8–9 a.m.
8:00 a.m. - We walk in. I’ve never seen the Wawa this quiet.
8:10 a.m. - All of the traffic is centered at the coffee bar as people fuel up for the day. Three middle-aged men, all wearing baseball caps, stand around the coffee counter. One has a lottery ticket in his sweatshirt pocket and shakes three sugars into his coffee.
8:18 a.m. - The first traveler arrives with a bright maud-colored suitcase and buys a pretzel.
8:20 a.m. - Zander Silva ’27 approaches the self-checkout with a few bottles of Gatorade Zero and a cheese stick hot order (in the signature red Wawa container). Still in a sleek Princeton wrestling jacket, he just came from his morning run and lift, and has stopped to “fuel up for the day.” “I’m from New Jersey, so Wawa is kind of a staple,” he says in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ He’ll head back to Forbes College to submit a few essays, then attend his classes for the day.
8:31 a.m. - The Wawa is quiet once again, except for a wailing coffee machine.
8:37 a.m. - A man in a Building Services sweatshirt attempts to use the PNC Bank machine. But, it’s malfunctioning, so he shakes his head and walks away.
8:39 a.m. - “At 7:35, it went out,” a Wawa employee says, referencing the wailing coffee machine.
8:46 a.m. - The Wawa is still quiet except for Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry” playing on the overhead speakers and the rustling of a Herr’s food distributor employee restocking the cheese curls.
8:57 a.m. - Lily, a Wawa employee, puts fresh coffee filters into the coffee machine to make a new batch. She’s been running between the counter and the coffee station all morning to replace creamers as the early morning crowd make their coffees — whole milk and Irish cream creamer seem to be the most popular choices this morning.
9–10 a.m.
9:10 a.m. - A Wawa employee making food hands a mobile order to Carter, an employee working behind the register. The man has a large and heavy bag and an iced coffee.
9:16 a.m. - The Dinky alarm blares throughout Wawa. The 9:24 a.m. Dinky is “about to leave in seven minutes,” the alarm says.
9:21 a.m. - Lily starts to call out orders that are ready at the counter. “378, waiting for payment!” she says. “380, quesadilla and a mac and cheese,” she says a few seconds later.
9:27 a.m. - More Princeton Facilities Operations workers make up the majority of customers this morning.
9:31 a.m. - Many people at Princeton aren’t aware of the typical morning rush that occurs at Wawas throughout the East Coast. Wawa is known to students as the late-night spot after studying for a midterm or spending long hours at the Street. Though Wawa may not be as bustling as it is at those hours, there’s always a steady crowd and a group of regulars in the morning.
9:33 a.m. - Rebecca, with her white and purple visor on, brings over another mobile order bag to Carter. He multitasks, grabbing the bag while chatting with a woman at the register. She tries to scan her rewards on her phone. It fails a few times and then eventually goes through. The two both laugh.
9:41 a.m. - Javier fixes one of the self-checkout machines after it breaks down.
9:42 a.m. - Two men walk into Wawa with a comically large vacuum that extends from outside of the store. One continues to hand the other the vacuum as he vacuums near the bathrooms.
9:43 a.m. - Javier is wearing a “Wawa <3’s pizza” t-shirt. Wawa started offering pizza last month, but it won’t be available until 4 p.m. The pizza has garnered mixed reviews online. I personally enjoy it but understand how controversial it is.
9:54 a.m. - One of the self-checkout machines continues to beep. No one is currently checking out. Carter continues to check people out at the register and ignores the noise.
9:57 a.m. - Two women chat and laugh near the ATM with each other. The two walked into Wawa separately but now are talking about how one of them is finding a new place to live. The two say the words “oh my God” to each other no less than five times within the span of a minute.
10–11 a.m.
10:05 a.m. - The cashier checks out a woman who works for the postal service, joking “$12.45 is your lucky number!” and wishing her a great day.
10:09 a.m. - The line is long for the first time on this shift, with four people lined up at the cash register rather than the self-checkout, despite the self-checkout being open.
10:14 a.m. - A man sporting a Campus Dining beanie purchases a red pack of cigarettes. The cashier seems to know what he wants before being asked. The line is long again now, with six people waiting to be checked out at one point. “The Edge of Glory” plays over the loudspeaker.
10:18-10:22 a.m. - Brief interview with Kevin, the Assistant General Manager of Wawa. His favorite part of working here is that he’s a people person. He is expecting a ton of people tonight because of Dranksgiving, but says Monday nights are usually a lot quieter. On busier party nights, though, he says they can get up to 40 people in here at a time, and it becomes a social venue. He enjoys being part of the University community in that way. He says in the mornings, they get a ton of regulars, mostly people who work at the University. “We sell a TON of quesadillas,” he says.
10:25 a.m. - Suddenly it’s quiet. One person says on the way out, “You know, another Monday.”
10:26 a.m. - A man in a Campus Dining shirt gets cigarettes.
10:33 a.m. - Kevin tells us that Radio Wawa picks the playlist.
10:37 a.m. - General observations: The flag up right now is Princeton 2023. I wonder if they change it every year. Also, there is a pretty stained glass Princeton Wawa sign hanging in the window above the doors — perhaps from the original Wawa?
10:43 a.m. - Man behind the counter: “We had seven buses right downstairs. We made 2000 bucks in one hour. They just kept coming! I think they were here for a conference.”
10:59 a.m. - It is so cold outside. Wawa warms me from within.
11–12 p.m.
11:07 a.m. - The to-go orders are piling up, with four put out in the last couple of minutes. The line has ballooned to a half dozen people, including two guys in yellow construction vests and a very tall man in camo.
11:14 a.m. - “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift playing. The vibes in Wawa are not reciprocating. Unclear whether or not it’s Taylor’s version.
11:19 a.m. - A man in a blue vest buys four packs of red Zyns. One of the machines by the register begins to beep.
11:25 a.m. - Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away” plays.
11:29 a.m. - According to the Rewards app, I have 350 points to redeem. I try to purchase a hash brown but sadly discover that they are only available from 5 to 11 a.m. I suppose I can have my hash brown at the end of the night shift.
11:31 a.m. - Several facilities workers have come through, most of them ordering sandwiches or other hot items, presumably for lunch.
