Another Visit to the Grocery Store

“There are two types of people in this world. People who hate clowns…and clowns.” – D. J. MacHale

Going to the grocery store was always something I enjoyed doing. For many years, I did all the cooking. Trips to the store made sense as I tried to figure out what to fix that week. Our meals were mostly determined by inspiration as I wandered up and down each aisle .

These days I don’t do any cooking but I still go to the store, a lot. Maybe I’m going so often now because it’s the best place to see the everyday world of people. Maybe that’s the real reason I’ve always gone so often. I’m curious and those trips satisfy almost as much as a visit to Buc-ees.

Thousands Line Up For Opening Of New Patel Brothers Store In Niles - Journal & Topics Media Group

Try out these links:

  1. The most popular items at the grocery store
  2. Six things you should never buy at the grocery store
  3. How to shop for groceries
  4. Seven ways the pandemic has changed the way we shop for food
  5. Surviving the sneaky psychology of supermarkets

Social scientist like me are trained to categorize. If you visit the store often enough you will start to organize people – maybe not. You’re probably just going to pick up some bread and bananas.

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” ― Erma Bombeck

  • At my store there are people who are on a mission. These folks move in straight lines. They know what they want and seldom stand around to ponder. Many are driven by a well organized list. Other categories of people need to stay back and not clutter the aisles – it can produce very frustrated looks.
  • As time has gone by, I’ve noticed more people at the store who don’t really know what they’re doing. Mostly older males. He’s backtracking a lot. Not watching where he’s going because he’s looking up at the aisle signs to figure out where chicken bullion and muttering to himself why someone has put this on his list.
  • I used to notice a rare character talking to herself, usually in frustration. These days there’s much more out loud by yourself conversing going on. Everyone’s got a phone, ear buds and a list. Some people are filming their adventure, sending photos back to Central Command. It’s like a secret raid on an foreign military installation.
  • As I’ve moved into a more diverse city, I notice that personal space rules are different. Some people have no hesitancy in getting right up there with me as I stack my purchases on the check out conveyor. In such a hurry as if the prices were going to increase any minute. Sometimes I can’t even get everything out of my own cart before the person behind me has started to fill up the belt. One time I asked the lady if she expected me to pay for her stuff. That got an unamused looked. 
  • Personal space rules also come into play when my cart gets rammed sometimes by overanxious shoppers – maybe they’re in that mission driven category or too distracted looking up at the aisle markers? I like to use the small carts, I don’t buy very much and it helps me keep my distance, while I’m watching.
  • Sometimes I see someone who has their giant cart packed to the gills with supplies. I wonder if they’re getting ready for the end of the world. Probably a house full of hungry boys! Where will they store all those packages of meat? Who has room these days for those bales of toilet paper now being sold? Why do you think we use so much more toilet paper now than we did twenty years ago? Eating more kale?
  • Have you ever seen the way people put items in their carts? Males often organize their items, trying to keep them aligned and arranged in some sort of order. The “professional” has her cart packed efficiently with the most – probably two carts worth of groceries jammed into one (and sometimes a toddler riding shotgun).
  • Having to work through each aisle and get the necessary supplies for the week while also managing children (some on the loose) is a major accomplishment that never gets the recognition it deserves. I took my toddler grandson in one time and within five minutes had to bribe him with a giant bag of Cheetos and get out to save my life. He was not going to sit or leave anything unopened that I put in the cart. Only three items, by the way. It quickly became an Amazing Race to the checkout.
  • The new challenge at the grocery store these days are the giant trolleys being pushed up and down each aisle by teenagers with phones (when have you seen a teen without a phone glued to their hand?). These are online orders being filled. The teen employee has the orders on their phone and is shopping with a parade float sized “cart” – never in anyone’s way, ha! The temptation is always present for me to start “shopping” off those carts as they roll past – when I see something I’ve been looking for, or looks like I might need it.
  • Who is lining up to use the Self-Checkout at your store? Are these the people in a hurry? Mostly males? People with just a few items? How did the store convince us to work as unpaid labor for them? At some places they’ve even got us weighing our own apples and gluing on the price tag. I’m still amazed at the number of checkout lanes at Target that are actually props – never opened, even at Christmas. It fools us into believing getting out will be quick and easy.

“Where one leaves a shopping cart in a parking lot says a lot about their character…or lack thereof.” ― Bobby Darnell

Meijer Makes Checkout Even Easier | Progressive Grocer

There are some absolutes that I have figured out while spending too much time at the grocery store. People at the store very seldom make eye contact. Not many conversations take place, unless you run across a friend, then you want to be careful and not poke your nose into what’s filling up their cart. Generally speaking, everyone is kind to others at the store. We see civility in practice here. The grandfather who doesn’t know the difference between baking soda and powder gets a quick lesson from that lady with a baby strapped to the front of her cart.

