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Miles and Miles of Aisles

Every Saturday morning, even if Mercury is retrograde, we go to the grocery store. In this part of the world there is no such thing as Whole Foods, and the nearest Trader Joe’s is an hour away. We shop at Meijer’s Thrifty Acres, a Michigan-based operation that sells everything from food to auto parts.  There is no artisanal cheese, lobster ravioli, free-range chicken, Tofurkey or cheap house reds; this is a Midwestern store with Midwestern values. (Like no Tofurkey).  It has been a fixture throughout my life (aside from a brief relationship with Star Markets in Boston), and is at once sprawling, overwhelming, and as familiar as home.

In the aisles of Meijer’s, I have seen the gamut of human types and behaviors; it is a fine microcosm of my community and of humanity as a whole (or, sometimes, as a “hole”). Everyone is trying to get something accomplished; some have a rigid plan, and others wander in a cloud of uncertainty. Some shop alone, others with an entourage of friends and/or family members. There are folks who beam their rays of love as they push their carts through the dog food aisle, and folks whose hostility and malevolence are palpable. As sociological research goes, a Saturday morning at Meijer’s is a bonanza.

Because we live near a large university, and many students live off campus and own (nicer) cars (than we have), shopping at or after 12:00 means that They will be found around every corner. At the beginning of the school year they come with their parents, collecting unwieldy piles of mops, storage containers and institution-sized packages or Ramen and Frosted Flakes. Mothers advocate buying vegetables and Clorox spray, fathers look mutinous and flee to the hardware section, and the students are clearly counting the minutes until their parents have emptied their wallets and their SUVs and returned to the suburban comforts of home. Later in the year, clusters of roommates may be found in the soup aisle, blocking all legitimate traffic as they hold earnest debates about whether they really prefer chicken noodle soup or tomato. Sometimes, on the day of a home football game, a rangy herd of young men in sweats and backwards hats will lumber in to buy vodka and Cheetos; often they leave behind them a trail of f-bombs guaranteed to shock the grandmas and mothers with infants in their wake.

There are also parents with numbers of small children best suited to a TLC series, pushing low plastic carts with built-in DVD players projecting a continuous and jangling loop of animated chaos. Often, two children share the seat inside the cart, one trailing a foot in such a way as to exert maximum drag, and both whining about who put their sucker on the other’s snowpants. An infant will  be perched in a car seat on the cart’s handle, and at least one other child will run alongside the cart nagging for eye-level cereals and dropping behind periodically so that the frantic parent has to choose between abandoning the other three to make a reconnaissance mission, or standing by the cart and yelling “David? David?!” until the prodigal son returns with the sample of cholesterol-free turkey sausage he has cadged. We have, at various times, retrieved projectile bottles, pacifiers and baby socks from the floor and returned them to grateful and demoralized mothers and fathers; I only wish we could also send them on a spa vacation with their offspring left in the care of Supernanny.

The Parent of a Thousand Toddlers is a varietal of the Tribe, a phenomenon in which it appears that not only every family member, but everyone living with a mile of one’s home is brought to the grocery store. These bands often include people my age, their parents, their children, their grandchildren and mysterious duplicates at several age levels who could be siblings, cousins, parole officers or hitchhikers. These tribes take up most of the space in an aisle, and there is usually a large group clustered around the cart as if it were a wet bar, with satellites heading off to grab the actual groceries.  Often, the majority of the group is not only un-animated, but appears possibly to have become zombies, while the remaining human in the group frantically gathers food (sides?)  before her own flesh is consumed. I have no idea why people shop this way; it is a rule in my own (small) family that no one talks to me while I am shopping, because I am Following my List and Counting the Total at all times. When I see someone I know (because there is no socially acceptable way to clue them in on the “don’t talk to me” rule) I surreptitiously write down my current total so that I will be able to resume after they have moved on.

My least favorite variety of shopper is The Hostile. For whatever reason, maybe a bad day or a bad life, these people view all other shoppers as potential combatants, and are not only willing but anxious to take visible umbrage. These are the people fluent in what my father calls “dragon breath,” the disgusted exhalation meant to be heard and understood by those who have gotten on the breather’s Last Nerve. These transgressions include, but are not limited to, having a crying baby, being slow in the U-checkout, and accidental cart bumping. I have personally had the misfortune of tapping my cart accidentally against the cart of a Hostile while rounding a corner; after I said “excuse me” in my most winning way, and I was answered with the roll of an eye, the breath of dragons, and the huffy exit of The Hostile, muttering about how “some people just think they rule the world” in a voice intended to be audible. Clearly there is some kind of pathology at work, but it just seems so much easier to smile and say “no worries” than to engage in major and protracted huffery. People do, after all, forgive those who cheat on them and injure them in accidents; what’s the big deal about miscalculating turning radius at the intersection of International Foods and Cereal?