11:34 a.m. - General observation: I’m not sure I’ve seen a single student in here yet. I guess at 11 a.m. everyone does go to class. Except me.
11:37 a.m. - After a lap of the store I have concluded that the most expensive packaged single item in Wawa (excluding things you can order at the kiosks) is 10 oz. beef jerky for $17.59. As of this time, it is $1 off for a price of $16.59. Equally terrifying, though less expensive: an uncomfortably long beef and cheddar stick.
11:38 a.m. - An announcement for a train going to Penn Station.
11:43 a.m. - A man in a brown suit walks out of Wawa very, very rapidly, sipping a massive soda.
11:44 a.m. - In contrast to the morning, no one has said a word to anyone else in the last 10 minutes; people are probably rushing through their lunch breaks. “Titanium” by Sia hits its first big beat drop.
11:46 a.m. - The gender balance in the last hour has been striking. Very few women have come in, and when they do, they are typically in groups. The current crowd is dominated by facilities workers, construction workers, and other people grabbing lunch.
11:47 a.m. - A woman walks in! Still no students.
11:49 a.m. - The speaker plays a Princeton Junction announcement for trains to Trenton. Why do we get those?
11:53 a.m. - An exhausted-looking student in a Princeton chemistry sweatshirt grabs a to-go bag and a diet A&W root beer.
11:54 a.m. - The lunch crowd continues to thicken, and orders are flying out of the sandwich section.
12–1 p.m.
12:04 p.m. - A woman holding a small dog in one arm attempts to navigate the self-checkout. She seems to have difficulties with Apple Pay.
12:06 p.m. - The crowd of people waiting for food has grown to at least 10. No one seems particularly happy, although that is perhaps because it is a Monday on a cold day in New Jersey.
12:07 p.m. - A construction worker buys two of the aforementioned meat sticks, of the longer and skinnier variety.
12:10 p.m. - “Toxic” by Britney Spears plays over the Dinky announcement.
12:14 p.m. - The lunch rush is in full swing. A woman in a Penn Medicine jacket talks on the phone in Spanish as she awaits her order. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten blasts over the speaker. The woman in the jacket orders a salad and chicken.
12:19 p.m. - My Wawa order is ready: a chicken Parmesan hoagie. The cashier asks if I have a rewards card, which I present. He scolds me as I pay too quickly before scanning it.
12:23 p.m. - Outside Wawa, the northbound NJ Transit 605 bus arrives one minute ahead of schedule. A man boards but does not pay. Wawa sits at a transportation nexus; besides the Dinky, it serves two TigerTransit and one NJ Transit bus routes.
12:26 p.m. - A young boy tries several flavors of vitamin water from the Coke Freestyle before picking one he likes, filling the entire cup to the brim with strawberry citrus.
12:28 p.m. - Two men debate conception while waiting for their food. One of them then debates whether he should have another child at all because children are expensive. He buys a half gallon of half-and-half iced tea.
12:30 p.m. - The lunch rush dies down. Only a few people are waiting now.
12:32 p.m. - The NJ Transit announcements are extremely wrong. The Wawa speakers announce arriving New York-bound trains, but those stop at the Princeton Junction station a few miles away.
12:35 p.m. - Most of the newspapers available for sale at Wawa mention the passing of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter today. Wawa does not carry the ‘Prince.’
12:41 p.m. - The Dinky announcements have resumed, though they are narrated by a much deeper voice than the computer-generated-sounding Junction announcements.
12:42 p.m. - A woman waiting for her order knocks a bag of Doritos off the rack and I pick it up for her. It barely fits back on the shelf, which is filled to the brim with bags of chips. We live in a society of abundance, folks.
12:47 p.m. - Patrons begin to board the Dinky. Many carry luggage and need help to buy tickets using the machines. Someone is capturing seemingly professional-quality footage of the Dinky using a big camera.
12:49 p.m. - It’s clear that there isn’t enough parking for bikes outside Wawa. Every tree has something chained to it and the bike racks are overflowing.
12:56 p.m. - Three members of the Hun School football team leave with lunch.
12:57 p.m. - The short-term Wawa parking lot is full and people are confused about where to park.
12:59 p.m. - Two cars are locked in a battle for the last parking spot in the short-term parking lot. While they stare at each other for about 30 seconds, a third car waiting behind pulls around them and parks in the loading/unloading zone while sending someone in to grab an order.
1–2 p.m.
1:03 p.m. - The Dinky arrives a minute early and many of those with bags rush towards it.
1:07 p.m. - “Who would pay $10 for a pack of cigarettes?” someone outside asks.
1:13 p.m. - A woman at the food counter points out that another woman ordering turkey has done it wrong since she didn’t order it with cranberry sauce or potato. The woman admits her mistake. The worker proceeds to offer both items for free and says it is on Wawa.
1:18 p.m. - Two girls are getting stuff for their friend. One is not sure if she likes SweeTARTS. The other is shocked that they have a limited edition Peach Mango BODYARMOR drink.
1:33 p.m. - Four Wawa workers are now vibing and dancing in the front.
1:34 p.m. - The line, at five people, is the longest of this hour.
1:38 p.m. - Based on order numbers, there have been approximately 100 orders in the past 30 minutes.
1:40 p.m. - I order a blueberry pomegranate mango smoothie. This is my first-ever Wawa order. I wait too long to get a receipt so the machine automatically chooses no for me. I have to enlist the help of two Wawa employees to get my receipt.
2–3 p.m.
2:01 p.m. - After a brief period of quiet, many newcomers seek out more liquid to quench their thirst: a single Monster, Peach Tea Snapple, a cup of coffee, a smoothie, a Starbucks espresso, and a Smartwater.
2:04 p.m. - A woman wearing a Princeton quarter zip comes in with a child who holds a Canon camera. The child walks in circles around the checkout desk while the woman buys a snack.
2:08 p.m. - The Wawa bathroom also seems like a popular place for students before they board the Dinky.
2:09 p.m. - The Dinky is leaving in five minutes. Six people are waiting for food.
2:13 p.m. - A shift change for the Wawa workers.
2:15 p.m. - An elderly woman struggles to bring her suitcase and bags out of the bathroom. She then asks the cashier if she can store her suitcase in the Wawa, and the cashier says that she cannot. A very helpful employee offers to place her suitcase at a spot in clear view of a security camera and helps her get a cup of coffee and order at the kiosk.
