Why do people pride themselves on small town sensibilities? When I think small town, I think of people talking too long, walking too slow and taking far too much time to parallel park. Sure there’s probably less crime and more deputies asleep on park benches, less litter and more pure bred dogs, less naked prostitutes in the streets and more people standing around drinking lattes and wearing North Face. But the crime, garbage and whore-factor is a small price to pay for glorious efficiency.
I happen to work in the charming town I grew up in, but I have the sage wisdom to move to the urban ghetto and commute like all the regular people. And while I truly and profoundly love my hometown, at times I find its Podunk-ness too much to handle. I just ran down to the local market, a small but well stocked building filled with gourmet marmalade and $8 boxes of cereal, to grab lunch. I parked my car in one of the million available parking spaces and ran inside, grabbing a curry wrap and bottled water, which took 10 seconds.
Then I got in line.
Ahead of me was apparently the best friend of the middle-aged grocery checker, the two of them apparently scheduling this time to reconnect after their last chat. The checker had stopped working entirely to gesticulate with her hands and describe (I swear to God) the way her mother used to do her hair as a child. On and on, she went, looking at the rest of us in line, not like we were growing impatient or bored, but because she felt it impolite not to include us in her tales of post-War coiffure. Mrs. Too Much Time on Her Hands in front of me had the audacity to ask questions, prompting an unnecessary side-story somehow involving a bag of cherries and a red Schwinn bicycle.
Hours later, the story ended and Middle-Aged Checker hadn’t bagged a single item or even told Too Much Time how much her half-a-basket full of products would cost. She did have time, however, to note the huge line she’d created with her bike trip down memory lane, and go on the PA system to request someone open another register. This did me no good, of course, as I was next in line.
Finally, Too Much Time went back to her tomato garden or quilting bee or appointment to watch paint dry and Garrison Keillor finally started swiping my shit. Stoic and pissed off, I stared her down with a twenty dollar bill in my hand, desperate to rip my bag from her hands and bolt out of the door, barrelling through the 4H card-table display taking up the sidewalk and into the pristine and empty parking lot.
But Checker couldn’t let me go so easy. By this time, she knew we were at war and she was in it to win it.
“Oh, a curry wrap! Look at that!”
“Have you ever had one of these before?” She asked, holding it in her warm, doughy hand and smiling.
“Are they good?”
“But it just looks like turkey and lettuce in a yellow tortilla.”
“There’s cranberry sauce, too.”
This was too much for her. “WHAT?!?!?! Amazing! What’ll they think of next!?!?!?!”
If you ask me, she was driving me nuts on purpose, almost taunting me to shout back “How about silent robot grocery checkers?”
But before I could muster a single response, someone behind me audibly uttered, “Jesus Christ.”
The checker looked up and behind me, pursed her lips, handed me by bag and my change and shut up. As I swung through the doors a free woman, I snuck a peek at my soldier in solidarity. To my immense surprise and joy, it was an appallingly hot paramedic buying two bottles of Chianti and some high-end chocolate.
Um, you know all that shit I was saying about small towns? Nevermind...