Friday, December 23, 2005

Meijer and the competition

I've always suspected it. I've heard the underground stories, the myths, urban legends, the get the idea. but I never truly believed, perhaps not believing was a defense mechanism, a way to protect myself and my delicate grocery reality.

you see for Christmas vacation, I've ventured beyond the mid-west Meijer territory and have entered the eastern state's, non-union grocery store nirvana known as Wegmans.

Wegmans. let the name roll around your tongue and palate. go ahead breathe through your nose as you feel the bouquet waft through your sinuses--Wegmans, Wegmans and ahhh, Wegmans. no spitting please.

where do I begin, produce? it's a massive produce section with digital scales and print your-own upc labels. the inviting area is dotted with sincerely smiling "What do you need? I can get you whatever you need..." produce associates. do I dazzle you with the "food court" (that moniker seems too cheap and tawdry for the reality) fresh made-in-front-of-you hoagies, chinese, italian, sushi, a salad bar that would shame most grocery store's produce sections.

how about the bakery--not the defrost the frozen mounds of dough and slap some frosting on it "warming area"--but an actual bakery with mounds of multi-flavored bagels, bagettes, donuts, loaves, muffins, croissants, I'm going into carb melt-down as I write.

oh! did you know that Paul Newman makes cookies? what about salsa and olive oil? did you know that he makes more than 2 kinds of salad dressing? see, this is how Meijer keeps the little grocery shopper down--withholding product opportunities! who are they to decide that I only want to see Paul's face on balsamic vinegar and/or parmesan ranch? where's the ACLU when you really need them?

do they have a deli? you ask in a simple country mouse squeak. would you pull your hair out in a jealous fit if I said I died and went to deli heaven? stacks and stacks of meats, cheeses (plural!), olive bar, fresh sausages, smoked this and that, roasted hens & ducks...they didn't even flinch when I spun around in a Mary Tyler Moore-esque spin of joy, I guess they get that a lot.

the service at the deli counter was astounding. finally a staff that doesn't appear to detest their job and are secretly hoping the meat slicer will put them out of their misery. boisterous number calling with a jocular greeting and "you've got it ma'am!" I didn't tempt fate but I listened to the natives quizzing the deli attendants about freshness, cooking times, even recipes!

I could go on, but perhaps like me you are feeling overwhelmed. I live in union grocery territory and I will only have the bitter-sweet (did I mention the international chocolate section) memories of the competition. I wonder if anyone in the east is interested in an opportunity cost trade-off--my MI $.10 bottle return for a few groceries each month. I feel a kramer and neuman moment coming on...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Meijer and the honesty policy

awhile back my daughter and I were scanning groceries through the u-scan. my daughter gets a kick out of finding the upc labels and watching the price come up (ahh, the simple joys). we were doing our thing, scanning, placing item in bag, don't touch the scale that the bags sit on or the red screen will scream at you and computer will go into melt-down mode--yeah, we had a system and we were buzzing along.

we were just about to the exit when I notice my 1.12 pounds of sahlen's deli smoked ham is crunched in the corner of the cart, outside of the grocery bag. "crap!" I swear to myself, (yeah, that's my idea of swearing--I'm not a big swearing person. for some reason real, don't-mess-with-me swearing just sounds silly coming out of my mouth. is it the timing?) I'm going to have to go back in line and wait to pay for the ham. but then, the ever-present silver lining dons on me! this will be a great learning experience for my daughter, she will see honesty at work and we will both have tender warm hearts on our way home.

did I mention we were at Meijer?

I quickly explain to my daughter what happened as I turn the cart around to head back to the u-scan. my daughter and I are feeling a tad giddy, like we are in cahootz of some grand, bigger-than-you-or-me honesty bonanza. she's smiling, I'm smiling...the u-scan cashier isn't smiling. she scans our cart with the obvious supposed-to-be-done grocery shopping bags and asks doubtingly, "can I help you?" I explain embarrassingly/chirpingly that I neglected to pay for the ham (I show her the ham and my short receipt) and would like to go back in line to pay. the cashier takes the ham and the receipt. I look down at my daughter, she is sporting the same blissful honest smile that I am, we exchange little winky-winks.

the cashier's silvery grey eyebrows furrow; clearly she is not in on the grand honesty bonanza bandwagon. "you forgot to pay for the ham and now you've come back to pay?" she asks in disbelief. I nod my head, my daughter nods her head while the cashier shakes her head. she hands me the receipt and places the ham inside my grocery bag. "it's okay she says, just take the ham." and turning back to her monitor, effectively dismisses me. my five year old pulls on my hand, signaling that she wants to whisper in my ear, "is she stealing for us?" I remove the now even more dishonest ham from my bag, and head-gesturing toward my daughter state, "I would like to pay for my ham, may I leave my cart here?" now annoyed cashier looks and says, "I can't watch your cart, you can leave it here, but I'm not guaranteeing anything."

the giddiness is gone, the bonanza is over as I pay $6.03 for my pound of deli ham. we walk back over to the cart when cashier lady half laughs and mockingly states, "I'm sure we've made errors in our favor that would have canceled out your price of the ham." memories of grocery bags that never made it into my cart, mis-priced items on my receipts and all the wasted gas to drive back to rectify Meijer mistakes (not to mention the agony of waiting in the "customer service" line) come rushing to mind. she's probably right, cynical but right.

