Grocery Aisle Tales

December 9, 2008

I live between two Portland groceries stores a mile apart. But shopping at them feels like visiting different countries. Whole Foods to the north is organic, expensive, and attracts a well-scrubbed crowd. Safeway to the north is cheaper, bigger, and attracts more diverse clientele.

Both meet my consumer needs. But during trips to Safeway, I observe things that stick with me. They’re not momentous. They don’t give deep insight into anything. Still, they stand out, as if illuminated on stage.

The richness of these visits may stem from the wider demographic array of Safeway shoppers and the grittier urban setting between busy Northeast Broadway and Weidler. Maybe passing through panhandlers outside each entrance makes me better attuned to people I observe inside: the guy sitting at a counter eating out of a gallon carton of chocolate ice cream, a man backing up his electric chair and making beeping warning signals with his voice, the elegantly dressed man collecting what looked to be $100 dollars for a lottery ticket and adding the bills to a huge wad of cash, the cashier telling me he’s worried that his hours are being cut back.

I have a least a dozen more little vignettes and expect new ones with each visit. I suppose they’re trite to anyone not witnessing them. At the risk of trying to attach meaning where perhaps none exists, I want these moments to add up to something. With all their trappings of insignificance, they feel if not significant at least worthwhile. Worth what?

As I ponder all this, a plausible explanation leaps off the screen: each is a story waiting to be written.