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Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of “real-world” ghost anecdotes. They weren’t stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: “There are lots of supermarkets where I live.” Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I’m all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But…lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn’t. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn’t Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America’s 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We’re right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I’m not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it’s just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It’s not like we’re hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry’s Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I’ve ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like…livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there’s covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don’t want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now…what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we’d pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn’t obsess on material goods. So who’s obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn’t like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don’t want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn’t allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry’s Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I’ve passed through middle age. I don’t like green vegetables, and haven’t now for 63 years and change. Along the way I’ve picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don’t see things their way, well, I’m a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry’s Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.


  1. Jason young says:

    Hear Hear!

  2. Bill Meyer says:

    And yet, the metro areas are a new sort of desert. Atlanta used to have its home-grown Oxford Books, now long gone. We are left to the tender mercies of the Barnes & Nobles of the world. Thankfully, we have Amazon.

    I live 25 miles from city hall, and I find no compelling reason to go into the city. The shops I might have enjoyed exploring are figments of history, replaced by rubber stamp shops free of differentiation.

    Out here in the ‘burbs, we have Asian markets rich with produce, much of which is unknown to grocers. We have Sprouts, at closer reach, and good for less exotic vegetable needs. And for meats, Costco is more reliable on price and quality than any of the grocery chains.

    Yes, choice is good. But not all choice is produced in cities. Sometimes, you need to go even further out, to find a good butcher.

    1. True, true. That said, Phoenix is a bit of an outlier. It has an urban core with a few skyscrapers, and we stay the hell away from there. (We live almost 20 miles away from it. Phoenix is immense.) Most of Phoenix, however, is basically a suburb without a city. Nobody goes downtown unless they already live there. And in the more affluent parts of the city, you have both big box chains (which can be damned useful) as well as quirky local retail. Good small bookstores, peculiar restaurants, even electronic surplus stores.

      Much of this was true ten or fifteen years ago, when we still lived here. However, we lived a long way out back then, 20 miles farther out than where we live now. Going to work only took us to the edge of the city, and we rarely went farther, out of simple exhaustion.

      Agreed on Costco meats, as well as a lot of other stuff. We go there a lot–and this time, it’s only about eight minutes away, up Hayden Road.

      Even the retail clusters at the intersections of two ordinary arteries like Greenway and 64th Street are amazing. I’ll have to do a quick entry on that corner someday.

  3. jim f says:

    I have been in that Fry’s …an amazing place. Nice selection of food kiosks inside too…

  4. Jamie Hanrahan says:

    You’ve obviously never been in a Wegman’s.

    1. As I said on LJ, Carol and I used to shop at the Pittsford Wegman’s outside Rochester NY from 1979 to 1984. Nice store, nicer than most back then, but nowhere near as nice as even a generic Safeway today. My guess is, like everything else, Wegman’s has grown a lot in the last 30-odd years. (We’ve not been to Rochester since 1991.)

  5. Erbo says:

    Fry’s in Arizona is a brand owned by the Kroger Company, the same company that owns King Soopers and City Market in Colorado. King Soopers also uses the Marketplace concept, though those stores aren’t where you would have encountered them in the Springs; there’s one in Arvada and one in far-northeastern Aurora that I’ve been to, and they just opened another one in Parker not long ago. Yes, they are pretty amazing; they’re closer to a Walmart Supercenter than to what you’d normally think of as a “supermarket,” but the feel is more “upscale” than Walmart. They generally include a Fred Meyer Jewelry store up front as part of the layout, and may include clothing and furniture on the sales floor. Sometimes, finding what you want in there can be intimidating!

  6. SpaceBlue says:

    ….a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics).

    Good thing you never had to or chose to live in Utah. Liquor is very tightly controlled by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Nothing other than 3.2 beer is allowed in supermarkets. You want wine or other alcohol? Go to the state liquor store and get ripped off. Want a special wine that you are fond of? Fuhgedaboudit. Dining in a nice restaurant and want an alcoholic drink to go with your meal? First of all, make sure the facility is licensed to dispense liquor. Next, your order will be communicated to a bartender ensconced behind the the “Zion Curtain”, a wall or other divider that shields the customers from the actual process of mixing your drink (can’t have the kiddies and youth corrupted by the enticements of the pretty bottles and method of preparing your drink). Want to take the vino you purchase in the liquor store home? It must be transported unopened in a paper bag that conceals the whole bottle. Corrupt politics? Sure is. Every session of the legislature entertains a bill of one sort or another trying to correct the restrictive laws that govern the dispensing of any alcohol. Always fails, because the legislature is packed with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the “Mormons”. Members are forbidden alcohol, so the rest of us must deal with the draconian laws of the State of Utah if we want an occasional sip of wine. I wonder how many businesses who have considered moving into Utah with their operations have changed their minds since the CEO couldn’t get a drink with his/her meal?