I sigh a little in the car, dejected by the whole scene. I glance in my rear view mirror to see my daughter all aglow, she laughs while squeezing her hands together and says, "you're right ma! it feels good to be honest."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Meijer and the credit card pusher

it's the holiday season once again at Meijer. actually, I'm writing this about a month and a half late as according to the indicators at Meijer, October 29th was the actual beginning of the Christmas season. at that time the indicators were subtle; specially made green, red or silver garland-ish snowflakes hung haphazardly around the store's much-too-high ceilings, partial signs were hung in flowing script wishing us a "season's" without it's "greetings" and the center store aisles were stacked with green and red storage bins, on sale.

but now we are in full Christmas mode, all holiday caution thrown to the wind! cashiers are sporting their peppermint candy earrings, the pharmacist has donned his much-too-small Santa cap, and the tunes of yester year have been replaced with a really old, tone-deaf, don't-remember-the-words-to-any-Christmas-song guy with a mic and a keyboard. three foot striped candy canes are all a go-go throughout the store and (my personal favorite) the tiny Christmas trees decorated with Meijer credit card applications have sprouted. I smell Christmas!

so, Meijer has discovered the money-making machine known to financial institutions as the credit card. as a former loan officer, I know the amazing potential for easy cash a credit card brings to a store. marketing a credit card has very little overhead with huge returns, it literally is a cash-cow for any sponsoring institution. now, having given you this little side-tour, let's move on to the real show...

when I first noticed the Meijer credit card pusher (the name has evolved, first I called her the credit card lady, then the annoying associate, now she's the pusher) she was idly standing at the front entrance with a few credit card applications in hand. she would try to catch my eye, immediately putting me into "vacant-look" mode. after two weeks of that, came the credit card stand with huge banner, then the "incentives" began and pusher went on tour.

the tour was a very irritating turn of events for me. no longer could I just whiz by pusher in mid-sentence--"would you like to open a Meijer cred-". no, now she is equipped with a cart loaded with stacks and stacks of applications and she follows you 'til sentence is completed. "would you like to open a Meijer credit card and save 10% percent today on your grocery bill plus save money for your kids' college tuition?" she asks the customer cornered against the microwave popcorn and pringles.

I have jilted her hopes of getting me on a Meijer credit fix for weeks now. and no, it's not a case of her not recognizing me because I will get the "have you reconsidered your decision?" pitch. once, I came this close to reciting my favorite mom montra, "no means no", but decided she would finally get tired of my negatory answers and give up on me. my plan was simple, stick to my pat "no" reply and move on. pusher, on the other hand, had a different tactic...

bread and cracker aisle, saturday, 13:00 hours: the kids are with me as I'm trying to wrangle some bread, hamburger buns and crackers in the people capacity-limit aisle. I'm deciding between original Triscuits and nearly-break-your-teeth reduced fat Triscuits when I hear pusher begin her schpeel on me. pretty much tired of the whole repetitive nonsense, I don't even look at her when I interrupt her with a sing-song voice, "nooo, thank youuu!" expecting to hear her say, "okay, thank you", she switches gears and replies loudly and seriously, "you know, I'm surprised at you. with all your Christmas purchases, our credit card can help you pay for your children's college with the U promise plan. are you really going to turn down free money to help pay for your kids' future? or do you just not have a plan for your kids' future?" the bustling aisle is suddenly hushed, carts have stopped moving and all eyes are nervously on me.

friends, you know I grew up in the home of a lawyer--I ate manipulation 101 for breakfast, Socratic method for lunch and well-timed sarcasm for dinner! who in the H-E double toothpicks does she think she is dealing with here?! is she really trying to manipulate me with guilt to open a credit card?! my mind is whirling with all the account numbers to my kids 529 plans, ugma and utma accounts not to mention the huge jar of coins sitting on the kitchen counter! besides all that, a Meijer credit card is not giving me free money, and it will not finance my children's education! saving money not spending wads of money on a credit card will finance my kids education, since when does spending $1000 dollars on select, participating groceries to get $50 (that's 5% before the NV state 529 plans fees take their hit, so actually about 2.4%) make sense?! do I really have to divulge/explain all this to the pusher and the surrounding minions?

I casually toss the original Triscuits in my cart, turn to her and say, "Nao 'brigada. nao quero sua carta." (translation: No thank you. I don't want your card.) I smile smugly as I move past her, nodding my head to the gawkers, saying a loud "hello" in perfect english to each of them. now, maybe using portuguese to deflect an obvious credit card confrontation is a little immature, but that's my plan and I'm stickin' to it!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Meijer and the "how-to-avoid crazies" course 101

over the years I have developed a finely honed Meijer crazy evaluation process. I could flow-chart this process for you or even insert a link to a power point presentation, but I won't 'cause that would be geeky. besides, those tools are static and cannot shift with all the variables inherent to a Meijer crazy. but wanting to be helpful, here are a few scenarios for you to study and hopefully you can learn a thing or two from my mistakes.

case scenario A--don't start a friendly conversation. broccoli is on sale for $.99. at the broccoli "pile" another woman is making her choices, carefully placing the desired ones in the crook of her arm, like a slew of tiny green babies. I notice she is buying a lot of broccoli. I decide to ask how she is going to store all that broccoli, just trying to start a friendly conversation, maybe exchange some kitchen tips (obviously, this occurred when I was a novice).

so, with my naive, folksy voice, I ask the broccoli hoarder, "do you cook those, then freeze; or do you just freeze them raw?" like a flash of lightning she whips her head to face me. I think she mistook me for a Meijer produce associate because she snapped at me, "the sign doesn't say there's a limit, so I can take home (not buy but take home) how ever many I want!" the sirens in my head blared, "walk away! walk away! walk awaaaaay!" instead, trying to recoup my faux pas, I offer to get her a plastic produce bag to which I was promptly scolded with, "plastic isn't natural!" just a side tip to this lesson, listen to the blaring sirens in your head.

case scenario B--never respond to a Meijer crazy. the pharmacy gods are against me this day. my son has chosen the busiest day to get sick and requires prescription drugs. I'm pretty sure the over-80 pharmacy customers were not happy when the "young-family" usurpers rustle up to their territory. the pharmacy waiting area offers a free, touch-screen, automated weight scale and blood pressure evaluation. for my two youngsters, this is a real treat, so they wait for the only man using the machine to finish, then begin tapping the proper choices on the screen, they have their weight and blood pressure taken, absolutely delighted with the print out receipt.

suddenly, I hear an elderly "gentleman" shout, "they are going to break that and a lot of people count on that machine!" startled into she-lion mode, and forgetting that technology is a complete conundrum to this generation, I ask, "how are my children's fingertips any different than yours? the reinforced glass and the touch-screen software won't break because it registers a child tapping." reacting like I just threw him into an apoplexy, the man spews out some loud curses and emphatically waves the how-dare-you index finger at me.

case scenario C--don't state the obvious. once again I'm at the check-out lane. I begin unloading my cart; skim-milk, cracker barrel vermont white cheese (oooo, I love sharp cheese!) fruit, veggies, and turkey ball park franks--we're having a weenie roast.

