Every day for lunch, I go to the same grocery store and eat at the same food bar. It’s enormous, but the healthiest fast food around. Unlike most groceries, this store has no aisles. No aisles, you say? Yes, instead the store is laid out in a twisting, maze-like pattern that resembles one of those lazy river inner tube rides found at water parks everywhere. The ones where you slowly drift with the current down the manmade swimming pool river, twisting through bends, until you come to the congested pool at the end. From outside the motion-controlled doors, future consumers are lured with the sight of abundant, free samples of donuts, cakes, pies and cookies, just beyond. The shopper, helpless to resist the force of this current, is pulled inside. Rather than inner tubes, shoppers are presented carts designed to buoy them through their food gathering voyage.
This photo was taken without a fisheye lens and captures only a small portion of their bake-atorium. Where are the shoppers? It’s certainly a publicity photo because they’re always there, playing bumper cars with their carts.
The lure of free samples proves too great, and the shoppers are helplessly propelled into their journey through the store. Once the river has been entered, it is impossible to turn against the current of newly entering shoppers, themselves drawn by free samples.
No proper 21st century suburban shopper can endure a shopping ordeal without their requisite cup of coffee. The river’s current draws shoppers deeper into the first bend - the coffee bar. Just as babies are insecure without their in-mouth pacifiers, adults are insecure without their in-hand coffee. Once stimulants are added to glycemics, things begin to go awry. Shoppers now have turned predatory. They’ve entered into their frenzied food gathering state. There is and eddy at the deli counter which prompts anxiety among those trapped in it. Just beyond, a shopper’s frenzy may become so acute that they temporarily lose awareness and abandon their cart in the middle of the flowing river, creating a dam for those trapped behind. But the free samples of pomegranate juice induce a euphoria that keeps them drifting on.
Grocery store architects are astute fishermen. I’m certain the grand finale was well researched and planned: At the end of the store’s long and winding river of food, one can find the largest food bar imaginable. Foreign visitors need to look no farther to collect their snapshot of our American culture, than this food bar.
Don’t get me wrong. I like it and eat there every day. Whatever your diet, they have it, including vegan foods. I think there are eight types of chicken wings. I like rice, and there’s usually six types of rice (brown, white, saffron, biryani, fried & wild). Chick peas? Yes, there are five stations with recipes featuring chick peas. It’s all there, in prolific, exuberant, decadent abundance.
To get lunch from this food bar, I initially joined with the others at the beginning of the lazy river. With them, I floated along the store’s current til I reached the feeding grounds, at the end. One day as I selected the barbecue salmon for my styrofoam plate (not to be confused with the mango salmon, the salsa salmon, the ginger-infused salmon, or the honey-glazed salmon), it spoke to me in an urban voice, “Yo Bro, take a swim upstream to get where you want to go.” Poetic, indeed. Then the yoda-like voice of the teriyaki salmon gurgled, “Efficient to travel backwards, it is.” Thank you salmon dudes.
Each day now, I swim against the current.