Beware the Grocery Grumps

I recently passed a woman going into our neighborhood grocery store. She paused at the door and gave herself the sign of the cross.

“Way to go,” I thought, even though I’m not religious.

Now maybe she was praying for someone or something outside the store, but I like to think she was asking for blessings to survive the next hour inside.

I dislike shopping for food, but I have to go since I enjoy eating and cooking (mostly) healthfully. There’s only so much I can forage from the drugstore and the 99 cent stores. I mourned the day when the local CVS stopped selling tomatoes and a few pieces of tired fruit.

I wish I were like my friends who love grocery stores. The more they can peruse in one day, the happier they are. Each one fills a different creative culinary need and evokes visions of exotic dishes THEY ACTUALLY MAKE.

Asian Market in Cleveland taken by my friend Sandy Woodthorpe who loves grocery shopping
Asian Market in Cleveland taken by my friend Sandy Woodthorpe who loves grocery shopping

No such visions for me. There’s something about walking – or I should say squeaky wheeling – my way down the grocery store aisles that sends me into a grumpy coma, the same way I used to feel when looking at sewing or wallpaper catalogues. Alas, farmer’s markets have the same effect. The plethora of colors and shapes blurs together. I know I should be thrilled to find 10 brands of organic kale and 20 kinds of peppers, but my brain goes into hibernation mode. Or is it fight or flight?

I go early to avoid the aisle hogs, the cell phone blabbers and the mothers with screaming children in SEPARATE carts shaped like cars. Once I followed a woman who blocked every aisle. I turned each corner and there she was. When I finally left and was trying to get out of the parking lot, her husband pulled a car in front of the store, blocking the exit for everyone.

Lately I’ve been avoiding the store that is closest to me, only a half block away. It is like a huge dark cavern inside, hard to see, worse, the clerks are like crabby trolls maybe because they see no sunshine. Every few months they get to work rearranging everything. I try to follow the good eating advice – stick to the outer edges of the store. This works for two sides: produce and fish and meat. The third is a bakery with enough bagels and chocolate chip cookies to feed a convention. The fourth contains a Starbucks and Jamba Juice, a bank, a cleaners and a complaint desk. Oh yes, the deli – where you have to yell to get attention, then wait 10 minutes while a sandwich is put together, then be told you have to take it to the checkout line, even though they are standing behind a cash register.

So I usually go to smaller stores, recently checked out a new Haggen, formerly Albertsons. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed except the workers were wearing green instead of blue. Fortunately they are friendly and the store and its parking lot are easy to navigate. I can usually get in and out before the brain fog does too much damage.

I can also survive Sprouts and Trader Joe’s when not crowded. Sprouts is a mini version of Whole Foods with the healthy food but without the exorbitant prices and warehouse interiors. At Sprouts I like the bins of nuts and granola, although scooping them into narrow bags and writing code numbers on plastic ties is a challenge. Also, the cosmetics and vitamin section has that weird smell shared by all health food stores. What is it anyway? Gag me with tea tree oil.

Trader Joe’s takes some getting used to – layout, placement and packaging. Being a writer, I love the way their Fearless Flyer is written and it makes me want to buy several dozen items. Unfortunately, when I get to the store, the coma sets in and I usually get far more – and far different – items than I planned to and have to stagger to the checkout stand, since I didn’t get a big cart. At least the creativity here gives me some pleasure.

I realize I could probably buy many food items online. It just seems so decadent. Yet my grandmother, a great cook, ordered her groceries by phone several times a week. The local market delivered. She NEVER went to the grocery store. In fact, it would have horrified her.

By odd coincidence, her home phone number was one digit off from the store’s. So people were calling all day with their orders. She would yell, “I’m not the grocery store, you idiot!” and bang down the phone receiver.

Maybe it’s genetic.