Every week I head out on an adventure of mammoth proportions: the dreaded grocery shopping.
My problems start with the grocery cart. For those who don’t live here, I’ll explain our system. The carts are chained together in long lines. To release one, you put a quarter (or, at some stores, a loonie—that’s a dollar in this crazy country) in a slot on the lockbox mounted on the cart. When you’re finished with the cart, you chain it back into line and your quarter (or loonie) pops out. The good thing about this system is that our parking lots are not full of left-behind carts taking up the last parking space or waiting to scratch your car’s paint in a big wind. The problem arises when someone has raided the stash of quarters and loonies that you keep in your car so that he or she can buy a double chocolate dip donut at Tim Horton’s. On these days you have to go into the store and stand in line at the customer service desk to get change, and then go back out into the parking lot. Since this is Vancouver, on an average of 154.5 days a year you are doing this in the rain.
Clutching my quarter (or my loonie), I approach the cart garage (I’m sure that must be the technical term). Despite the fact that dozens of carts are parked there, the only ones on the ends of the lines are those containing dirty tissues or the remains of someone else’s free food sampling. Wrinkling my nose, I choose the least offensive cart, transfer the garbage to another one, and head to the store.
At this point, the cart seems fine. But as I get closer to the store, it starts to squeak or pull to the left or a wheel starts shuddering, or, if it’s really my day, all three. I decide it’s not bad enough to trudge back to the cart garage in the rain, but as my shopping progresses and the cart gets fuller, it gets louder and wobblier and impossible to steer. By now, I can’t trade carts without a major production, so I put up with it, pretending that the noise isn’t making people look at me with pity (or is that annoyance?) and trying not to crash into anyone. You know that cart you can hear squeaking three aisles over during your whole shopping trip? That’s me. And you know that woman who has to lift up the back wheels of the cart to get it to turn right? That’s me, too.
There are at least eight grocery stores in my town and I’m not loyal to any one of them. I choose one based on which is closest to other places I need to go to or, because not one of them carries everything we use, based on which best fits that week’s shopping list. This means that I have the layouts of at least eight stores taking up precious room in my brain and sometimes I get them mixed up. I comfort myself with the thought that all my backtracking is a good source of exercise.
And sometimes they change the layout of the store, causing mayhem. The biggest store I regularly shop in did this recently. For weeks, products were shuffled into temporary spots that made no sense. The potato chips were in the frozen food aisle one week and with the light bulbs the next. The soup was first with the pop and then with the paper towels. Customers wandered around in a daze. I’d never seen such confused looking people, even in the middle of a calculus final. For those weeks, I shopped by accident, buying whatever I happened to come across. I wondered if the managers were watching us through their surveillance windows, laughing as we tried to find the Cheerios.
Once I have my groceries, it’s time to pay for them. No matter how carefully I choose a check-out—looking for the shortest line or one with a bagger in addition to the cashier and avoiding the one with the trainee cashier or with a customer buying a whole cart of produce (“Hey, Sylvia! What’s the code for rutabaga?”)—it seems that as soon as I park my cart in a line-up, it slows to the rate of the proverbial molasses in January. As a public service, I should wear a sign on my back that says, “Don’t stand in this line. You will grow old waiting.” On the bright side, it gives me time to flip through the magazines and determine that, despite the claims on their covers, they do not contain the ten tips that will give me a smaller butt or the secrets to finally organizing my house forever.
I avoid the store that makes you bag your own groceries. First, they also charge for bags and more likely than not I’ve left my stack of nicely folded cloth bags in the car. And second, despite the fact that I’m a competent and intelligent woman who has packed for a family of four innumerable times, who has packed for I-don’t-know-how-many house moves, who packs lunches every single weekday, I get complete performance anxiety when it comes to packing my own groceries when there’s a line-up of people behind me.
Having finally paid, with a few more gray hairs gracing my head, I push/tug/crash the cart outside and try to remember where I’ve parked the car (eight different stores means eight different crowded parking lots). If I’m desperate, I walk around pushing the trunk button on my key fob until my trunk pops open. Then I realize that I’ve left the soccer box (a big Rubbermaid bin full of all the things that I, as the team manager, am required to have at practices and games: first aid supplies, extra water bottles, tissues, emergency contact information for all the players, etc.) in the trunk again and there’s not enough room for the groceries. I pile them into the remaining space and into the back seat of the car and turn my now miraculously silent and well-behaved cart toward the cart garage.
If you see me in the parking lot, don’t offer to trade me your quarter (or loonie) for my cart. Really, believe me when I tell you that you’re better off choosing your own.