Lost in the supermarket
As a New Yorker, I never enjoyed grocery shopping, which is why I ordered my lamb shanks and paper towels on-line. A few clicks of the mouse and the next day they would be delivered right to my door. New York supermarkets are, with a few exceptions, not at all like San Antonio supermarkets. No one plies you with free samples of aged Stilton. No one gives your squalling child a balloon. There aren’t any cooking classes and there aren’t any cup-holders on the shopping carts, which is fine because you generally don’t have the option of purchasing a glass of merlot to quaff while you shop (I think you could get arrested for that). Oh, and if someone offers to help take your groceries to the car, they’re probably mugging you, because New Yorkers don’t have cars. (Sorry, that means there’s no valet parking either).
So it’s no shock that when I first moved here, I really luxuriated in the San Antonio Supermarket Experience. Though I do have my limits: I’ve never actually gotten a massage at Central Market, and I never take the baggers up on their offers to squire me to my car. For one thing, I feel there’s something old lady-ish about accepting — like next I’ll be looking for Boy Scouts to help me cross the street. I’m also not great at small talk and small talk is what you have to make while traversing an H-E-B parking lot, especially when you always forget where you parked your car. And I still can’t get over the idea that this service is provided without the expectation of a gratuity. New Yorkers tip everyone. I guess I don’t miss that, but the guilt remains.
When I realized how much time (and money) I was spending at these supermarkets, the novelty started to wear off. I was troubled to note that one of the baristas at Whole Foods starts making my iced nonfat chai latte almost as soon as she spies me coming through the door. All over NYC, there are deli guys and bartenders who’d once committed my “usual” to memory; now I find myself a regular at a supermarket that’s a 20-minute drive from my house. I’m sorry, but that’s weird. And, like most things, I blame it on my kid.
Whole Foods is my 2-year-old daughter Dale’s favorite supermarket, though Central Market runs a close second thanks to those damn purple balloons (a novice driver like myself doesn’t need the added distraction of a balloon bobbing in the rear-view mirror). We first started going to Whole Foods because our “Music Together” class was held in a classroom tucked behind the beer section. A brilliant stroke on the part of management — as soon as class was over, virtually everyone would end up shopping, staying for lunch, or at least buying a $2 muffin to appease the suddenly starving toddler music student. And with those sunny 365 logos beckoning, dropping $75 is effortless. Buying organic food is an easy — yet costly — way to feel like you’re being a good parent. As in, hey, my daughter may occasionally sample the cat’s food and stick her fingers in electric sockets, but at least she eats organic cereal, organic granola bars, organic macaroni and cheese, organic chicken fingers, organic applesauce, and, of course, organic animal crackers.
Basically, I’m always trying to cut the fat from my household budget, and I keep coming back to Whole Foods. So when I found out that after nearly a year, our music class would no longer be held at the store, I was momentarily devastated — then relieved. We’d save so much money! But as Michael Corleone once said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The class may have relocated to a church up the road but afterward you’ll still find half the wooden booths at Whole Foods occupied by moms from music class, lunching while the kids hover round the fish tank — the one that was installed just before our class moved. Did it feel like a coincidence? No. It felt like a conspiracy.
Then came the nail in my budget’s coffin, the Whole Foods Kids Club. The first time the checker asked if we wanted to join, I said no, assuming (wrongly) that I would have to pay some premium. The next time one asked, I cracked, with visions of organic raisins dancing in my head. Now Dale has her own official ID card and we can pick from a box of free stuff — organic granola bars, recycling-friendly stickers — on our way out of the store. Dale loves it. At least I can say they won’t sucker me with those child-size shopping carts (such a demolition derby waiting to happen). I’m not stupid — she can use one of those maybe when she’s 10, or better still, when she’s old enough to do the shopping for me. •