Tag Archives: shopping

Rice-a-Roni

people on the sidewalk with umbrellasInitially we debated whether to stay up or sleep for three hours, because our flight left at 5:56AM from an airport an hour away. We suspected we had lost our minds somewhere along the way, and then opted to sleep.

For those out there not so educated on this, hearing a clock alarm blare at 3 in the morning is like having a woodpecker attempt to find sustenance in one’s right ear. Definitely not the left ear, and if you feel that, you should call your doctor quickly. I stood up, not sure why, teetering just a little, because I suspect I was only using my lizard brain, waiting for things like my frontal lobe and memory of self to come online.

Susanne was more than happy for me to take the first shower. She’s a clever one.

I remembered to step into the tub, which was orders of magnitude more intelligent of me than I had been just 30 seconds earlier. I knew I was getting on a plane, although I still wasn’t sure why. By the time the water had hit my skin and I realized I needed greatly warmer water, I could recall every second of my life again.

San Francisco, Susanne’s politics wonk conference. My time to explore a place I’d never before seen, but had heard about for years.

It’s mythological, legendary, about lots of people, but certainly for people who have “teh ghey.” Would it be a nonstop Folsom Street Fair, with nary a stitch of clothing because everyone was decked out in leather and rubber and spandex? Would I see lines of rainbow flags, heralding in ships to the Bay? Was there a gay trumpeter? There had to be a gay trumpeter.

I jest, but some of this wondering is serious. When Susanne and I took a weekend trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2006, I told her to expect a lot of gayness. I’d grown up across the Delaware River and hung out there a lot in high school, usually around the record store and a short line of shops next to the river. I was there for the comradery of friends, true, but I noticed that there were a lot of references to this alternative lifestyle, as I remember it being called then.

Susanne told her friends about our upcoming trip, and one of them who was also from the area, remarked that she’d never noticed any such thing. She was kind enough to stop short of saying I was making it all up, but I’m pretty sure she thought it.

room in new hope, PASo we showed up at the bed and breakfast that was around the corner from the main thoroughfare, The Wishing Well. The manager greeted us with bear hugs and a high-pitched, “Hulloooo! Welcome to New Hope!” He went on to tell us, excitedly, that we were the first guests of the day and if we wanted, we could sneak around the house to check out all of the rooms before settling into ours.

“But of course, you’re in the nicest room,” he said, practically gushing, “the Cathedral Room!”

Before I knew it, I had oohed. I looked at Susanne. Her jaw hung open a little, as she took in the lovely aura of the B&B. The gay aura.

We unpacked and freshened up a little, and still being a new couple at the time, took some time to check each other’s breath. And then we walked to the first cluster of stores. One was charmingly named Suzy’s Hot Shop, so of course I beseeched Susanne to pose for a snapshot, which she was kind enough to do, even as she gave me a withering look, eternally now captured on film. We decided to check out the store.

The proprietor was happy to have customers on what was still a frigid day, and she apparently needed more human contact than she was getting, because she went on about her girlfriend and their two dogs for what seemed like half an hour. We bought a small bottle of Ecuadorian tabasco sauce, and waved goodbye.

“Okay, it’s a pretty gay town,” said Susanne. Next up was a chocolate shop, the man behind the counter flitting and making a happy fuss to show us the freshest chocolates he’d just made that morning. He only seemed bereft of a feather boa, and he could have gone through half the music of La Cage Aux Folles* for us.

We shopped through a few more places, coming back to our B&B for a rest before dinner. I asked our host for recommendations. He led us to The Raven, a fine dining establishment. Many potted plants set near tall mirrors lined the walls, and the two-level dining room was decked out in many, many flower centerpieces and long white tablecloths. We looked around at the diners and it was as if we’d taken the Hot Tub Time Machine to 1976, East Village. I think everyone in there was gay or lesbian. They seemed mostly segregated, the women with each other and the men likewise, although there were a few daring sort who had gone for a mix at their tables. And they were all, every single one of them, over 40. We took our seats and enjoyed a fine, if not fantastic, dinner, a little on the edge of being over-gayed or gayed-out. For those who don’t know what this is like, one wants in these moments, usually, to find a traditional gendered outfit that is also mature or even dowdy (because a pink frilly dress won’t do here), and some country music sung by a man about a woman. Or one could simply make a trip home and all feelings of gay freedom will cease immediately.

