Thursday, February 02, 2006

I am a Navy Seal...When I Go to the Grocery Store

As the number of grocery stores is highly limited in NOLA (there are now a grand total of 3 open), and the hours of operation are also quite limited, one must approach grocery shopping like a Navy Seal.

One must:
1) have a mission
2) be mentally prepared and
3) be properly equipped

You might also have to be prepared to lose a man or two.

By mission, I mean precise list of what you need, keeping in mind that what you are looking for will be harder to find than an Al-Qaeda cave, because the item you are searching for will in no way be in a logical place in the store. Grocery stores down here have their own organization. Like a navy seal, you must enter the mind of your enemy in order to defeat them. Let me provide you with an example.

A while back I took my friend J with me to the grocery store. He had left his car here during the hurricane and while it survived the hurricane, his battery did not. In fact, his car is still at the auto shop waiting for its battery. So J and I went to the g-store and it was absolutely mobbed and we quickly got seperated in the the crowd. After a while J called me on his cell phone in total frustration saying "Where is the mayonnaise?!" Ah, where indeed. I had just recently faced down the same dilemma. Turns out that the mayonnaise is located on the same isle as the hot sauce. And why is that? Because in Louisiana they are both used on po-boys. Also, beer and potato chips are on adjacent isles. Yes, I am one with the enemy.

By mentally prepared I mean you must be willing to do battle. You must be willing to push your cart through the enemy lines of suburban mothers with kids in tow, lecherous workmen, little old ladies, and any one else who lacks the ability to keep their cart on one side of the isle, preferably the same side they are standing on so that others may pass. You will often find them with carts dead center, slack jawed expressions on their faces as they contemplate which brand of dish soap to purchase. This is not the time for vacillation people! Shopping under these conditions requires quick command decisions. Sometimes you will come to such and impass requiring you to employe lightning reflexes to reroute you down another isle. Another scenario you might encounter is finding that there is only one left of the item you have come for, so you must be willing to fight for it. You can have no qualms about shouting "that last bottle of distilled water is mine, I saw it first, get your own."

By properly equipped, you need to make sure you have cash or check to pay with as the atm/credit transactions are not gauranteed to work. J and I were standing in line to pay out and there was only one person in front of us, who in a classy new orleans kind of way was in line eating some yet unpurchased crab salad from the container. Unfortunately, I made a tactical error in choosing the line because she was paying with food stamps. Please do not misunderstand -- I am not implying that this lady should be frowned upon for having food stamps. Louisiana is incredibly poor, and lots and lots of people got food stamps from the Red Cross following the hurricane. No, this lady should be frowned upon for not knowing that she can't buy beer and cigarettes with food stamps. That and her brazen crab salad eating. As she was purchasing rather high end items, like a nice bottle of wine and some special Sam Adams red cherry beer (or something like that), I was momentarily deceived that the process with the food stamps would undoubtedly take longer. I have failed as commander.

So the cashier rings up a bunch of the stuff until her food stamps are out, and after discussion with crab salad lady, she then rings up the rest of the stuff (i.e. booze and cigs) separately. Then crab salad lady says "Oh man, I left my checkbook in the car, I'll be right back," and sets down the food and walks out. So J and I stand there. And stand there. And stand there. It has now been 15 minutes, and crab salad lady has not returned.

I try to ask the cashier if she just shove that stuff over and ring me and J up, but in that special Louisiana way she looks at me like I am crazy and doesn't respond. I survey the rest of the aisles which are about 10 people deep at this point. Dammit! Bad tactical decision! 20 minutes have now elapsed. Brain-trust-cashier-lady finally calls over a manager to gather up the stuff (mind you most of the groceries were paid for) and move it out of the way and void out the transaction. This takes another 10 minutes while they discuss the whole scenario. I am thinking, "Look, people, obviously she freaked out for some reason when her whole food stamp thing didn't work out. Maybe she's more panicked over the loss of her checkbook than the loss of groceries bought on food stamps, either way let's get this over with," but my internal monologue goes unheard.

At long last J and I pay out, far worse for the wear. We have an unsatisfactory amount of random purchases as we were unable to find all that we needed in the melee. J has bottled water, mayo, bread, and a crate of clementines. Clearly, our mission did not go according to plan. We may require remedial training.

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