"those will kill you," I hear in a gruff, I smoke-three-packs-a-day voice from behind my cart. confused, I look around me in the are-you-talking-to-me? head gesture. sure enough the lady (I use this term loosely) nods her head. "those hot dogs, they'll kill you. I had an uncle that ate them everyday for lunch and he died from cancer." okay, so I can't help notice that an opened pack of cigarettes are sticking out from her purse, she is carrying a six pack of beer, and a bag of donuts in one arm and three boxes of pop-tarts in the other arm. I can't help myself, "really?!" I ask in an alarmed voice, "what kind of cancer?" I whisper in reverence. she get's agitated, and replies harshly, "well it started out as lung cancer and then spread, but he swore up and down that it was those damn hot dogs that gave him cancer!"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Meijer and the sit-com SWAT team

a few years ago, the Meijer store I frequent was given a complete overhaul. as a result the store is much larger and more organized than it was (it went from grimey huge, to cleanish humongo). the store now features these make-your-neck-hurt-to-look-up warehouse like ceilings. there's really no reason to, but on occassion I will risk neck pain to look up and survey the scenery. there's more going on up there than you would imagine.

the innocent child in me likes to look for the stray balloon of elmo or even ariel (the little mermaid for those without a disney fanatic), floating between the rafters or bapping their little helium heads on the sky-like ceiling. even an amateur bird watcher can enjoy the occasional sparrow, goldfinch or early spring robin, flying about searching for their next target, I mean nesting site.

the spring meadow music drifting through my head suddenly comes to an abrupt halt when I realize, I'm being watched. my twitter-pated goofy smile self-consciously turns to a cough and bored stare. you've probably seen them, they are the smokey-black, plasti-glass, half-sphere moles dangling from the ceiling's skin (eewwww, too graphic). they are watching me and yes, you.

no, this isn't a "she's crossed over to the Meijer crazy" paranoia moment. seriously, like every other store, security is a high priority at Meijer. I can understand the need for surveillance cameras, people fake accidents at grocery stores all the time, hoping to cash-in on the $%&#@, corporate Man! then there's the percentage of the Meijer customer base who choose shoplifting as their crime of choice.

now, amazingly enough I have never witnessed a shoplifter in the moment of comitting a crime. well, unless you consider the guy that "tastes" about 1.33 pounds of grapes. or the lady that cleans up the cheese and meat taster tray (including crackers) at the deli counter. or the mom that dumps the stale, broken bakery cookies into her toddler's snack tupperware container. those shades of grey aside, I haven't witnessed shoplifting at Meijer. however, I have watched the almost comedic scene of bringing down the law breakers.

while standing in line, I realize that a ceiling mole is dangling above every cash register. I imagine the surveillance camera room with a wall banked with small monitors, panning every nook and cranny of the store. oh, and the monitor-watchers are bemuscled (not bemused!) ex-navy seals with tattoos expressing love for "mum" and have nickname's like rosie or boo-bear. I wonder from which door the Meijer SWAT team would burst out of, ready to dog-pile the "perp"--yeah, I"ve watched Kojak.

after giving a half-hearted "thanks" to the greeter thanking me for shopping that day, (I have no idea why I say thanks, but replying "your welcome" seems too smug) I pass through the security detector thing and into the air lock. ahead of me I see this guy leaving the store, who seriously, was 6'5" maybe even 6'6", whatever, he was TALL. as I'm trying to make an educated guess as to exactly how tall he is, two non-descript, average joe’s jostle me aside and run past shouting, STOP RIGHT THERE! before the goliath perp can turn, the felix and oscar “odd couple” strike team scramble in front of him and are now flashing some sort of mock-FBI-wallet-id type of thing in front of him. then it dawns on me, these nothing-even-remotely-intimidating guys are arresting him! and it works!

giant criminal slumps his shoulders, silently obeying as felix turns the man around and oscar informs him he has been caught on camera stealing. I didn't catch what he allegedly stole (lawyer speak) I was just so stunned that my idea of the security detail was completely out of sync with reality.

since that first experience, I have seen two more "take-downs" all quiet, successful arrests. well, except for that fifty-something woman who screamed, threw her arms into the air and immediately spread eagle on the sidewalk without the “odd couple” asking her to.

who knew that felix unger and oscar madison were the true nemeses of the criminal underworld? obviously Meijer, the superstore.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Meijer the superstore

there's just something homey about walking into a Meijer superstore these days. for me, even the automatic-open door swooshes a "welcome" (it's just like they were expecting me! tee hee). there's always a greeter trying extra hard to smile and offer me the proper morning, midday or evening greeting, pushing this weeks advertisement flyer eagerly into my hand. almost always there is a cart ripe for the taking (sometimes freshly wiped down from the sudden showers), and the whole monstrous store eager to be stripped of its goods. ahhh, capitalism.

when I have time to actually browse the store, it can be quite enjoyable to be surrounded by so many possibilities, so many choices--the cereal aisle alone is mind boggling, in a good way. there's a spring in my step on these giddy days when I can enjoy being wrapped by the climate controlled 73 degrees (not too hot, not too cold), snap my finger to the hip tunes of yester-year and start searching for pomegranates. yep, Meijer can often be like a huge, bustling, home away from home.

on occassion, during the week, month or year I will find myself a turn-coat to the superstore. I will investigate the aisles of Wal-mart, Kroger, and Target. they have their uses and an occasional good sale, but I can't get a pedicure at Target! and for that matter Kroger won't sell me fish food and a hamster. my Wal-mart isn't a superstore, so while I can use the ATM, I can't wire money via Western Union (up till now in my life I have never, ever wired $ via Western Union, but I still want options).

