The Town 'N Country convenience store, corner of Dixon and University, is probably the last place you would expect to discover musical talent in the wee hours of the morning. It's one of few gas stations that stays open late in this part of Durham, but that's not the only reason I (and a steady stream of others) make my late-night pitstop there.
We go for the atmosphere. Asim, the night clerk, works the graveyard shift, and makes your shopping experience as friendly and no-hassle as you could possibly want it to be.
Last night, on my way home from Carmen's Colombian party, I stopped by as Ofcr. Drinker, of Durham's finest ("he's my best friend," Asim says), is asking for some C batteries to fix the headlight on a homeless man's bike, outside. Meanwhile, a girl with white and gold disco sunglasses comes in to put $20 on pump 3.
Regulars happen through, and Asim knows everybody's order--right down to the flavor of the cigarillo--as well as the mood they're in, from who's happy because his girlfriend is back in town, to who slips in and out for "the usual" with just a smile. Don't have a penny? Don't worry about it; he'll throw it in the till for you.
"It's like family here," says Asim. "They love me, they adore me. Especially the ladies," he says, dropping some change into the cash drawer. "They tell me I look like Jesus!"
I can see it; the imposing height, the long black hair, someone you can turn to in the middle of the night for salty snacks and smokes: Jesus in jeans and a wifebeater.
Tonight as I walk in, I don't see Asim right away. He's walking back to get something, and singing in a euphoric voice at the top of his lungs. As he comes back to the counter, I can see that this thing is a guitar.
"I didn't know you were a musician!" I blurt out. It all adds up; his easy demeanor and keeping musician's hours. He sings us a love song in Urdu, and tells me about his band, Dil Valay, how they were especially active in the late '90s, and how they once played for Mayor Daley in Chicago, and have a video on YouTube:
"It's a fusion," he says of their original songs, which they perform mostly at shows in the Pakistani community. No word on local gigs in the near future; but if you drop by the Town 'N Country after hours, you might be able to request something live.
Coming soon: Lyrics!