We’ve having tacos tonight and found out late that we didn’t have grated cheese. I set off to our local, neighborhood market.
It’s an odd place. Way back when we moved in it was an Alpha Beta, part of a long-gone but very large chain in the Southern California market. At some point (google it) Alpha Beta got bought by Ralphs (which has now in turn been bought by Kroger nationally, but is still Ralphs here in SoCal). Our store was converted and we referred to it as the “RalpahaBeta” store.
Being an older and smaller store, located off at the corner of a couple of tertiary cross streets, I think its fate was obvious when the merger took place. Nevertheless, it stayed open for five years or so, until Ralphs built a new, fancy, shiny, huge megamarket about three miles away in a major shopping center. The the RalphaBeta was shuttered.
If I remember correctly, a year or so later someone leased the property and tried to make a go of it as an independent supermarket and only lasted a short while, maybe two years. Then it went under and the property was vacant again.
It became yet another independent market sometime later, and these guys have made a go of it for probably close to ten years now. In the early days we were always wondering how they kept the doors open, since you never saw anyone doing their weekly shopping there, and only a few people going in to pick up the odd item (we forgot cheese!) when it was simply quick and nearby.
These days they’re still there, and they still don’t have much of a regular clientele, but we’ve got a pretty good idea how they’re making ends meet. The place is used for location shoots for television, movies, and commercials. I can give you a whole list of things that it can be spotted in – right now there’s a MasterCard ad with a family of circus gymnasts that has a scene shot there.
So, there’s your background. I’m there just after dark, getting cheese for tacos. I go to pay and I’m third in line. No biggie.
And we wait. And wait. And wait. And I start paying attention, wondering what’s going on.
At the front of the line is a guy who has a huge wad of bills, probably at least seventy to eighty. I have no idea what denominations they are, but he’s counting them. Everyone is waiting around looking at him. And waiting.
Then he starts counting them again. Slowly. And no one is saying a word.
Did he just get cash back on a purchase and wants to verify it’s correct? Maybe, but that’s a lot of bills. I’ve got nothing for other explanations.
Then I notice the young couple who are second in line. Maybe in their early twenties, leaning against the candy racks, watching this guy count his bills. (No one’s saying anything.) I notice that the guy’s not wearing any shoes or socks. In fact, he’s wearing some weird pants that only go down to just below his knees. He’s wearing a leather jacket, open, but he’s not wearing a shirt underneath. Given the weather (it’s chilly, down around 50° already and dropping) it seems an unusual fashion choice. Overall I guess it’s a look that goes with the piercings and the haircut that has one side shaved with long hair on top and the other side, all combed over to that shoulder.
Then I look at the woman he’s with. I had at first thought she was wearing a green coat of some kind, but on closer examination it’s a lime green, terrycloth bath robe. She’s got shoes and some kind of pants on (flannel pajama bottoms?) but it’s suddenly not clear if she’s wearing anything else under that bath robe. At this point, discretion seemed to dictate finding someplace else to look.
So I went back to watching the guy at the front of the line counting his money, now on at least the third pass.
I’ve got a couple of people behind me in line now, and they also have picked up on the fact that no one is saying anything and it’s getting more bizarre by the second. They’re not going to be the first ones to say anything!
Paying attention to counting-money guy, I notice that what he’s got on the counter, presumably what he’s buying, is four paper bags full of paper towels. Every bag has rolls of paper towels sticking out, so at least twenty-four rolls. Nothing else visible. And he’s still counting his money.
Resolution finally arrives as another store worker shows up and says, “I’ll take the next person in line at the next register.” To her credit, the young lady on duty on the first register takes charge. She grabs the milk off the belt, hands it in back of her to the second register, orders the oddly dressed (or undressed) couple past money-counting dude and over there. She directs the two people in line behind me to go get in that line.
This seems to get money-counting dude off the dime. He puts down two twenties, the lady at the register points at the display that shows it’s $42 and change. Money-counting dude starts counting his money again.
She pretty quickly says, “Okay, those top three singles will work!” and grabs. She gives him his change and starts ringing my cheese up.
Money-counting guy hasn’t moved. In one hand he’s still holding the humongous stack of bills, but using the other hand he’s starting to take the paper towels out of the paper bags and rearrange them. It seems there might be boxes of tissues underneath, but I don’t see any sense to the shuffling since all of the paper towel rolls seem identical to me.
The young lady asks if I need a bag, I pull one out of my pocket (reusable bags are pretty much mandatory in LA County these days), she gives me a look and says, “Oh, thank you!” I pay, she gives me my change. Money-counting guy is still standing there, blocking my way as he shuffles identical rolls of paper towels around, so I squeeze out the back way and around and out toward the car.
This all took maybe ten minutes and I found it all highly amusing, if slightly bizarre. On the way home it occurred to me that this (and I’ve had other equally odd experiences at this store) is probably our local equivalent of being in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury or Greenwich Village in New York.
Los Angeles has its own concentrations of unique individuals in North Hollywood, Venice, and pretty much all of Santa Monica, but up here in the middle-class suburbs of wall-to-wall houses and shopping malls, the crowd I was with tonight was definitely way out at the far end of the bell curve on the weirdness scale.
You’ve gotta love it, and I do. I guess that’s why I keep going there for my quick cheese fixes.
And now, it’s time for tacos!