nope, it's Meijer the superstore that draws me in time after time. if one wanted to one could buy everything necesary to furnish their hunting lodge, and then buy everything to go hunting! (as I've said before, never been down that section, but I've heard stories). think about it, at Meijer if one wanted to one could drop off thin-soled shoes and get them repaired, pick up their 1 hour photos, open up a money market account, upgrade their cingular wireless plan, grab a starbucks mocha-whatever, enrich the environment and make a buck or two by recycling, pick up some reading material on the way to get one's heart medication and if you're lucky win 27 million dollars! and I haven't even mentioned the clothes, shoes and groceries! now, wouldn't that make you a loyal Meijer superstore customer?

obviously, over the past nine years, me and Meijer have had some note-worthy Meijer crazy experiences. but on these days, all's forgotten, all's forgiven. like with an old, crazy friend, it's fun to think back and laugh at it all. ha-ha, ha-ha, and yes, ha-ha.

besides, with gas prices breaking the beejeezees out of my budget, I can't afford to go to a zillion different stores. reality bites.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meijer and the lord of the flies parking lot

to be honest, I've never read lord of the flies. I just know that it is syonymous with abuse of ill-gotten power, anarchy and general mayhem. yeah, that pretty much sums up the Meijer parking lot. I personally have been in the Meijer parking lot when a guy (about this time of year) decided to buy an axe and start hacking at any blankety-blank car that came into view. I have watched the "house detective," (are they still called that, or is there a new, non-1940's term for them now?) on 3 separate occassions take down shoplifters and I have witnessed a retrieval of a child kidnapping. yeah, all in the blacktop jungle we off-handedly call the Meijer parking lot.

in the spirit of fairness, I have witnessed these human nature meltdowns over the span of nine years, which actually, is a pretty good Meijer crazy crime rate. and the above experiences are not the reason for my entry. the above events are shocking and sensational but not as pervasive and insidious as a continual pattern I have been cataloguing in my head.

you see, I'm pretty sure I didn't have a "normal" home-life growing up. my mother was a registered nurse and my father was a defense lawyer. my mother would teach us how to be physically safe and healthy while my father would back that wisdom up with how to avoid being sued out the wazoo. my children can blame their grandparents for their lack of trampolines and backyard swimming pools--both are potentially physically harmful (drownings and paralysis) and from my father's viewpoint lawfully harmful (being sued by a neighbor for drowning and paralysis). I can recall reviewing with my mom how to do the heimlich maneuver only to hear my father mutter, "just be careful, you could break someone's ribs and get sued out the wazoo!" so you get the idea, mom's coaching with dad's wazoo.

fast forward to the Meijer parking lot. because Meijer is a superstore it logically follows that it must supply a super-parking lot. now, I have been taught, that the parking lot is a completely lawless, dangerous place filled with people who blatanly disregard the rules of war. dare I ask if that's how you were raised? frankly, I don't have to ask because I witness and on occassion, am forced to confront the bitter, bitter truth.

only on holidays have I seen every stall filled in the super-lot, usually all the cars fight to be a part of the cluster nearest an exit. so on any given typical day there are a couple of acres of free, open blacktop range. again, I was taught that in a parking lot, it is illegal to cut across the rows and rows of painted white lines. you must follow the rules of the road and drive up (or down) the parking lot's thoroughfares at a speed equal to or less than 25 mph. in 2004 there were over 6 million car accidents in the US. I'm willing to bet at least 25% were in Meijer parking lots and involved Meijer crazies.

here we go... I'm driving on the perimeter road on the west side of Meijer (the west is always the open range isn't it?) and have just chosen the parking lot "road" to turn down. I'm getting nearer and nearer the "cluster" when out of the corner of my eye is see a bonneville careening through the parking lot, drive between parked cars and blast right in front of me! as the crazy passes, I see a middle-finger flash in the passenger side window. it's only my braking system that prevents a pontiac/honda t-bone event and he's giving me the bird?! the (w)reckless driver isn't done, he drives through the next cluster of parked cars and parks in a handicapped spot! I'm livid! not only did this crackpot teenager (isn't it always a teenager?) endanger my life and property, he now has the gall to park in a handicapped place in order to get the closest spot?

oh no he ditn't !!!

this can't go unpunished, I quickly (but safely) begin pulling up next to this idiot and roll down my passenger window. I'm gonna let it fly and hit the fan. the bonneville door opens as I get closer and out comes an old man with a cane and from around the passenger side comes a mother theresa look alike! they both see me and start swearing like french sailors!

I'm completely disarmed, how in the world am I supposed to chastise geriatric bonnie and clyde? aren't they supposed to know better?!

amid the cane waving and four-letter salutations, I hoarsely shout, "you should know better!" and drive off. yeah, pathetic, but I lived to fight another day. my mother would be proud that I was not physically harmed in the exchange of words and my father would be relieved that I didn't set myself up for a doosy of a slander lawsuit. my scoreboard intact and nerves calmed down I let a fellow veteran of the Meijer parking lot war into a stall that was rightfully mine.

Meijer crazies= 2 traci=3.5

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Meijer and the chatty-cathy cashier

privacy is a relative term at Meijer, and should be used loosely. it seems to me for all of its hoop-lah and back-patting in adhering to the privacy act, Meijer is inherently un-private. open aisles, open shelves, thousands upon thousands of items that everyone can see you placing boldly(hungry-man 10,000 calorie tv dinner) or timidly(vagisil soothing creme) into your see-through cart. and if that hasn't started to unnerve you wait until you drive into chatty-cathy's check-out lane and begin to unload the pseudo-private cart onto the only other thing for people in line to look at, the conveyer belt.

being second in line at Meijer gives me an antsy feeling. sometimes I will make the most of my antsy energy by organizing the conveyer belt, hoping I can reduce the chance of the grapes being bagged with family-size cans of pork 'n beans. as I've said before, I'm not into reading the insides of the magazines, and I have a strict don't-inventory-the-first-in-line's conveyer belt policy. I'm a privacy respecting citizen. well, privacy is part of the reason, the other part is that I know if I start perusing someone else's conveyer items, I will remember something that I forgot to pick up and will just kick myself that I'm second in line with half my items on the belt and half in the cart. in short, perusing ruins the whole child-like splendor of that second in line moment.

something I've noticed about the chatty-cathies (I've pluralized for you), there's no volume control. these cashiers talk loud enough for their union supervisor to hear their friendly banter with the customer. nothing, and I mean nothing is sacred to the chatty-cathy cashier. your secrets--"ooooo, a pregnancy test!", your fears--"you realize whole milk is poison don't you?" and well, your entire personal life...

a very attractive, mid-twenties woman was in front of me on this particular Meijer experience. chatty-cathy loudly greets her and begins her monologue with the first item off the conveyer belt. it went something like this.