As long as I live here, which will probably be as long as I live, I will be at Meijer’s every Saturday, following my OCD route with my OCD list. I will tell the undergraduates the difference between salted and unsalted butter when they ask, ask Rob to reach things for my fellow dwarves and midgets, and smile sympathetically at frazzled young parents. Even if I have to listen to The Chipmunks singing The Christmas Song, followed by Jingle Bell Rock, I will strive to be a benevolent force in the aisles of Meijer’s. As for you, Hostiles of the world: all I am saying, is give peace a chance.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

21 responses »

  1. Have you met my mother? Seriously. You ARE my mother, only she hits Meijer around 8am on Monday with Every. Senior. Citizen. On. Planet. Earth.

    I’ve seen the zombie tribes and your explanation is as good as any I’ve come up with. although I do like the moniker “Hillbilly Borgs” as described by a mutual acquaintance.

    As for the OCD routine… um, I like to think of that as enlightened self-interest with a side of intellect. My own routine goes much like this: go immediately to the back of the store and return bottles, shop the perimeter of said store (back to front) making forays into aisles only as absolutely necessary.

    Oh, and my pee-wee brain can’t handle the Okemos Meijer anymore. It’s backwards and I just can’t find anything.

    Reply
    • I would be proud to be your mother. No Christmas sweaters, though.

      It’s not really OCD; it’s organized. I just wish I could be a teeny tiny bit more relaxed about things getting off track, It isn’t like we won’t eat that week, or I’ll accidentally pick up $400.00 worth of groceries.

      The Okemos Meijer is MY Meijer. I get confused at the Lake Lansing location…..

      Reply
  2. Ann,
    I just have to wonder if you’ve ever run into my dad at Meijer—it’s his church.

    Reply
    • I have seen Frank more than once, but he a) walks fast and b) doesn’t recognize me, so I’d have to yell “Mr. Williams!!” to get his attention.

      Reply
      • So many great memories at the Okemos Meijer’s Thrifty Acres (as it was called then) Saturday mornings, mom and my grandmother, me and my brother–she would park us up in the balcony cafeteria with ice cream (was it the Purple Cow??? for some reason, that comes to mind) and we would leave our checked-out full cart in the drive-up loading area, get the car and pull up to load the groceries into the car by the workers. I bet they don’t do that anymore, but, the memories and nostalgia are still so strong for me. We loved Meijer’s.

  3. Wow. I can’t say that I suffer this experience at the grocery store, I do however have to deal with drone shoppers of varying ages and lots of eye-rolls from me to them. I have to admit it sounds like a much more exicting grocery trip in miejers (?). But then I try not to shop on Saturdays that would be like marathon grocery shopping – your quite the hero Ann!
    I live in Toronto, but when I went to New York and went to Trader Joe’s I was totally in love with the store, but not the overcrowding, and the ridiculous check out line ups that snake through many aisles. I am so sad they don’t have them in Canada!

    Reply
    • It’s not really all that bad; I miss it if I don’t go. It is kind of “marathon” because I try really, really hard to get everything we need for the week (supplemented in warmer months by trips to the farmers market).

      I do love Trader Joe’s and we have tried for ages to get them to give us one – I think our demographic is perfect, but they don’t. About once a year my husband and I have a weekend “vacation” near Detroit and one of the big treats for me is going to Trader Joe’s on Sunday morning after breakfast and stocking up…..

      Reply
  4. This is why I never shop at Meijer (Okemos) on the weekend. Weekends they should dump the Muzak and just play “Ride of the Valkyries” on a continuous loop.

    I shop during the week, preferably before 10:30am when all the Senior Citizens come out to clog up the aisles. I can get in and out of there in under an half hour, and that’s with my one and a half year old daughter in tow.

    Reply
    • Well, if they played Wagner, my brother (husband of Mary, below) would probably go more often.

      We probably could go on a weekday, but our Saturday trip is a deeply ingrained habit. I can tell you that we have NEVER gotten in and out in under half an hour between schmoozing with everyone we run into, waiting for aisle traffic to clear and standing in line for checkout. Clutch shopping, Mr. Hellinga!

      Reply
  5. Shopping at Shaw’s/Star Market is the highlight of my week! I could easily shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s but as they say in Rain Man, “Let me let you in on a little secret…Whole Foods sucks!” I have seen the very same produce in WF that’s in Star, imported from Mexico (not local, WF!) at twice the price. WF has horrible guacamole, middle eastern food and moldy French cheese. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in NYC and I know what this ethnic stuff is supposed to taste like? My husband also got in a fight with a hippie there over which shopping bags are more recyclable; they’re a hyper bunch over there!