2:36 p.m. - A woman enters the Wawa to ask which train to take. She is confused about why the track is announced when there is only one option.
2:38 p.m. - The Buffalo-style chicken bites have run out.
2:49 p.m. - The UPS truck is parked in an illegal parking spot.
3–4 p.m.
3:07 p.m. - The self-checkout line is getting longer, and only one person is working the checkout.
3:08 p.m. - The girl I watched miss the Dinky on my way in at 3 p.m. is aimlessly wandering the aisles. The self-checkout is acting up.
3:12 p.m. - A woman squats in one aisle, tapping away at her phone. I think she’s part of a growing backlog of hot food orders.
3:13 p.m. - Two Princeton students who don’t seem to know each other that well have one of those “polite hello but I don’t really know you” moments.
3:15 p.m. - The backlog has been worked through. A mother and two daughters are picking out Wawa donuts.
3:16 p.m. - The squatting woman is now demanding her money back for something. She “doesn’t have time to wait,” she says.
3:19 p.m. - The manager just said hello to me, and it scared me a bit. He’s replacing the receipt paper roll in the out-of-order self-checkout.
3:25 p.m. - A very well-dressed man just walked in. There’s something cognitively dissonant about a fancy man in a Wawa.
3:27 p.m. - One of the employees has a uniform that says “GO BIRDS” on the back with an eagle on the front.
3:28 p.m. - A fancy man is buying orange juice, a Kit Kat bar, and Cool Ranch Doritos.
3:30 p.m. - The arrival of the Dinky! The announcer sounds very different from the normal NJ Transit ones.
3:32 p.m. - A family buys Gatorade and a Celsius energy drink. The kid is pestering his parents in Spanish. He has the cutest little gloves.
3:33 p.m. - An NJ Transit driver told Carter, the cashier, she is “tired but OK.” Her name is Jessica, and everyone seems to know her. She also says, “Not good if I’m already tired on a Monday.”
3:42 p.m. - In the loading area, a family loads into a Subaru Impreza. A man is talking about how skiing “fulfills me spiritually.”
3:43 p.m. - A student agrees to help an older woman pick up a 12-pack of Pepsi. They are having a lovely conversation. He says, “At least it won’t be too cold.” She’s wearing a bright red coat and a black fedora.
3:49 p.m. - Two field hockey players are arguing over who gets to scan their Wawa rewards. They’re talking about how they never round up when asked to donate their change.
3:51 p.m. - Another fancy man, this time with a white suit embroidered with an “R” and a tattooed music note behind his ear, is buying something called “nudges.”
4–5 p.m.
4:00 p.m. - Just noticed the Wawa pizza garland around the fridge section. It brings a festive flair to the Wawa. The hockey player just got his sandwich after what must have been 20 minutes of waiting.
4:01 p.m. - A different self-checkout machine is freaking out now. Its beeping is loud.
4:03 p.m. - Someone has color-matched their purple ball cap to their purple luggage.
4:09 p.m. - Two people with instruments strapped to their backs are sharing a Wawa order. The checkout is beeping again.
4:16 p.m. - “I don’t know what I want,” one student says. “Candy, duh,” another person responds.
4:20 p.m. - “All About That Bass” has come on the radio. Someone with a Princeton lanyard is buying chocolate milk.
4:21 p.m. - Another Doordash order has been added to the two that have been here since I started my shift. Pick up your stuff!
4:26 p.m. - One student asks another if he likes his haircut. I don’t catch his response. The responder is wearing an iPhone charging brick and cable around his neck.
4:29 p.m. - A student buys Zyn tobacco. He is carded.
4:30 p.m. - The Dinky announcer is back. It has been missing for about an hour. One person appears to be in a hurry for the train, which doesn’t come for another seven minutes.
4:33 p.m. - Someone who I think was my MAT 202: Linear Algebra with Applications professor last year is buying two hot drinks and chocolate milk.
4:34 p.m. - One lady to another: “I hate cherry pie; it tastes like cough medicine to me.”
4:37 p.m. - Carter is restocking Marlboro Reds. It’s fairly quiet in here.
4:48 p.m. - For the first time in my shift, I am the only non-employee here.
4:48 p.m. - The children are leaving now. One is coughing. They all have Gatorades.
4:49 p.m. - A guy who got coffee leaves without paying.
4:51 p.m. - I talk to Chance, one of the employees. He makes sandwiches. “It’s almost like a family,” he says.
4:51 p.m. - And just like that, the people of Wawa have returned. A woman buying cigarettes has been carded.
4:52 p.m. - A gaggle of four children have entered. One of them runs around with a muffin in hand. I don’t see an associated adult with them. They’re each picking one item. A younger one demands to an older one, “help me pick one,” referring to a variety of pastries. “We’re not allowed to have that,” the older one responds, referencing to chocolate.
4:55 p.m. - The children are trying to operate the self-checkout but are a bit too short for it. An adult has materialized who I think is in charge. He’s vetoing their choice of a Mountain Dew.
5–6 p.m.
5:01 p.m. - As I leave, the Wawa has emptied again.
5:02 p.m. - A Princeton student pulls up to the curb right as his Panda Express DoorDash arrives. He gracefully whisks away the brown paper bag and continues on his way. The Wawa has exactly one customer inside.
5:24 p.m. - “Can we try one of these?” A student pokes at the white chocolate macadamia cookies while talking to the boy she came in with. For whatever reason, she changes her mind and they wander away.
5:25 p.m. - The three construction workers have finished filling up their coffee cups. Now in a group of four, two of them have already paid and have to wait a while before the others finish paying. They chat in Spanish with Carter.
5:29 p.m. - A short line has formed of three people waiting to pay. A girl in line pays for a Gatorade and a tiny packaged snack for what seems to be many one-dollar bills.
5:31 p.m. - The line for the cashier has disappeared. Self-checkout is quite popular.
5:32 p.m. - I’ve been resting my coffee on the pre-paid order stand, and realize that the two brown bags sitting there were ordered at 1:50 p.m. and 3:31 p.m.
