The authentic experience…

It was pitch black when I left the house Saturday morning for my weekly supply run. These early morning trips for groceries started as a way of avoiding potential plague carriers swarming the supermarket later in the day on Saturday, but have long since become part of the normal rhythm of life. The draw of continuing to avoid as many people as possible is just too strong to ignore. 

My love of avoiding people in a retail setting, however, isn’t really the point. What struck me as the truck rolled down the driveway was an unexpectedly strong memory from childhood. If you didn’t grow up in a specific time and place, it’s not something that’s likely to mean anything to you… but for some of us, it’s a memory that’s almost formative. It’s certainly one of the earliest memories I have that isn’t in some way hazy. 

You see, a long time ago, southwest of Connellsville, Pennsylvania there use to be a shopping mecca called Pechin’s. I remember it from the early 80s. It was a time long before anyone in our part of Appalachia thought of big box retail – easily a decade or more before I saw the inside of my first Walmart. Pechin’s was, in a word, unique. They were a one stop, dirt cheap purveyor for groceries, meats, shoes, books, sporting goods, home improvement wares, baked goods, and an insanely cheap cafeteria lunch. Surely more that hasn’t stuck with me, but let me tell you, five- or six-year-old Jeff was obviously impressed with the place.

I remember distinctly the whole place having a pronounced rickety, held together with bailing twine and duct tape feel. I can’t imagine it would ever pass modern health and safety standards, but it was good enough for those of us from the back half of the last century. 

Why did this long-forgotten memory come flooding back on a Saturday morning in October? I’m guessing because all of those trips in the 80s involved piling into the car well before sunup, for the hour plus drive across Garrett County and into southwestern Pennsylvania. The early bird gets the worm and all that. 

The internet tells me that the original Pechin complex is long gone – done in by the death of the founder and driving force and later fully erased by fire – but that the name lives on in smaller, and surely less colorful stores. Somehow, I doubt today’s shoppers are getting the authentic Pechin’s experience.

I’m glad I did.

Saturday, in the morning…

It’s Saturday. By now it shouldn’t be a suspense to anyone that I have a plan for that. Even in the absence of a plan I’d have a routine to surely keep myself in track.

Wake up. Do dog stuff. Shit, shower, and shave. Coffee. Pay bills, check finances, etc. then my favorite part – after establishing that the household will be on a sound financial footing for at least the next week – the 90 or so minutes of calm and quiet before launching out to get groceries and run the other errands necessary to keep the homestead functioning.

Its probably the most singularly peaceful block of time in my entire week and I love it for that.

Of groceries and new routines…

Cecil County has most of the problems every other semi-rural county in Maryland is facing – drugs, pockets of poverty, a questionable education system, and a government that occasionally verges on dysfunctional. It also has some remarkable natural beauty, low cost of living (for Maryland), and a convenient location between Baltimore and Philly that’s close to both, but far enough away to allow those who prefer the quiet life to avoid big city fuckery.

What the county lacks, however, are the kind of supermarkets I got use to while living in the DC exurbs or during my west Tennessee exile. The local Food Lion is convenient, but comes with limited options. Walmart has decided they’re no longer interested in my money. There’s an Acme, a company that I assumed had gone out of business 20 years ago, but its location in the heart of Elkton attracts a certain element that I’d just rather not step over, walk around, or studiously pretend to ignore just to get my weekly shopping done.

I happened to be off my usual Saturday path last week, which put another option in reach. Even looking a little dated and feeling like the aisles were too cramped by half, Safeway has it all over any of the more local options. It’s not a Kroger or a Giant, but by comparison to what I’ve gotten use to out of convenience there’s no contest.

As much as I am a creature of habit, I’m also adaptive enough to adjust when there is a better alternative available. I hate the idea of adding an extra 20 minutes to the standard Saturday errands run (and probably spending a bit more than I would otherwise on groceries), but the trade off with more and better options is too enticing… and makes me wish I’d have reconciled myself with driving to Delaware for groceries much sooner.

I’m reasonably sure the hardest part of all this will be remembering that the new routine takes me across the county from west to east instead of east to west. Pity me my first world problems.

