said.
2:10 am. Male students huddle on the rain-soaked sidewalk, teasing one of their own about his earlier evening escapades. Looking back across Richmond Road, the floodlit Wawa sign glows faintly, beckoning the hungry masses. The call, it seems, is strong. The traffic light turns green and the crosswalk fills with students compelled to fulfill the nocturnal ritual of the Wawa run.