A new local grocery store celebrated its grand opening earlier this
week. Today was my turn for getting the food that will fuel our upcoming
week, so after Ph.’s scrimmage (is there such a problem as basketball poison?
My hoops toxicity level is at an all time high!), he and I popped in at the
glitzy Price Chopper to see what all of the hooha was about. It’s Spring
Break–what do I need more than beer and Ruffles? And beef jerky for snacks
between high-carb meals? I spend more money when I shop a store for the first
time. I went in today knowing that I would pick up a few extra
things. It comes down to new ways of seeing products, I think. Or
maybe it results from new products. I’m a ritual grocery shopper. Aisle by
tedious aisle, I usually stroll through Bressette’s Sun Fresh every other Sunday
picking out the bare essentials for meals. But in a new store, like the
one we shopped today, I discover unforeseeable combinations. Like at the
deli counter for example, I picked up a pound of chicken barbeque for sandwiches
tonight, since the Sunday evening meal is the start of the new weekly cycle. Barbeque, brussels sprouts and various pickled garnishes–cukes and
beets. Why not?
The store: like all new stores, it was a spectacle of consumptive
splendor. High shelves, bright lights, and none of the dusty, uncirculated
products nobody ever buys–such as blue corn chips or ham and bean box
meals. Surprising sight: two men wheeling laptop carts with corded
scanner wands through the aisles–different aisles–to record the inventory and
inform the backroom about barren shelves. When I worked in a grocery, we
actually pulled all of the back stock onto the floor during the night,
force-shelved as much as would fit, then carted it all back. Night after
night. That was twelve years ago.
When we approached the check-out, I saw three familiar students scanning
groceries. I chose lane nine where B., a student from Nairobi who I got to
know last semester, was pushing clientele and their products through the
line. I met B. in a class called Reading and Culture for International
Students. And now, today, in our new local Price Chopper, I felt my
teaching shrink momentarily. Although it was bent on critical reading and
cultural critique, something about the experience of reading American culture
through the checkout line, through the products and purchasing habits of the
upwardly affluent and economically safe (right, why was I shopping there?),
well, it seemed unusually powerful, unusually telling.
It’s not a bad store, as stores go. Unlike others places where I tried them once and
never went back, the Price Chopper up the street has potential to attract my
bi-weekly stroll-grab. Heck, they even have Vernors (Michigan native
ginger ale; I had it every time I was sick as a kid–every time).