Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Second Place and Accepting a Half-Assed Effort

I live near the flagship store of Wegmans, the grocery chain ranked best in the US by Consumer Reports. It earns its reputation across the board--competitive and consistent prices, the quality and variety of goods they sell, how they treat their customers, how they treat their employees, their contributions to the community. It's all first-rate, as shopping experiences go.

There's another grocery store chain here, with locations nearer to the less prosperous citizens, although no stores inside the city itself. Not long ago they closed a fairly decent location and opened a new store nearby. What the hell, we thought. Let's shop there, try it out.

For a new store, the produce section was tiny. Where Wegmans offers much variety within types of foods--say, seven or eight types and sizes of tomatoes, five of onions--this store had very little depth. Still, a lot of our list was produce, so we bought what we could and made substitutions for the rest. (OMG, we have to chop our own celery to make jambalaya!) They had no field greens salad mix, no large bags of pre-made salad, no heirloom tomatoes, no local berries, no pre-pared vegetables ready to cook, no chunks of trimmed pineapple or melon.

Our next stop was the deli, where the selection was smaller than Wegmans but still not bad, with some brands Wegmans does not carry. I chose quickly, but the woman already being served was buying a pound or more of several types of meats and cheeses. There was only one employee working the deli, mid-day on a Friday. She called a specific employee to come to assist, but he never arrived. The woman already being served was aware how long I'd been waiting and apologized; she was buying everything for a large family reunion picnic. The lone employee finally went to another department, apparently spoke to a manager, and brought back the employee she'd called over who hadn't come on her say-so.

We continued our shopping, finding they carried neither of the Popsicles we devour. Oh, well, it's not like we're addicted. Just very, very dependent.

At the checkout, the lines were long. We chose one where the woman in front of us had a large order. The cashier was slow, the kind of uncaring employee who projects I-hate-this-job and refuses to respond to any attempt at pleasantry. (She wouldn't last long at Wegmans. Really, they're uniformly either friendly or at least neutral.) She apparently rang multiple items up more than once, which caused the customer to correct her.

The cashier didn't like that and moved even slower, never mind the people in line at her register who'd caused her no problems. When it was time to pay, the customer's debit card, credit card, and personal check were all rejected, even after a front-end manager was called to run them. Now the cashier was in in a visibly foul mood and made no attempt to hide it. She seemed to resent having to scan our membership key tag--so much effort!--and sighed largely at the imposition. She made no eye contact. She coughed a fair bit, half-coverng it with her forearm.

Maybe it wasn't that she didn't give a fuck about being a good cashier doing a good job representing her store. Maybe she didn't feel well--in which case she most certainly should not be handling my food.

Anyway, we were in line to check out, our stuff on the conveyer belt, for at least twenty minutes. At no time did anyone, including the front end manager who came to attempt to process payment for the order before ours, apologize for the delay.

Delays happen at Wegmans, too, but there the front-end manager would have apologized and gotten someone to unload our groceries from the conveyor into a cart and rung them up on a register opened just for that purpose.

And the perfect ending: By eight that night, so many of the strawberries and raspberries purchased mid-day were molding or so soft they became semi-liquid on handling that we estimate more than a third but less than half were inedible. By lunch the day after purchasing bagged mixed salad, with its Best By a date still six days in the future, the lettuce within the new sealed bag was rusted, some of it rotting.

[There's no point in naming the other store. If you know where Wegmans flagship store is, then you know what store is the also-ran.]

And why am I sharing this here, besides a nice healthy venting? Because I see it in aspiring writers. They know their book--or poem, or screenplay, etc.--is not the best. Instead of working on it until it can truly compete with those which are excellent, these writers settle. It's good enough, they tell themselves. I'm not trying to be J.K. Rowling, Khaled Hosseini, Diana Gabaldon, Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, etc.--I just want people to enjoy my book. Or I don't need content edits. People can tell what I mean even if the dialogue isn't punctuated right every time. A few spelling or grammar errors don't really matter. I'm going to make a simple cover and self-publish.

But it does matter. It matters a lot. I don't want your rotting salad and berries, or your coughing cashier who hates waiting on me. I want Wegmans!

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