Current Issue

Jan. 19, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 6


Ode to Wawa

Wa, you complete me

By Ellie Kemper ’02
Published in the January 19, 2011, issue

Tomasz Walenta

Ellie Kemper ’02 is a writer and actress who plays Erin Hannon, Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, on the hit NBC television show The Office.

Wawa is a Native American word for the Canada goose that lives in the Delaware Valley. Wa is a Princeton word for one of the greatest 24-hour food stores on Earth. Wow, Wa! are my words for how I feel about both one of the greatest 24-hour food stores on Earth, and the Canada goose.

How do I put into words one of the most enduring relationships I have in this world? I’m not sure I know. How do I come to terms with the fact that whenever I come back to Princeton, it is the Wa that I am happiest to see? I do appreciate Blair Arch, and smile politely at my former professors, and give my friends half-hearted hugs, but it is the Wa that holds my undying adoration.

I’m not sure how successfully I would have navigated college without the help of this store. It stood by me through hundreds of late-night rehearsals, dozens of early-morning sports practices, upward of several study sessions, and 15 million WaBolis. It was always clean, efficient, and compassionate. How many people can you say that about, let alone marketplaces? Not a lot. The Wa was my safe haven after long nights of warm beer and wrong-color passes on the Street. It was somewhere I could go and immediately feel at ease. The Wa was my Cheers. It made me feel like someone was taking care of me; even though I was no longer at home, somebody still cared enough to make sure I had a hot dog before going to bed.  

I don’t mean to glorify the Wa; I know that it has its share of flaws and shortcomings. The apple fritters often were sold out by 9 a.m. The Wa stopped carrying those vanilla crème-sandwich Snackwells my sophomore year. The liquid in the pickle barrel sometimes had a questionable tint to it. But in the overall scheme of things, these weren’t big deals. The big deal was the Wa, and how it never closed. To a wide-eyed and annoying Midwesterner like me, this was unheard-of.   How could a food market never close? But it didn’t. Except once, and that was during a hurricane.

I wish that I could marry the Wa, but I know that I can’t. I don’t even understand what the vows would be. At the same time, the Wa displays all of the qualities that I hold most dear:  

1) Constant and unchanging devotion to me

2) Funny (the name, Wawa, is really funny)

3) Amazing turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, made the way I want them, and ordered on a computer screen

What is left to WAnt? Wawa, you complete me.

My first date with the Wa was on a Tuesday afternoon, after my first morning of field hockey practice. Knowing no one and being bad at field hockey, I figured the least I could do was have a great lunch. But I figured wrong. The Wa was out of turkey. “No Turkey, sorry!!!” read the sign pasted on the cash register by the sandwich station. “There’s no turkey for sandwiches?” I asked, somewhat unnecessarily, since the sign said there was no turkey, and the sign was sorry. “There’s no turkey, I’m sorry!” replied the cashier. In a world of uncertainty, two things were certain: 1) There was no turkey, and 2) they were sorry.

I didn’t know what to do. Unfamiliar with the Wawa and the weirdly nicknamed shuttle train next door, the Dinky, I wasn’t sure where to turn. But I had to turn somewhere. So I turned to the frozen-food section. I do that a lot, and it usually works out OK. This turn was no exception. Beside frozen dinners and chipotle burritos, this section presented one last refuge for me: Wawa ice cream. What? How could a little store like this have its very own line of ice cream? And yet it did.

I chose cookie dough. I was skeptical. The pint was too light; where was the cream? The price was too right; where was the luxury? And yet that first taste of Wawa cookie dough ice cream told me all I needed to know. This was good. This was reliable. This was the Wa.

They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but honestly, you often do. In this case, however, my second impression was the same as my first impression: cookie dough, again. And again, really good. But why was the Wa out of turkey two days in a row? That was the only part that was weird. I’ve never seen that happen since, so I can only attribute it to fate. Fate works in mysterious ways, though, and when fate closes a turkey sandwich, I have found that it often opens a cookie dough ice cream pint.

The Wa always was welcoming, and it always had something to give me. I had to pay for it, so it wasn’t a true gift, but the Wa always was willing to sell me something. And a companion like that is pretty valuable in a time as tumultuous and stressful as college. So, thank you, Wa. Thank you for your ice cream, and your mostly turkey sandwiches, and your hilarious name. Mostly, thank you for being there for me. And for not hating me when I tell you that your pickle barrel is seriously alarming. But luckily for both of us, I am in the market for ice cream, not pickles. Until I am pregnant. And even then, I will love you just the same.
Post Comments
2 Responses to Perspective

Richard S. Snedeker '51 Says:

2011-01-14 11:58:26

What a wonderful piece on Wawa by Ellie Kemper '02. I read it with more than casual interest because of long past experiences with that location. I have lived in or near Princeton since graduating, so I have gone past the Wawa many times since it took over that building. I have also had many near-misses in driving up from Alexander St., turning right at University Place and almost running into cars backing out of the Wawa parking area. There has to be a better way. But that's another story. The best part of my experience with that location goes back to the early 1950s, when the building that now houses Wawa was an automobile dealership and garage, Doten's Studebaker to be exact. It it was run by Ken Doten, a very friendly guy. I remember it so well because I bought my first new car from him, a 1955 Studebaker station wagon. It was tan and red, and my wife and I had it for quite a while. I remember all the people that worked there by name, and I remember that it was always fun to talk over the latest town gossip with them. One time I left my car for an oil change, and found them deeply engaged in a conversation with a very "tweedy" lady who had many instructions for them about how soon she needed her car after it was serviced. After she left, their comments on "the busy schedule" she always had were hilarious. There's more to that spot than Wawa, but I hope they continue to serve the nearby campus as well as they have, despite occasional shortages of turkey. Hmm, I see the writer's class is '02. That was my father's class -- 1902, that is.

Sean Santiago '03 Says:

2011-01-17 09:24:23

Oh Wawa, how I miss thee so! Spread your wings and fly, fly to the West Coast! Bring your shorti rolls and your stuffed pretzels and your macaroni and cheese and we'll hang out just like old times. Oh, and don't forget to bring me a copy of The Trentonian!
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