    1. TRX says:

      Arkansas is a patchwork of dry counties, dry towns, and dry precincts. I’ve lived in a dry town most of my life; if you want alcohol, you have to drive to the cluster of liquor stores just past the city limits. So it always looks odd to me to see alcoholic beverages served in a restaurant or on open display in a store.

  7. Tom Roderick says:

    There is a story, how true I am not sure, but plausible, of the utter amazement of Soviet defectors when taken to a rather average American supermarket. Many thought it was one of a kind created just to impress them. On the other hand when they had to deal with getting a driver’s license and registering a car they thought that experience was the one that most closely reminded them of home.

    From my own experience I had greater culture shock after returning from a year in a remote location in South East Asia during the unpleasantness there than I did when I first went over there. Seeing buildings more than a couple of floors high did give me Stendhal’s Syndrome, although I didn’t know what it was called until I just read this post.

    1. TRX says:

      > driver’s license

      I nearly rolled onto the floor reading Victor Belenko’s sccount of getting a driver’s license after he defected to the USA. (it’s in “MIG Pilot”)

      He told his CIA handler he wanted a driver’s license. The handler told him he’d have to study, fill out the application, and take the test at the DMV.

      “Well, fix it then.”

      “No, you don’t understand. We’re only the CIA. They’re the DMV.”

    2. Erbo says:

      The fact that Soviet defectors found supermarkets most amazing was mentioned by Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October (the novel), and he also mentioned he’d based that on a report he’d read about defectors, which means Tom Clancy probably read that same report or something similar.

      1. Tom Roderick says:

        I don’t doubt that the source is the same. I first learned about it in the early 1970 while in the USAF working with some people that probably had first hand knowledge of this.

    3. SteveF says:

      Around 1994 I had tenants from Russia. This was after the USSR fell, and allegedly after the economic recovery was well underway. My wife and I took the tenant wife to a supermarket, when she’d been in the US only about three days, and she stopped dead, jaw dropped, when she saw the produce section. February, and you could buy any fresh fruit or vegetable you liked. This was in a city of about 50,000 in upstate NY.

      Rich country, America.

  8. Rich Rostrom says:

    “I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing…”

    Many years ago, my sister had a brief span in NYC, where she encountered Chinese-Cuban restaurants. They were operated by ethnic Chinese Cubans who were recent refugees from Castro. The food was Chinese-based, but included such Caribbean staples as plantains.

  9. Bruce says:

    In the mid-ninety’s I was working in a warehouse (IT support) that had implemented a ton of automated robotics. Little vehicles that drove around “on their own”, towed trailers with aircraft containers, etc. Really neat job and neat place to work.

    We had quite a few groups come through touring the facility, so various ones of us led tour groups and explained things at times.

    I caught the “Russian Oil Ministers” tour. 20-30 middle aged+ guys, all the head of a different “oil company” in the USSR. Apparently they each had 60-80,000 men working for them, so these were the big boys.

    On the path of the tour we happened to walk past the main breakroom for the cargo guys that worked in the facility. You know the type, tables and a row of vending machines along one wall.

    Every one of those men filmed and/or at least talked about how they couldn’t believe that much food was just available to any old worker.


    Of course the other parts of that tour included the men shoving each other onto a freight scale and laughing at how much they weighed, one guy asking me if we checked for radiation… not the freight, but the building. You know, those average questions we always got 🙂

  10. Bob says:

    You are lucky to be living in a (relatively) business friendly state like Arizona. In my neighborhood in the Silicon Valley, Taxifornia we have just lost two good retail stores, a grocery and drug store. My fair city has a phalanx (I wonder what the proper group noun should be) of onerous laws and regulations from a notoriously corrupt disability and unemployment insurance system to $15 minimum wage, which just proportionately increases the employee costs up the organization. Couple that with insane rents and I am living in a retail desert in one of the wealthiest regions in the country. Go figure.

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