"Ohh, what a smart over-night bag! It's just the perfect size, did you see any other colors?" she doesn't wait for twenty-something to respond. next item, "I just luuuvvvvv, these scented candles, ooooo and what a cute hot-pink bra! I wonder if there are any in my size?"

okay, I'll admit her showcasing the bra made me turn and look, not because of the bra (I wear them every day), but because the woman in front of me is twenty-something, tall and thin and the woman mc-ing this check-out event is nearly a 5'2" michelin tire mascot! but before the strangeness of her dialogue can sink in, she picks up the matching hot-pink thong. "now this is clever! a match set, it will look so cute!" she's chatting on and on like she's evaluating a two year old's swimsuit set!

then it hits me: overnight bag, scented candles, skimpy lingerie... I can't help it, I break my own "don't peruse the conveyer belt" policy. sure enough, next up on deck is a package of trojans and a box of summer's eve! by now I am cringing for the woman in front of me. amazingly chatty-cathy goes into a name-brand versus generic discussion as she picks up the condoms and she gives the douche a good-value-for-the-money award. unbelievable.

as I watch the self-conscious woman bolt to the exit, I hear chatty-cathy blast me with, "ohh pork 'n beans! they go so nicely with, ah! just as I thought, hot dogs!"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Meijer and the quick sale

just like the typical capitalistic american, I like deals. if there is a way for me to make my grocery dollar stretch, I'll do it. handing over coupons at the end of my Meijer purchasing experience does not make me feel like the miserly, crotchety scrooge, just the opposite--whoever the opposite of scrooge is.

there are a myriad of ways Meijer gets me into their store. buy 1 get 1 free, 4 for $1, buy one get $.50 off per gallon gas (jackpot!), and the mother-lode of all sales, buy 1 get 2 free! a dedicated sales shopper like me gets a tingly-smug sensation when three bags of sub-par wavy Meijer chips sit proudly in the cart.

now having said all that, I feel obliged to put the brakes on all this penny-pinching whimsy before it goes too far. you see, recently I have discovered my proverbial line in the sand that I will not cross for the good deal. if my no-crossing-over "line" in the sand were words, they would spell out, "reduced for quick sale." for me, "reduced for quick sale" is just a marketing scheme to coerce buyers to shell out good money for ptomaine poisoning. but apparently, not all Meijer shoppers are savvy to the wiles of the Meijer marketing machine.

a few months ago I stumbled upon the truly ugly side of human nature in the produce section. minding my own business, I wander through the produce area knowing my final destination is the adjacent wall where all the cheese is displayed. lost in thought of baby carrots, bamboo shoots (how do you use those? raw? cooked?) I notice a small representation of the world mulling about in a group.

a bit of background info for you: Michigan is the US melting pot. we are a mix of chinese, japanese, indian, arabic, polish, russian, and german. in fact, when the polish president visited pres. Bush a few years ago, they took a trip to Michigan for him to meet with the other poland. true! and I'm very sure that if pres. Kalam of India visited Michigan and developed a hankerin' for aloo gobi and mint naan, he wouldn't go hungry.

so, here I am staring at what seems to be a quiet UN meeting near the green peppers. and that's when it happened, the towering, squeaky-wheeled, multi-shelved, reduced for quick sale produce cart gets wheeled out. showing remarkable fore-thought, Meijer sends out a very large statured man to push out the goods (or bads if you feel like me). he comes out face stern, giving the intimidating eye to the crowd, he knows not to show fear. like a knee-jerk response my UN council starts jockeying for positions. as if watching a train wreck, I am unable to divert my eyes. "let's get ready to rummm-bllllllle!" reverberates in my head.

hands flying, seven or eight languages spewing curses, shelves toppling, Meijer-sacrificial-lamb-guy shouting, "let me through, let me through." cart swaying, women in lovely silk saris snatching nearly putrid cilantro, ahhhh the horrorrr!

"forget the cheese," I think to myself as I whisk my cart away from the melee. somehow the green bananas that I snubbed earlier look pretty good.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Meijer and the Privacy Act

thus far I have signed about 43 million of these "privacy act" forms. doctors, pediatricians, ob-gyn, ear/nose/throat specialist, allergist, bank, credit union, credit card, brokerage firms, insurance(s), and of course, Meijer.

"a grocery store?" you ask in a shocked-italicized tone?


you see, because I am at Meijer every week I take advantage of the pharmacy section of the gi-normous store. I'm suddenly realizing that there are sections of Meijer that I haven't yet ventured to. the section dedicated to plant's crockery comes to mind. as does the assemble-yourself outdoor/indoor furniture section. come to think of it, I really don't hang around the camoflauge area too much (I'm more of a kelly-green gal, olive-green makes me look sallow).

so, Meijer pharmacy requires me to sign a privacy act form. I think the long and the short of these forms basically say that I'm allowed some privacy. okay, so in order to comply with the privacy act, Meijer has made some changes to the pharmacy area of the store. there are now "velvet rope" barriers (only they aren't velvet, they are nylon retractable things) that stand about 2.5 feet away from the counter with signs indicating that to insure privacy, I am not to approach the counter until I am called over. personally, I see a whole deli counter scenario coming on, but as I've said before, I'm a protocol obeying customer. if congress has declared an act about privacy, I'll play nicely.

