Co-written by Kristin ChangThin trails of steam hiss up from the grill, framing his face. Outside, there’s the dull thud of backpacks hitting the pavement, a pile mounting higher and higher. Bobby Singh, without a glance downward, puts the quarter-pounder in a box and slides it across the counter. The boy pays, then flicks a quarter into the dirty tip-dish beside the register. Singh quirks a smile, then waves forward the next kid, who knows him by his name: “Hey, Bobby.”
Singh has been working at 7/11 for three years now, and though he’s known for startling kids — he yells for the kids to move up in line, sometimes making them jump — he’s also a stable presence, someone many regular students recognize.
Though not all of them may know him by name, he recognizes many of them and remembers their orders: he’ll take one glance, disappear behind the counter and then re-emerge with a full meal ready. Though adult customers are more likely to exchange greetings with him — one man gives him a handshake before disappearing into the aisles— students are more energetic, spilling over the counters and chatting animatedly as they walk through the aisles.
School hours are his favorite. They’re always the busiest, with hundreds of dollars spent each lunch. Occasionally, though, if a student is a few dollars short, he’ll give the student a discount. He trusts them to pay him back. They always have, no matter how small the amount.
“Sometimes someone will even give me ten cents found on the ground,” Singh said. “They’ll find it lying [in the store or the parking lot]and pick it up and give it to me.”
He laughs, shaking his head. Walking into the store just to give him a few cents seems absurd, yet he’s always surprised by how much they care. Sometimes, though, surprises are much less pleasant: once, a woman was outraged that a prepaid credit card she bought for $1 at another 7/11 was $1.25 at this location. She tried haggling with him, but when he wouldn’t yield, she furiously dialed for the police.
Singh wasn’t at all intimidated. When the police arrived and he explained what happened, they were sympathetic, and the woman soon left, much to his relief. Singh tries to keep his interaction with the police minimal: even when a student is caught stealing, he doesn’t call law enforcement. Instead, or arguably worse, he calls the parents and shows them the tape. And every day there are at least a few students who try to buy beer or cigarettes, even though they don’t have ID. He can always count on that.
Every hour the store is open, there’s a monitor, immediately noticeable upon entrance, warning customers that they’re being watched. Two students wave as they walk in, almost involuntarily.
Singh’s presence at 7/11 is a constant: he’s always somewhere, the students say. He’s often doing three or four things at once: talking on his cell phone, chatting with his co-workers and serving someone’s lunch: two slices of pizza, one taquito. Singh makes it seem like one orchestrated movement.
“It’s like a family,” Singh said.
CUPERTINO RESIDENT Ben Price
When I was younger, I thought of 7/11 as a really forbidden place. It’s really colorful and full of all the stuff you’re not allowed to eat, but once in a while, like after we’d behaved at church or something, my dad would drive us here. Just to reward us for small things, like getting good grades or not fighting with our siblings for a week and it was total chaos And my brothers and I used to have a really disgusting tradition where’d we go get a Slurpee and see who could create the wackiest combos and colors, like mixing in the coke flavor with blue raspberry and then shaking it up so it turned as mud-colored as possible, and then in the backseat screaming, ‘Oh my god, we’re drinking poop, ew!’
SENIOR Timothy Bagachev
I’ve had one of my friends come in a banana costume and we got shopping carts and came here. He just went into my closet, saw a banana costume and then wore it. They were surprised when we went in and didn’t ask any questions. Yes, actually they used to sell bananas here and we went in and bought bananas.
CUPERTINO RESIDENT Felix Campioni
I used to choose my lottery numbers based on my birthday and family birthdays, but then I realized that’s what everyone probably does…and I figured being self-centered about that sort of thing was bad luck. So then I decided, why not choose numbers in a fun way? So I’ll count the number of cars in the lot, or the people in the store, or I’ll look around my [environment]until I see a number, on an ad somewhere. There’s one number I always play, but that’s a secret. I can’t reveal it. All I can say is that it’s my wife’s age, the age she would be if she were still alive.