5:38 p.m. - A Princeton baseball player comes in and grabs a BODYARMOR drink, a Lunchable, and mints. He has two backpacks, one on his back and another on his chest.
5:42 p.m. - While waiting for their order, student travelers from the kiosk wander over to the chips. The woman has a plant in a brown U-Store bag. “I really hope I don’t make you miss your train,” the man tells her, before asking her what time her train leaves, not once, but twice.
5:47 p.m. - Does Wawa have its own brand of dairy? Several men have come through in the past hour to buy milk or coffee creamer with a red Wawa label. One of them says, “Helloooo, Carterrrrrr,” drawing out the sound of each letter.
5:50 p.m. - A miraculous moment: all five people in the store are standing in a decently straight line and staring at their phones. They’re all waiting for their orders.
5:58 p.m. - A student carefully leaves his skateboard by the door, then wanders the store, apparently in search of a drink. Eventually, he leaves with ice cream.
6–7 p.m.
6:02 p.m. - A student in a Butler College jacket makes a lap around the checkout desk while dragging his suitcase and neck pillow with him. He makes another lap, then another, before stopping to grab snacks from the bins underneath the self-checkout. After a minute of deliberation, he grabs a peanut bar and briskly exits without paying. (The two staffers reporting on the incident looked at each other in disbelief and then deliberated to see if he was actually shoplifting. I followed him because something about Wawa makes me feel unstoppable, but he was already on the Dinky.)
6:08 p.m. - Two women enter with suitcases and make their way to the checkout counter, asking where they can leave their bags while they quickly order some food.
6:08 p.m. - An employee, Beth, has taken Carter’s place behind the counter. She pulls straws out from under the counter and restocks the containers.
6:09 p.m. - Two Princeton Operations and Facilities employees enter. Alan, a Wawa employee in a green shirt reading “GO BIRDS,” comes across the store and greets them with a loud “WASSUP?” They eagerly talk about tonight’s Eagles vs. Chiefs game.
6:12 p.m. - Another student in a Butler jacket exits the store with a brown paper bag — this time, paid for. There is hope for Butler College after all.
6:20 p.m. - “That is so adorable!” Beth is peering at a photo on a customer’s phone. Someone in his family had a baby — a girl named August — 19 hours ago, and he’s on his way to meet her. Beth has been working at the Wawa for two years. She normally works the morning shift, which she prefers, but on Mondays, she works from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The job gets challenging when the lines get long, or the mobile orders pile up. “But I like the people,” she says, nodding.
6:23 p.m. - A couple scans various versions of Doritos and Trolli gummies and puts them into a Canvas tote.
6:28 p.m. - There are six people in the store, mostly meandering around the drunks section or looking at their phones.
6:35 p.m. - A woman in a yellow reflective vest dances at the counter, stepping side to side, while waiting for Beth to give her the right amount of change to go into the lottery machine.
6:42 p.m. - There are only four customers in the store.
6:55 p.m. - The store has picked up again as mobile orders roll in.
7–8 p.m.
7:01 p.m. - A mom is venting to her kid about something, presumably work-related drama. She lets her buy a Cannoli dip grab and go.
7:02 p.m. - The daughter has changed her mind and puts the dip back on the counter.
7:08 p.m. - A couple has been cuddling with each other while waiting for their order since I came in. They’re now bobbing their legs to the music (by The Bucketheads). The guy looks kind of like Kurt Cobain.
7:09 p.m. - They get their order: mac and cheese and fries. I did not know Wawa sold fries separately.
7:15 p.m. - Two students discuss lower back problems at the self-checkout, and a worker comes over to help them (with the checkout).
7:19 p.m. - A kid presents his dad with two differently sized cups to fill with Icee.
7:21 p.m. - A man behind the coffee machines has been whistling to all the songs on Radio Wawa. He’s currently whistling along to “Treat You Better.”
7:22 p.m. - The store is quieter now — only seven people are here (including two ‘Prince’ people) who aren’t workers.
7:25 p.m. - I’ve tripped over a piece of tape. It’s completely stuck to the ground.
7:25 p.m. - Three students wearing women’s crew backpacks come in seeking the ATM. One asks if it’s better to mix a whole bottle of lemon Bacardi with Coke or Sprite.
7:33 p.m. - Cashier: I don’t think it’s going to be too crazy tonight.
Alan: Yeah, hopefully.
They’re probably right.
(What fools we were.)
7:34 p.m. - The last customer leaves, and we’re the only people in the store other than the Wawa employees.
7:40 p.m. - A person with a tiny dog walks in.
7:47 p.m. - A man buys a carton of eggs and four bananas. Sounds like a fun night.
7:47 p.m. - Overheard between two students: “Nah, I’m lactose intolerant, but I did not end up shitting my guts out.” They’re buying a can of Liquid Death, which does not contain milk.
7:59 p.m. - Tony Carlino, an emergency paramedic with 31 years of experience, begins his 12-hour night shift with some Wawa. He buys a teriyaki bowl.
8–9 p.m.
8:04 p.m. - A student comes in, upset about missing their train to New York. They’re going to buy garlic knots and watch One Piece with a friend during the 45-minute wait.
8:09 p.m. - Vending machine suddenly begins dispensing Coca-Cola without prompting: paranormal activity?
8:16 I talk with Kaitlyn Fiore ’27. She’s here to get her nearly nightly mac and cheese snack.
8:20 p.m. - Business is picking up — I’d eyeball that more than 10 people came in the last few minutes alone.
8:22 p.m. - Spotted a news clipping on Wawa United hung up near the entrance, which was a soccer team formed “while ordering a panini with tomato, chipotle pesto, lettuce, and cheese.” This could’ve been us right now! We could’ve reported on this!
8:26 p.m. - “This is very important, it’s the most important part” — student holding a six-pack of Pepsi.
8:35 p.m. - The store is dying down once again. The only customers are the two rowers and another guy with earbuds in.
8:36 p.m. - Icee kid is back! Does he want another Icee? Or does the dad want an Icee? I’m on the edge of my seat.
8:38 p.m. - It looks like the kid just wanted another Icee. He got the same flavor as last time: a mix of cherry with blue raspberry.“How are you supposed to drink without a straw?” the dad says. (Unrelated, but have you ever noticed how blue raspberry isn’t an actual fruit? It’s just something candy companies invented. That would be like if they willed purple apples into existence.)
