The facade of the A & I Convenience Store is the most bizarre one I’ve encountered during my entire Bodega Project. And its owner, Azhar Iobal, doesn’t seem to notice.
First, how did I find it? I used cyber-detection. Whenever I case out a prospective city or town, I scan online directory listings of convenience stores in the location, in this case the city of Pawtucket, RI. After finding a few dozen, I key their addresses in Google Streets and troll the digital byways for the colorful, the weird. The instant I discovered A & I Convenience Store, I cried “Eureka!” (Or maybe I just thought it.)
You have to see it to believe it, preferably at twilight, when the fading sunlight mingles with the emerging glow of the signs. The peaked roof is much higher than the two gables to the right, but is inexplicably balanced by them. I toyed with the idea of digitally removing the power line, but I like the way it follows the architectural line, so it stays. The stucco seems out of place in a northern environment, but grabs the eye nonetheless, particularly at night. Oddest are the two yellow signs, each providing exactly the same information. Why? They both show up from the street.
I asked Mr. Iobal if the duplicate signs were his idea, perhaps during the remodeling of the store when he bought it in 2010. He said he did improve the interior, but did nothing to the stucco, the odd tower, or the redundant signs. In fact, I mentioned the tower several times and he didn’t pick up on it. Maybe he didn’t think it noteworthy.
His story of arriving from Pakistan when young (17) and saving up through long hours in menial labor (driving cab in his case) is a fairly typical one. Yet there is one striking difference. When I contacted him in April 2011 and told him about my project, he seemed overjoyed I’d picked him. Unlike others I’ve interviewed, he consented without any hesitation or suspicion. He gladly chatted in the parking lot on a busy Saturday night and posed for pictures. He wanted to tell his story. He didn’t even ask how I’d found him.
Had he done so, I might have said, “Just lucky I guess.”