An Ode to Bucee's the Greatest Gas Station on Earth
Collage by Andrea Edelman Kay
Road Trips

An Ode to Buc-ee's, the Greatest Gas Station on Earth

No road trip through the South is complete without a stop at Buc-ee's.

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Buc-ee's: It’s been called a freeway phenomenon, a temple of roadside junk food, and the Disney World of convenience stores. Pass through its glass doors and I swear you’ll hear angels sing as workers with Colgate-sparkly smiles welcome you to their fluorescent-lit promised land. There are so many devilish snacks, so many things you never knew you wanted (and definitely don’t need) but will buy anyway. Duck in for a Diet Coke, and walk out with a cowhide flask, pickled quail eggs, and beaver-faced fuzzy slippers. This is the mythos of Buc-ee's. 

It wasn’t always like this. Buc-ee’s started out as a fairly ordinary gas station, founded in Clute, Texas, in 1982 by Don Wasek and Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. Still privately owned, its expansion has been slow and methodical. Over the past two decades, the chain has opened more than 50 locations throughout the south—with the majority concentrated in Texas—and built a reputation as an essential road trip stop.

“It’s not just a gas station—it’s an experience,” gasp its super fans in hashtagged posts on Instagram, where Buc-ee’s has nearly a quarter of a million followers. These convenience store congregants wear head-to-toe Buc-ee’s merchandisetop their wedding cakes with Buc-ee’s mascots, and get Buc-ee’s tattoos. It's a level of customer devotion that must drive the boardroom stiffs at Circle K and 7-Eleven crazy. 

And I get it. Buc-ee’s is more of a travel center than a gas station, strategically placed between major cities at the exact moment that road trippers will need a break. Like a mirage in a cartoon desert, its appearance along a tedious stretch of interstate seems almost too good to be true. Pull off and pick one of its 7,298 parking spaces (all larger than average, to accommodate Texans’ titanic trucks), and drag your bleary-eyed, road-bedraggled corpse out of the car and into the store. Within seconds, your whole mood lifts because it’s impossible to cross that magical threshold and not be spellbound by the abundance of choice: fresh-baked kolaches and mountains of fudge, banana pudding and big-honkin’-brisket sandwiches, sugar-roasted pecans perfuming the air, and a house-made jerky bar with upward of a dozen dried meats on offer. Decorative taxidermied deer heads keep a watchful (glass) eye over the economy-sized bags of Combos and Corn Nuts, while towering displays push red Solo cups and table tennis balls, and shoppers make ill-advised decisions to purchase neon tank tops tutting “Y’all Done Lost Y’all Dang Minds.” 

In St. Augustine, Florida, a sprawling Buc-ee's—one of more than 50 locations in the South—is an essential road trip stop. 

Felix Mizioznikov/Alamy

The home decor section (yes, it’s its own department) sells bejeweled crosses and farmhouse-chic kitchen signs with chirpy proclamations like “All I Need Is a Little Bit of Coffee and a Whole Lot of Jesus!” There is enough rival gear from UT and A&M to spark World War III. And that hoary old “Don’t Mess With Texas” cliché makes its way onto everything from bottle openers to bumper stickers, because if there is anything Texans love, it’s Texas. Good luck finding a pink-fringed vest with matching air gun and lasso at a Wawa, or a spangled belt buckle the size of a Craftsman bungalow at a Sheetz. 

The one thing Buc-ee’s loves more than Texas, of course, is Buc-ee’s. The store sells a stupefying array of merchandise emblazoned with its buck-toothed, chubby-cheeked beaver mascot, including tie-dye dog bandanas, ice chests, pint glasses, fridge magnets, and pajama pants. Buc-ee’s-branded vintage trucks brim with beaver plushies. Shelves are loaded for bear with beaver bobbleheads, all nodding in support of customers’ slushie-and-Slim Jim hauls. The grinning beaver is even cross-stitched onto throw pillows—proof that your grandma is also a sworn member of the Buc-ee’s cult. 

There are practical reasons to visit Buc-ee’s, too. The gas is some of the cheapest in the country; the bathrooms, which are hung with oil paintings of longhorn cattle, are famously spotless thanks to the teams of custodians that work 24 hours a day to clean them; and there is almost no snack on earth this place doesn’t stock, from Takis Meat Sticks to Flamin’-Hot Funyuns. The workers are friendly and helpful—probably because the chain pays its employees a living wage, in addition to giving them 401(k) plans and three weeks of paid vacation.

Like other Buc-ee’s stans, I’ve planned day trips to the New Braunfels flagship, a 66,335-square-foot Shangri-La located between Austin and San Antonio. It’s a destination unto itself, with more than 120 filling stations, 83 toilets, 80 soda fountains, and 31 cash registers. Though it’s in the record books as the world’s largest convenience store, it’s about to be bested by one of its own: the Buc-ee’s that broke ground in Luling last November will clock in at 75,000 square feet when finished in 2024. The Buc-ee’s in Katy, meanwhile, is home to the world’s longest car wash; it has 25 rolling brushes, 255 feet of conveyor belt, and takes five minutes to coast through.

And that’s the thing—a visit to Buc-ee’s is never just a pitstop. It's the stuff of legend, bigger than time and space, an oral tradition passed from parent to child, and a surefire way to make fast friends of strangers. Long after I’ve left the store, I wax poetic about Beaver Nuggets, the caramel-laced corn puffs so sweet they’ve probably paid for 100 dentists’ mortgages. I join the debate over the correct way to pronounce Buc-ee’s (it’s Bucky like Chucky, not Busey like Gary) and trade stories with fellow zealots about our “first times.” Mine was at the O.G. Luling store in 2016. I had never heard of Buc-ee’s until I saw a million cheeky billboards advertising it on the drive west from Cajun Country. It was love at first pump—and all these years later, I can’t say I visited Texas if I don’t carve out a visit to Buc-ee’s.