8:41 p.m. - The garlic knots are slightly better than the chicken tenders, according to the two students from earlier (they’re warm).
8:45 p.m. - A big truck just rolled in, with the livery declaring that “Good days start at Wawa.” That’s debatable, as all my days that start at Wawa tend to be quite tepid.
8:45 p.m. - I interview Clare Johnson, Princeton High School ’23, now at William and Mary. She’s back for fall break and here at Wawa to get a hot chocolate. She says she misses Princeton a bit.
8:50 p.m. - A group of three students is talking about popping pimples.
9–10 p.m.
9:01 p.m. - A Wawa employee interrupts our interview to restock shelves.
9:03 p.m. - The baked goods are replaced.
9:07 p.m. - A guy in a shirt and tie walks up with his daughter in pajamas. Incredible difference between them.
9:07 p.m. - “Are you lactose intolerant?” “No, I just don’t like it.” Lactase strikes again.
9:09 p.m. - “Visa? I don’t have to worry about that,” says a not-very-empathetic domestic student to an international student.
9:09 p.m. - Two guys are waiting for coffee. They are not saying a lot but are nodding enthusiastically and clapping along to music: “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga.
9:11 p.m. - What is Tastykake?
9:14 p.m. - I talk to Justin, a graduate student, and his partner. They’re “craving a snacky-snack,” he says.
9:15 p.m. - Why is the Princeton 2020 flag so much bigger than the other ones? A guy approaches a newspaper stand and studies The New York Times intently.
9:17 p.m. - There is no line at self-service, with five people waiting for the cashier.
9:17 p.m. - A Wawa employee appears with several trays of cookies.
9:20 p.m. - Wawa cookie man’s trays are now empty.
9:24 p.m. - A man: “Anytime I see two girls coming up to me I think, ‘I’m getting ambushed, they’re gonna talk to me.’”
9:25 p.m. - Justin, the graduate student, is paying via self-checkout. They’ve concluded the trip with six ice cream sandwiches and hot fries — an interesting combo.
9:26 p.m. - Couple pronouncing ingredients on the back of anti-histamines with moderate success: “Daxalamine succinate (Doxylamine succinate).”
9:27 p.m. - The Wawa is looking very empty right now, with maybe five non-‘Prince’ or employee people here.
9:30 p.m. - A Wawa employee helpfully points out something on a customer’s forehead that is promptly washed away.
9:39 p.m. - A guy at self-checkout just had his card declined, but then succeeds in paying five seconds later. He has two bags of stuff. Who is buying two bags worth of stuff from Wawa?
9:48 p.m. - Two guys enter, debating the merits of mixing vodka with cranberry juice, Vitamin Water, or iced tea.
9:49 p.m. - A person comes in with a sweater, shorts, and sandals. It is cold outside.
9:58 p.m. - “Order 736, waiting on payment.”
10–11 p.m.
10:01 p.m. - The fridge of drinks smells like cologne. Order 737 has been called three times and nobody’s picked it up.
10:06 p.m. - They’re playing “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.
10:06 p.m. - “OH MY GOD YOU GOT ICE CREAM,” a boy no older than 16 yells to his friend.
10:07 p.m. - Another member of the ‘Prince’ is on the phone. “I went to the biggest party of the school year,” she exclaims. The other ‘Prince’ staffers with me explained Capmandu to me. I am forever changed.
10:09 p.m. - The crowd seems to be dominated by Princeton High School students.
10:10 p.m. - “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande is playing. We’re on hour 14 at this Wawa and still smiling.
10:10 p.m. - I found a sign about what to do if the CO2 alarm goes off. You call 800-241-COKE.
10:11 p.m. - Kevin is still here repping the “GO BIRDS” shirt. I don’t want to tell him that the Eagles are currently losing.
10:13 p.m. - Waiakea is the most expensive water brand you can purchase at this establishment, at a whopping $3.69 per bottle.
10:15 p.m. - We are trying to find out if there’s anything expired at this Wawa. We haven’t found anything just yet. Green flag, Wawa.
10:17 p.m. - “Taco Bean Dip, ew,” someone says.
10:19 p.m. - The same group of high schoolers are loitering, this time with milkshakes in hand. What happened to bedtime?
10:19 p.m. - I’ve realized that there’s one partially drunk water bottle in each subunit of the Grab N Go fridge. Perhaps it’s a means of temperature control.
10:20 p.m. - One of the high schoolers parades around a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and his freshly made milkshakes in the air.
10:25 p.m. - “793, please pay!”
10:27 p.m. - Wawas across the coast used to be filled with F’real machines. Though the U-Store has one now, it’s just not the same.
10:27 p.m. - The ice here is free. At QuickChek it’s 60 cents.
10:29 p.m. - If Pay with Points could be used at Wawa, this place would be even more of a madhouse. This proposal has been raised by multiple Undergraduate Student Government (USG) vice president candidates.
10:30 p.m. - Is the Wawa vs. QuickChek debate or the Wawa vs. Sheetz debate larger? I think Wawa beats both of them. “I like how in all of this, we ignore 7/11,” one of us adds.
10:33 p.m. - Wawa has many flavors of “Bon Appétit” treats, including five different types of donuts. Lemon Cheese Cake is an option … not sure if a donut has ever come in that flavor before.
10:34 p.m. - The high schoolers finally left and the crowd has slightly died down. Not sure what the 10 p.m. rush was for.
10:34 p.m. - The self-serve hot dog cabinet is empty. Looks like I CAN’T serve myself, Wawa. What should I do now?
10:36 p.m. - The smallest dog on earth walks into Wawa. He is so tiny and white and also crusty! And he has an ivory-colored little cloak on. It clashes with his crusty white fur.
10:37 p.m. - The dog slips on the floor near the mobile order pickup. The owner, the person they’re with, and the dog then exit the store.
10:40 p.m. - We learn that the dog might be named “Eliana.” She was in the store earlier.
10:47 p.m. - “Umbrella” by Rihanna is playing. It is not “raining more than ever.” The skies are clear.
10:48 p.m. - Wawa upside down is Mama. They could do a big Mother’s Day sale. Editor’s note: It is not.
