Grocery Shopping at the Shangri-La

There’s a meal I make, a thing I do in the slow cooker with chicken thighs and leeks, that everyone in my family loves. I’d make it once a week if I could, but I can’t. The leeks are the problem. They are hard to come by in our little town. My husband asked about the leeks one afternoon while shopping at our Kroger, and the produce manager said they didn’t sell well.

I was in Rome, Georgia the other night for my daughter’s fencing lesson. I had nearly two hours to kill and a desperate need for groceries, so I decided to do some shopping there in our neighboring city.

You know that scene in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape when Gilbert walks into the Foodland supermarket for the first time? Or the way the kids in Willy Wonka reacted upon seeing the inside of his chocolate factory for the first time? That was pretty much me in the Rome, Georgia Kroger.

The Rome Kroger carries leeks. Of course they do. Organic leeks, even. That is just the start of it, though.

There is an olive bar at the Rome, Georgia Kroger that is larger in square footage than the bedroom of my first apartment. The olive bar is manned by a professional I’ll call an “olive bartender,” and his sole occupation is to scoop, weigh and tag olives for costumers. How can I describe to you the extensive selection they offer? It is really more of an olive museum than a kiosk. Green olives. Kalamata. Olives the size of key limes. They have them mixed into quinoa salads and ground into tapenade. Stuffed with garlic cloves, jalapenos, chunks of okra, and goodness-knows what else. The people of Rome, Georgia – they love olives, I guess.
(So I took a picture of the olive bar. So what?)

On the wall south of the olive bar, Kroger has mounted a slushie machine. Four flavors. And it is a self-serve slushie machine, so you could make a suicide slushie (were you to be so inclined).

There are tables of bread, racks of bread, between the olives and the deli. Baguettes the length of baseball bats. Focaccia studded with garlic cloves. Little multi-grain loafs dusted with oats and caraway seeds. Name a variety of bread. They have it. Made fresh this morning!

The bakery is as tricked out as any you’ve seen on the food network. And the selection! They make cannoli right there on the premises. They have little ramekins of creme brulee and platters of madeleines. They have tiramisu cut into individual pieces, their layers reminiscent of a science project I made as a child – a model of the layers of the earth.

The seafood department has a lobster tank. The lobsters’ claws are bound with rubber bands, and the rubber bands are color coded; blue rubber bands, if memory serves, were caught (raised?) in the US, and red rubber bands were from Canada. The citizens of Rome, Georgia; they demand multinational shellfish.

I observed my fellow shoppers. I judged their clothing and eavesdropped on their conversations.

Most of the women my age appeared to have come directly from yoga. One such woman was hurriedly shopping for dinner and arguing with her daughter, and the daughter had the most fantastic name. I wish I had written it down. Prairie or Canyon or Outcropping. Something like that. The child was begging for cookies.

“Canyon,” said the yoga mother, “we’re not here for cookies and that is the end of it!” Probably she didn’t want her daughter to eat something so high in sugar and devoid of nutrition, but I like to think the mother just wanted her to hold out for something better. Freshly-prepared cannoli.

I saw that a few customers had filled up their carts with crap like Hungry-Jack biscuits, boxed mashed potatoes and 12-packs of soda, and I thought to myself, what a disgrace! Why aren’t these people getting olives and baguettes? Why are they loading up on soda when the store sells not one, but three different brands of coconut water?

While enjoying a beautiful display of hubcap-sized cheese wheels, a man approached me. A store employee. A guy in a tie. I thought he was going to ask why I had been taking pictures of the olive bar, but instead he offered me a ticket and said that in five minutes the store would be giving out free gifts on aisle 19. Of course they are! I thought. I thanked the man for the ticket, impulsively picked up a seven dollar wedge of Stilton, and headed over to aisle 19.

While crossing the store, I saw a refrigerated case of kombucha, and my grocery store envy flared. I don’t want to drink kombucha or anything, but still… It would be nice to have the option.