as a matter of fact, I'm all for privacy, I'm a private person! for example, when I see friends/neighbors at Meijer, I never scan the contents of their cart. Sweet-little-mother-of-two neighbor that lives around the corner could have four cases of Absolut with a side of flavored condoms in her navy-blue metal cart and I wouldn't know it.

so all I'm asking is this, if I play by the privacy rules is it wrong for me to expect other Meijer patrons to do the same? the correct answer is...

one of my youngsters got an ear infection (I believe the pediatrician called it a raging infection). soon enough I find myself standing the required 2.5 feet behind the nylon retractable thing, waiting to catch the eye of a licensed pharmacist or the almost-licensed-lackey. after the appropriate Meijer make-the-customer-wait-time of 3 to 7 minutes, I'm waved over to the counter.

the lab coat attired lackey brings me my amoxicillin, and tells me it's indeed amoxicillin and how to dispense the med. suddenly, out of nowhere to my right I hear, "the name's dillon, I need to pick up my prescriptions." instantly the long arm of the law comes down on the poor fool. the lab coat lackey, whom I have obviously underestimated, half-shouts, "sir, you have not been called to the counter, go back behind the barrier! You are violating the privacy act!" perhaps because the lackey looked like he was approaching 16 and mr. dillon looked like he chewed up and spat out 16 year olds in WWI and WWII, he didn't even bat an eye. "I don't give a rat's a-- about this woman's amoxicillin, I don't care that she gives it twice a day and I don't give a sh-- if she has to refrigerate it!"

so here I am evaluating the score. i'm pretty sure that it's the privacy act that was bested by a Meijer crazy, not necessarily me...tough one to call.

Meijer crazies= 2.0 traci= 2.5 congress= 0

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Meijer and the Thanksgiving Day

first, I want to take this opportunity of wishing all upon this earth a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I love this holiday, ab-so-lute-ly love it! this is one of the two things I look forward to every year. so, I'm always astonished at myself when this most cherished, beloved and anticipated event sneaks up on me!

no joke, last night at 9pm I suddenly realized that I had to prepare the turkey for the smoker in the morning. 9pm! and while I am hastily pulling out the 18.74 lbs. of defrosted turkey it hits me...I have to go to Meijer! aaaggghhhh! my mental list starts to overwhelm me, aluminum foil, mesquite chips for the smoker, grapes (I had a craving), garnish to display around the turkey, lava rocks--again, the smoker, baby wipes, etc. the kicker is this, we had a snow storm last night and the roads looked treacherous. I knew my grocery jaunt to Meijer would have to be put off till morning.

so, much to my surprise, my husband tells me he is going to make the trek to Meijer for me! he purchased all the necessary items and even reported back to me the following: Jessica got pregnant to save her marriage with Nick. missing-in-Aruba-Natalie has called home from Aruba, turns out she's been with the van der Sloot's the whole time, and on this busy Thanksgiving morning there were 8 out of 32 check-out lanes open!

now that would have been a sight, 8 check-out lanes open at the same time, it truly is a day of thanks-giving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Meijer and the little act of kindness

I feel horrible. I see now it was a thoughtless, no--dangerous thing for me to do.

picture it, I'm walking through the meat section of Meijer which is the perimeter of the wine/beer area. I'm searching for the sale on ball park turkey franks and seeing if there are any deals on the oscar meyer lunchables, with the drink pouch and candy dessert. no luck on the latter. I consider asking a Meijer "meat associate" if there is a limit on the hot dogs, but only see the "liquor associate" unloading boxes in the aisle next to me.

I turn back to my cart and start pushing toward the frozen food section when I see her. a very lovely, tall-willowy elderly woman walking toward me. she is the epitome of class, style exudes from her. I wistfully hope that when I reach that age, I too will look as confident and lovely.

she sees me admiring her, I quickly smile and let my eyes flash my admiration of her style. she walks a bit closer to me also smiling when suddenly her smile turns to surprise then panic. the next thing I see are the bottom of her lovely designer loafers (no old-lady comfortable shoes for her).

I watch in horror as she falls, first hitting her backside then her head! a muffled scream of "oh my gosh!" bursts from me as I rush to help her. as I'm lifting and repeatedly asking her if she's okay, I realize that mr. "liquor associate" hasn't even turned to look at the scene, much less offer his much stronger arm.

the poor lovely woman is muttering, "it's slippery, my dear be careful it's very slippery." upon hearing this, mr. Meijer man turns and says, "the "caution slippery when wet sign" is up right there," like this somehow absolved him of showing any concern for the poor woman.

the woman is upright now, she sees the yellow tent-like sign with a graphic of a person in mid-fall. very softly I hear her say, "I didn't even notice, I was looking at her smil...," she cut-off and repeated, "it's very splippery, I didn't even notice." I helped her collect the bits and pieces that fell out of her purse, silently cursing my guilty role in her fiasco. what's the old saying? "no good deed goes unpunished?"

I'm seriously considering not smiling in public again. perhaps that is the true act of kindness.

Meijer and the union-style service

maybe where you live the grocery stores aren't unionized. lucky you. it has been my experience that when a service industry goes union, it stops being a service industry.

besides the deli counter, the only other place my shopping experience comes to a screeching halt is the check-out counter. on this particular day, I had crammed way too many errands in before I had to go pick up the kids from school. Meijer was last on my list, I sped through the usual barriers, had no run-ins with distractions (Meijer crazies), and was on to look for the shortest check-out line.

personally, I think it is cruel and unusual punishment for a grocery store to have 32 check-out bays and only schedule four people to work them at a time. with that said, you can imagine looking for a short line wasn't in the stars. still, I review my options and go for the line that has the fewest people with the least amount of items.

now, because I frequent this store often, I usually like to get in a line with a capable check-out person. they know their produce, they know where the bar codes are to scan, they know that my $12.95 per pound steak is actually on sale for $5.45 per pound. unfortunately for me, I hit Meijer that day on what I like to call, "Meijer's sink-or-swim day," aka, new cashier's first day.

it was a coin toss. do I stand in line with the older cashier waving her hands like the keypad was a hot iron poker, or do I go for the younger, hipper guy looking chilled out. what the heck, let's go for the dude.