10:50 p.m. - “Payphone” by Maroon 5 is playing. It feels like 2013 again.
10:54 p.m. - “The meatballs aren’t going to be ready until 11:30!” cries Katelyn, a Wawa worker in a red t-shirt and gray visor.
10:56 p.m. - “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus is playing. If it was really a party in the U.S.A., the Eagles would be winning.
11–12 a.m.
11:05 p.m. - ‘Prince’ staff deliberate over which snack to get.
11:07 p.m. - It’s busy! Around eight people are in line for self-checkout, and six are waiting on hot food.
11:07 p.m. - We had grand plans to do a full Bon Appétit donut analysis, but that would have been excessive, so instead I decided that “Creamy Caramel Dulce de Lèche” was the most excessive and will be reviewing it instead.
11:11 p.m. - I finally figured out how to do self-checkout. It was terrifying. The machine was yelling at me. Never again will I mock a struggling soul at those machines, for I was one of them.
11:11 p.m. - Wawa has emptied again.
11:13 p.m. - The drink fridge no longer smells like cologne.
11:16 p.m. - Bon Appétit Creamy Caramel Dulce de Lèche donuts are called that because they need you to think they taste like caramel. If they hadn’t primed me, I would’ve just thought their flavor was wax.
11:20 p.m. - A guy in a full red tracksuit (it’s very red) is doing some late-night snack and apple juice shopping.
11:20 p.m. - I found a flyer to adopt a dog with “Southern charm.” What does that mean? Does the dog bark with an accent?
11:24 p.m. - The apple slices are being restocked, along with the slightly questionable-looking bananas. There are only four other customers who are wandering around aimlessly like us.
11:32 p.m. - For fun, I start to order a pizza. They limit you to two toppings on each side? That doesn’t seem very nice of them.
11:33 p.m. - A bit of Taylor Swift plays as it starts getting busy here again. Everyone seems to know each other.
11:34 p.m. - I can, however, order a kids’ meal consisting of macaroni and cheese, a side of cheese sticks, and some chocolate milk. Wawa is a place of extremes.
11:35 p.m. - Randomly, about 10 more people showed up.
11:38 p.m. - Everybody is congregated around the checkout section. The other end of the Wawa is pristine. Silent. Serene.
11:42 p.m. - “59, it’s waiting on a payment.”
11:44 p.m. - The woman working the deli is high-energy — in the past few minutes, she’s shouted “gobble gobble” and “bOHba.”
11:47 p.m. - An employee restocks a cart housing condoms, Slim Jims, Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and Mentos — the essentials for college life.
11:58 p.m. - Looking at the current demographics across Wawa — primarily male. Five people aren’t (excluding us).
11:58 p.m. - Soon, I will be starting my Tuesday in this Wawa.
11:59 p.m. - Only one more minute. This is New Year’s Eve, effectively.
12–1 a.m.
12 a.m. - I start my Tuesday ordering macaroni and cheese with Old Bay for the person relieving me. It is number 127.
Now I’m not allowed to pick up the macaroni and cheese, because I haven’t paid for it. I’ve decided I’m letting the next person handle it. The clock strikes midnight on the day and my shift is over.
12:03 a.m. - People come in waves — everyone left a couple of minutes ago, and it’s busy again now.
12:14 a.m. - “Please scan your Wawa rewards card now.”
12:17 a.m. - Why is there a Princeton Junction announcement here? Track four is several miles away.
12:20 a.m. - Wawa is the land of Crocs and shorts in the chilliest weather. “Gives You Hell” is playing.
12:20 a.m. - A guy with a milkshake is juggling two bags of chips which I’m, like, 99 percent sure he just shoplifted. That makes two thefts within 18 hours.
12:22 a.m. - Business is BACK. We’ve got girls in coats, boys in sweatshirts, and beyond.
12:27 a.m. - Three white guys are having a bit of a tussle in the candy aisle regarding the lottery machine. One thinks they should go in on the $200K one. The others are more skeptical. Several are drunk.
12:29 a.m. - The guys buying lottery tickets are struggling to understand the concept of a scratch card. Big gasp. “We won?” Think they won $25, maybe? “That’s big money for us, bro.” “How do we get the money?” The bromance is going hard.
12:30 a.m. - A sharply dressed man — his suit jacket, jeans, and white collar poking out makes him give clergyman energy, AirPods in. Best dressed by a mile. Congrats to him.
12:31 a.m. - From across the store, I see the white boys are still locked in at the lottery machine.
12:32 a.m. - Many more folks are entering the Wawa right now.
12:35 a.m. - A man walks by and farts audibly.
12:37 a.m. - The man who farted strolls back our way, stands in line, and farts again. I feel bad documenting this.
12:39 a.m. - Wawa is popping, and people are having random reunions while waiting for food.
12:41 a.m. - There is a large gathering around the order screens — for the first time all night, there are more women than men in here.
12:46 a.m. - Probably 25 people, mostly students, are milling about while waiting for orders.
12:47 a.m. - Two girls debate what they’re allergic to — they wanted Reese’s, but one of them is allergic. “Don’t ruin it for yourself. Take a bite. Take five bites,” the nonallergic girl says to the allergic girl.
12:48 a.m. - A guy is leaning on one of the shelves, which is bending. I’m slightly concerned about the structural integrity.
12:48 a.m. - A tall crew guy with an ostensibly British accent discusses his splits with a girl. They leave. She seems really interested in it, so maybe she’s also a rower.
12:50 a.m. - Order 354 is ready.
12:52 a.m. - We’ve got a veritable train of seven boys streaming into the ordering kiosks.
12:53 a.m. - The 1 a.m. rush hits.
12:54 a.m. - A lot of takeout orders are piling up behind the checkout counter with no one to claim them.
1–2 a.m.
1:02 a.m. - A guy just walked into the banana stand.
1:04 a.m. - No one here is drunk. I find this surprising.
1:08 a.m. - Louis Pang ’25 is ordering the Wawa pizza for his friends after their movie night, he tells the ‘Prince.’ They got half plain and half pepperoni. A worker shouts for order 418 to pay.
1:09 a.m. - A parade of pajamas and crocs.
1:10 a.m. - “418?! We’re gonna be here for a while,” a bespectacled boy tells the girl with him.