But we weren’t quite there yet. We were still amused and to some degree, in shock. I had said the place was gay. I hadn’t say it was a gay explosion.

So I’ve always thought, I suppose, that if New Hope is gay, then San Francisco is sequin-squirting, pink frilly lei, Cher and Madonna GAAAAAAAY. Having gotten to the end of my 30s is as good a time as any to find out, I figured. How nice for Susanne’s discipline to select this city as this year’s conference site.

This, all this, was why I was standing in an off-temperature shower at 3AM. To see if I could surpass New Hope.

We put ourselves together about as well as two people can on three hours of sleep, and I plugged the iPod into the car so that I’d have something other than engine and road to listen to as I drove through utter darkness to the airport. We parked in the long-term lot which is laughably 10 feet and a fence from the short-term lot, and dragged our bags up to the security checkpoint. The TSA officer asked if I needed any help putting my toiletries into a quart-sized bag, and I showed her my pre-made bag. We must have been the only regular travelers that morning, because she visibly relaxed. I wondered if there was anyone left who hasn’t flown post 9/11.

I found out the answer almost immediately.

We boarded our flight, setting our bags on the rack next to the Canadair regional jet, and took our seats, neither of us caring that our necks didn’t like sleeping while sitting. A woman came on after us and clearly had not flown often in her lifetime, and most definitely not in the last 8 years. She had sixteen questions for the stewardess, blocking other people who were trying to board. She sat in her window seat, next to a woman who clearly had difficulty getting up and down. Five minutes later she had another question for the flight attendant, so she got up again. And then she sat down again. And then she got up again, this time to take the open seats behind us. I pretended to be asleep.

Right before we landed in California she tugged on my sleeve from behind. I had actually fallen asleep, apparently.

“Yes,” I asked.

“We’re so low but we’re still over water,” she said anxiously.

“It’s okay,” I said. Again, I wasn’t really in full control of my faculties yet.

“But why,” she asked. She looked mid-30s to me, but maybe she was 6. Maybe she was Benjaminette Button.

“It’s a water approach,” said Susanne, and Susanne is so nice you really have to know her to know she sounds annoyed.

This woman clearly had no idea what water approach meant, and probably figured it meant we were going to pull a Hudson River landing on her.

“The land will start before we touch ground,” I said, smiling so she knew we should all remain calm.

“Oh.”

That little bit of inanity over, we grabbed our bags and cabbed it to the hotel. I saw a sign for San Jose to our south. The song played in my head for the rest of the day.

And now, I’m off to see just how gay this city really is.

*As an aside, I saw La Cage Aux Folles with my mom and sister when I was 15, and I was just amazed that they could get Joan Rivers and Cher in the same performance. And then my mom told me they were all men, and blew my little mind.

Scooting my life away

motorized scooter

motorized scooter

If the local trip to the grocery store was a frustrating success, then our next venture out, this time to Costco, an hour’s drive away, was a comical catastrophe in slow motion. Susanne dropped me off at the front door and I crutched in, showed my ID, and hopped onto the scooter. This one seemed a bit more worn out even at first glance, its grip bars rubbed thin of vinyl, the green-red light that indicates battery power totally absent–as if to suggest to patrons that AT ANY MINUTE you could be stranded at the back of the store, in the produce room, where you could quickly freeze to death as you weakly called out for help from the indifferent staff.

 

Judging this book by its cover, I was proved correct. The hum from the battery was low and strained, and I trudged off at about 1 mile an hour. I didn’t wait for Susanne, figuring that she would quickly catch up with me by the time we rounded the electronics and jewelry counter at the front of every Costco store. Sure enough, she looked at me, leaning forward and looking for a riding crop, and giggled. I needed the store to be downhill, somehow.

You know you look ridiculous when little old ladies see you and laugh, pointing in your direction. I attempted to look serious while perusing through the fiction titles, but I don’t think I pulled it off. Adding to the silliness of it all was a 2-foot long chain of lint and dust that trailed behind the scooter like a dirty “Just Married” string of cans. I had, I guess, my own rattail for the device.

