June 10, 2004
Ashburn-- Most convenience stores sell many of the same products, at pretty much the same prices.
When you go to a special convenience store in Ashburn, you'll find something no other store offers. Behind the well worn door of life, a brown painted door covered by steel mesh, secured by three big padlocks, behind the chips and soft drinks inside sits a creative businessman. "It's kind of dull, you know, I've been in it 17 years this business," says Melvin Calhoun, who used his natural talents to find a competitive advantage in the very competitive convenience store business.
He creatively used the boredom to his sound advantage. His favorite sound is that of a Yamaha motorcycle. He holds both hands out as if gripping the handle bars, pushes down with his right leg as if cranking it. The motorcycle doesn't start the first time. It takes three tries, with Melvin making the sound of it idling.
His right hand twists an imaginary throttle and the engine makes more noise. His left hand releases an imaginary clutch, if you close your eyes, you'd think you would be riding with him. "I just try to visualize myself as a motorcycle."
It took two years of practice to perfect the motorcycle sound. With each purchase comes a special sound if you asked him, sounds often heard at one time in Ashburn, and long gone, like a 1949 Ford pulpwood truck. He turns an imaginary key and presses, what he describes as, a silver starter button.
The truck sounds as if it was near death, grunting to turn, and it finally starts. Melvin uses his right hand to change gears from first to second. "Feel like a truck. Like I'm driving a truck, you know," says Melvin, holding an imaginary steering wheel with his left hand.
At first, he though his sounds were a temporary interest. That was 34 years ago. "Kind of stuck with me," says Melvin who turned a modest convenience store into an entertainment center without it costing him a dime.
Melvin Calhoun has quite a reputation. He has already won eight local talent contests. He creates the sound of an old car cranking, one like he drives. Like the other vehicles, it strains to crank, but starts somehow, but you had your doubts. His sounds stick in the ears and minds of his customers. "I have little kids come up to me and say do the pig, do the motorcycle, do the chainsaw."
And, he does. His chainsaw sound starts with him pulling a rope starter not once, but three times. It seems chainsaws never start with the first pull, not even the imaginary ones. Once started, Melvin cuts a limb with the saw changing sounds as if cutting through the tree's thick trunk. Then, he turns it off, as if finished. "You have to be prepared to do this stuff," says Melvin.
He can do more than create realistic sounds, Melvin Calhoun enjoys impersonating singers like Willie Nelson.
He's been shot at least twice, robbed more than that, but it hasn't robbed him of his enjoyment. "When I make people laugh, I'm brightening their day," says Melvin, whose yellow counter top has worn to its white under-coating.
And, his day, too. "Anytime people want me to perform, I'm ready," offers Melvin, a kind man willing to share what he worked years to perfect, along with a philosophy of life. "If you can't help nobody, then don't hurt nobody."
Sound advice you can take home.
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