Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bread, Milk, and ... a New Couch?

I went to the fancy new "HEB Plus!" that just opened in the next town over, and I hate it.

I feel like I'm shopping at the carnival, with barkers standing around in little booths sprinkled throughout the aisles, calling desperately to passers-by on their wireless headphones to "Try our new homemade teriyaki sauce!" or "Come see some amazing techniques using a paring knife!"

I get the "Central Market" type of concept, bringing hard-to-find niche products to a wider audience, providing an astounding array of (for instance) cheeses from around the globe or the finest pasta from Luxembourg (do they even make pasta in Luxembourg? Shaddup, I'm on a roll). That has style, panache, a sense of flair and exotic locales tantalizing us from our comfortable suburban enclaves.

Naturally, that dog won't hunt out here in the country, so instead of putting in a "Central Market" HEB, they put in an "HEB Plus!", which apparently stands for "HEB - Profuse Loads of Unrelated S**t!".

You turn the aisle out of produce and you're face to face with a row of outdoor grills. Just past the hot cereal ("Watch me make the best oatmeal you've ever seen!" cries the frantic septuagenarian behind the kiosk, apparently coked up on blow for just this occasion) and you're in the middle of a furniture section. Little tables, couches, televisions, you name it. I feel like I've somehow taken the "red" pill and I'm in the Matrix. Is Neo around here somewhere?

From behind the frozen orange juice comes the heavy bass THUMP THUMP THUMP of car audio equipment. Apparently the concept here is that I'll chug some vitamin C and hit the interstate to impress my homies, I dunno. I can't find the simple things I want like regular chicken breasts or Captain Crunch, but genuine Japanese koi ponds they got. It's bizarre.

And endless. The place is enormous, built in a Sam's Club-style warehouse with vast girder-clad ceilings lost in the clouds. And yet with all that space, the actual height of the shelves is shorter than normal, coming just up to my head. For some reason this combination of high ceilings and low shelves makes me agoraphobic, or claustrophobic, or shopaphobic, whatever the hell it is I start to get panic attacks somewhere in the peanut butter section. I feel like everyone's looking at me over the aisles, like one of those awful bathrooms where the stalls are only half height ("Come see the bladder control demo in our pharmacy kiosk!").

I start to hate all of humanity as I frantically wheel around the aisle, avoiding eye contact and nattering on and on out loud to drown the endless, over-hyped announcements from the carnival barkers-cum-grocery store clerks.

Finally I reach the Promised Land, the long rows of checkout counters, naturally all closed except for two, where long lines queue back into the Aviation Aisle ("All jets, half off!"). I'm doomed, I'll never get out of this living hell, this unholy amalgamation of random crap punctuated by ice cream freezers and personal hygiene products.

And then the final indignity -- my only choice is a "Self-check-out" station. It's not bad enough I had to wade through acres of non-grocery-related crap, it's not enough I was put through the architectural equivalent of Dante's inferno, it's not even bad enough that it took me half an hour to find a parking spot. Now I have to check out my own effing groceries.

And then I have to bag them myself, to boot.

All that money to buy genuine wicker tables hand-woven by Buddhist monks, all that time spent to locate the ultimate ironing board on Aisle Five, and they can't even manage to hire two minimum-wage kids or retirees to scan my effing groceries and put them in a bag. Unreal.

Look, if I wanted to buy furniture, I'd go to the furniture store. If I wanted to be accosted by desperate people hawking their wares at me, I'd go to either the nearest convention center or the red light district. And if I want to buy groceries and have someone check me out, apparently I'm going to have to go somewhere else, because I'm sure as hell not going to find it at HEB Plus!


Anonymous said...

You are so crazy! That's exactly how I feel when I go to the Walmart here.

Rob Rogers said...

Jeff, you're my hero.

John said...

What the hell is an "HEB Plus?" Sounds like a dad-gum Wal-Mart for snotty people.

Speedwell said...

Shark. Jumped.

Jeff Hebert said...

I jumped the shark or HEB did?

sph said...

Hurray Jeff! Not being alone in loathing that store is good.I so seldom go shopping and I went into the new store you described. I was so overwhelmingly repulsed I may have to go into a recovery program or starve! The noise was hideous, the arrangement unmanageable and Fung Shui died a horrible death in there somewhere.