    In any case, Shaw’s is my second church. Lately they have even been playing soft 80’s new wave in the background so I know I’m their demographic. I mostly see moms like me, neighbors, professors and students; no zombie crowds! I, too, have an OCD routine that involves walking the aisles in a very specific order, list in hand, and rarely deviating from it; it makes me crazy when my husband comes with me and pinballs around the store impulse-shopping!

    I’m afraid I have become a thrifty Yankee up here making my own guacamole and buying things like mini-hoodsie cups. Meijer’s sounds great and the aisles are probably wider too!

    Reply
    • I always liked Star; I shopped at the one in the Prudential Center, which probably no longer exists. I have not been to Whole Foods since I left Boston 17 years ago (and I was always there with someone who had considerably more folding money than I did) and I don’t really feel too bad about that. It is a little…mmm…cultish in terms of eco-fetishism and PC. If my Rob got into an argument about which bags were more recyclabe, it would be our final trip to WF, I think.

      There is nothing wrong with being thrifty. The aisles are big at Meijer’s, the food is reasonably priced, and unless we win the lottery I could not consider spending what WF groceries (especially prepared items) cost.

      Reply
  6. Rich, I’m with you. I try only to shop early weekday mornings–Tues or Wed seems best. I also love your musical selection for the weekend.

    Due to illness, I did last week discover a nice window between 7 and 8 on a Friday. Post after work crown and pre-college beer buyers.

    Reply
    • Early evening is a pretty good time; I have occasionally been there around what would normally be considered “dinner time,” and it’s pretty empty. Just once, I would like to run up an aisle with my cart without hitting a Rascal Scooter or a toddler…..

      Reply
    • Mary, another bonus for shopping so early is that the donuts are often warm…mmmm….dooonuts…

      Reply
  7. I can’t believe you shop at the Okemos Meijer, I hate that one, if I have to go in there I am the hostile…I am at Lake Lansing on Monday with JPowers parents up there. Everyone who works there knows me, it must be a rule that I cannot leave the store without at least one person asking to either a. get something off of a (high) shelf or b. ask me where something is. I have also had at least two elderly rescues there. I seem to stumble upon people who are collapsing, lost in a alzheimers way etc. Seriously two have been at Lake Lansing Meijer, one in my neighborhood and one in Charlevoix this summer….I have a gift. 🙂

    But you have to give props to Meijer they have gotten a LOT more organic food! And their produce is the best around and they are a Michigan based company which I like. I love it there!

    Reply
    • It’s just been “my” Meijers forever…i swear there’s stuff they don’t have at Lake Lansing, although I couldn’t actually prove it. Obviously I never get asked to get anything down, but I do get asked where (and what) things are. It’s the Mom Look.

      I have never helped anyone collapsing or lost…maybe you have an instinct?

      I love Meijer. Every time I go they have more organic/healthy/fresh/interesting things. Every single time. I love it that they pay attention to what we want, and make it happen.

      Reply
      • Ann, Ask Diane, I do have an instinct. This summer I was in charlevoix in the middle of the biggest crowd of the summer and a man was collapsed. His wife was in a panic and I walked up to them and held him so he wouldn’t fall over a wall, there were thousands of people around and no one saw except me. It was weird. Called 911 yada yada . another one was at Meijer on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving…again a lot of people. I’ll tell ya sometime. They find me I think…

        I don’t like that Okemos has the produce in the back. That’s just weird to me. 🙂

  8. My husband swears that it is impossible for me to visit Michigan without going to Meijer’s and he’s right! Seriously, they have everything. In all my 40++ years, the only item they didn’t have in stock was the Marshmallow Fluff my mom needed to make fudge, and that was only because they were waiting on the shipment.

    Don’t you just love how they waft the donut smell so it hits you as you approach the entrance?

    Eric, you are exactly right. It was the Purple Cow. Does anyone remember the play area that used to be by toys with the large seemingly ceramic animals you could climb on?

    I used to love the horse you could ride for a penny, and made sure that experience was passed on to my kids. If you want to combat the Hostiles, bring a few extra pennies and leave them near the horse. That should fill the place with some joy.

    Reply
    • They do have everything, and it’s even better now – “green” products, organic foods, Tom’s toothpaste…all the things you had to get somewhere else. Although I am now limited to smelling the donuts, yes, I love it.

      I do remember the Purple Cow, although when I was really little we shopped at Schmidt’s – my parents shopped there until it closed. The horses are, of course, still there; now that Sam’s a little old for that kind of thing I do leave pennies. 🙂

      Reply
  9. do so love your writing. Thanks for providing a much needed giggle– just did the meijer battle earlier to day and I’m happy to report lots of friendly “how ya’ doin’?” folks were out today.

    Reply
    • Thanks! I usually see far more of the friendly folks, but I’m there so often that the odds are in favor of a few Hostiles and zombies.

      Reply

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