Wasting time in haste
By the time I reach Manhattan, it’s after 5. But I’m a writer who can work till 4 a.m., if need be, so who really cares? I’m strolling along 14th Street, all stoked to buy a new bag of those wonderful unsulphured apricots, pass Trader Joe’s new wine store (which still isn’t open), get about 20 feet from the door ... and realize there are a lot of people on the sidewalk. In what appears to be a line. Oh my God, I think, It’s 5:30 on a weeknight, and I’m going grocery shopping. At the new Trader Joe’s.
Yup, sure enough: a line to get in the store. Several folks in line were shaking their heads and complaining about it, as if — like honking — this could make things move or otherwise reduce the shame of, gasp, waiting. The line wasn’t that bad, and overseen by workers so cheerful they must all have been flown to California for TJ’s crash course in West Coast laid-backness. Sadly all this was lost to onlookers. People walking by were exclaiming in loud horror, as if we’d all volunteered to bear children for Osama bin Laden or something (well, maybe that’s not quite the right metaphor, but still, they were appalled): “Standing in line for a grocery store?!!”
East Coasters don’t really get it. As one woman at the coffee shop put it, “I’ve heard their cheese section isn’t all that” — so why the fuss? I guess it’s partly a regional thing — like the sort of mellow coffee shops one rarely finds east of the Rockies, if not Nevada. I’ll confess: when friends in Arizona first raved about TJs, long before I’d had their apricots, I didn’t get it either. And some of the foods I tried from there were frankly not that great (the waffles I ate this morning: C+ at best — but when they’re $.24 apiece, and your budget looks like mine, who really cares?) At bottom, I think it’s the combination of often-decent quality and fairly reasonable prices. Pellegrino costs $1.19/bottle, a bag of flattened banana slices is only $.99.
Well ... cost-for-quality and the lovely way that, when the sun shines right and I’m deep inside the store, I can almost forget I’m in Manhattan instead of Seattle or El Cerrito or Emeryville. Last night I drank a whole liter of their $1.79 lemon Italian soda at the sheer happiness. Because something about the sunshine or the daylight or the lack of a winter chill out West induces a blissful laziness. Or if not that, an ease at least. Sure, West Coast peeps can be uptight about some things, but it’s not the same as here.
Here, folks want to get where they’re going as soon as possible, and the next train couldn’t possibly suffice, so I’m going to jam my arm in and hold the train the extra 15 seconds for me to board (I confess, I’ve been guilty of this too). But worse than that, I’ve seen people sacrifice all the well-being a calmer and lovelier walk to the train (only 2-5 minutes longer) might afford for the sake of rushing along through crowds of sidewalk smokers and car exhaust and honking just because it’s the “fastest” way to the train. As Fiona sings in my new favorite song:
If you don’t have a dateAt the end of my leisurely sojourn at Trader Joe’s, I wandered out to the growing dusk, past the even-longer line outside. At least some people don’t mind that wait! Perhaps the man with the rasta cap jingling change in a plastic cup should have worked his way closer to the grocer than the subway. I passed him, then remembered I had bananas in my bag. They were fairly green, but he took the ripest one and told me happily that it would be good to eat in a day. Not like the plantains from his homeland, but still ...
Go out and sit on the lawn
And do nothing
’Cause it’s just what you must do
Nobody does it anymore
No I don’t believe in the wasting of time,
But I don’t believe that I’m wasting mine
I knew how that was. A Trader Joe’s in Manhattan isn’t quite like the stores of home, but the $4 subway round-trip is cheap compared to the cost of a flight to Cali. Then again, if I move out west, I’ll have to drive my groceries home myself, with no train driver to take me over the Manhattan Bridge past the twilight glimmer of lights in downtown New York. Gratitude, methinks, is 90 percent of contentment with one’s present — single or otherwise. Well, gratitude and resourcefulness. ;)