I'll admit it. when I'm in line for awhile I read the magazine covers, but only the covers! once at church, this really uptight, zealot guy explained to me that if you pick up one of the magazines and read/skim through it while standing in line, but then put it back, you are actually stealing. "think about it," I recall him saying with earnest, "they're selling words. if you read their words and don't pay for them, you're stealing!" I like to think that I don't pick up a magazine while standing in line because I couldn't care less if Jessica and Nick are partying separately or because I couldn't care less if a woman lost 127 pounds eating chocolate. but, you know...whatever.

so, as all of these honesty vs. dishonesty issues are rolling through my mind, I suddenly realize that my line hasn't moved. I remember when I first rolled into the dude's bay I glanced at the time 2:46pm, now it was 2:56pm. I look to the head of the line to see the same woman looking peevish. she's just staring at my dude, with her eyes wide and mouth shut tight. ahead of me is a foreign (I guessed Russian) woman happily unloading her cart while chatting with her toddler, oblivious to any doom.

I look to dude's check-out light. if a cashier is having problems, or is waiting for a manager the bay's number light will be flashing. no flashes. I look at dude. He's leaning back on the metal divider completely zoned out. of course, I can't stand there all day, I've got elementary kids to pick up! I call out, "is there a problem?" dude lethargically looks at me, "frozen." I'm assuming this means some technology is frozen, I continue, "have you called someone?" "nope, just giving it some time to see if it un-freezes." I raise my ire and my eyebrows, "time? I've been standing here for 10 minutes. should I leave your line?" dude shrugs his shoulders, "do what you like." I choke out a half-laugh, "no," I get louder, "I'm asking you if you know how to fix it or should you close this lane?!" dude sits up a bit on his lounge bar, "I don't know what's wrong, I'm just gonna wait." suddenly, I get it, new- guy with a splash of union. I'm betting he missed out on some break and is now taking his god-given right to a 15 minute melt-down.

now the lady at the front of the line is getting angry too. why she didn't ask these very questions I'll never know--maybe she is used to the deli counter protocol. but the best is the Russian lady. during my conversation with dude, she is watching us as if at a tennis match. I can tell she understands just enough and starts a huffing panic as I and all the other people behind me begin to shuffle our carts, effectively fleeing the infuriating scene. you see, her entire cart is emptied onto the lifeless conveyer belt, her options are nil, she is forced to wait out dude's break time.

so here I go, furious that now I am going to be late picking up my kids. I fly by the other three open bays fixing my gaze on bay #1, the fast lane, 15 items or less. I quickly glance at my cart, oh yeah, there's at least 23 items in there. I pull in, no one in front of me, no one behind me. this next union cashier looks at my cart's items as I start throwing things onto her conveyer. "uhhh, you see my sign?" she asks with a degree of smugness that only comes from false power.

mistake. there is no way I am going to let the union get a point on my scoreboard, not when they've already cost me 15 minutes and a half gallon of melted vanilla bean specks! she shrivels while I explain this to her in a menacing low voice.

as I leave the store I am torn as to how to honestly record this. true, I beat Meijer at its attempt to conquer me via the union, however, I'm pretty sure I crossed over to the "Meijer crazy" side when I growled at the fast-lane cashier. I decide on the only decent and fair solution.

Meijer crazies= 1.5 traci= 2.5

Meijer and the grocery-rage customer

before you get the wrong impression of me, let me make one thing clear: I'm not a hateful person. I see the silver linings, I believe in the common courtesies, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

because I am the above-mentioned, and more, I am a helpful person. I'm a little taller than the average american woman. so, at Meijer, I help the shorter people get the goods from the top shelf. I will lift the 40 pound kitty litter for the 70 year-old cat-hoarder woman. when the "buy 4 cans of corn for $1" display is in the middle of the store and not on the shelf, I will inform the perplexed customers staring at the empty, supposed-to-be-corn shelf. I'm a people helping person.

I guess that's why I am always surprised when I run into people that aren't as altruistic as me. case in point...

not so much now, but about six years ago, the Meijer aisles were very narrow. I would often skip an aisle all together because there was no room for me and my hulking cart. on this particular day I needed to buy some hair color. of course, hair color isn't the type of item that you can reach over and grab on the fly. I have to search for the brand I want, (l'oreal--yes, I believe I'm worth it!) then I have to search for the color, I'm always torn between medium brown and light medium brown (sheesh).

well, I turn the corner to where I know the hair color is located and there before me is a very large woman. now, when I say large I mean six feet tall and about three to four feet wide. LARGE! there is literally, no way I can manuever myself or the cart to look for my hair color. I decide to wait, hoping that the woman's sixth sense will take over and she will know I am behind her waiting to peruse the very section she is looking/screening.

no dice.

I try the cough, nothing. little "excuse me" squeal. nada. so, I go for the pleading, I need help tactic. it goes something like this, "sorry, but do you see the l'oreal hai..." before I could finish my plea to her humanity, this elephantine human wheeled on me, voice box blaring.

"I do not come here to be asked questions! I do not work here, I am not here to help you, I am not here to make your life easy. You move yo-self and your coughs and your questions away from me..."

I know when not to respond. there are some people that you just don't give the withering looks to, you don't roll your eyes at them, and you certainly don't tell them to go to hell.

the noise kept blaring. after the first "I do not..." I quickly turned my cart around, reassuring myself that my grey roots weren't that noticeable.

Meijer crazies= 1 traci= 2

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Meijer and the deli counter crowd

you see, I don't go to Meijer at the same time on the same day of the week. I'm there at all different times, different days of the week. so, I'm always amazed that no matter when I go, there is always a deli counter crowd.

when I grocery shop, I am there to get in and get out. it's almost like a sporting event for me, how fast can I maneuver the obstacles in the aisle? the motorized cart people, the "I'll park my cart in the middle of the aisle" people, the "I'll park my cart on one side of the aisle then position my body on the other side of the aisle and search and search till my heart's content blocking the entire aisle" people.

