Melvin’s Big Shopping Adventure
By WbtR Member Ron Glaser
Today is Sunday, June 14, a day of adventure for me because my wife is out of town for a few days, I have exhausted the food she left for me, and I need to do the grocery shopping. Why will grocery shopping be an adventure? Although a little embarrassing, the truth is this will be only the second time in ten years that I have undertaken this particular activity on my own. It might sound crazy but my wife and I have a very, very old fashion marriage, where Betsy does the shopping and I check the cars’ tire pressure and change the light bulbs. I know this is not a fair trade-off, but who wants to ride on flat tires and live in a dark house!
Anyway, after my normal morning breakfast (which I am capable of preparing) and a short bike ride to burn off the calories I have been gluing onto my body (tv dinners, hot dogs, pasta, ice cream, chips, cotton candy), I decide it is time to bite the bullet and head to the store. But which one? I know we have at least six grocery stores within 5 miles of our house because Betsy tells me this, but I do not want to throw caution to the wind – I will go to the closest store because that way I make sure I can find my way back home. Also, my internet search reveals that not only is Giant Food the closest grocery store, it also has a built-in Starbucks where I can get a sugary drink to give me energy for my big shopping experience. A close-by Giant with a built-in Starbucks. Everything is fitting right into place!
So I drive over to the Giant and walk to the corner of the store where Starbucks is. One of the things Starbucks sells that I like is this cold vanilla milk-like drink. They call it a frappuccino I think, although you say it with a “ch” like frappucchino. Anyway I am always afraid of ordering it by name because frappuccino sounds like it has coffee in it, which I do not want in my drink, so I always tell the drink person, “I want to get one of those cold, icy drinks that has vanilla in it and nothing else, no coffee in it or anything that isn’t vanilla.”
The person who is going to serve me today is named “Mindy” because that is the name on her little tag (unless she has put on someone else’s name tag in an attempt to disguise her true identity, but this seems unlikely to me). The conversation goes like this:
Me: “Hi. I want one of those vanilla drinks”
Mindy: “You want a vanilla frappuccino.”
Me: “Do I?”
Mindy: “That’s what you just said you wanted.”
Me: “I did?”
Me: “The spelling always confuses me.”
Me: “Is it just vanilla and no coffee?”
Me: “It’s mixed with ice, right? It’s not hot?”
Me: “No it’s not mixed with ice?”
Mindy: “Yes. No it is mixed with ice. It’s cold.”
Me: “Ok, that’s what I want.”
Mindy: “What size?”
Me: “A medium size cup, but an extra tall top so you can put extra whipped cream on top.”
Mindy: “All the tops are the same size.”
Me: “Well, how do I get extra whipped cream?”
Mindy: “Sir, we have a standard way of putting the whipped cream on.”
Me: “Can you give me an extra cup of whipped cream?”
Me: “Okay, I’m sorry. Forget it.”
I am simply too exhausted from my anticipated shopping and this uncertainty of whether I will get the right drink, so I decide I will skip the Starbucks; it is time to start grocery shopping.
First things first, I need a cart. They are at the very front of the store in that little lobby-like area before you go through the glass double-doors into the actual store. There are about 100 carts lined up there but it takes me at least 20 minutes to find a good one. How can that be? Well, I test 23 carts before I find one that goes straight ahead when I push it and let go. I sense some of the store clerks are not happy with me because they watch me go get a cart, come into the store’s second set of double glass doors, and then give the cart my “straight away” test. So when they see over 20 carts just strewn around the apple bin, end caps, corn bins, registers, and other places, their faces tell me they are not happy. But it’s not my fault they keep buying carts that don’t go straight. Why should I have to put all those carts back in line?
Having found a respectable cart, I start shopping and things are going pretty well until I decide to put my first item of food into the shopping cart. I am going to buy a peach. I don’t like peaches that much but I think a little fruit will do me some good given they are healthy and all that. This is a problem. Peaches are sold by the pound, not by the piece, and I really do not want even one pound of peaches – I just want one, peach. I ask a clerk who is watering some type of vegetables if she can help. I explain the problem very clearly but she gives me an extremely convoluted answer, which I still cannot figure out, even after asking to use her pen and pad and drawing diagrams to show her my predicament. I won’t belabor the rest of the discussion with her, but we come to a solution. I agree I will go to aisle 7 later in my trip and buy a can of peaches, which is less that a pound. And this has one other benefit. I will not have to peel the skin. (I’m really not that skilled when it comes to taking the skin off fruit.) I chalk up my first purchase as a success even though I have not yet bought anything and have to wait until I get to aisle 7 for the peaches.
Before I leave the fruits and vegetables section, I decide to buy some bananas. Well, really just one. I look over at the bin and I see they are all in bunches. I do not want to go through the peaches thing again and I have learned my lesson, so I will hit my issue head on. I see a gentleman unpacking more boxes of bananas. Good timing! His name is John.