We made our way through the store, the battery hum slowly decreasing in pitch, attempting to forewarn me since the battery light was no longer with us. Susanne would collect anything I had put in the crooked metal basket and put it in her shopping cart because she didn’t want me to be weighed down by anything else. I trudged oh so slowly to the front of the store after we’d made our purchases and plugged the yellow beast into the wall. Suck the life into yourself, I told the machine. Good breath in, bad breath out.

I stood there waiting for Susanne to pull the car up, then decided what the heck, I could crutch out there just fine. A little boy saw me and asked his dad if he could get some black sticks, too. Apparently they’re the new Razor, and WAY cooler than battery-powered scooters. But this kid probably never saw the scooters at the Oddfellows House in Walla Walla. Those people’s scooters are pimped out!

In search of tomato paste

Sitting around one’s home when one is working 40 or more hours a week feels like a luxury. Sitting around one’s home as if that is a 40-a-week job, well, not so much on the luxury side of life is that. As Yoda would say, if Yoda were unemployed and hanging out after knee surgery. Wait a minute, I may be mixing metaphors here.
The point is, getting out of the house (nay, the living room, for that matter) becomes a bit of a thrill, no matter the reason for the departure. Thus it was that going to the local grocery store in search of tomato paste in a tube was akin to something like seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time, or getting on that jet to Disney World.
I hobbled out to the car on crutches — the kind that you slip your forearms into and we motored to Albertson’s, which is the grocery that carries a strange mix of food staples and unexpected gourmet items, such as the tube of tomato paste, and imported items like PG Tips tea bags. Albertson’s has one of those battery-powered carts, so I put my crutches in the basket and began following Susanne around the store like a robot dog or Roomba. It even beeped in reverse, which for some reason Susanne did not find amusing in the slightest. I even got an “okay, now, stop that,” from her.
It was a strange contraption indeed. You had to aim perfectly for the produce bags, and then figure out, using trigonometry, how to then get to the specific produce item desired. So if the broccoli crowns were, for example, 16 inches behind you, you could:
1. back up and beep after checking your blind spots
2. attempt a tight K-turn
3. make a yaw maneuever before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere
I also discovered that the scooter had the smallest turning ratio I could have imagined, being nearly able to circle around a quarter on the floor. Not that I could reach the quarter. But I could drive around it in a strange technology-based attempt to be all territorial about it.
We weaved our way through the store, me trying not to knock things over with my crutches in the basket, Susanne gathering up the items on our list. They were out of the tomato paste, much to our frustration. Also frustrating was the realization that people weren’t seeing me, a 300-pound guy in a bright yellow scooter, and I had to stop suddenly more than a few times, lest I run over some toddler or ram into a special display of Multigrain Cheerios. It was a convenience, the scooter, but it also was like entering a new world, and as a tall person, I wasn’t used to seeing my world from this vantage point next to the quarters and the floor, and yet, there I was.
We were in the checkout line, finally, and I realized I didn’t really know when one got out of these things. Before checking out? Just after? Was there a protocol? I got up and crutched out to the parking lot, and heard, distantly, a small child call out to his mother: “hey, I found a quarter! Cool!”

All around the town

There is a Safeway grocery store at R Street and 17th Street NW that the locals call the “Soviet Safeway,” specifically because it typically has near-empty shelves, next to no variety of goods (why do we need 67 kinds of potato chips, anyway), and startlingly bad service. (Side note about the service there: it’s never going to get any better as long as it’s staffed by disaffected hipster youth who are more interested in writing bad poetry about their job than in ringing up customers, but somehow my side note has become an inside joke, for those of you who’ve heard the poetry at Mothertongue.)

At any rate, there is a distant cousin of the Soviet Safeway here in Walla Walla. If you want a can of pinto beans, for example, your options will be the following:

1. dented Safeway brand of pinto beans with no clear expiration date for 99 cents

2. undented can of Goya red kidney beans for $1.59

3. undented can of Progresso pinto beans for $2.79

In other words, it’s all about tradeoffs. How much do you really want pinto beans, buddy, the shelves seem to ask. I could go for the dented can of beans, paying the price point I’m most comfortable with (we’re talking BEANS here), but running the risk that they’re spoiled, or worse, that they look fine but we’ll all get dysentery after the meal. I could go for the kidney beans because aren’t we being too picky to act like they’re all that different from pinto beans? Or I could throw financial caution to the wind and blow nearly three bucks for the “fancy” beans, but will anyone care or notice? Will they eat whatever the meal is and say to themselves, “well thank God he splurged on the Progresso, or I’d have to have refused this dreck.” 

