Everyone told me to avoid Trader Joe’s at weekends because it was too crowded, but I didn’t listen to them, just like I ignored people who advised me to take warm clothing to Britain in August because it would feel chilly after Italy. I don’t know if this is down to my delusional optimism or lack of imagination (though that never seems to desert me in a stalled underground train). The fact is, I see such people as naysayers, the sort who always think the the glass might be half empty.
So, a couple of Sundays ago, against everyone’s better judgement, I popped down to pick up a few groceries. It’s fifty blocks down from me, but worth the bus fare for its good, affordable produce in this eye-poppingly expensive city. When I first arrived in New York I was so alarmed by the price of fresh fruit that I bought one pear at a time.
Joe’s is situated just in front of 72nd street subway station with an entrance so small and unassuming you might miss it. Inside an escalator takes you two floors down to the subterranean shopping area. It’s a bit shabby, as a lot of stores outside the main tourist drag can be, but, unlike other retail outlets, it seems to have concentrated all the available bonhomie in the city into its cramped premises. This impressive recruitment policy is for a very good reason: the supermarket is so popular, and space so limited, that almost as they step off the elevator, shoppers have to be ushered into a never-ending line, Disney-style, around the aisles and towards the checkout, choosing their purchases on the way. The movement of people is accomplished by enthusiastic assistants, holding signs saying ‘The end of the line is HERE’ or ‘Not long now!’ or “You are 5 minutes from the checkout’. Assertively, they urge you to ‘move right on down’ or ‘close it up a little folks’ so that the line proceeds in a timely manner. In order for this system to work there is a unspoken agreement that shoppers will cooperate, and apart from the odd abandoned trolley, most people are philosophical.
So, could Sundays be any worse than other days? Reader, it was gridlock. As well as the samples of warm lasagne strategically offered half way along the line, extra lollipops were handed out to reward us on the home run. I exited double-bagged, in the nick of time, just as an orderly line was forming outside the entrance in 72nd street.