As I brought the cereal boxes two inches forward on a slow Sunday afternoon, I finally realized something. The apron wasn’t meant for me. Not only did it highlight my bulby bottom and awkward frame, but black was really never my color. It also represented an institution I simply couldn’t tolerate any more, minimum wage just couldn’t cover the Oldsmobile’s bills, and standing on my shoddy gym shoes for six hour shifts just wasn’t worth it. Not even pushing long rows of wheeled cages could satisfy me like it used to.
I should have seen it coming. Strained tensions with customer service over my knock knock jokes and bag hats and towers, coupled with a daunting schedule, made me want to toss my plastic name tag down and never walk back through the sliding plexiglass doors again.
However, as I remembered all the miseries I suffered at my grocery store, I realized I had learned a lot from a job that was so despicable and self-esteem reducing. It gave me a lot of material for this blog, which I doubt anybody reads, but it nonetheless still serves to entertain me, and I learned a lot about effective grocery store shopping. I actually enjoy choosing for my foodstuffs now, a happiness I appreciated when I got pancake mix with my friend Annie a few weeks ago, which turned out to be almost as much fun as the parties themselves. Yeah, my weekends and parties suck, but who cares when I have a cart and a pal to stock up with.
As my parting to gift to my few faithful, imaginary readers, enjoy this list, of 14 things you should do when you’re under the fluorescents and inbetween the corrugated cardboard.
You think I want to be here? No, not at all. And I’m working at dirt cheap wage, even less than minimum wage ($6.55/hour) so that you can experience the thrill of everyday low prices. However, my grocery store stays in the legal clear by keeping the clause: our employees accept tips. What’s even better about this is there’s no signs that encourage you, and last I checked, widely-accepted culture norms recommend you tip your waiter, your bell-boy, and your pizza delivery man, but not you local grocery sacker. So please, as a modest request from my people to you, please lay down a tip valued at least 1% of your order to your sacker if you take out more than $100 in goods. It’s a petty amount compared to what you’re forking into the store register.
Buy on sale
Believe it or not, just about everything on a shelf goes on sale. Don’t pay 20 extra cents for a can of beans when you can buy three for the same price next week. I speak from experience – My family averages $40 a week when I commandeer the cart because I get the privilege to watch the signs every week, and I know what’s a good deal, and what isn’t. For instance, one week a 12-pack of Coke went for 3/$9.99. The next, 3/$11.99. The next, 4/$13.99. Then it rapidly fell to 4/$9.99. I won’t explicitly describe my inferences, because that would give my marketing brethren’s secrets (and sole purpose and motivation to life) away. It’s a foolproof strategy, and trust me: you don’t need Keebler Double Mint Fudge right now.
Look for an open resister
Seriously, crane your neck before the check-out and don’t pick the closest register. Everyone likes the ends for some reason, and I’ve sat, watching comfortably on 6 while a string of four orders goes through 9. It makes me pity the human race as I watch people sigh and pick up the tabloids they don’t really plan on buying but read anyway because they have nothing to do while waiting for the granny two carts in front of them fumble for exact change. It gives me a chuckle, but its just schradenfruede.
If you see someone pushing carts, at least acknowledge them
Everytime I’m stalking the lot in my orange vest, it’s like I’m made of cellophane. I rarely get a nod or smile from anyone on the concrete, and it makes me feel miserable and worthless on the inside. In fact, once I was chasing down a sidewalk cart, and I just happened to be behind a little kid. He turned around, saw me, I gave him the courtesy smile, and he ran like I was a convicted felon. I’m hated, and I’m invisible. Even crossing into the store, people ignore the stop sign and cut me off, as I run to make sure my carts won’t scratch their blissfully ignorant car. And when I pass through the sliding doors, sometimes people try to squeeze inbetween me like there’s some rush. Slow down. I’m behind 30 pounds of rusty and hard-to-maneuver steel, and I’ll accidentally run your kid over if you think you can get past me.
Bring reusable sacks
Really, there’s no reason not to. It’s a win win for everyone, because the store doesn’t have to buy any more disposable bags, and your karma and good feelings get boosted because you’re “green.” Not to mention their impeccable design – the flexible sides and firm bottom makes for a perfect support when stuffing in boxes of Apple Jacks. It’s a work of beauty, especially when the grocer goes all out and makes new bags for the new season (Hint: the store that makes these gracious designs rhymes with My Flea. In fact, my top two favorite bags come from this store: the blue one that reads “I’m Green” and the bright lime green one that has become a myth at my grocery store because it may glow in the dark, but no one knows for sure). Exception: Don’t bring any bag that you can fit two feet in comfortably. Typically, these economy bags are a lose lose for everyone, because the sacker has an instinct to fill the bag, and you’re the sucker who has to carry it from your car to your pantry. If you didn’t buy the bag from a grocery store, don’t use it there.
