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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, July 24, 2023

I went grocery shopping today. This is not my favorite thing, but I do like to eat and I get pretty cranky when I don’t have yogurt for breakfast so I do my one hour per week penance and trek my butt to Publix.

It turns out that it’s not such a terrible experience.

If I can turn a fleeting thought about hanging clothes into a 1200 word diatribe, I can turn a trip to the grocery store into something more positive. Consider this your moment of reprieve.

Not long ago I decided to quit Kroger for good, even though it’s marginally more convenient to get there. I find their stores dirty and badly stocked, the people who work there are like refugees, no offense to actual refugees. And I would come home like a swarm of gnats every time.

But Publix is nice. It’s clean. It’s kept well. But perhaps most importantly, the people are nice.

The people make it such a pleasant experience, in fact, that I forgive them for always being out of the one thing I want. I mean that’s just par for the course. If I want plain yogurt, there will be strawberry and vanilla and fat free and pineapple, and there will be one gaping hole on the shelf where the thing that I want used to be.

This is true of the pasta, the salt, the raisins, the parsley, and pretty much anything I specifically put on my list that I either need or have planned to use in my weekly menu.

Today it was dill. The herb racks were full. Rosemary and basil, thyme and mint. Except for a single empty row where dill used to be, and of course this was the week I planned to use dill.

But the guy stacking avocados said good morning and asked how I was doing, and you don’t tell a cute little old man with white hair to go jump off a cliff because you’re mad about dill. You smile and say good morning and I’m doing well, how about you? And then you have a nineteen second exchange of niceties that makes you forget about the dill.

I like to shop early because I avoid the crowds and don’t have to battle the last existing humans on earth who walk down the center of every aisle looking for the perfect box of Rice-a-Roni.

It’s the time when old people work and old people shop, of which I apparently am one now, so it works out. Dealing with older people is WAY better than dealing with younger people. They don’t stare at you blankly and they always say thank you and have a nice day and sound like they mean it, not like they are reading it off a teleprompter.

They walk a little slower but it’s not because they are oblivious or have their faces in their phones.

When I get there they are usually stocking the shelves and if they see me perusing, they will ask if they’re in the way or if they can help me get something.

If they see me walking down an aisle, they will move their trolleys full of boxes out of the way and not run them up on my cart or leave them sprawled across the floor, watching as I navigate the mine field that is inventory day, wholly unconcerned with my progress, merely sitting there and waiting for me to get out of the way so they can continue their task. No, they actually move to one side, in a considerate way. And wait for me to finish what I’m doing, as if it might be important to someone other than me. And engage me in at least one or two sentences of conversation.

A few weeks ago I had a whole conversation with a guy stacking tomatoes. He had placed them in perfect pyramids and I felt guilty messing up his masterpiece, so we laughed about that and he helped me find the ripe ones.

It’s a whole social event for us old people.

Everyone says good morning. The cashiers. The people at the deli. The people filling shelves. They say good morning and how are you and seem to actually pay attention to what you say.

If I’m reading the signs above the aisle, trying to figure out where the beans are, someone will call to me and ask what I’m looking for and then point me to the right place down to the exact number of steps it will take to get there.

If I ask for help, they will walk me to the spot I need to be in and find the thing I need.

It’s almost heretical.

People like this still exist. I mean, they’re all over 50, but hey. So am I.

If I’m looking for a vegetable, say, they sometimes ask me if I’m shopping for myself. The first time someone asked me that I didn’t understand the question. Who else would I be shopping for? But the answer should have been obvious. These days with home delivery and all the services that do the shopping for you, plenty of people shop for a living, not for dinner.

They asked, because if I was shipping for someone else, chances were I’d need something very specific. But if I was shopping for myself then they could make other recommendations or substitutions.

People doing their jobs. People being nice while doing their jobs. Shocking, really.

I usually do self checkout but sometimes it’s more efficient to let someone do it for me, and they are always nice. There is one person checking out and one person bagging. And do you know what they never do? They never put the bread in the same bag as the cans of tomatoes.

Even at the self checkout they are helpful. If the lemons won’t scan and I’m poking around trying to find the code to put in, someone will show up in about three seconds and enter it for me. It’s almost like they’re paying attention.

They thank me for using my own bags.

I love how these 70 year old women ask me if I need help getting to my car. I love how these 80 year old women who are all of four feet tall and 90 pounds will ask me if they can carry my bag for me.

Sometimes there are people in the parking lot, and they always ask if they can help me get the bags into the car. And when I’m done they take my cart for me and put it in the bay.

They always wish me a nice day.

When I walk up to the deli counter, they don’t look at me blankly and wait for me to say something. When we go to the movie theater and everyone there is a high school kid home for the summer, it’s a study in human behavior. Not that they aren’t nice but they will stand there like zombies and eventually move to get some part of what you ordered but usually not all of it until you prompt them once or twice more.

They do say have a nice day but more than likely it was in the employee training handbook and they don’t want to get fired because they need the cash to buy a new phone in a few months since the one they currently have is burning a hole through their hand while they scroll it instead of buttering my popcorn.

I’m not complaining about them, I’m just saying there’s a difference. When I go grocery shopping – specifically at this one supermarket – it’s more conversational and less transactional. You feel like a human.

So maybe I don’t love the shopping part but lately I’ve been enjoying the part where I get to feel like a human and have little snippets of conversations with other humans over a bag of carrots.

I don’t love the shopping part because everything that goes in my cart is about $7, which adds up when you have more than one thing. But it’s pleasant to walk around where a bunch of old people like me still remember how to make small talk. It’s nice to feel like you exist, and other people notice.

I don’t love the shopping part but I’ll take a few minutes each week with people who wish you a nice day. Sometimes it makes a difference as to whether you will actually have one.

Photo: I have no idea what was going on here but it turned up in my photo album and it’s pretty hilarious. I can only assume the kitties were protecting their $7 container of raisins.