Quiet Desperation

Check out groceries, human scenery, and emotionally


“Place the item in the bag.”

“Place the item in the bag.”

How many times could you hear “Place the item in the bag” before losing your mind?

This is an ode to the 21st-century American grocery store.

Before there were the grocery stores we are familiar with today, there were general stores and “mom and pop” stores.

General stores might sell bulk foods, like soda crackers, and feature only two or three flavors of ice cream that had to be hand-packed.

I shopped at a mom and pop grocery store at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles when I was in college.

The owners were always there, stocking shelves, sweeping, or working the register. I got to know them by name during my freshman year, but a year later, I moved and began my lifelong relationship with major chain stores.

The closest I have come lately to a mom and pop is in my favorite Colorado town, La Veta.

Charlie’s Market has been family owned and operated since 1937. You can get anything you need, and there’s even an old-fashioned ice cream counter.

I should probably move to La Veta and get this over with.

This rat race. This Interstate 25. This madding crowd.

The population of La Veta is around 800, and about half of them are artists.

I am close enough to walk to two major chain stores. There are a few convenience stores nearby too.

And they are always populated with a wide variety of characters that could fill a Fellini movie.

I see families. Four, five, six, seven, eight. I guess it’s an education. (It’s an education for those of us who have to shop around them.)

I see high school kids, usually clusters of girls or clusters of boys, generally giggling, buying junk food, and giggling.

Grocery shopping now comes in many forms.

You can still do it all yourself, or you can sit in your car and have someone shop for you. You can even have groceries delivered to your front door.

In the store, you have the option of having Kerri check you out, or checking yourself out.

If you check yourself out, you will hear “Place the item in the bag” after you scan every item, unless, like me, you simply mute it, which can be done on the screen in front of you.

Kerri has been working at the grocery store near me for a long time. She always has a smile on her face. I couldn’t do it.

I would last less than a week if I worked in a grocery store. It’s mayhem.

Last week I found a half-gallon of ice cream in the soup aisle.

Opened and half-eaten sleeves of cookies. Popped and consumed pop bottles.

Carts and people blocking aisles. It’s a field day of inattention.

But. A grocery store is a beautiful cornucopia.

I have seen Depression-era documentaries, and inevitably I count my blessings. I can get in my car and drive to a grocery store in minutes and buy everything I need and everything I want, at affordable prices.

One more thing: If there’s a firetruck parked out front, it means firemen are shopping, and that means there are appreciative women who are “shopping.”

And that’s always fun to watch.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

Craig Marshall Smith, groceries


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