In the distance I noticed a red-headed woman whom I thought I recognized. A PRN respiratory therapist that sometimes picks up a shift at the hospital where I work. Does she live in Rome? Lucky duck. I reflexively looked into her cart to see which sort of lobster she and her family would be enjoying this week, US or Canadian, but she had not gotten her lobsters. Not yet. Her cart contained only the banal sort of items one might get at the Calhoun Kroger. Yogurt, batteries and frozen peas. (Yawn.)

I approached aisle 19 and saw the gentleman that had given me the ticket. He had set up a folding table there between the toilet paper and the paper towels. I stood shoulder to shoulder with several other shoppers and waited for my free gift. I was given not one, but two free gifts, as this was the last product demonstration of the day. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The first gift was a small flashlight, batteries not included. The second gift was a magnet for the dishwasher. The magnet is to be turned up or down to indicate that the dishes were either dirty or clean. My family and I – we, for years, like suckers!, have been opening the dishwasher and looking at the dishes themselves to determine whether or not they were clean. No more.


In the fifteen minutes of my time that this gentleman had purchased with the flashlight and magnet, a product was demonstrated. Some kind of gel-filled pad meant to be applied to the back. There was a little disc in the gel, and when you snapped it, the gel heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The marketer said it was great for back pain. I don’t have back pain (thank goodness), but the other shoppers got out their wallets to buy the gel pad, so I guess they must. Bless their aching backs. And all the olives and coconut water in the world couldn’t wouldn’t help. Everyone had problems. Even people in Rome, Georgia. Even Canyon’s mother.

I had a blast regaling my family with tales of the nice supermarket in Rome – the store we would be frequenting if only we’d put our roots down 30 miles west. My daughter loved the magnet. Couldn’t believe it was free. My husband said, “What is the deal with the fancy cheese?”

“It was just pretty,” I answered. “I bought it because I thought it was pretty.”


19 Comments on “Grocery Shopping at the Shangri-La

  1. Bet the girl was called Parody.

    I was brought up only a few miles away from the town where Stilton is produced: Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. And, believe me, it doesn’t travel. When I moved to London, only 100 miles away, I sometimes tried to buy a good wedge. But even Stilton from Harrods food department was never nearly the same as Stilton bought in Melton Mowbray and carefully transported a few miles. The texture, the blue veins, even the smell, they just weren’t quite right. And Melton Mowbray pork pies, well, there’s and eassy or poem somewhere there.

    Buy and eat local is the motto I would like to pretend is mine. Here in the south of Spain it’s easier than back in England, but we can’t do it with everything.

  2. I shop at Ingalls now. I don’t think we’ve discussed it yet. But it is because I’m pretentious and they have gobs and gobs of organics. And a self serve granola/nut bar. And so many many cheeses.

  3. 1. You can grow leeks in a pot on your front step. The seed packet costs about a dollar and will last you five years. That’s a lot of slow cooker slow dances.

    2. “…a thing I do in the slow cooker with chicken thighs and leeks….” This line had me doubled over in hysterics but I am a sick and twisted individual.

    3. Sounds like Kroger and Whole Foods had a baby in Rome, Georgia.

    4. You look voyeuristically down into other people’s carts? How Dr. Phil.

    5. Not to burst your bubble or anything but the main reason those people bought that back gel was because they were primed by free gifts. It’s a common and effective marketing ploy. It establishes a sense of obligation and indebtedness in those who rate high in conscientiousness, makes the stingy feel they have created a financial surplus for themselves (something for nothing) that they may now spend at liberty, and just plain lends credibility and trustworthiness to a total stranger (what a nice young man, giving me a free magnet) who may spend that trust by convincing you to buy something you never intended to purchase. It’s why charities send you those free greetings cards and decorative stamps in the mail, unbidden, along with “suggested donations” letters. Makes you feel like the ball is in your court now, you Grinch, you.

    I wrote an extended response to someone on WordPress that addresses some of the subtler layers of emotional manipulation that both marketers and friends use most–you may recognize someone you know in there:

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