They are palaces of promise. Of anticipation. Of things yet to be savored. In their aisles lies an ocean of sensation needing only to be thawed, sautéed, grilled or broiled. Places without stripper poles aren't supposed to provoke the flights of fancy a supermarket does.
If asked to entertain a visitor from a foreign country, I would bring them to one. Show them the dozens of aisles with food neatly stacked upon shelves and produce artfully arrayed. Here is the bounty promised by a post-WWII America. This is the Land of Plenty envisioned by millions of immigrants.
Yet after working in one, I have come to understand that mine is a view very much in the minority. Despite the wonders of Stand n’ Stuff taco shells and laundry detergent scented like a mountain stream, it is apparent the majority of Americans find their weekly visits to the supermarket only slightly more appealing than an IRS audit.
In an effort to cease irritating my customers, as a supermarket cashier I have dialed down my formerly cheery “Hi! How are you?” to a no-nonsense “Have your preferred customer card?” as I begin whisking all manner of produce, meat, cartons and cans down the conveyor belt.
Adding to their unease is my occasional failure to correctly suss Italian parsley from curly leaf, or sale rolls from bulk rolls. Rest assured that whatever ADD tendencies Americans display while driving, we remain capable of laser-like focus while watching our groceries being tallied.
We may be too overscheduled to cut out (or even rip) the coupons we plan to use. Too addled to notice the ‘15 Items or Less’ sign over the check-out lane. Too distracted by ringing cell phones, whiney kids and trying to remember the PIN on our debit cards to notice what supermarket chain we’re in.
But god forbid the sale price of chicken breasts doesn’t appear within milliseconds of it being scanned lest a customer shriek “They’re supposed to be $1.99 a pound!”
Then a box of never-before-seen Italian three-cheese crackers appears. Or chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. Or a still-warm loaf of marbled rye bread. Sense of wonder rebooted.
Dreams die hard.