Only buy food and tabloids, and sometimes botany, from grocery stores
That toothpaste tube squeezer and chip bag holder make look appealing to you now, but in 40 years your grandkids will find it under a clod of dust and ask what the hell you were thinking. You use it once, twice, and then it somehow winds up at the back of the silverware drawer, and your six buck investment promises no return. However, every store has an occasional gem, but use you’re judgment, and think sensibly. Floral: just an all around great department, never question them unless you walk down the street and see a better price. It’s always good to shop competitively for flowers, because most stores have cheaper specialties, but it’s like karma. The sum of everything in floral at every store ends up balancing at the same price, but there’s always one item cheaper than the rest.
You don’t have to dress up
You’re not walking the runaway or going to a formal dinner, so don’t perk up and put on your Sunday best to strut the aisles. The average dress in a grocery store is measured by the worst looking customer there, and sometimes that’s pretty low, so you’ll just look like a buffoon if you come in with flapping lapels. Once, I went into a store with my dad’s old Starlight Express T-shirt, a pair of flannel bottoms, and my lawn-mowing shoes (Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, it was a rough morning. I’m not even sure if I was wearing underwear or socks). I proudly took a family size Lucky Charms to the counter, only to be stuck behind an exact-changer. So I sacked for her like any self-respecting, efficient kid would do, and she tipped me a dollar when she left. The point of the story is, it doesn’t matter if you’re the Paris Hilton of the grocery mart.
Start with a hand basket if you only plan on buying a few things
Everyone loves to pass the little green hand baskets at the door. We’re American, let’s go big and large and take the cart instead of some petit plastic carrier. Wrong. So many people come through the line with a cart and say, “I only meant to buy a few things!” like they feel the need to confess their excessiveness to me as I patiently sack the monstrous order without any promise of a tip. Really, if you get a big cart, you’ll feel like you have to fill it, and then nobody wins.
Talk to people
The people who work at the grocery, and the people who shop after nine o’clock at night, have the best background stories. By best, I mean, interesting. I’ve met a pregnant migrant from Arizona who dropped out of high school and now lives with a stern grandpa. She’s 18. Another new friend has been scraping his way through JuCo while working a second job at CVS: and all he really wants to do is play baseball. I’ve met historians, brain surgeons, race car drivers, stay-at-home moms (a rarity!), just by keeping my yap open. It doesn’t hurt to be friendly, except when they snip at you, a smart-ass (I’ve been called that more than once at the end of the belt). Then it’s time to shut up. But there’s some people you’d never expect to know who live right next door, and there stories are incredible to hear.
Don’t park by the cart corral
It’s a suburban battleground slightly less dangerous than a daycare play pen right before snack time. No one treats my carts with respect, and most customers have a habit of pushing the cart into the corral two feet before they reach the metal plate. I wouldn’t trust their aim. Do yourself a favor, and park a minimum of two spots away from the steel bars.
Never ask for paper in plastic
When you get that retirement home trip on a slow Saturday morning, and every one of them asks you for paper in plastic, with their name on it, your heart drops. There’s no easy way to configure a full bag into another, and it’s even worse when you’re not paying attention and do it out of order. There’s absolutely no room for error. Besides, it’s just a waste of two bags; picking one over the other isn’t going to ruin your entire shopping experience.
We stock some quality products that aren’t cookie-cuttered out from some factory in Pennsylvania. They’re made with special attention and tenderness, products of simple love and passion: they’re local food and drink. Just because you haven’t heard of the brand name before doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Step out of the box and try something that isn’t stuffed with preservatives.
Mind Your Manners
Like all fine establishments, there’s an unwritten code that is concurrent through my grocery store: it’s called common etiquette. No, you should not come to the check-out lane on your iPhone. I don’t care about what little Max did in the car on the trip over here. No, you should never take the last box of Oreos. What about all those middle-schoolers who come into the store with nothing to do, and feel the need to bother me once they figure out their star, sole product is sold out? No, don’t put your cart on a concrete island or at the very limits of the lot because you drove a fancy car to the store, wanted to elevate yourself from the rest of us by separation, and not walk your cart 20 feet to a proper corral. Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you. I may be at dirt pay; I may barely higher than dirt on the social ladder. But I can tie a tie, so I’m nonetheless higher than dirt. You give a little, you get a little in this store.
Start buying two weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas
There are three big events in a regular calendar year when everyone feels a public urge to buy food: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or ice storm. Yes, you read that right, ice storm. A panic always ensues once KCTV announces a cloud formation that just might bring a little hail. Suck it up, Kansas City. I used to live in Wisconsin, and we only had one snow day: a controversial decision after a 10 inch fall. But for some reason, at first wind, literally, of a snow storm, everyone buys cases of bottled water, peanut butter, and any nonperishables they can get their hands on like they’re going to be buried in for weeks. It’s pitiful. But I digress. You know exactly when Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming, so go in and buy your fatty turkey a week before the holiday. It’s a mad house the last days of November and December, and it’s totally unnecessary. You can just beat the rush and just buy earlier.