Octogenarian Fest

August 2, 1999

Today I went to the supermarket. I will not be including a list of items purchased, it would be too humiliating. Suffice to say Hostess products were purchased.

Anyway, my abreviated, jury duty serving schedule permitted a mid-afternoon trip to the store. Which store? Ralphs. I hate Ralphs. If you live in Los Angeles, though, unfortunately your choices are very limited. Ralphs, Gelsons, Ralphs, Lucky, Ralphs, Vons, or Ralphs.

I used to be a devoted Hughes shopper. Then Ralphs bought up all the Hughes. The selection shrank. Employees became disgruntled. Prices increased.

About three months ago I stormed out of my local Ralphs (OK, the four supermarkets close to me are all Ralphs so they're all local), leaving a half full cart in the middle of the bread aisle. There was no Roman Meal Sandwich Bread, for the second time in as many weeks. It's freakin' bread for chrissakes. I swore I'd never return.

I went home, grocery-less and proceeded to write a very nasty e-mail to Ralph himself. I expounded on all the things that were wrong with the store now that Hughes has become Ralphs. My favorite lady behind the deli counter--the one that gave Zoe jello or turkey breast every time we went in--was gone. I couldn't find meat that wasn't going to expire 20 minutes after I got home from the market. Same with the milk. The produce was pathetic. They no longer carried the regular grocery items I needed. The prices were higher. The store seemed dirtier. All together not a letter from one of their happier consumers. About three days later I got a form letter back. It went something like this:

Thank you for shopping at Ralphs. We take all customer comments seriously. We will do nothing about any of your requests. We will be raising prices. We will be further limiting our selections. We will be firing all long-term employees and replacing them with less expensive, less knowledgeable high school kids who can only work from 3-5 on odd-numbered days.

So the boycott was on. (I still have not been back to JoAnn's btw.) I was never ever going to go back to Ralphs. I've boycotted many products or services in my day. I have very good resolve and will cut my nose off to spite my face.

I tried Gelsons a few times. I was paying almost half again more than Ralphs, but it wasn't Ralphs. Then they started some heavy duty remodeling and construction at my closest Gelsons and the parking was a nightmare. Don't charge me twice as much and not let me park too. So I tried Lucky. Every Lucky, with the exception of the one on Ocean Park and Lincoln in Santa Monica is disgusting. Back to Ralphs I went. But, I wouldn't use my club card so they wouldn't know I was there. That lasted exactly one visit because damn it--if I was going to back and shop there I was going to give them as little money as humanly possible.

OK, so off to the market I toddle this afternoon. I figured I'd try a different Ralphs. The one a little farther away and a little pricier but generally well-stocked.

Normally, midweek, mid-afternoon you'll find me in a climate controlled high-rise in Downtown Los Angeles. Today I was in a supermarket surrounded by what had to be every senior citizen in the San Fernando Valley. Median age of the shoppers was 80, brought down by me, and two young mothers with toddlers.


At one point a woman stopper her cart in the middle of the aisle, crossways, and proceeded to put some laundry detergent in the cart, then sort through her box of coupons and otherwise organize her cart. She completely blocked all traffic, in both directions, for a good three minutes. I was the only one who cared enough to pass. I waited patiently. For a minute or so. Then I cleared my throat. Another minute passed. Finally I suggested that if she move her cart over slightly she could free up the complete bottleneck she'd created. It was fully another minute before she did so.

The Health and Beauty Aid aisle was pandemonium. If I hadn't been desperate for leave-in conditioner I would have completely bypassed this aisle. They were four deep around the milk of magnesia. Carts hither and yon. Willy nilly blocking aisles. Then one of the more senior seniors left with someone else's cart and she had to go running after him. OK, maybe not running but she was certainly in pursuit.

They are building a new Gelsons closer to me. As soon as that store opens I'll be shopping there. Just not in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.

Until next time. . .