Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 2017--In Line at Trader Joe's

There was a panicky run on food supplies and bottled water as the Blizzard of 2017 approached Manhattan. After Hurricane Sandy, no one wanted to take anything for granted. So Rona and I joined the hunt for things to stock our larder with in case there was two-feet of blowing snow and widespread power outages.

We had recently "discovered" Trader Joe's on 14th Street and, though we didn't think much of TJ's in Delray Beach, we gave the one in the city a try a couple of months ago and liked their selection and prices.

In truth, we especially liked their house brand of Belgian chocolate pudding. Two or three tubs of that could get us through another Sandy. With that who needs bottled water!

When about half a block away it looked like chaos at the entrance to Joe's. "I wonder what's going on," I said. "Maybe a sale?"

"I doubt that but I think it may be a line."

"Out onto the street? That doesn't seem possible. The way they line up people in the store itself who are ready to check out amazes me. Sometimes the lines, two of them, snake all the way from the fruit and vegetable area all the way along the refrigerated chests to the front of the store where there are 20, 25 cashiers. It moves pretty quickly, but a line out the door and halfway up the block, even in a pre-storm buying frenzy?"

"There is in fact in line and it looks like it would take an hour to get to a cashier. So, I'm thinking, I can get through a week--even if we're snowed in--without chocolate pudding."

"Really?" Rona said skeptically, knowing my guilty habits and obsessions better than anyone else.

"And notice, rather the the usual young crowd that shops here most of the people on line are decidedly middle-age."

"That is interesting. The prices in general are pretty good compared to what else is available around here from Agata & Valentina and Whole Foods. So that could be part of the explanation."

"I wonder how many are on line."

"Why don't we count them," Rona said.

As so we did. As unobtrusively as possible so as not to make anyone feel under surveillance. Anticipating the storm was producing enough anxiety.

About halfway to the checkout counters we decided to bail out. It was so crowded that threading our way parallel to those pushing their shopping baskets along was arduous and it began to feel as if we were spying on otherwise stressed-out people.

We stopped the count at 217. "Amazing," I said, and simlutaneously noticed they had already sold out of many things, including my nighttime treat.

A women, who looked to be about 60 overheard what we were saying, pushed her walker toward us and, with edginess, said, "What are we specimens or something?"

"No," I stammered, "We were only looking for my chocolate pudding and . . ."

"And staring at us as if we were on display."

"Sorry to give you that impression," I said weakly, "We're just trying to stock up before . . ."

"So where's your basket, your cart with water and bread and other stuff?"

She had us there. I didn't know what to say. Rona was pulling on the sleeve of my coat.

"You live 'round here?" the woman said. "I can tell by your coat that you do." She pointed to Rona's furry white coat.

"Well, we . . ."

"Fancy people just as I suspected, looking down on the poor folks." She inched her shopping basket along, pushing it with her foot.

"I bought it, the coat, in K-Mart," Rona said almost inaudibly. "It was on sale."

"Speak up, will yuh," she hollered, tapping her ears, "I'm a little hard of hearing."  Rona didn't repeat what she had begun to say. "But, like I said, I'm from around here too." She hadn't mentioned that. "So it's my Manhattan too. I have rent control. Not everyone lives in fancy condos or coops." She was about to poke me in the chest so I recoiled as far as the overflowing aisles would allow.

"We're not that . . ." Rona said, "It's only that . . ."

"Only that you have money and I live on Social Security and Medicare."

"We . . . "

"I have to shop here while you two can go to Whole Foods or Dean & DeLucas and not have to stand out on the street in line, shivering for an hour just to save a few dollars."

"Is that how long you've been in line?"

"I'm exaggerating to make a point. But yes, at least half an hour on the street. But it's worth it. They take food stamps and don't give you attitude."

"We shop here a lot," I lied.

"There are these two Manhattans--yours and mine. I'm not a socialist mind you, though I voted for Bernie. I'm just pointing out the truth. I love living here. In my parents' old apartment. May they rest in peace. I go to a museum most every week. Just saw the new show at the Whitney."

"The Biannual," I said, "Was it any good?" I was glad to change the subject, "Half the time they're terrible. Too much about political correctness, not enough about the art."

"This time the art is very diverse but it's all pretty much of high quality. You should go. I have a pass so I don't have to pay but it shouldn't be a problem for you." Again she looked at Rona's coat.

"I think it costs at least 30 dollars. Not the coat, admission."

"That's a problem for you? If it is I don't see why you're living here. To go to the Whitney or the Met is the reason to be in the city." She again pushed her basket to close the gap in the line.

"We're trying to do more of that," I said.

"And while you're at it, look around at all your neighbors. New York is not just about money and museums. We don't bite." With that she chuckled and coughed at the same time.

14th Street Trader Joe's

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