The very fact that I have to put this put decision-making time into so pithy a purchase is slightly maddening. But then again, I’ve got time on my hands.

Now there are other options for grocery shopping in Walla Walla. There’s the “fancy Safeway,” across town, which really means it’s another 10 minutes of driving time. There’s the Super 1 Foods, that has pretty good produce at pretty high prices, and there’s the Albertson’s that has a strange mix of obscure and high end products (like our favorite tomato paste in a tube) and sudden gaps in product areas, like no flour, for example. There is also the Seventh Day Adventist grocery store, Andy’s, that sells no meat or meat products. Having spent a good ten weeks now trying to figure out which store to visit for which kind of item, I have developed a complicated algorithm, factoring likelihood of finding the item, distance to travel (even between stores), probability of liking the price point, and freshness factor, when that is in play (read, dry pasta gets a null value here). I think I should patent this formula.

But let’s all guess here, on the following — what do we think is for sale at this location?

 

The Bi-Mart

The Bi-Mart

Bi-valves? Bicuspids? Anything bifurcated? Bisexuals? Or maybe it’s for bisexual shoppers only, like that bookstore in Provincetown, Massachusetts, that will give any customer who says they’re a lesbian a 10 percent discount. (No, you don’t have to be a lesbian, you just have to say you are. Hey, it’s 10 percent!) Anyway, I could go inside and find out, I suppose, but I’d like to collect some guesses first.

The break in the clouds happens at the mountains

Last day in Seattle included a run to the tourist section of Pike Place to get some Dilettante chocolates. Oh, they are so good, even if the service there is a tad worse than spotty. Go ahead and serve them with a frown, I’ll be a truffle-eating monster later. Plus, one Seattle kid being semi-hostile is still nothing like the open disdain and service of frustration one receives in most of DC, so these folks don’t actually impress me at this point. I’m sure I’ll reset my service parameters at some point and then the trips to the big cities out here will leave me shocked and confused. But for now I shrug them off. I shrug you off, mean chocolate lady!

We stopped in at Lush right after, which was amusing for the fact that another staffer at Dilettante was in there complaining to the Lush staff that Chris Rock had come in for a mocha and decried the bad service there and stormed out.

See? It’s not just me. Even CELEBRITIES suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous service there.

Lunch was nice, consisting of a big bowl of brown rice and spiced lamb.

 

Bowl-a-Rama lunch

Bowl-a-Rama lunch

Tasty, and $7.50 to boot. DC could use more little shops like that. So could Walla Walla, for that matter.

We passed by Barneys which had the oddest little window display I’ve ever seen. Feel free to offer opinions and analysis on this:

 

The train is coming at Barneys

The train is coming at Barneys

Okay, what is up with this? Also notice the tormentor — a woman with a villain mustache. So beware the transgender person? Or, we had to mark her as the evil one in this picture because the guy tied to the train tracks with the oncoming engine wasn’t enough to clue us in?

And why is there a pump bottle of soap on her head? 

Barney, Barney, Barney, you’ve gone a bit off the rails yourself, haven’t you? Must be that constant comparison to the annoying purple dinosaur.

We went out for dinner later at Ray’s Boathouse in a completely different corner of the city, and the fish was truly amazing. I ate my weight in mussels for the first course, which were drenched in a spicy tomatoesque bisque, and had a sweet fillet of sablefish atop grilled baby bok choy and delicate rice. Oh, eating quality seafare is so nice, even if it means Susanne has to miss the fun. But I’ll keep it to a minimum, since I do enjoy my dining partner more than what I’m eating.

A quiet evening when we got back, I got up in the morning and chatted with my friend who was hosting me for this trip, and said goodbye to her adorable feline. Found Susanne at what seems quite a patchwork of an airport, and we headed back to Walla Walla. As sure enough, we left the clouds behind as we passed through the Cascades again. Note to Washington State Transportation — your road sure is pretty, but can’t you make it quieter? I’m getting hearing loss making this 290-mile trip!

 

Kiwi the Cat

Kiwi the Cat

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