1:12 a.m. - I count at least 47 people in the store.
1:14 a.m. - We’re on order 445.
1:15 a.m. - Two students, one in a wrestling jacket, are buying scratch-offs. Another girl complains about not being let into Cannon.
1:17 a.m. - A dude, possibly drunk, posits to his friend that they should make scrambled eggs in Forbes.
1:20 a.m. - A group of drunk girls decide to sit on the counter for their food. They have ordered a pizza.
1:24 a.m. - Nandi Xu, a UChicago student visiting Princeton, gives a brief interview. It’s his first time in a Wawa.
1:28 a.m. - A very tall man in a bathrobe and jeans waits for his order.
1:29 a.m. - “We livin’,” a man with a dubious mullet and dressed in flannel says to his bros. They may be baseball players.
1:31 a.m. - “Rockabye” is playing. I heard this song earlier on the 11 a.m. shift.
1:35 a.m. - Orders number 501 and 502 are out. A guy complains that they’re out of meatballs.
1:37 a.m. - There is an unappetizing burnt aroma in the air.
1:39 a.m. - Order 528 is ready.
1:46 a.m. - The bros are multiplying. Actually, the people are multiplying. Rough count is at least 60.
1:49 a.m. - People are taking pictures semi-triumphantly. Crowd estimate is now around 80.
1:51 a.m. - Order 598 is ready.
1:54 a.m. - A man complains about almost getting kicked out of Cannon for drinking out of a pitcher. “I’m actually blasted,” a girl says.
1:57 a.m. - The self-checkout line is massive, but checkout at the register has almost no wait. An exodus of bros commences.
1:58 a.m. - Wawa’s music is inaudible amid the conversation.
2–3 a.m.
2 a.m. - Multiple people debate the brutalist architecture at Wawa. We are bombarded by a hoard of students finishing their Prospect 12s and Eating Club experiences.
2:02 a.m. - I can count about 50 people here.
2:03 a.m. - Lots of tall men. “Hella fucking men!” says someone very tall.
2:04 a.m. - For science, we order a hoagie (number 785) and a panini (number 788).
2:06 a.m. - There is a single middle-aged man here waiting for his order. He looks annoyed.
2:07 a.m. - Order 641 is ready. It’s not looking good for us.
2:10 a.m. - The crowd has thinned out. It is now possible to walk through the self-checkout area.
2:11 a.m. - Everyone is surrounding the order station. We’re over 100 numbers away from our order.
2:16 a.m. - “EVERYONE’S HERE,” says someone in a British accent, visibly a little red.
2:17 a.m. - “I’m tired of seeing you,” one member of the Class of 2025 says to another.
2:20 a.m. - A group of students compare fake IDs while waiting for their food.
2:21 a.m. - The fit checks are crazy right now. One guy is wearing a beanie with flames on it and silver sunglasses. Another is wearing a TigerTones sweater. But everyone has come together, waiting for their food.
2:23 a.m. - Some people are becoming desperate. One person yells, “Please. PLEASE!” for their sandwich.
2:23 a.m. - “This is crazy,” one student says. “Everyone and their mother is here,” another student responds.
2:25 a.m. - Order 786, a quesadilla, is ready.
2:30 a.m. - A dude in a Prospect 12 shirt is being an asshole to the workers.
2:36 a.m. - Order 718 is ready. Somehow, order 804 was ready a few minutes ago. “I know that’s my buff chick,” a tall man says as he waits for his buffalo chicken sandwich to be made.
2:48 a.m. - A guy with one shoe half on is walking drunkenly toward Wawa. He is having trouble walking straight.
2:50 a.m. - A singing of “Happy Birthday” has commenced.
2:53 a.m. - Nerves are starting to fray for all present. People want their food, and the workers want their peace.
2:53 a.m. - “Born in the U.S.A.” is blasting.
2:54 a.m. - “This is just the only thing open,” a girl sighs.
2:55 a.m. - The newspapers are still for Monday, Nov. 20.
2:55 a.m. - “I almost got arrested!” a girl says to her friends.
2:57 a.m. - The same group of boys hoarding the Wawa counter are still here.
2:58 a.m. - Order 802, pizza, is ready. Its recipients literally scream “yes” for joy.
3–4 a.m.
3:00 a.m. - “Girl on Fire” is playing.
3:04 a.m. - Our orders have come. It has been approximately an hour. We will be taking an eating break outside.
3:11 a.m. - “Dr. Pepper, let’s go!” a man exclaims on his way out.
3:14 a.m. - As we eat our food, a Public Safety officer yells at us for blocking the doors.
3:16 a.m. - Order 906 is ready.
3:21 a.m. - I am pondering getting the free Wawa coffee for rewards members, as it is technically Tuesday.
3:32 a.m. - “Brown Eyed Girl” is playing. This is very New Jersey of them.
3:38 a.m. - Two guys from Facilities walk into Wawa. Bruce, a Wawa employee, asks them, “Where were you?” and mentions how large the crowd was an hour ago.
3:40 a.m. - “It’s hectic.” Bruce compares the rush to a Friday or Saturday night out, not normal for a Monday/Tuesday.
3:43 a.m. - “Fuckin’ animals,” says one employee, referring to the rush.
3:46 a.m. - A Princeton wrestler buys a red Gatorade and some sort of candy bar.
3:47 a.m. - Wawa is basically deserted, except for one person waiting for food.
3:48 a.m. - Many receipts, straw wrappers, and boxes are scattered throughout Wawa. Some food and drink remnants are throughout the ground.
3:59 a.m. - Employees are generally reflecting on the state of disaster after the Dranksgiving rush. They were very clearly surprised that there were so many people on a Monday night.
4–5 a.m.
4:02 a.m. - “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz is playing. There are only three customers in the store.
4:04 a.m. - “I’m Glad You Came” is playing. Now it really feels like we jumped a decade in the past.
4:05 a.m. - I no longer know what time it is. Wawa has transcended the concept.
4:12 a.m. - Wawa is empty. It feels like something has been lost.
4:20 a.m. - One person comes in for coffee (since it is Tuesday, presumably for free). It smells very yummy. Someone else is buying Smartfood popcorn.
4:28 a.m. - I’m in the home stretch. Someone is ordering a sandwich, but otherwise, there’s very little activity.
