I missed Movember so when I woke up today sporting a four-day stubble I told my wife to chalk it up to Becember rather than sloth. Then I donned my heavy zip up sweatshirt popular with the construction crowd and went out to pick up some things at the local Trader Joe’s.
I didn’t look the part. People like to look good at TJ’s, maybe because it is a good pick up spot for the upper middle class. But I wasn’t looking for action, just coffee and some 19 cent bananas, and so ventured in looking like I was not from the neighborhood.
It was busy and lines were beginning to form at those odd check out counters they have there, the ones where you can’t quite tell what side you are supposed to unload your groceries from. It doesn’t help that it is hard to tell the clerks from the customers, with both in warm weather looking like they just got in from a Jimmy Buffet concert.
There was one person in front of me as I arrived in line. She had wheeled a fair amount of stuff in a large grocery cart up to the cashier, on the cashier side, and the clerk was beginning to go through it. Since I had a hand-carry device, I figured out I needed to come up on the other side. I did so, and placed the small plastic carrier into the wedge cut into the counter from which the cashier could unload it when she was done with the person in front of me.
ME: Is it OK that I put this here for now?
CLERK: Sure, no problem.
Just then I remembered I needed to get a box of crackers.
ME: I am just running for crackers. I’ll be right back.
So off I went, returning in a moment with the crackers. The cashier hadn’t finished with the person in front of me yet, so I just walked up and deposited the crackers in with the rest of my purchases. But I noticed as I walked in that a man had joined the line, nattily dressed in TJ style. I noticed too that a woman, also put together in that TJ way, had come up the aisle just before me. She walked past my food plainly visible on the counter so that she stood directly across the register from the clerk, and was getting ready to pass her things over the counter to check them out.
ME: Excuse me. (pointing to the groceries in front of me) These were here already.
Politely said, too. I may have looked like a construction worker but I have my manners.
ME: What I mean is, I was here already.
WOMAN: No, you just walked up.
ME: Yes, but as you can see, these groceries were already here. I was here before, and left to run to get some crackers I forgot.
WOMAN: (eyeing the transaction nearing completion and reaching for the lettuce in her carrier) So?
ME: So I am ahead of you in line. And besides which, the line forms behind that next guy back there.
WOMAN: No, I am in front of you and I will check out first.
So, unmoved, she continued preparing to unload. I turned to the next person in line, the one she should have been behind. I figured he would surely see it my way. Alas he, too, seemed to be operating on a special heightened moral level.
GUY IN LINE: You came into line late. You should take your place behind me.
ME: What gives here? Is there some special code at Trader Joe’s that is different from Stop and Shop?
Then it hit.
I looked at her.
I looked at him.
They were naturally allied, both looking the part of TJ shoppers and recognizing a natural affinity.
I was dressed like a construction worker with stubble.
I had been smugged.
A white middle class person and other white middle class people. Our kind is capable of fine distinctions in the who/whom sweepstakes.
Old, but this fan-made TJ’s commercial is brilliant:
That’s great, thanks.
I am not fond of that mochi “ice cream coated with flour”.
That’s the best version of “Waters of March” I’ve heard since Susannah McCorkle’s (RIP). I can take or leave the grocery store, but their wine shop is a real public service.
I think you were asking for quite a bit of forbearance.
Here in the state where Sherman trampled some grapes in order to make an omelet, many middle and upper middle class folk go forth legally armed. These types of interactions are handled with a bit less intensity. Negotiations would have ensued, smiles exchanged, arrangements made.
You never know. It works well and all are less stressed.
Having a hard time processing the idea of people packing at TJs, other than pickled peppers.
More personal responsibility, less paranoid sensitivity. It’s a stretch in the urban North, I know.
The fan ad packs in a lot of info. I went to the Trader all the time when I was in the US for a few months, and wondered how they managed to keep such an upmarket crowd when they sell such cheap stuff. The ad reminds me why in spades. With the possible exception of the three dollar wine, they don’t sell anything the cheap crowd wants. It’s brilliant, really, though I suppose it comes with a heavy load of classism – maybe even heavier than Whole Foods, where the crowd is further winnowed by the high prices, and doesn’t need to be on its guard quite so much.
Trader Joe’s is part of a massive retail grocery conglomeration, which includes cash-only, bargain basement Aldi’ s. The scale of their purchasing and logistics is immense.
I did not know that. (Aldi Down Under accepts credit cards for a fee.) We haven’t got a TJs here, although I went to one in NYC a few years ago and frankly didn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Key to Trader Joe’s success is that it doesn’t try to compete with full-line supermarkets on their own terms. It’s not the sort of store where a family does its weekly food shopping, filling a cart or two in the process. Instead, it’s ideal for single persons or couples to stop in and get a few items to be consumed over the next day or two.