My perfect time for grocery shopping is early morning, very early morning, preferably in darkness. Gliding into an empty parking lot, sauntering up and down empty aisles, perusing fully stocked shelves without distraction is heavenly.
But even at 6am I might not be the only shopper and if I spy someone I'll take a detour to avoid them. I mean, who wants to say "excuse me" to reach the salad dressing when you're the only two people in a vast store?
On the graveyard shift there is usually just one cashier open, her solitary light gleaming like a beacon in a long line of empty lanes. I march steadfastly past, aiming for the self-serve checkouts, (those admirable inventions which cancel the requirement to speak to a human). There I am master of the electronic interaction. I know the codes, the weighing options for the fruit and veg, the loyalty points system. They hold no fear, only pleasure for me.
Susan's ideal time for grocery shopping is Saturday afternoon, preferably before a public holiday. I've explained the folly of this plan numerous times and to her credit she does understand. However she arrives at my apartment hot and bothered, with tales of barging through crowds, elbowing old ladies out of the way and kicking old men's shins to get to the Brussels sprouts.
But she seems to thrive on the cut and thrust, the bobbing and weaving between slowpokes. No matter that Saturday afternoon means picking over the remnants of limp lettuce, soft tomatoes and brown bananas; discovering that the amazing flyer bargains are sold out, and having to park at the distant reaches of the parking lot where the crap from the old snow pile has congealed underfoot.
Susan likes to hurry round the store but it's so busy there aren't even any carts left. She is swinging a hand basket (which she likes to tell people to go to hell in), tsk-ing amid the crowds of buffoons who have no idea where they are going or what they are looking for.
Now there's an ample woman shuffling along in slippers which don't leave the ground, leaning on her cart for support. She's hogging the middle of the aisle, making passing tricky. (Why did you take that shortcut down the cookie aisle Susan? You know it makes you mumble obscenities.)
At long last her little basket holds the few forlorn items she could calmly and happily have bought in the wee small hours. Terrified of technology, she averts her gaze from the thinly populated self serve lanes and heads for the manned checkouts, heaving with shoppers and overflowing carts. I hear this time and again, "I always pick the wrong lane!" Well, observe the cashier. Avoid the plump male with sausage-like fingers; that way lies madness. He will be on the phone to his supervisor for help with half the items in your cart. At least go to a lane with a middle-aged female cashier who doesn't seem to be talking much to her customers. Watch those nimble fingers; gauge if she's a seamstress in her home life.
Even then Susan's problems might just be starting. The till roll runs out (see, you forgot to look for the tell-tale pink lines on the receipt roll during your lane assessment!) Someone tries to engage her in bland conversation, "Cool out today." She grunts a nothing reply and pretends to study her phone. Now the man ahead is suddenly smelly, the cart handle is teeming with germs, the cashier is reaching for the phone, a customer is patting his pockets searching for his wallet. It's hell on earth. I know. I've been there. Meantime the self-serve lanes are empty, serene and inviting.
Suzie puts herself through this nightmare and tells me how dreadful it was. She knows I hate the experience equally so when I nod sagely in agreement and gently remind her I do my shopping differently, she punches me in the arm with the strength of a prize-fighter. Ouch!
(Seriously, those cart-leaners, don't you want to poke 'em in the eye!)