Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Three Krogers

There's a popular meme afloat these days that reads something like, "I'm at the place in my life where running errands counts as 'going out'." I think that if we were all to be honest with ourselves, this is actually the case for many of us, particularly since the Covid lockdown. But there's a grain of truth to this adage, in that we really don't have to explore too far to satisfy our need for a shot of dopamine from time to time. If you're not familiar with that oft-mentioned neurotransmitter, Psychology Today provides a succinct and accurate definition of its effects: 
Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your search for information
This is true; indeed, one needs look no further than the nearest grocery store to get a dopamine fix. Now, that's crazy, you say, but honestly, when you grab that last shopping cart and enter those automatic doors, don't you feel a little rush seeing all that food right there in front of you? Of course, you do. 

For some reason, in our area of north suburban Atlanta, we have three Kroger supermarkets within a two-mile radius. We refer to them by nicknames, and so they are "Kroger 3000", 1.5 miles from our house, so named becuase it is located at 3000 Old Alabama Road, "Scott Road Kroger", 1.4 miles away, and "Rivermont", a veritable field trip at 1.8 miles down the road. (There is a Publix thrown in there, and that's a good thing, because they have the best prices on pet food.) All these stores have been in business for at least 15 years. You'd have thought that at least one of them would have closed, but instead, two of them have been totally remodeled in a somewhat post-apocalyptic style, while the third retains its bright, cheery personality. The first two can reduce the dopamine flow a bit, but then you see the Cheez-Its, and it shoots right back up there. 

I was fortunate to marry a lady who is an incredible cook and baker, so I'm often sent on shopping trips, and to be honest, I don't mind that at all, since I grew up in the grocery business and have always had something of an interest in it. Since I quit working full-time a while ago, I actually find myself at a store several times a week, and every time I'm there, I find something that either fascinates or appalls me, sometimes both in one trip. Who can say that's not excitement? 

Some years ago, when Scott Road was built, the designers included animated figures above several of the departments. This was endlessly fascinating to children and to more than a few adults. A cow mooed above the dairy section, and a nearby chicken let out a happy cackling sound as eggs descended beneath her, each accompanied by a happy slide whistle sound. When Scott Road was remodeled, many of these animatronic wonders were silenced, casting a pall over an otherwise lighthearted shopping experience. I mean, it had been like being at Disney, but for a lot less money. 

I always appreciate the spontaneous joy that is sparked by produce misting. There you are, looking for turnips, when suddenly, you find yourself in a suburban rainforest, closing your eyes and basking in the gentle, refreshing mist, all while other shoppers look at you as if you have ingested a big bowl of peyote. Produce is general is exciting, because it's so unpredictable. You can have been at the store on Tuesday morning and seen beautiful fresh green beans, but when you return at 5:30 PM, along with all the "happy" shoppers who are stopping by on the way home from work, all that's left of said vegetables is a sad assortment of wispy green strings which appear to have been used in the filming of a Walking Dead episode. It's a very temporal thing, produce is. 

Speaking of, the most difficult item to find in any of our Three Krogers is shallots. A few weeks ago, my wife sent me shopping with a list that I thought (and that's the operative word here) included them. I recalled from an earlier visit how hard they had been to locate. What I didn't really pay attention to was the fact that she had asked for SCALLIONS. Despite the fact that I'm an over-60 male, I do know what scallions are, but having this bizarre fixation on shallots instead, I desperately asked a produce employee if they had any scallions. He looked at me quizzically and then pointed to a bin no more than 15 feet away and said, "Scallions? Those are green onions. They're right there." And I knew, right then and there, that he was laughing at me. Of course, I knew what scallions were, I thought. Was I losing my mind? No, I told myself, I got them confused with SHALLOTS, which are nigh-on-impossible to find. It's a mistake anyone could make, I told myself.

One particular factor that added a bit of challenge to the otherwise engaging activity of grocery shopping during the Covid era was the forced redirection of customers up and down the aisles in such a way that they would minimize contact with each other. At each of the Three Krogers, and also in The Publix, removable tape was put down in each aisle, indicating the direction traffic was to flow. I liked this, because it seemed to avoid traffic jams among shoppers, and to some degree, it minimized the sudden about-face that someone does when they realize that they've forgotten something farther back down the aisle. Not that I have ever been guilty of that, of course. When the tape was removed, all hell broke loose, and now you have to stand your ground in front of the peanuts in order to avoid getting sideswiped. 

So honestly, I think there's something to that meme I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Years ago, I had to drive all over Atlanta to satisfy my need for urban exploration, but these days, I only need drive less than two miles to experience a rush of dopamine. I try to park in the same area in front of each respective store, so that there's no gotta-find-my-car stress when exiting. Truly, I feel the joy sparking in a way that would make Marie Kondo proud. 

By the way, I think one of the reasons that overhead chicken isn't cackling any more is because her eggs are selling for over $5.00 a dozen. But that's another post. Ciao.