The Sip

An archive of notes from 2015—2019

Supermarkets: A Love Letter

  photo from the Internet, not taken by me

photo from the Internet, not taken by me

Supermarkets. Are they, though? Such over-promise in the name alone, it’s like they never even had a chance. Fluorescent lights, freezing cold air blowing from invisible vents, piles of unlikely goods neighboring each other as if it were perfectly normal – canned soup next to feminine products?! Super, indeed. 

I know someone paid attention to the fact that wet cardboard and bright lights don’t inspire an appetite, but a cozy, dimly-lit labyrinth swathed in earth tones will do the trick. Still, for as Wholefoodedly as I fall victim to that sort of thing, a place that charges you $4 extra for paper towels that disintegrate if you look at them wrong…I don’t know, it seems like kind of a fake friend to me.

At the regular store, the one that’s open at 1am, pervertedly shiny apples stacked in pyramids remind me of old school Disney movies, and I wonder whether the queen came exactly here to shop for Snow White’s last meal. There’s a billowing, ambient noise you don’t notice right away, like they’re running the whole operation on a generator. Post-apocalyptically. This place would make decorative plastic produce appear more edible. 

Someone should really tell Ralph or Von.

It doesn’t help that I am also a not-super grocery shopper. After going to the farmer’s market for the restaurant a few times, I became a produce expert (self-proclaimed). Work in restaurants long enough with a few good chefs and you’ll know better than to shop anywhere with a checkout aisle and security cameras. If lettuce is marked on sale for .99, I know it must not be real lettuce. Buy tomatoes – NOT ON THE VINE? In March?! Please. 

I’ll take my grocery shopping with a heavy dose of vitamin D thank you, soaking in the sun a mere four blocks from the twinkling sea while I chat with James and snack on his arugula flowers, filling my tote with greens he grew and picked. The scent of the Pacific wafts in from a few blocks west, tickling my cheek in approval, as if to say, you’re doing it! 

If I indulge the fantasy further, I’m cruising along, gathering stone fruit at Fitzgerald’s and small talk at Coleman’s, hopping from farmer to farmer without a single carbon footprint in my path, collecting more than I can carry in my reusable bags.

I’m practically foraging.

On the way home, snacking aggressively on raw broccolini, I’ll hash out a mental diagram of what I will cook when, and how, and for whom. In this daydream (key word), I not only shop exclusively at the farmer’s market twice a week, but I also have people over for dinner regularly. I love the farmer’s market and all of the things it tells me I am. But I can’t always RSVP to the outdoor vegetable social, where the breeze blows your hair and you can molest peaches and avocados to source the perfect fruit. 

It’s a delicious aim, but could not be further from the reality of my generally-managing weekend mornings in the restaurant world. Those certainly didn’t include driving across the sprawling Los Angeles cityscape or braving beach parking on a weekend. 

Sundays were more like: wake up late, as in, sorry-we-stopped-serving-breakfast-sandwiches-two-hours-ago late. I’m bruised and battered from back to back Friday and Saturday night services (the nerve of these days to exist consecutively!). Like actually sore, somehow. A slow walk to get afternoon coffee and enjoy it outside while answering emails, then get in to the restaurant with time enough to start inventory and write the schedule before service. Survive my last service before a final day off. Finish inventory, place beverage orders for the coming week, and rewrite the schedule for the server who frantically emailed me at 10pm because she forgot to request off for her boyfriend’s surprise lobotomy, or what have you. 

Get out early, it’s Sunday. Let the real weekend begin.

I step out of the restaurant, standing in the silent streets of Los Angeles while everyone else is tucked in bed, sleeping and full. I’m starving (an obvious irony, but one that never fails to be true), the perfect combination of exhausted and wired from having had just too much coffee, and awake. So to the supermarket, then.

Partly because it’s open, but also without wanting to admit it, there is a dirty little pleasure in stepping into this grotesque place at such an indelicate hour. The harsh light is more bearable because only half the store is lit; front-loaders move boxes of product and block aisles. Sometimes a few drunk teenagers wander around, and a creepy guy lurks in the canned goods aisle, pretending to read the back of some chili when I walk by. 

But save for the occasional beeping, it’s mostly very quite.

Maybe it’s the contrast to dinner service that’s appealing; a sharp right turn away from chaos and bodies and tickets and sounds crammed into 1200sq feet and my head for hours. A nearly-abandoned goliath of a room filled with sterile rows of things on shelves. It’s cold, which normally I’d despise. But it’s also serene and awkwardly still, almost Hitchcock-esque and profoundly domestic, which hits me as aspirational for some reason. 

With its automatic doors widespread, it lures me into the calm solitude of truck-ripened produce and three whole aisles of frozen foods. I am tempted to pluck the shiniest apple from the bottom of the pyramid and just keep walking, allowing a thousand shiny cousin apples to follow in my wake, tumbling over each other as they chase the dream of poisoning their own fictional princess. 

One late Sunday night visit, I stroll past militantly-aligned cereal boxes and Pepperidge Farm bags, sitting there like old friends smiling up at me from outdated design packages and unpronounceable ingredients. I grab one pack each of English muffins and eggs, and realize then what it is: The supermarket makes softer a transition that, geographically, may only be an eight-minute bike ride or three-minute drive, but is an incalculable distance that spans farther than all of the aisles of all of the food chains, in all of the city, put together. 

After-hours egg sandwiches also really help.