It’s before 7 a.m. the Saturday before Christmas. The windshield is glazed with ice and it’s raining slightly. I expect to find the roads clear, but I’m mistaken. I have to wait for a break in the traffic on West Shore Road, although I’m glad to see motorists are being cautious. Even though crews have salted the major highways, there are surely slick spots and I anticipate that uncomforting feeling of losing control going into a curve.
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen.
But there’s no mistaking the air of urgency of those hours before Christmas Day when final chores must be done before it’s just too late. Freezing rain is not going to stop anyone.
I don’t expect to find stores open at such an hour, and shopping is not the goal of my foray. Rather, I’m on my way to play tennis, and I know the conditions won’t affect the confirmed players who show up every Saturday morning.
By the time I’m back on the roads barely two hours later, the pace has picked up. The intent to which people are focused on completing their mission is no more apparent than Dave’s Marketplace in East Greenwich. My objective, a filet of salmon, seemed like a quick in and out. It wasn’t.
I was swept into a shopping frenzy.
Carol asked for me to pick up a bunch of bananas. That should be easy. I was not alone in my quest. When was the last time I had to wait for bananas? I wondered if they might be handing out numbers. The lady in front of me eyed the bunches before selecting one with mostly green bananas. I thought she was done and moved in only to discover she changed her mind. She swapped the green bunch with the riper one I’d been eying. I snagged the green ones before someone else did, placing them in my cart.
I turned to make my exit, discovering I had to wait to access the traffic headed deeper into produce. These carts should have blinkers and maybe their drivers should have licenses. One reckless driver – well maybe just Christmas crazed – hit the display of artichokes. A couple rolled on to the floor. I got to them before they were struck. They looked good. I hadn’t thought of buying artichokes but now that I had them, why not? Now that’s the epitome of impulse buying. Had that been calculated?
Instead of pondering the machinations of marketing, I should have been paying attention, for now I was blocking traffic. I surveyed the scene. There was a knot of carts, their drivers leaning heavily on them in front of the fish counter. Aisles of shoppers were inching along.
I searched, finding a vacant corner near the cheese where I could park my cart. Nobody, I figured, would be interested in my green bananas and artichokes. I squeezed my way to retrieve a number for the fish counter and found a place off the beaten path to wait alongside a woman who glanced periodically at the paper she clutched.
“Got all your shopping done?” I queried. She smiled. “Just a few things,” she said noting the contradiction of her cart piled high. Her number was called next and she moved in to the counter.
“Zero five,” one of the four men behind the counter called out.
“What about zero four? I have zero four,” a man in front of me shouted out, waving his ticket. The man behind the counter waved him forward. A fracas was averted.
I got the salmon and bought a few stuffies, figuring that made the wait worth it.
As I turned to find my “parked” cart I came face to face with a man who looked confused.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Lost my cart,” he said craning his neck.
“Well,” I suggested, “if you like green bananas and artichokes, take mine.” I pointed to it, secure in its spot next to the cheese display.
He spotted it and laughed.
“Merry Christmas,” he said before disappearing into the masses to continue his search. The thought popped into my mind, maybe shopping carts should have beepers on them, too.
Putting the absurdity of that aside, and in spite of the frenzy, there was no mistaking the anticipation of Christmas and the good feeling – albeit an icy Saturday – of being swept up into it.