Five minutes before I close my shop, the phone rings. I dread these last minute phone calls for advice or worse, last minute favors. I am tempted to let the machine pick up. But I am still open for 5 more minutes.
"Good evening, CRUM Cycles."
Most of the time these calls are last minute requests for a tube, information on a ride, etc. But tonight it is the dreaded "wife wants something from the grocery store" call. As soon as I hear her voice, I know my simple commute home to a warm hearth and fuzzy slippers has now become another foraging mission. Sometimes it's but a simple trip to 7/11 for a quart of milk. But tonight's mission is a dangerous excursion to the grocery store. That 40,000 sq foot battleground surrounded by a 10 acre minefield they call a parking lot.
She never asks me to pick up something easy either. It's always something obscure that we do not have at home in the standard bulk containers she favors. A specific type of baking powder, a certain yeast, or odd healthy tidbit bound to taste as bad as it sounds.
Resigned to a dangerous mission, I pump myself up on the way. " I am the hunter in this clan. It is my duty to drop the carcass at her feet. I will not fail." These words still echoing in my mind, I plan my approach. Having done battle here before, the lay of the land is all too familar. A full on frontal assault is out of the question. In order to accomplish my mission and still be home for Jeopardy, I must be elusive and fluid. I plan a flanking maneuver that will safely land me in the side lot where the loading dock is. If there is a spot within 100 yards of the front door, it will be here. Securing my assault vehicle, I reveiw the mission's objectives and realize I have forgotten the list. That itemized set of objectives I will now have to hope I remember. This throws my plan out of whack and with a sinking feeling in my gut I deploy anyway.
Dodging carts and harried women with kids in tow, I weave my way through the entrance and into the too bright foyer. Stopping a second to collect myself, I begin to run the layout through my mind. A cart hits me from behind, knocking me to the side. "Please do not block the entrance", a friendly voice reminds me. I turn and realize that I was lucky. A train of 30 or so empty carts is being rammed into this throng by some kid barely able to peek over the top of the carts. I wonder at how someone so small can be so nonchclant in an enviroment so dangerous. But then I realize they are part of the danger. One of the many traps and hazards known to exist in this no man's land.
I look around for one of the Hubby buckets. Those little baskets with 2 flip metal handles all the husbands use for these last minute supply runs. Big enough to hold a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and maybe some cold cuts. I grab one and enter the traffic flow into the depths of this beast.
Knowing I only have to actually hit the baking section, I head right to it. Going against the flow of right to left, I encounter and disrupt several cart folks. One wheels around the end of an aisle on 2 wheels and I have to jump out of the way as the little woman glares at me for obviously being a bonehead with no sense of direction. Whew! That was close. I peek around the end of the aisle and take a quick look and then duck back. No, not that one. Again, a quick look to see if it's clear and I jump to the end of the next aisle. A peek assures me this is my aisle. I make sure no carts or bands of lady thugs engrossed in coupon swapping are hanging out or on the move. It is clear, so I head down the aisle looking for something baking related to key in on. So many things to look at, my eyes do not see any of it. Like the picture of a mob scene, picking out one face you recognize is near impossible.
It is on my second pass, that I find the baking section. Now I have to rely on my memory of the quickly written list to pick the right product. Uh, she wanted baking something. Baking powder? Baking Soda? And which type? I can't remember which, but I know there is a big difference. One is for smells in the fridge and the other is for baking. I grab one of each. She had also mentioned yeast. Damn! Must be 10 different kinds. My body language must be broadcasting my distress. I hear a voice behind me say, "What kind of baking are you doing dear?" I turn around to a kindly wrinkled face wrapped in tight blue hair.
"I dunno. I wrote down what she wanted and,"
"Forgot the list," she finished for me with a twinkle in her eye. She continues, " Do you know what she is baking?"
Instead of putting on the gruff exterior, I immediately cave to her obvious superior knowledge regarding things baked. She has the uniform, the years of wrinkles acquired in a lifetime of bake sales, church socials, and keeping many rugrats happy with baked goodies from her oven. And from the look on her face, I am sure she has had a dummy or two like me in her life before.
"I forgot. But I assume it is something sweet. My kid is coming home from college this weekend and my wife always does some baking when that happens."
She gently grabs the box of baking soda out of my basket and puts it back. "You won't need this".
Then she reaches for some yeast and says this is her favorite. Always a dependable rise when she uses it. I throw it in the basket. "To be safe, since you say it is something sweet, pick up some of this." She grabs some baking sugar and gently places it in my basket.
I am trying to form words of gratitude, but she just smiles, turns back to her cart and throws her shoulder into it to continue on her own mission. "Thanks", I manage. She gives me a smile over her shoulder and continues on her way.
Standing there, relieved this part of the trip seems successful, I try to visualize that damn list I left on the counter next to the register at the shop. Hmm. Was there anything else on it? I figure a quick run through most of the aisles might be wise. Some can good or bright package could jog my memory. As I carefully peak out of the end of an aisle to see if the coast is clear, my eyes settle on this humoungous bag of Beef Jerky. Not the puny sized tease you see at 7-11, but a bag that would surely hurt you if you attempted to consume it in one sitting. My mouth waters and I am under it's spell. I grab it and run.
I hurry through several more aisles and then decide that, since I cannot remember anything else, there must not be anything else. I head to the front of the store to check out. As I approach the cashiers, I count the items in the basket. Way under 11 items. I confidently stroll towards the express check out. Just before I get there, I am rudely brushed aside by that crazed woman who almost took me out earlier. Busting in front of me, she starts unloading a cart of 1000 items on the express belt. I stand there amazed and awestruck. First of all, her attack was flawless, she swooped in like a running back finding the crease. Second, the cashier doesn't even blink an eye. She just starts scanning everything like nothing unusual is happening.
"Uh, Maam", I begin, "shouldn't you be using another cashier?"
Both the evil woman and the cashier look up and 4 eyes bore into me. I refrain from further comment and quietly wait for my chance to pay for my paltry 3 or 4 items. As the woman stuggles to get her overloaded cart moving, the cashier says, "See ya at home 'bout 9:30, okay Mom?"
I smile at the unfairness of Life as the woman rings me up. She asks me what's so funny, I just keep smiling. As I leave the safety of the check out aisle, I am leveled by a fully loaded cart hurrying to the parking lot. Not just a brush by or a riccochet, but a full tilt, high impact knockdown. The affair with the cashier had caused me to let my guard down. And now I was down, crushed beneath the wirecaged monster and in severe pain. " You oughta look where you're going, son." I look up. Smiling down is that kind ole lady who helped me in aisle 8 with my baking problem. Through the pain all I could do was smile too.