4:31 a.m. - The first train announcement! Train at Princeton Junction to Penn Station.
4:33 a.m. - Someone arrives with a suitcase, presumably for the 4:53 Dinky.
4:35 a.m. - Two wrestlers arrive, also presumably trying to make the Dinky.
4:36 a.m. - Uncharacteristically upbeat music is playing. It may be some sort of Calvin Harris song.
4:40 a.m. - Someone is here with their small child. Are kids allowed to be up this early?
4:42 a.m. - “Unstoppable” by Sia may be my breaking point. I do not feel invincible. The Wawa is a little busier with a half dozen people getting coffee. Many of them also seem to be questioning their life decisions.
4:44 a.m. - “We just got killed by 500 students,” one worker says.
4:45 a.m. - The announcement for the 4:53 Dinky.
4:47 a.m. - The Dinky pulls in. I am tempted by the escape path.
4:48 a.m. - I’m back inside the warmth of Wawa. Unfortunately, what I believe to be Imagine Dragons is playing.
4:52 a.m. - The newspapers have been swapped for Tuesday.
4:54 a.m. - The release of 5 a.m. approaches like molasses.
5–6 a.m.
5:00 a.m. - A man departs with a stack of newspapers in hand.
5:01 a.m. - “Free Coffee Tuesdays” are hard at work. There are three individuals with drinks in hand, yet one pays for his small coffee. Clearly, he does not have the rewards app.
5:13 a.m. - Princeton Facilities workers are flocking in. One is overheard saying to another upon their first interaction of the morning, “Same old crap.”
5:15 a.m. - Six facilities workers spread throughout the store. Checkout. ATM. Coffee. Food.
5:17 a.m. - More camaraderie between facilities workers, this time more positive.
5:18 a.m. - “The 5:26 train is expected to depart on TRACK SINGLE.”
5:21 a.m. - Several good morning fistbumps are exchanged between facilities workers. An art museum construction worker gives up on self-checkout after “card not accepted” and moves to regular checkout.
5:25 a.m. - The next train to Trenton is delayed by seven minutes.
5:26 a.m. - “Alright, Bruce, I’ll catch you on the rebound,” a facilities worker says after purchasing around $40 of lottery tickets.
5:38 a.m. - The first Dinky travelers arrive at Wawa. The kiosk is woefully understocked, forcing many to opt for the egg white turkey club sandwich.
5:45 a.m. Bruce restocks the grab-and-go section and yells at us for sitting on the floor. “You don’t know what’s on that floor,” he says.
5:54 a.m. - Someone has left their wristbands from the Street by the Oreos.
5:54 a.m. - “165, you have to pay for it first, sir.”
5:58 a.m. - A woman at the counter tells the lady she doesn’t need to heat the quesadilla. She’ll do it at home.
6–7 a.m.
6:07 a.m. - I learn of Bruce’s lore. He’s been here since 10. Doesn’t like drunk people making a mess. Lives five towns over.
6:09 a.m. - A guy in a jumpsuit and neon sweatshirt buys cookies and milk.
6:11 a.m. - Lily, from Venezuela: when the students eat what they want, they make a mess in the store. She makes all the specialty drinks. She doesn’t drink coffee, though.
6:18 a.m. - I talk to the manager. He’s from Lawrenceville. He thinks the drunk people are funny. Working from 3 a.m.–9 a.m.. Came at 3 a.m. to manage and saw how many people were here and thought, “Guess I’m working here now.” He doesn’t like to eat at Wawa, but likes the crispy chicken and Mac.
6:22 a.m. - Lily brings coffee to a guy at the front desk and greets a woman with a hug. She’s a teacher around here and used to come every day. She liked the way Lily prepared her coffee.
6:23 a.m. - Another rower comes in. He must be late to practice.
6:25 a.m. - Lily and Veronica chat in Spanish as Lily restocks the milk.
6:27 a.m. - Veronica’s been working here for 17 years. She always works overnight and has done so for 11 years.
6:37 a.m. - A Princeton police officer comes in and gets a coffee.
6:39 a.m. - More rowers come in for coffee. One says she’s still drunk from last night, and she asks me how she can acquire water from the kiosk.
6:40 a.m. - The sun is starting to rise. The view from the back window is beautiful. Is it intentional that the back wall is a window facing toward the sunrise?
6:44 a.m. - The Princeton health department rates Wawa as satisfactory according to the bulletin by the office.
6:54 a.m. - Burn my tongue and say, “Ooh! Hot.” A man in a suit looks concerned. I say I burned my tongue. He smirks and waltzes away.
7–8 a.m.
7 a.m. - The end is near. Vince and another employee embrace, before he leaves. “Have a good night. I’ll scan him out later,” he says as an aside to his coworkers.
7:10 a.m. - A woman at the deli counter tells the guy who ordered 398 — a panini — to have a good holiday.
7:11 a.m. - Bruce seems ready to go.
7:12 a.m. - Craig from facilities did his whole backyard yesterday. Pine trees and all.
7:13 a.m. - I decide blueberry almonds might be the most unappealing product here.
7:17 a.m. - The Wawa checkout line is four people long.
7:20 a.m. - A tall man with a Princeton ball cap munches on a honeybun next to the coffee station. He is ENJOYING it. Heard a little sound of satisfaction. Good for him.
7:22 a.m. - Thomas the EMT is working a double shift. He’s here for his coffee.
7:32 a.m. - Only one person of student age and vibes here other than us. People in work clothes are starting their days.
7:34 a.m. - “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is playing. Song of purgatory.
7:37 a.m. - There are several facilities workers in the Wawa.
7:37 a.m. - “No. No candy,” says a mom to her kid.
7:45 a.m. - We’re not talking enough about how there’s a framed Chris Murphy article in here.
7:48 a.m. - The Princeton High School field hockey girls “don’t understand” something about waiting in line.
7:56 a.m. - The New York Post is sold out. Only one Financial Times left. A lot of New York Times.
7:57 a.m. - Suitcase after suitcase rolls in with their owners.
7:58 a.m. - I predict Katy Perry is going to play next. “Last Friday Night” comes on.
8 a.m. - It’s over. We leave. We say goodbye to the staff.
The End!
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