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Grocery store is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey

Mushrooms. I needed mushrooms, and mushrooms were all I needed. It was my night to cook, and I wanted to make spaghetti because we’ve eaten chicken approximately 11 consecutive nights at my house. We’ve done that because the members of my family have developed “dietary restrictions” over the years to the extent that we are down to approximately three dishes that we can agree on, one of those being chicken prepared about a dozen different ways.

My spouse gave up beef years ago and will only rarely eat pork, while my son will not eat any kind of fish other than fish sticks. I am not entirely without blame, since I have never been able to stand any kind of cheese other than cheesecake. And I can’t stand tomatoes. The comedian, George Carlin, once observed that there is something wrong with the inside of a tomato, and that’s exactly how I feel anytime I see someone slice one open to put on a sandwich. It just doesn’t look fully formed. So, cheese out, tomatoes out.

One of the few things left we can agree on is spaghetti — yes, you can make it with chicken.  I like to make the sauce with portobella or shiitake mushrooms and knew we didn’t have either, so I’d have to run by Food Lion, just a quick in-and-out to grab one measly container of mushrooms.

I figured the whole shebang would take about five minutes, but when I arrived, I was stunned to see the newly paved parking lot at near capacity, with cars lined up all the way up the hill. Was I stopping by a local grocery store to pick up shiitake mushrooms on a random Monday evening, or had I somehow entered a time warp and landed in line for a Beatles concert?

My general rule of thumb about big crowds is that I despise them. But now that I was in this impossibly long line, which was very slowly grinding up the hill toward the entrance like a rollercoaster at Six Flags, I thought I might as well follow through. We were out of mushrooms, fish sticks, and those big cans of chicken noodle soup. I wasn’t sure about our cereal situation.

Maybe I’d get some seedless grapes, too, or some Bosc pears. Maybe a bottle of wine. Or two. It looked like I’d have time to drink one of them while trying to navigate the throttled aisles and then waiting in one of the serpentine lines at the checkout registers. My five-minute pit stop was shaping up as an hour-long odyssey.

I finally made my way into the parking lot — or at least a “fringe area” —finding a spot approximately three miles from the entrance to the store. I could probably have walked home from where I was parked faster than walking to the store. Whatever, as my daughter would say. I could use the exercise, and by now, the procurement of these mushrooms had become a hero’s journey. I wasn’t buying mushrooms — I was on a quest!

Inside, there were very few shopping carts left. Shoppers swarmed in every direction, playing chicken with each other, jockeying for position among the picked-over produce, trying to exercise patience and remain polite when some frazzled lady was taking 15 minutes to decide which jar of pickles would be best for her tuna salad.

I was almost to the mushrooms when I heard somebody say it, the magic words that unlocked the mystery of why Food Lion should be stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey on a random Monday night.

“Calling for snow tonight,” a man said to a woman, apparently a neighbor who was taking advantage of a sale on Hamburger Helper by shoveling box after box into her cart. “Probably won’t amount to much, but the kids are excited, hoping for a two-hour delay at least.”

That’s what I was experiencing now — a two-hour delay, or close to it. But at least I knew why. The first forecast for snow, even flurries, every year sends the county’s residents scrambling to grocery stores to stock up on milk and bread, the two most essential building blocks of any snowstorm survival kit. I’m more of a Pinot Noir and bag of Dove’s chocolates guy myself, but to each their own.

 I knew my son would already be armed with a fully-informed, excruciatingly detailed forecast the moment I walked in the door. Name a human being with a more intense interest in the weather than a public school student. Let the weather turn cold, and suddenly they’re transformed from recalcitrant little rogues into newly-minted meteorologists, almost chipper if the forecast is for treacherous weather.

When I got home, my son nearly pounced on me like a jungle cat. He was brandishing his phone, that fount of all things, great and small.

“Well, dad,” he began. “I hate to inform you that the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for Haywood County. According to the most recent weather models, a steady rain will turn over to snow sometime around 5 a.m., continuing until 8 a.m. I would say the cancellation of school tomorrow is inevitable, wouldn’t you?”

Because I’m his dad, I am required by the laws of nature to temper his expectations, and to tease him to the point of exasperation.

“Maybe a couple of little flurries flying around when you wake up,” I said. “I wouldn’t count on having a day to drink hot chocolate and play video games just yet, old buddy.”

“Come on, old man,” he said, really frustrated by my reluctance to get on board with his enthusiasm. “You haven’t seen the forecast and I have. I saw a few minutes before you got here that almost all the stores in this area are already out of bread and milk. By the way, did you get fish sticks?”

“No, but I got the mushrooms for the spaghetti sauce,” I said. 

“Dad, you know I hate mushrooms, right?”

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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