Package Procedures
(Athens, Georgia, USA)

Without the help of contemporary computer technology—mainly the internet and its accompanying search engines and GPS mapping systems—or perhaps without relationships formed with locals from the area, it would be nearly impossible to ascertain the location of the quietly functioning and admirable informal business practice known mainly through local word-of-mouth as Stroud's Package Store. A "package store" in this case being an outmoded, perhaps regional name for a liquor store, here functions as well perhaps in combination not solely with alcoholic beverage sales, but also with the definition of the word "package" in general. Although a handful of dusty bottles of alcohol halfway line the walls behind the bulletproof glass enclosed saleswoman, the general atmosphere of the location, a bit forlorn, murky and seemingly on the verge of permanent closure and extinction (has it not felt this way for going on 30 years now?) lends a feeling that something else must be at work, or on offer, at this location. How else could this sign-less, almost name-less business have survived for so many years? And wouldn't the simplest, most uninteresting questions raised of course be: Is it a front for illegal drug dealing? Is it a way station for some form of smuggling operation?

And doesn't Stroud's share the same grounds as the neighboring—through not so clearly demarcated—Gresham's Auto Body Shop? And is this perhaps the reason that so many dysfunctional and seemingly abandoned automobiles have come to inhabit the over-proportioned parking lot of Stroud's Package Store. And what exactly is the relationship between Stroud and Gresham? Didn't Gresham at varying points also run a discothèque and 24-hour video service from this conglomeration of structures found running along this highly trafficked, yet often overlooked portion of Georgia State Route 78, on the block between Miller and Paris Street?

Having the fortune of befriending a cordial and knowledgeable former delivery driver from a local restaurant it was learned* that the Stroud's Package proprietress, being a great fan of the driver's employer, often ordered food for delivery, usually as a late afternoon lunch for one. The driver remarked that the proprietress—a taciturn yet elegant lady, roughly in her mid 60s—was a memorable character and stood out as a type of local legend amongst long time workers of the restaurant. This was due in fact to the mixture of the woman's gentle and reserved demeanor, the peculiar faded and melancholic atmosphere of the store and the fact that without straying from her pattern, the woman without exception handed over—what is still baffling to all parties questioned—a standard issue 100% tip for the delivery driver of the day.

With each delivery (naturally coveted by all active personnel of the restaurant), and always with the same regal procedure, the chosen driver was presented by the proprietress, upon entrance of the store and arrival at the bulletproof window, with two individual five-dollar bills. With the presentation of the first bill it was always declared, with the same ritualistic undertaking, that this bill was to be used for the price of the meal (for many years her simple and affordable choice was priced at $4.79). With the handing over of the second bill it was then finalized that this bill was for the driver's generous service. After the transfer of goods and services, and with quiet grace and a solemn bow of the head, the proprietress would then gently motion the driver of the day back out of the cool darkness and once again into the bright and humid heat of the southern day.

*As a note, and as is often the case with such local recollections, this ritual of deliveries had occurred during the previous decade, during what was verified by the driver and his friends to have been "from sometime in the early 1990s until at least around 2003". Neither the former driver, nor his quiet yet revelatory friends could verify if the ritual was still in practice at this point in 2012, or if time had finally cast its inevitable and final judgment on this historic procedure.


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