Sometimes smart isn’t enough…

I’m a reasonably smart guy. I’ve never hidden that fact or been embarrassed by it the way some people seem to think you should be. There are, however, times when native brain power just isn’t enough.

This morning I went through my usual Saturday – did things like take a load of trash to the landfill, stop by the bank, and roll past Tractor Supply for the biggest bag of bird food available. Then I made my fatal mistake.

You see, today is Saturday. I didn’t think of it as anything other than Saturday. One of 52 that we get every year. It’s the day of the week even I get groceries. What every other person in the county apparently thought of today as, however, is “the last Saturday before Thanksgiving when they should take the whole family to the supermarket and pick up three carts full of food.”

It didn’t even occur to me. If it had, I’d have changed the plan and done my shopping at 5am to avoid the masses. I should have known better, should have been more aware. I was awash in a vast see of dumb as hell and have no one to blame but myself.

Mercifully I’m home now. If you want me to leave, setting the place on fire is probably the only way to shake me loose… and even that isn’t guaranteed to get the job done.

All things in Xs…

I’ve been uncharacteristically patient in waiting until reaching (just) my one year anniversary with the iPhone X. The phone is a workhorse that in truth is far more pocket computer/communications device than any average user could ever need. Workhorse though it is, my trusty X is no longer the flagship of Apple’s iPhone fleet.

With my eligibility for an upgrade confirmed, I’ll be off tomorrow to slip by my very favorite retailer and hand off my trusty phone for its slightly newer, sexier younger sibling. Apple was kind enough to email me a confirmation of the order which means it should be a fairly painless visit – well under 10 minutes awash in the great American retail habitat.

I’ll give the marketing and sales department great credit. The know their target audience and continue too come up with new and interesting ways to help us feed the madness. I mean if you can convince me that going to a mall on Saturday is worth doing you should consider a career selling ice in the arctic.

There are some things for which I am willing to gladly suffer the indignity of being inevitably surrounded by people. The Xs just happens to be one of those things. I’ll be very happy to bring her home tomorrow.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Business Hours. If your posted hours of operation are 10AM-5PM and I pull into your parking lot at 4:30 on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon and find your lights off and door locked, there’s a fair chance that I’m going to drive down the street to the next best alternative and give them my money. I totally understand that you’re a small business and sometimes things come up, but at least once in every four stops, I pull in to find you’re not open. I like you. I like doing business in the community when I can. But my ability to do that depends largely on it being convenient. No matter how much I like you, I’m not making three trips to your shop when I can order from a major online retailer and just have the damned item sitting on my doorstep tomorrow. You might be the only game in this two stoplight town, but you’re not the only game on the planet. You’d have at least one more satisfied customer if you behaved accordingly.

2. Imaginary Saturday. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off this morning. In the fog between being asleep and being awake, I managed to convince myself that today was actually Saturday. As many of you may have notice, it wasn’t. Now that I think back on it that didn’t so much annoy me as it pissed me off beyond the level that could be strictly considered reasonable.

3. Heroes of Labour. This week, the president of the Russian Federation handed out Soviet era awards during a revived May Day rally in Red Square. I’m as big a fan of the “good old days” as anyone, but I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the wheelhouse is paying any damned attention to what’s actually happening in Russia. Look, I know raising a generation of Middle East experts has left us a little thin on Cold War know how, but surely there are a few crusty old guys in the belly of the Pentagon who we can dust off to give us a read on the situation. I’m not saying it’s time to re-garrison Germany, but I do wish we were paying just a bit more attention to what’s banging around that part of the world.

A distinct lack of motivation…

Usually I spring from bed in the early hours of the morning and hit the ground moving at the quickstep if not actually running. There’s always a shit ton to do and only two days to cram it into. Today, though, what we have here in the north eastern corner of the north eastern part of Maryland is a distinct lack of motivation. Sure, there’s still a shit ton to do, but I can’t quite bring myself to actually want to do any of them. I have no idea what’s going on with that, so I’m choosing to ignore it. And by ignore it, I clearly mean get on my blog and complain about it to anyone who happens to be listening.

