New York City has its bodegas. The South has its gas stations.
When you stop for motor oil in Mississippi, you can also grab fried chicken on a stick. In North Carolina, you can buy a steamy bowl of pozole along with a batteries and a five-pound bag of White Lily flour.
There might be shawarma next to the shotgun shells, or wedges of mild hoop cheese and packets of saltines for sale at the counter along with lottery tickets and pecan pie that the owner’s sister made.
Documenting these independent Southern temples of commerce and community has become a singular focus for the photojournalist Kate Medley, who, like most kids raised in Mississippi, grew up eating at rural gas stations.
Now living in Durham, N.C., Ms. Medley, 42, has spent more than a decade collecting images for her book of photographs, “Thank You Please Come Again,” which the digital magazine The Bitter Southerner published in December. The book began with a journalist’s curiosity, but ended up as a way for a daughter of the Deep South to make sense of the beautiful, brutal, complicated place she came from.
“These places hold great mystery,” she said. “You’re rolling down the road and they catch your visual attention. Then you wonder what’s behind that glass door when you hear that little bell ring. Is it the MAGA South? The welcoming South? Who’s at the cash register? Who’s at the grill?”