A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Every New Yorker worth his or her salt knows that Fairway is not for the faint of heart.
Preparing for a grocery shopping trip is like preparing for battle. You must carry only the necessities you can fit in your pockets. Once there, move quickly and act decisively. Stopping to linger over a nutrition label or a questionable tomato could result in injury. One must always be alert, for vicious elderly people lurk everywhere. Non-elderly, too, but it’s the older ones who are the meanest foes. They’ll push you and poke you in the back with their carts, body check you without a thought on their way to the olive bar, and verbally assault you until you agree that somehow, they do deserve to be ahead of you in line because they had planned to get there before you, but they were still cross-checking the prices on two brands of shredded wheat.
And if the other customers don’t kill you, the employees will drive you mad. They cut shoppers off without warning with giant dollies stacked high with inventory. Ask someone where something is and you get either a completely incorrect or fictional location, or an angry shrug as if to say, “What? You’re asking me? Buzz off.”
This experience is a fact of life, and I’ve always seen it as such. Funny, absurd, stressful—sure. However, not worth lamenting for its inevitability.
My attitude changed recently, when I took a trip out to Westchester County and visited a brand new, bizarro Fairway. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself as I walked through the doors and was immediately greeted by two cheerful, smiley people.
“Welcome to Fairway! Please let us know how we can help you!” They said through impossibly wide grins.
I backed away from them in confused fear. “What do they want?” I whispered to my suburban companion. “Why are they being so nice?”
We continued through the spacious produce section and found ourselves at a display of free samples. The nice old lady handing out the tiny sandwiches explained each of our options to us, maintaining eye contact and providing detailed information as to each one’s content. Then she did the same for the next people to arrive at the table. As we moved along and approached the bakery, a random employee smiled and said hello as she walked by us. The man behind the bread counter chatted familiarly with the woman ahead of us in line, asking about her day as though he…cared.
“What black magic is this?” I asked aloud. My guide just smiled and led me through the enormous, well-lit, well-marked aisles of food, taking me past the decorative mountain of coffee beans and through the enchanted maze of artisanal seasonings and house-made mozzarella cheese. She told me of the time that she commented to the deli guy on the roast turkey looking underdone. Without a word, the turkey-maker himself came out, retrieved the bird and brought it back to be cooked more. Shocked, she said, “but that’s just my opinion, you didn’t have to do that!” The deli man said, “well, you’re the customer, right? Your opinion matters.”
I swear to you, I’m not making up any of this.
A sliding door of sorts was opened to me, and I’m not sure which reality I prefer. Our Fairway now has designated people who won’t bite your nose off. They stand around the store wearing buttons that read, “Ask me, I’m friendly!” Know what? I’ve never asked them anything. Sometimes when things are made too easy, we get lazy and complacent. If I shopped at that Fairway, I would never learn where the paper plates are on my own (in a tiny corner behind the express check-out line). Customers would be meandering around the giant aisles in a moony haze. Much like a beach vacation, it sounds really nice, but after a week or so I’d go a little batty.
That’s right. I just compared a suburban supermarket to a beach vacation. I don’t get out much.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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