I'm good at these obstacles, I'm almost brazen you could say. I'm not afraid of moving unattended carts, I have no qualms about squealing cutely, "excuse me!" I can even huff a convincing "honk" when the motorized cart crowd mistakes the forward button for the reverse button. but, my olympiad dreams are dashed when I screech up to the deli counter.

it never fails. there will be five, six, sometimes even seven people waiting at the deli counter each of them obediently holding their take-a-number slip of paper. they hopefully even trustingly look from their paper to the "now serving" sign patiently waiting for their magic number to appear. meanwhile, the Meijer deli staff, perhaps two or three, are diligently shaving the Boar's head or polishing the slicer, backs turned to the silent waiting deli counter crowd. it's like a pathetic lottery, each ticket holder thinking, "maybe today I'll get that Healthy Choice roasted chicken, one pound for $3.99. oooohh, just one pound!"

yep, you guessed it, then I hit the scene. I like to play by the rules, initially. I always go up take my number, peruse the goods behind the curved plasti-glass, then after a moment, I begin. I turn to my right catch the eye of the woman with the next number and ask her in a strong voice, "have you been helped?" this question has a strange effect, some people feel a type of reverence for the deli counter and will whisper a "no", or sometimes just shake their head, almost in shame. other members of the crowd, will be sarcastic, but still quiet, "I wish" is a typical response. after I have determined that the status quo is in effect, I get louder, "we need some help over here!"

suddenly, the deli staff remember that they are indeed at work and start shouting out "now serving numbers" to the wide-eyed, expectant crowd. pleased that I have once again kept the wheels of capitalism turning, I step back and smile when satisfied customers give me a nod and a wink.

Meijer and the elderly's wisdom

a few years ago, my toddler son was sitting in the basket part of the cart. I moved our cart off to the right of the aisle, wanting to read some ingredients--gotta check for MSG! Anyway, my son stood up to see what I had in my hand, when to the surprise of both of us, loud screeching filled our ears.

"don't you dare cry!" I heard. a very old woman and her comrade shuffled over to our cart, finger a-waggin, "don't you dare cry when you tip out of that cart" she shoved her wrinkled, angry shouting face into my horrified toddler's face, "crack your head open, break your front teeth and go blind from all the blood filling your eyes!"

thunderstruck at what just happened, I was silent for a moment. the old woman and her companion turned to me, both nodding their head at me, like they had just done me a huge favor--worse than that, like I was in cahootz with them! my toddler looked to me not sure if I was in on this nightmare, looking to me for...something!

surrounded by surprised onlookers, I took a deep breathe and using my "outdoor voice" stated, "please stop shouting at my son, turn around and walk away." the old harpie was mortified. the know-it-all grin slid from her face and the companion pulled on her arm, trying to help her lick her wounds.

there is soooo much that I will put up with in life--so much that I am willing to chalk up to old age, underage, human frailty, immaturity, etc. but, I've decided that no one gets to mess with my children's minds and feel smart and smug doing it.

when the she-devils shriveled away whispering how the younger generation doesn't appreciate the years of wisdom, blah,blah,blah, I turned to my son, his fear gone and a look of gratitude that I will never forget.

Meijer crazies= 0 traci=2

Meijer and the do-gooders

my infant son and I are walking down an aisle when suddenly someone leans very close to my ear and says, "I buy those too, gotta watch my waistline." I jerk back a bit to see a 45+ year old woman smiling at me and tapping her belly. I notice that peeking from her nearly zipped jacket is a homemade, felt, lavendar-colored heart-shape with the words "Jesus loves you and me," written in purple glitter glue (why is it that I immediately assume people are insane when I see such trite messages, is it the glitter glue?)

Anyway, I nod as I'm walking away in the opposite direction down the aisle. I realize as I'm turning the corner that she's still talking to me. I ignore her. I turn into the next aisle searching for bread, crackers, lost in thought, when I hear, "he is very cute! So precious." Now, if I said she stated the word "precious" like Gollum in LOTR you would know I was exaggerating, so tone Gollum down a bit, and there you have it. Again, I nod and smile as I'm pushing the cart away from her. I decide not to push my luck and skip the next TWO aisles, surely I'll be safe from her prying eyes and hair-raising Christianity.

I'm lost in my search for TP, not realizing that the once bustling aisle is now empty--I hate the 1-ply! I blame myself for getting so wrapped up in reading the fine print for the elusive 2 ply. Once again, I hear, "He is sooo cute, haven't I seen him somewhere before." Then she arches her eyebrow and says in a loud, knowing way, "Haven't I seen YOU somewhere before?" For some strange reason, I understand her implications--she thinks she's seen me and my son on a milk carton or missing child mailer!

I feel a panic feeling rise up into my throat, suddenly trying to figure out how I'm going to prove that my son is my son and we are not on the run! If necessary do I show the police my stretch marks? Do I recount every minute of the six hours of labor for them? I'm not a photos-of-every-family-member-in-the-wallet kind of person, so I can't even produce a poignant scene of my son and I hugging and laughing.

Back to my stalker, she starts looking around for someone, when I finally decide to end the madness. "I just have one of those faces, I get that a lot." I say with curtness and a pinch of false laughter. And for some reason, I pull out my phone, give her a meaningful glare and start to dial the phone. My bluff of calling someone (who would I call the police?) worked, or perhaps she was a Luddite, afraid of the technology god that the cell phone invokes.

Meijer crazies= 0 traci=1

Meijer aka the Fish Bowl of Human Nature

it seems strange doesn't it? 

that someone would dedicate their entire blogsite to their experiences at a grocery store? 

you see, a good portion of my week is about making grocery lists, driving to the grocery store, walking around the store collecting my various needs and wants, waiting in line to purchase my precious cargo then watching them get mauled in a noisy plastic bag. 

I am at Meijer a lot. 

things seem to come up during the week that warrant yet another trip to the store.

but I digress... this site isn't just about the mundane task of shopping for food. no, it's more about human nature both good and bad, and for some reason why and/or how i get mixed up in it.