If you’re like us, Costco plays a supporting role in almost all of our holiday festivities. In fairly serious strategy sessions around the kitchen island, we try to figure out what things make sense to get there and how to get out FAST. Lists are made. Tactics are formulated (“you get the wine with the cart and I’ll meet you over at the beef tenderloin.”) But on our trip yesterday, I had a new found understanding of why I both dread our annual holiday pilgrimage to Costco, and actually kind of like it too: it’s a bizarre modern American version of the old bazaar.
Giant TV’s dazzle as you walk in. You try to not make eye contact with the guy hawking the latest and greatest in juicing technology. And it seems you’re always bumping into people at the aisle intersections.
We don’t buy many Christmas presents there anymore. In fact, we hardly buy any gifts like we did in the 90’s. Back then, the cheap imports were starting to flow into our country like water. It was weird and wonderful: the cost of clothing and unnecessary appliances seems to plummet 50% overnight. Our gift opening ritual sometimes went on for 4 or 5 or 6 hours. But life in 2016 is different. In both Alan’s and my families, we have secured every cheaply rendered creature comfort by now. Probably way too many. So buying big plastic things at warehouse stores does not hold the allure it once did at Christmas. Instead, we buy mainly food, booze and an occasional item of whimsy that seems to promise us a feeling of coziness there, like fuzzy slippers or comfy earmuffs. And then there’s the added bonus of all those Costco sampling carts!
There’s a silent tactical battle that goes on into securing a good food sample at Costco, for something like a whisper of turtle cheesecake, or a bite of panko-breaded mozzarella (I know you know what I’m talking about!). Here’s the scene: there’s no samples on the tray, and the demonstrator is dutifully preparing the next batch of say, chipotle meatballs.
You know you want a meatball, but can you wait until they hit the tray? So you pretend to look at some items in the general perimeter of the forthcoming meatball, but your eye is really just focused on the prize. Your peripheral vision has never been this honed as you browse the assortment of tortellini. You know it’s a ruse, and so do the other 10 people waiting for that meatball.
But when those meatballs are finally released for public consumption, a tidal wave of people casually but nonetheless urgently rushes over to the cart. Parents, looking to feed their offspring, gently prod their young in the direction of the meatball- “get in there,” they urge. It’s like watching a pack of lions devour an antelope, just with slightly more polished manners. That old Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom show comes to mind.
I always feel bad for the people cooking up these mini treats because hardly anyone takes the time to say thank you or strike up a conversation. It’s a frenzy of grab-and-go, and then onto the next conquest, like the shrimp or something. So yesterday, Alan dropped the best shrimp sample joke: “$24.99? Hey, not bad for a little tail!” The hair-netted shrimp-sample-server roared with laughter. I groaned. “You can have as many shrimp as you want; you made me laugh,” the nice lady told us.
So we got the ingredients on our list, some artisan meats to go into my traditional antipasto salad, and got out. But we always get gas too (it’s so cheap), and so the familiar face who works as the gas station attendant came over to say hello. The neat thing about our Costco is that workers stay for years. They pay their employees extremely well, they have sane holiday shopping hours so that their workers can enjoy time with their families, and they offer very good benefits. So it seems no one leaves! At this point, I’ve developed a relationship with the gas station guy. We talk casually talk politics (he liked my Bernie Sanders bumper sticker), shoot the breeze, and for that reason, I come back again and again. I like seeing people I know when I shop.
Alan and I see holiday shopping differently now. With no one wanting or needing gifts, we instead decided to use our Christmas funds to donate to needy kids.
But we still go to Costco, we just don’t buy the cheap stuff destined quickly for the landfill. We abhor their durable goods, like furniture, because we know that after that rush of the bargain, you’ll throw it away super fast and have to buy another one. These things are actually not durable at all , nor are they meant to be (look for upcoming posts about this). But we love their selection of foods and now Christmas has morphed into more of a Bacchanalian festival of food and drink more so than a gluttonous exercise in opening gifts.
And with the upcoming push from Amazon to sell groceries, I think we’ll still go to Costco for our holiday ingredients. It’s nice to get out to fight the crowds, get some great food and spread the cheer!
Wishing you the most joyous holiday season!