It’s almost time to go to Costco. Daughter Gretchen and I do nearly all our grocery shopping there and we do it at warp-speed.
My shopping excursions didn’t used to go so smoothly.
Years ago, when daughter Judy was between 4 and 6 years old, she, my friend Aline, and I used to pile into our old Ford station wagon every Thursday morning and go to the Pike Place Market. This was before the artist Mark Tobey produced his paintings of the Market that turned it into a tourist mecca. At the time Aline and I shopped there, it was anything but.
Back then, the Pike Place Market was the place to go if you were a hard-core penny-pinching grocery shopper. We could find everything in bulk, day-old, marked down, below cost, overripe, cracked, a little bruised, or free.
It was the only place we could buy the brand we called El Cheapo in the #10 cans. Or oatmeal in 15 lb. bags. Or where we could find bargains like what we carefully referred to as “used candy”.
Used candy was always full of surprises. It meant that the children might be finding in their Easter baskets an assortment of pumpkins, witches, bats and candy corn. I don’t think the children were excessively disappointed because they knew full well that the bunnies, marshmallow eggs and jelly beans were on their way. Eventually, they would turn up later in their Christmas stockings. You just have to be patient in a big family.
Getting to the Market was always an adventure. Aline couldn’t drive a car, and actually, neither could I, but since I had a driver’s license and access to a vehicle, I was the designated driver by default. Aline served as navigator, and little Judy in the back seat acted as our passenger decoy. Her role was to capture the pity of the policeman with the traffic tickets. Policemen like and protect toddlers. And they don’t want to put their mommies in jail.
As long as I could avoid the traffic hazards like one-way streets, hills and parallel parking, getting to the Pike Place Market was usually uneventful. Speeding tickets were never a concern because we never went faster than 10 miles per hour. Freeways hadn’t been invented yet in Seattle but if they had we would have studiously ignored them.
But the left turns – the left turns were our nemesis. We took great pains to circumvent them but sometimes they couldn’t be avoided.
As the navigator, Aline would yell “Look out! Turn left. Turn left!” And I would. Usually this maneuver was quite successful but not always. I would say that on most of our traffic Incident reports, the term “left turn” figured in prominently.
They may not point this out in Driver’s Ed but left turns are much harder to negotiate than right turns. Even Judy could have made some of our right turns. But when it comes to a left turn, that’s where you separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the skillful from the more-or-less competent.
All we could figure out was that as a lifelong Republican, Aline had had more practice navigating to the right and she just couldn’t get the hang of turning left. It was a problem that was simply out of our hands.
Once we got to the Market, we had to face the ordeal of parking.
The Pike Place Market is at sea level but the streets leading to it are perpendicular to it. Parking on these mountainous cliffs requires surgical skill that we had every reason to believe we lacked. We eventually worked out an effective solution.
We would drive until we saw an available parking spot on one of the hills. Then, we sort of “reserved” it by lurching to a stop right next to it in the middle of the street. After I put on the emergency brake and got out, I’d reach back in and lift Judy out as Aline, on her side, would pull the stroller out. Then we would all just stand there quietly and wait.
What we were waiting for was for a capable looking gentleman to walk by. We had a strict rule that it had to be a man. (Aline and I harbored a very low esteem for women drivers.) After we had spotted a respectable-looking candidate — usually he had to be wearing a suit, or, at the very least, semi-clean but serviceable overalls and denim shirt — I would call out “Sir, would you park this car for us?”
Now what could he possibly say? Judy is wailing, cars are honking, drivers are rolling down their windows, and bystanders are watching in disbelief. It was like an offer he couldn’t refuse. I am pleased to say that we were never disappointed – not even once. Chivalry is not dead. The car always got parked and off we’d go to shop at the Pike Place Market.
But more about that later. (To be continued sometime.)