Yeah, I’m going to drag myself from my favored writing position in the kitchen and get on with the day, but just know that I’m doing it under duress. Hopefully somewhere between here and the couple of things I absolutely have to get to this morning whether I want to or not, some motivation will shake itself loose. Otherwise this is going to look a lot like a lost weekend.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Too quiet. I’m generally a guy who appreciates his peace and quiet. Except when that quiet comes in the form of one of the meeting rooms I occasionally get stuck in. It’s not technically an anechoic chamber, but it’s awfully close. The small battery powered clock on the wall ticks with the sound of thunder and you can definitely hear the sound of the blood pumping through your ears when you’re the only one in there. As much as I appreciate a nice quiet workplace, apparently being surrounded by sound deadening material is my bridge too far. Surprisingly, even for me, there is such a thing as too quiet. Who knew?

2. Every Saturday. I get groceries every Saturday morning. It’s as ingrained into The Routine as brewing a pot of coffee first thing in the morning. Apparently a lot of other people also do their shopping on Saturday mornings too… which is why I don’t understand why every Saturday feels like I’m surrounded by people who are experiencing the grocery store for the first time. I don’t get the people walking around in awe of the abundance before them or the ones who don’t seem to have any earthly idea why they’re there or what they’re supposed to load into their cart to take home. Can we at least try to have a list, a plan, and not spend half the damned day wandering around as if the pasta aisle was the latest Magic Kingdom attraction?

3. Bank of America. Bank of America gets featured here a lot, but I actually tried hard to like them. Their online banking system is second to none and they had branches and ATMs just about everywhere I’d ever want to be. Their website is still top notch in my opinion, but over the last two months, I’ve watched their local ATMs practically drop off the face of the earth. I went from having four of them spread out along my daily commute path to having none. There’s still a branch office open locally, but not in a location that’s convenient to any of my normal travels… and it’s safe to assume I won’t be making any special trips just for the privilege of being a Bank of America customer. Sure, I’ll keep an account open with them in case I ever needed it, but I’m pointing my direct deposit and bill pay to one of the local credit unions. I really did like their big bank feel, but not enough to get stuck paying $5 in fees every time I wanted a few twenty dollar bills. There are just too many other, cheaper options to stick around for that kind of asshattery.

Reality bites…

It’s Saturday! Woohoo! That’s what my inner 17 year old sounds like – full of good intentions and great expectations for the day. Of course after getting up, feeding the dogs and tortoise, changing everyone’s water, making coffee, going to the dump, picking up groceries, sitting in “plant expo” traffic on Main Street, putting groceries away, making lunch, letting the dogs out to burn off some energy, dragging the week’s laundry to the basement (but not yet starting it), dragging the vacuum up from the basement (but not yet using it), and finally sitting down to blog, I’m not entirely sure Saturday is “Woohoo!” worthy. As far as I can tell its only redeeming quality so far is that it’s not a work day. While that’s quite an achievement, I’m think we can do better. Yeah, this would be the part where my inner 70 year old takes over and is pretty much annoyed by everything… especially the reality sets in that I work harder on Saturday than I do any other day of the week and for way less pay.

The trouble with being a vegetable…

After the better part of 12 hours of not doing much more than was absolutely necessary to sustain life, the only thing I can really say is that being a vegetable isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be… mostly because it’s 4PM, there’s no laundry done, dinner isn’t started, the floors haven’t been swept, and the whole house has a vague tinge of “disaster area.” We’re going to continue to ignore the odds and ends outside that still need tended for the time being. As it turns out, I’m apparently not a vegetable kind of guy. I’m not a run out and sign up for a triathalon guy either, but sitting around doing nothing clearly isn’t my speed. Apparently I just need a handy day-long reminder of that from time to time.

So, the rest of the weekend is going to be about triage… prioritizing those things that actually need to get done and doing them, while putting off whatever random tasks and odd jobs fall somewhere into the nice to do category. As you can see, blogging was clearly job one on the “must do” list for today. Once that’s settled, it’s on to the “start dinner” task – also highly rated in the must do category. Once that’s settled, the priority of the remaining items falls off sharply. If I had to take a wild guess, the rest of the day will involve some combination of reading and writing. Come to think of it, this day would have been greatly improved if I’d have lead off with those and eased into some of the other stuff. Now I know. And that’s half the battle or so I’ve been told.