The Love of a Grocery Store

The great thing about trailer-life food shopping is that it is exactly like stationary food shopping. 

Even when we’re traveling between gigs, we make coffee in our coffee maker and we drink that coffee from our favorite mugs as we prep our normal breakfast in our every-day kitchen. We never have to resort to awful road trip, rest stop food. We buy perishables and keep them in our fridge where they stay cold while we drive. It is far more delicious and economical than trailer-less road trip food.

But--the terrible thing about trailer life and food shopping is that travelers can never fall in love with a grocery store.

Have you been in love with a grocery store? I have, and it’s a special kind of love.

My grocery store was called Harvestime and you can still visit it in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago. Harvestime had the best fresh produce at dizzying low prices. They had a very large spice selection with dried herbs that I had never heard of before. The pre-made food didn’t taste like airy corn syrup, as most supermarket food does. The guacamole was not 50% mayo. The baklava was hand folded. Harvetime food tasted like it was crafted with love by someone’s greek grandmother. It probably was.

It’s true that Harvestime didn’t always have every item available—they might not be carrying broccoli or strawberries at the moment and they had very few brand name dry goods—but anything on the shelf was fresh and economical. Sure, it was disappointing when they didn’t have an item on my list—I really love strawberries—but then I’d think how weird and science fictiony it is to buy strawberries in December. Harvestime installed solar panels on their roof. It is the grocery store of the future.

Paul would like the record to show that his grocery store love is Wegman's, and that summing up his love for Wegman's deserves its own entire blog post.

All this, and yet—I didn’t always do my shopping at Harvestime. I lived only 2 blocks from a yawn-worthy, chain grocery store. It was so easy to run over there after work and pick up something quick for dinner. I was lucky enough to live in an area where I could walk to 3 different grocery stores. Running out for milk could take less than 10 minutes, door to glass poured.

That life is over.  In trailer life, the 10 minute grocery store trip is no longer possible.

As travelers, we are always wandering about in a strange new grocery store. We have shopped at Ridleys, Frys, Sprouts, Albertson’s, Winco, Smith’s, Price Chopper, Aldi, Food Lion, and the Grocery Outlet (abr: GroceOut). We never know where they keep the coffee. We can’t find the canned olives. Once I had to describe for a clerk what hummus looks like so that the clerk could help me find that hummus.

Some towns have really nice grocery stores with great prices. Tucson had a spectrum of cheap, fancy, and organic grocery stores that were all close to our campground. Idaho markets are further away and their stock is more limiting. It's best if you get to the store early. That way, you can snag the fresh stuff and seriously increase the life of your lettuce. Whatever the grocery situation may be—for a full time traveler, that situation will change in a matter of weeks.

In Chicago, I had a mental map of my usual grocery store. Even with a long list, I could get in, stock up, and get out quickly. We knew the brands of pasta we liked and the items that were guaranteed to be on the shelves.

On the road there are no short grocery trips. Planned menus have to be flexible, because—surprise—this place doesn’t carry pita bread, fresh dill, sesame oil, etc. Even for the basics, it’s a guessing game. We don’t go to any store often enough to remember how they organize their products. I have spent 45 minutes wandering the isles with only two items on my list. As a result, every shopping trip is an arduous adventure.

Is grocery love worth it? Yes! Of course! Love is always worth it! But as travelers, the pay off never comes. Before the bliss, we’re in a new place. The produce is now on the far left of the store. The cooler section is brightly lit and disorienting.