By Niles Reddick
Kroger opened at 7:00 a.m., and normally if I got there when they opened, I got the fresher produce, baked goods, and meats. Of course, I had to walk carefully through the parking lot to avoid slipping on the snow and ice. I had to put my mask on and remember to put my reading glasses on when I was checking the expiration date on the packages before the readers fogged. I learned the trick about checking the packages in the back or on the bottom as their expiration dates tended to be a few days into the future.
I gathered up the spinach, carrots, avocados, apples, and blueberries and headed to the meat area. The area looked dark, there was nothing in the glass case, and nothing I wanted in the display case. They had plenty of pork, but I tried to avoid that because of gout. I did see one of the butchers and asked him if he had any ground sirloin.
“Truck hasn’t come in yet.”
“You have any in the back?”
“No. We don’t open until 10:00 a.m.”
“10:00 a.m.? Why aren’t you open if the store opens at 7:00 a.m.?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why wouldn’t the truck deliver before the store opens?”
“I guess because of the snow.”
I laughed a little because I made it in the snow and didn’t even have a truck. I pushed my cart on to the dairy aisle, where I picked up the butter, cheese, and milk for our teenager. When I got to the bakery and deli, I found some blueberry muffins that were on the bottom that had a whole week before they expired unlike the one on top which expired the next day, so I got the fresher pack and pushed my cart to the deli counter. A lady was putting out fried chicken, and it smelled good, but it was too early for fried chicken, and I was interested in thinly sliced turkey for sandwiches. When she finally saw me, she said, “Hon, we don’t open until 9:00 a.m.”
“Why? The store’s open.”
She shrugged her shoulders. I thought about how I’d broken up with Wal-Mart the month before because when COVID struck, they changed their hours to 7:00 a.m. Before that, they’d been open twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I hadn’t paid much attention to the time, walked inside, got a cart, wiped it down with their alcohol wipes, and headed toward the cosmetics/ drugs/ personal hygiene section when an employee blocked my cart. “We ain’t open yet,” she snapped.
I didn’t correct her grammar. She was way bigger than me and I didn’t feel like she’d understand the lesson. “The door was open, the sign said the store was open twenty-four hours, and I walked past at least five employees who didn’t say a word.”
“Well, the store ain’t open yet. They never changed the sign.”
“What time is it?”
“Five ‘til seven.”
“So, would you like for me to walk across the store, go back outside for five minutes?”
“Well, you can stay, but you can’t check out until after 7:00 a.m.”
“I won’t,” I said. I stayed and shopped, but I decided that it wasn’t worth what little I saved to go there, and when I finished checking out, I told the lady at the door that I was breaking up with Wal-Mart.
“Okay,” she had said. I don’t even know if she heard me, was listening, or cared.
When I went to check out, there were no cashiers. There was one older man at the self-checkouts.
“I have too much to go through self-check,” I said. “Where is a cashier?”
“They don’t get here until 8:00 a.m.,” he said. “You’ll have to use one of these.”
First, I needed my glasses to read the screen, so I pulled the mask down below the bridge of my nose, so they didn’t fog, and prayed COVID was elsewhere. Then, I scanned the items and bagged them, but when I turned the bag holder to get to the next set of bags, the machine scolded me: “Make sure to scan your items and place them in the bag.”
When all four bags were full, I cleared space in the cart and put those bags in the cart, his tired eyes checking every move I made as if I were a common thief. The automated voice from the machine repeated: “Make sure to place the items in the bag. Make sure to place the items in the bag. Make sure to place the items in the bag. Press if you need assistance.”
“Can you please turn this annoying machine off before I knock the hell out of it?”
“I’m sorry. The manager has to do that and she’s on a smoke break.”
I’d seen this “manager” before. It gave new meaning to the expression “Good help is hard to find.”
I tried to block out the voice, found what looked like a cut in one of the Gala apples and handed it to him and said, “I don’t want that one. Someone’s cut it. Might be poisoned.” He set it aside, and I knew once I was out the door, he’d put it back in the bin and someone would purchase it, or he might add it to the ones they have prebagged so customers can’t check them.
I paid with my debit card, pushed the cart out the door, and realised I would need to go slow on the snow and ice, but I had no idea how difficult it was to push a cart through ice and snow. Plus, I had to walk past the empty handicapped spaces and the new and empty pick-up spaces before I got to my car halfway across the parking lot. I had noticed some of the other stores, banks, and even restaurants had cleared parking lots with snow plow equipment, but Kroger hadn’t. It bothered me they didn’t care much for the safety of their customers to do more. I wondered if anyone else noticed.
Later that afternoon after my nap, I wrote an email to their customer service and got an automated response. The next week, I got a form letter with a $25.00 discount coupon off my next week’s shopping if I spent over $200. We’d never spent over $200, and I’ll bet they knew that, too. If they keep raising prices to pad corporate salaries and taking advantage of the little people, even collecting donations for charities from customers and getting a tax a break for those donations, I’m going to have to break up with them, too. I’ll jump on the bandwagon, “go local”, and plant a garden, just like my grandparents did before capitalism spread like a cancer and made everyone dependent. In the meantime, I plotted how I might use the $25.00 discount and keep my tab less than a dollar over two hundred. I also figured I could tell my neighborhood association, my Sunday School class, and everyone at work how they could get a $25.00 discount, too.
Niles Reddick is the author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, across twenty-one countries, and in over four hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/
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