The Grocery War

I hate the grocery store.

In our house, Stop & Shop is referred to as The Evil Empire, and couponing is considered a noble form of guerilla warfare which predates the extreme couponing reality TV shows of last year. We’re taking money out of the pockets of the Empire, right under the nose of the yellow-shirted storm troopers who patrol its aisles.

If we manage to use the circular, manufacturers’ coupons and stack those with one of the Evil Empire’s own coupons, it’s a well-planned attack and we’re giddy with our victory. If we do all that while getting the reusable bag discount and obtaining gas points, that is a direct hit on the Death Star and we dance as we wheel the spoils to our car.

We could stop going, I know that, we could choose a new way to get our food, but we use that store for a variety of reasons, so I’ve decided to deal with my hatred and wage my little coupon war. It makes me feel better about all the money we’ve spent there over the past several years. There’s one thing my war doesn’t make me feel better about: Being at the store.

Nothing raises my ire more than being in Stop & Shop, pushing a cart, while people careen up and down aisles without looking where they’re going, children scream, slow-moving old people cause pet aisle traffic jams and three ladies all park their carts right in front of the mayonnaise I want and gossip for half an hour. I get especially murderous in Produce, where the management has, as a cruel joke, put three digital scales out for all the customers to fight over. As if we weren’t already hip-checking one another to get at the produce itself. There’s always some poor ancient husband staking out one of those scales while his wife roves Produce, collecting cabbage and squeezing grapefruits, and the poor guy has to guard the scale from the rest of us until she comes back to weigh it all at once. The whole experience makes my inner monkey screech and bare her fangs, and sometimes I hide in the health food section and gaze upon the gluten-free cookies to calm myself.

To keep my criminal record clean, I’ve decided to find an hour when our grocery store is not crowded, and shop then. It’s been a seven-year mission, and I still haven’t found a good time slot.

Here are my discoveries thus far:

From 9 to noon: parents with small children and over-flowing shopping carts/senior citizens who all know one another and want to catch up.

Noon to 2 p.m.: parents with small children/senior citizens/harried people on lunch break who are hungry and trying to shop for the week in 15 min.

2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: College kids, just getting off campus for groceries/parents with older children/high schoolers who’ve come in to chat with friends who work at the store.

4:30 to 7 p.m.: People who are getting out of work and have suddenly remembered that they have nothing to eat in their homes. They are hungry, frustrated with traffic and furious if they so much as see a coupon produced by a person ahead of them in the checkout lane.

7 p.m. to late: College kids, in various stages of disrepair.

Back when our store was 24 hours, I used to shop in the middle of the night, but there were a lot of drunks at those hours.

I still haven’t explored before 9 a.m. on weekdays or random times on weekends. I am convinced that someday I will find the sweet spot in the grocery store schedule and will find an hour when it’s just me in the store. It will be a major coup in my campaign against the Evil Empire.