I am what you might call a "grocery store" person. I love strolling up and down each aisle with a grocery list as long as my arm. I love strolling the aisles with no list at all. The more the cart fills up, the happier I become. You can't even imagine the thrill I get when I spy a new product winking at me from an endcap. During an anniversary trip to NYC one December, the fact that there was a Whole Foods in the basement beneath our hotel in Time Warner Center pleased Alan and me as much as the hotel's turndown-chocolate-on-the-pillow service. Each afternoon as we made our way back to our room to get ready for the evening, we popped into Whole Foods to get a little sumthin-sumthin to nosh on.
There is a grocery store chain in West Texas called United Supermarkets. I had never heard of these stores until I moved here almost 19 years ago. The familiarity of Albertsons drew my business for the first few years of grocery shopping in the Hub City. I tried to love the United in Kingsgate Shopping Center, but the blue and white checked floors did a number on my visual perception. I was fine for the first aisle or two, but by the time I reached the canned fruit aisle...Mama Mia...the floor in front of me began to twitch, pitch and roll. This same phenomenon occurred back in the fall of 1986 while we were being interviewed by an adoption agency. The small room had wallpaper with a smallish repeating pattern like a man's tie. As the adoption agency lady visited with us, the wallpaper began to move. Twitch-switch-twitch-switch. I've always wondered if she noticed that I kept squinting and closing one eye to keep her in focus.
Distracted by the seasick-inducing tile pattern, I missed the most amazing part of the United experience. It wasn't until a new store, sans blue and white checked tile floor, was built about 3 blocks from my front door that I discovered their secret of success. Customer service. I swear those people must drink a quart of red Happy Koolaide just before they clock in. They are always delighted to see me. As I push my cart through the store, I am greeted by everyone from the produce guy who is stacking yellow onions, to the guy behind the fish counter, to the sacker who is scurrying down the cereal aisle for a price check. Oh, the love and glad tidings of great joy!
Rounding the ice cream aisle, I glide into a checkout line. As a daytime shopper, the lines are very short or absolutely nonexistent. Generally, a checker is standing in the aisle gesturing me to come enjoy a quick, friendly checkout experience. I have come to resent the stores that expect me to place each of my grocery items on a conveyor belt. I have become a grocery snob. I should never be required to touch my purchases more than twice - once when I place them in my basket and again when I place them in the pantry. I have actually stood in a long line at a-store-that-will-remain-nameless analyzing the inefficiency of all the product shuffling. Basket-conveyor belt-checker-sacker-sack-basket. I want to scream, "Simplify! Think about efficiency of motion and customer satisfaction!"
I once had my shopping cart abandoned in the parking lot of a store that I will refer to as "Ralbertsons" by a sacker who rushed over to exchange a few punches and expletives with a fellow sacker. Apparently, the altercation had been a long time coming. As I took control of my groceries and my life, the disheveled sacker came running to my "rescue." My peace-maker self tried to make light of the situation. "Gee, it looks like you two have a few things to discuss!" "Yeah," Sacker Ralbertson replied, "he pisses me of just about every day of the week. He knew he was in for it."
Which brings me to my pet peeve. I am a person who nurtures very few pet peeves. (The other three peeves are Alan-related, so I will save them for another very long and detailed blog.) After writing a check for a purchase ranging in price from $80-$250, the question "Do you need a carry out?" grates on my ears like fingernails on a chalk board. At my beloved United, a carry out is not a choice. It's a requirement. They scurry to carry out even the tiniest purchases. I've almost had to wrestle a sack containing something like 3 bananas and a roll of Lifesavers from a polite sacker. I certainly don't mind the attention. At all.
I have spent time scrutinizing the rationale behind the simple question itself. "Do you need a carry out?" Here are but some of the implications and hidden meanings that occurred to me one afternoon during my "think time" in the line leading up to the conveyor belt at an HEB in Waco:
- Oooh, girl! Look at all the ice cream and Orville Redenbacher Home Theatre Butter popcorn in this sack! Looks like you're going to need help toting this loot all the way out to your car! I'll walk as slow as I can, lady, but you're going to need to try to keep up!
- Ma'am, do you have some sort of unseen physical impairment or illness that will prevent you from performing the duty of simply pushing this wheeled cart into which you gathered the selfsame items of purchase? The addition of the approximately 9 oz. of plastic baggery may be a bit much for you to handle. It's quite a hike to the handicapped parking spaces. Shall I carry you as well?
- Hey, Joe! What do you bet this one's too lazy to push her little baby grocery cart all the way to her big old air conditioned Suburban? What'll it be, lady? Lazy or not?
- Does hers-ums need a wittle help takin' hers-ums wittle sacks of yummies all the way out into the big old scary parking lot?
- Well, Miss High-and-Mighty, I guess you're going to expect some sort of royal treatment because you're soooooo special in each and every way! After you, Madam! I will follow 10 steps behind Your Grace with my eyes cast toward the ground.
As you can well imagine, I could go on and on. However, at this point, you may be wondering how I respond to the question, "Do you need a carry out?" Ah so, Kind Reader: "No, I am perfectly willing and able to roll this cart containing enough food to feed a family of five for at least three days - if we don't run out of milk, that is. I certainly don't want to impose on the likes of you! And, just wait 'til you see where I'm going to 'park' the empty basket! Won't you be surprised!?"
Yeah, right. That's the response that can be read in the "thought bubble" that floats just over my head. My real response? "No, thank you. I've got it."
I'm off to United! I'm feeling kind of cooped up and lonely. I need to be validated and pampered as a consumer of paper towels and leaf lettuce. There might even be some new Santa-shaped Oreos double-stuffed with red filling waiting for me there! I'm sure that if I wander around there long enough, I'll come up with the two or three items that are needed to feed two empty nesters for five to seven days. And, I'll get tucked into my Suburban by a precious sacker with whom I've enjoyed a rousing two minute discussion regarding the changing weather patterns in West Texas. Ta-ta!