When a disaster is on the way, we run to the grocery store. Can’t get enough toilet paper or bread. Maybe it’s not just panic or the fear of running out of essentials. At a subconscious level, the grocery store in your neighborhood is the one place where you experience the most physical contact with others. You see people, hear their voices and know that you all share the same set of basic needs. Let me help you hoist that giant pack of waters into your cart ma’am. 

At the grocery store, we are reminded that we’re not alone.


“Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Time to Get Vaccinated

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” ― Herophilus

My vaccination categories arrived. I got myself on several lists. On Friday night an email arrived notifying me that I could go to my local parking lot and get in line for the first step toward immunity. This was going to be one of the two dose immunizations. I thought I’d better not look a gift horse in the mouth and jumped to it.

I got up Saturday, prepared myself for a long wait with the “herd” and drove out to the giant parking lot. There were hundreds and hundreds all lined up, coming from every direction. Everyone (almost) was minding their manners, taking turns and waiting patiently as we inched and inched along around and around our special events center.

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” ― Paulo Coelho

Hours later I got to what looked like a check-in area. I had been sent a QR code the night before to use. I needed a picture ID and this code on my phone. The poor guy with his reams of paper looked and looked. He consulted others. Asked me to drive over there. Took my phone to double check. Came back and said, “you are not on the list, you will have to leave.” Hmm.  Like a good citizen I asked where the exit was and drove away.

Then the frustration set in. I had followed all the directions. I patiently waited in line, I met the criteria, why wasn’t I on the list? I ran a few errands on the way home. Once I stopped and parked, I figured out who to contact to express my frustrations. I decided it wasn’t the governor. I filled out the online contact “form” and resigned myself to having done all I could.

“Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.” ― Kollontai Alexandra

These magnificent bureaucracies of ours accomplish so much. Can you imagine what it’s like to identify, notify and then actually vaccinate thousands of citizens in a city, county and state? Our modern technology has made this possible – organization and people management unimagined in all of history. We could probably get a pyramid built next week.

This wasn’t really what I was thinking as I thought more about my wasted morning and decided to pick up a couple items at the store. How come on a Saturday there are no shopping carts at Target? And why does the Target lady standing there not seem very concerned? And why is the guy retrieving carts in the parking lot on his cell phone? Maybe building a pyramid is wishful thinking.

Of course, at the store those few items I wanted to get seem out of stock too often. I can’t figure this out. There are hundreds of cans of tuna and boxes and boxes of corn flakes. Why do I want what can’t be kept on the shelves at my store?

“Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.” ― Eric Hoffer

I felt my phone in my pocket giving off consistent vibration. Someone was calling. Well, don’t answer it in the store, was my first thought. I pulled it out and looked. It was a number from the county seat. Hmm. I walked down an empty aisle and answered. Before me were rows and rows of canned chili. What’s happened to our society that has caused us to eat chili out of a can? I listened to a woman from the county health office who was responding to my “complaint” sent less than an hour ago.

Someone from the media had posted registration information for vaccination in my county. A terrible mistake. This caused thousands of ineligible people to sign in and show up. It royally messed up the entire system. They only had 800 doses to give out! This official who called me back was very apologetic and offered to get me back in that day through the employee entrance. I told her I didn’t need it right now, no emergency. She set me up for an appointment later in the week. I told her I was very thankful for her hard work as she apologized again. It wasn’t her fault or the county health departments’ but it was great to have her helping put out the hundreds of fires that must have been set.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” ― Edward Everett Hale

What’s making you crazy with fear or frustration these days?

I stopped thinking about all those cans of chili. I’ll check back another day and locate those items I can’t find at the store. No big deal. I’m really not that worked up about getting my vaccination. It will happen. But there in the canned goods aisle as I felt thankfulness for someone working the phones in Fort Bend County I opened up my spiritual eyes and took another look.

Another reminder. They probably happen all day long and I’m too busy or full of cares to notice. God is always saying to his children, stop that worrying. Walk through your life with an unexpected calmness. If your bus is late, talk to that stranger next to you some more. Frustration doesn’t have to be the go-to response to every roadblock in your way. If life today seems to fall apart unexpectedly, imagine something new out of the pieces.

Think of all that “we” could have gotten accomplished in that long wait in the car this morning.

“So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.”  – Jesus (Matthew 6:34)