Sunday, July 20, 2008

12 Items or Less: THG's Supermarkets of Note

While The Hungover Gourmet is vacationing we bring you some pieces written for other publications and other items from the archives. The following piece appeared in Aj Michel's one-shot, 12 Items or Less: A Grocery Shopping Zine.

When I was growing up, every Saturday morning was spent the same way. Hopping in the car with ma and doing the "Supermarket Circuit" up and down scenic Route 130 in South Central New Jersey. Bet those words conjure up just the right image — a seemingly endless stretch of seedy motels, strip malls and pre-fab shopping centers, each with its own supermarket. My mother had no allegiance to any one store and she'll still go out of her way to save five-cents a pound on London Broil or double that manufacturer's coupon on squeeze mayonnaise.

Nearly thirty years later, I still love supermarkets but can easily have my allegiance swayed by the addition of a nifty gadget or doo-dad. As evidenced by my Benjamin Arnold-like desertion of longtime fave Acme Markets. Their stores were nothing special and, frankly, I think they pump something through the air vents so you fight the urge to try any other grocery stores. My better half convinced me to give the local Genuardi's a try and it was love at first sight. Screw the better produce, coffee bar, and superior generic items. Genuardi's has an express lunchmeat ordering system right inside the door! I would breeze through those automatic doors and feel so, well, 21st century as I ordered up pounds and pounds of turkey breast, roast beef and white American cheese, sliced just the way I like it! Screw around in the aisles for a few minutes, swing by the deli counter and there it is! Like a pillowy, meat-scented present just ready for unwrapping.

Sigh. There are no Genuardi's where I live now. That was a hard concept to grasp when I first arrived here in Charm City, but one visit to the local SuperFresh convinced me that there were other futuristic gadgets worth their weight in gold, too. The 'Fresh won me over with two words: Self Checkout. No more interacting with people. No more having toiletries placed in the same bag with lunchmeat. And better yet? The coupon scanner doubles those manufacturer's coupons that say "Do Not Double"! Does life get any better than a doubled manufacturer's coupon on a sale item that's also BOGO?

BOGO? That's the last holdover of Pittsburgh in my bloodstream. It means "Buy One Get One" and was always on grocery store marquees there. As if saying all four words would delay black & gold lovers from that important work they were doing. Hands down, Pittsburgh grocery stores were the worst I've ever been subjected to. Where else could a chain called Giant Eagle be known around town as "The Dirty Bird"? Ugh. Each store had a stench that got into your hair and clothing, a mixture of rotting vegetables, raw chicken, and those big buckets filled with animal parts that are normally discarded. Best Dirty Bird moment? The woman who was told she couldn't buy shrimp and filet mignon with her food stamps, so she used her boyfriend's bail money instead. Man, I bet he was pissed.

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