(Not) answering the call

Warning: this is a rant. In general, I like shopping for food. I like grocery stores. I like them well enough to drive an hour on a transport truck-littered freeway to cross a border into another country and spend an hour or two perusing a Price Chopper in a New York State border town—because I know there will be new and exciting foodstuffs that I see on US commercials but can’t buy here.

During the course of my career, I’ve written for two food chains, a small one that got larger and a large one that changed ownership several times. I also wrote the packaging and sales copy for a long list of private label products and can describe bread or coffee or a new line of pasta sauces with such sensory language that you can taste them before you even get to the store. All contributing factors to my love of food stores.

In fact, the only thing I don’t like about food shopping is doing it on a Friday, something I couldn’t avoid this week thanks to my love’s unusually heavy week of doctor, dentist and physio appointments. Friday is when all the novices hit the aisles; the newlyweds who aren’t yet comfortable with each other’s eating habits, the newly separated who have bent to their post-significant other’s food tastes so long, they’ve forgotten what they like to eat, the sports dads, uncomfortably and unskilled at handling the cart, asked to pick up three things on the way home, one of which is always either elusively exotic, like orange juice, or simply not to be found. Grocery stores on Friday just before the dinner hour are no place for those of us who generally enjoy the trip. They’re crowded and messy and full of people who just can’t get with the program.

But last night, a whole new set of circumstances entered the fray. Apparently, every compulsive Smartphone user in my neighborhood collectively decided that Friday would now be their new night to shop. Well, not actually shop, but stand in my way and talk or text. On more than an acceptable number of times, I had to ask the phone user in question to move (or stand behind them, loudly tapping my foot, sighing disappointedly or otherwise showing my displeasure) so I could actually get close enough to the food to put it in my cart. I know I missed out on the last two jars of Chung King honey garlic sauce, on sale, 2 for $5, because I couldn’t maneuver my cart around the middle-aged (read: old enough to know better) telephone chatting woman blocking the aisle.

Seriously folks, this has gotten out of hand.

Here she goes, you might say. Complaining about what is the inevitable social impact on the pace of changing technology. Or something like that. I’m no Luddite. I have a Smartphone, which I used for talking, texting and email. When necessary and convenient. I hear the email alert going off all the time, but I’m no slave to anyone’s beep. It stays in my purse when I’m trying to accomplish another activity, particularly when that activity takes place in a social forum—like a grocery store—where there is, or should be, a certain sense of responsibility to the needs of others.

I’ve come to accept that being in public—like the commuter train or the mall food court—means being privy to long, loud and graphic reportage on last night’s hot date or an impassioned discussion on why Nicole or Amy or Keisha or Mr. Holmes in Chemistry, is evil and should be cut down. I’ve grown accustom to young men in cheap ill-fitting suits answering their cell phones as if national security is at issue, instead of whether they can work the weekend shift at Best Buy. I’ve even grown grudgingly tolerant of the loud nasally whine of tired working mothers reprimanding their children over the airwaves.

The very idea that many of us were raised with, the thinking that there is a time and a place for everything is gone, dead, finished. Sadly so. Concepts like privacy followed suit. We’ve said good-bye to the idea of using our inside voice in public places. Multitasking, one lauded as a skill, has resulted in a lot of people doing several things badly simultaneously. Focusing on one activity at a time is a lost art.

But seriously, have we become so insecure, so lacking in confidence and independence, so immutably tied to the herd mentality that we cannot be alone and incommunicado long enough to pick up milk, bread, a can of tuna and this month’s issue of Real Simple and get back to the car without have to answer the phone or send a text?

Have each of us really become so important, so irreplaceable, so in demand that we can’t be off the grid for just a few moments to perform some of life’s housekeeping—like picking up dinner?

No, Mr. texting guy in a business suit by the exotic cheese; no, blue-jeaned silver-haired lady talking loudly in the canned goods aisle; no career-climbing girl checking email while wasting the baker’s time and mine, oblivious to the fact that I’m next in line and need my oat bran bread sliced—none of you are not that important. You are not more important than anyone else in this store, most of whom simply want to pick up their groceries and get on with their weekend. You are fooling yourself if you think being tied to your phone makes you special. In this context, it just makes you look rude. So unless you’re arranging a kidney transplant to immediately follow in the parking lot, get a clue, get a grip on your ego, put down the damn phone and realize that there are people around you that are here because they need to get something done—and their time is just as valuable as yours, even if they aren’t spending it hooked to a phone or a keyboard.

In short—if you don’t know how to act in public, at least have the courtesy to get out of the way.

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