Me: “Excuse me. Can you tell me what the protocol is in buying bananas?
Me: “I mean, is there a rule on how many you have to buy, cause I really want just one, and I don’t want to have to buy canned bananas.”
John: “Sure, you can buy just one.”
Me: “Great! Does it matter which one I get cause I have to pull one from a bunch.”
John: “Whichever you want. Just go ahead and grab one.”
This guy John is really terrific. He suggests I might want to buy two, one that’s yellow and fully ripe and one a little greener, so it will be ripe in a couple of days. He is clearly an expert on bananas so I gladly follow his advice. I pick a yellow one from one bunch and a green from another. I may not be an experienced shopper, but I am smart enough to follow good advice!
You might think the rest of my trip goes like the first part but I am proud to say, it is even better! I do not knock over any stands. I do not drop anything on the floor. I do not open a box of cookies to taste one to make sure they are fresh. However, there is one challenging moment when I am in aisle 2 and looking for an item (I can’t even remember what it is, perhaps sardines, or something else very important at the time) and a woman of some rather large proportion is blocking the very part of the shelf where I want to do my searching.
I have a momentary vision of this being like climbing Mt. Everest and you are trying to decide whether you take the northeast ridge or the southeast ridge. But in my case, both are blocked. I am staring at the rear of the mountain. I wait a minute and she is still there. I clear my throat. Nothing. Finally, my patience wearing a little thin after the Starbucks and peaches episodes, I push my cart not so subtly into hers. Thank goodness for my shopping cart test because my aim is straight as an arrow and I do feel some satisfaction as I watch her cart ricochet down the aisle and right into some shelves because, surprise, her cart wheels don’t go straight! As the woman chases after her cart, I yell in a loud voice, “Oh, I am so sorry. I got one of those carts with no brakes!” I think this statement will somehow excuse my not-so-nice behavior and I am wrong. When the lady retrieves her cart, she turns and gives me the evil eye. I shrug my shoulders in a gesture of “I’m sorry” as the lady thankfully proceeds to the end of the aisle and turns out of sight.
My successful strategy enables me to freely take up the position where she had been, staking my claim to that shelf space. I still can’t remember exactly what I am looking for and now that I think about it, it is not sardines, but I do think it is an important food staple. However, I know it is not olives, which is what fills those shelves I am staring at. I continue my way down the aisle.
It is three o’clock in the afternoon and I am already halfway through the aisles. I pat myself on the back – good progress! I am in aisle number 8 to be exact, the pet food aisle. We do not own any pets and I could easily skip this aisle, but not being familiar with the store I am afraid that I might miss something I need. So I proceed along as if I do have a pet. (Also, just in case anyone is watching me, I do not want him to think I am an amateur). I am a little surprised when I get to the end of the aisle that there really is nothing there I need. I will have to start taking the signs seriously.
The frozen food aisle presents one of my biggest challenges and fears. There are so many things behind the refrigerator doors that I do not even know where to begin. I do not want to make a mistake. A nice young lady is stocking the shelves with a bunch of tv dinners and I decide to seek her expert advice. She has no nametag, so I just call her “Miss.”
Me: “Excuse me Miss; I’m wondering if you can help me. I don’t know much about these dinners but do they taste like the real thing?”
Miss: “Well, they’re frozen.”
Me: “Yes, I know that. But when they thaw out, do they taste like they would taste like if they were original?”
Miss: “Sir. Ummm, I don’t think they are quite like if you made it from scratch. This meatloaf dinner here, it’s not like it’s homemade. You know, it’s a frozen tv dinner. You’ve eaten them before haven’t you?”
Me: “Not too many. My wife does the cooking so we don’t have frozen dinners, unless they are leftovers that she freezes. But those were once original dinners, if you know what I mean.”
My conversation with “Miss” goes really well. She is so helpful and really patient that after a little more talking she offers to open one of the frozen tv dinners I am considering buying, going into the employee lunch room, and cooking it in the microwave to see if I would like it. But I tell her that it is not necessary. Perhaps next time.
I have only a few aisles left to go when I hear a really annoying squealing sound, just piercing my ears like someone running their fingers on a chalkboard. I push my cart another foot and immediately see that the noise is coming from the cart. I test it to be sure. Just stand there and push it back and forth. It’s the wheels. How did this happen? I don’t even have that many groceries in the cart. Maybe fourteen or fifteen items. But the noise is unbearable! I can’t continue on my shopping trip with squeaky wheels!
Maybe I can see if one of the clerks has some oil, but I can’t leave my cart there unattended. And if I have to bring my cart with me, I might as well go back to the front lobby and get another cart. So that’s what I decide to do. As I head back to the front of the store, cart half full and wheels squeaking loudly, I notice employees and customers are staring in my direction.
Now I have to figure out in addition to my “straight away” test, how am I going to test for carts that start squealing six hours into a shopping trip?