The Many Layers of Hell

Wildfire at Joshua Tree  NPS Photo

Wildfire at Joshua Tree
NPS Photo

I can’t remember who said that there are many levels of Hell, but I know that there are many and that I have been to at least a couple. The Department of Motor Vehicles, The Mall during the holidays and most recently Costco and Trader Joe’s market on a Sunday afternoon.

It is common knowledge among the intellectual elite that venturing to a Trader Joe’s, home of “Two Buck Chuck” vintage wines and fine cheeses will involve solving a puzzle that is a prerequisite for entrance into Mensa. It is called parking. Some sick man/woman in their corporate office gleefully searches for store locations that cannot support the traffic that the store will bring, or so it seems.

I conducted an unscientific survey in which I drove to four stores and then polled the people there and the three dogs that were tied up in front of the stores about this. All of them agree that parking at any Trader Joe’s is an exercise in treachery and guile best left to politicians or those of low moral fiber.

But food is the way to my heart, next to the miles of veins and arteries interred inside my body and I decided that my family required sustenance. As the hunter-gatherer in the household I was required by nature to dare to traverse the challenges that this entailed.

So I ask the dear reader, was I just fool hardy on this errand or is it poor customer service to ask your customers to engage in demolition derby so that they can frequent your store in hope’s of buying food. All I know is that the experience in the parking lot was merely a warm-up for what was waiting inside. As I approached the store I grabbed a shopping cart and bravely entered, armed for bear and ready for hand-to-hand combat.

Needless to say I was not surprised to find aisles packed with hungry shoppers all of whom had the same shopping list as I. Who would have thought that we all needed cheese, soy milk, crackers, cereal, chocolate, wine, juice and produce, more specifically blueberries. The same evil executive who designed the parking lot was surely chuckling as we banged and bounced off of each other’s carts and bodies. In my younger days I would have enjoyed the adventure, but now it just rubbed me raw.

After what felt like days I managed to check out and take my purchases home for deposit into the refrigerator and cupboards. But something in my skull must have been jarred during this experience, because I knew that my shopping was not done. Now I had to run the gauntlet and go to Costco.

Costco, another parking nightmare not unlike Trader Joe’s, but on a much larger scale. Costco, where I knew that the primitives would lose their minds and trample me and small children in the fight to get the free sample of the seafood dip or the greasy slice of pizza. Costco where you go broke saving money by purchasing two tons of toilet paper at a time.

The good news is that you’ll never worry about wiping, but you may worry about wiping out your checkbook. That is assuming of course that you can get a parking space without being overcome by road rage. And assuming that you manage to win the fight to maintain composure there is still the very real chance that you may succumb to some other malady, some other shopping rage. There is only so much one person can take. You can’t be bumped and pushed a hundred times or prevented from reading the description of that new fruit drink they are offering. Heaven forbid, you might miss out on taking advantage of the deep discount they offer for a trough of butter.

Why oh why do the folks in Kirkland not understand that we want, no must have parking attendants in the lot, turn signals on the carts and signal lights on the aisles. How much more bruising can a person’s lower back take before Kirkland understands that shopping carts need padding.

Because the tragedy of this is that while you can shop at both of these stores online you cannot squeeze the pears, nor smell the sausage or appreciate the scent of a good melon. There are still some challenges that technology has yet to overcome. Oh the humanity of it all.

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  1. Michelle Longo January 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I don’t know what it is about those stores, but it seems like they are pure insanity no matter where you go. At least there’s consistency.

  2. Kathleen January 17, 2013 at 7:04 am

    I am a firm believer that Costco should hand out liquor samples along with the store d’oeuvres. Navigating that place and remaining sane requires alcohol. Lots of it.

    As for Trader Joe’s, I rarely go. But you are spot on about the inadequate parking. So damn annoying.

    • Jack January 17, 2013 at 10:47 am


      That is a hell of an idea–I bet their sales would increase dramatically. Hand out shots and you will definitely find more people visiting your store.

  3. Larks January 16, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Oh, man. I so hear you on the Trader Joe’s parking garage demolition derby. It’s awful. Getting in and out of parking spaces is prohibitively awful. Luckily we only go there for cheap booze and processed hippy products like organic cereal and ridiculous cookies all of which you can buy in bulk so I only brave their nightmare of a logistical situation once every few months when I have a spare 5 hours to drive around looking for parking and standing in line at check out.

    • Jack January 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

      Hi Larks,

      The big challenge for me is that I really like many of their products so it is not unusual for me to visit the stores.

      If I could limit my visits to every few months like you it would probably be less irritating.

  4. Kristin January 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Amen. Our TJs is in a very conservative Jewish area and so is particularly mobbed on Sundays. And it can’t even sell wine in MD! I think there is some stupid logic out there that if the lot is packed the store will seem more desirable or something. Mob mentality. Grrr.

  5. absence of alternatives January 16, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    First of all, in Chinese folklore, there are 18 levels of hell… Whenever I get to go to a Trader Joe’s I am always awed by how happy everybody is. It’s like they are there with their tribe, all members of a secret cult. Trader Joe parking lots imo are smaller, with tighter, smaller space, packed with fuel efficient vehicles. Costco parking lots though much larger are packed with humongous gas guzzlers, and the parking lots are probably the wildest places those SUVs are ever driven to.

    • Jack January 17, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Hi A.A.,

      18 levels of hell? Now I have to go find out what the differences are between them.

      I haven’t noticed extra happy people at Trader Joes around LA, but now I am going to have to look. Maybe I have spent too much time glaring at everyone.

      Your SUV comment made me laugh. Some of those people have definitely never been around the wilder parts of the world. Those are housebound animals.

  6. Kerry Ann January 16, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I feel you. There have been MANY a times when I’ve pulled into the Costco parking lot, observed the chaos, and driven right back out. One must be prepared to go though hell…or on a dire mission. Not worth it for feta and paper towels.

  7. TriGirl January 16, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Yes. It’s so crazy! We decided to drag our butts to Costco right when it opened last Saturday, and that was the least painful experience yet! Also a good time to go: 8:30pm. Of course, that is incredibly inconvenient, but it is almost empty. I don’t think TJ’s is ever empty though.

    • Jack January 17, 2013 at 12:42 am

      8:30 is a great time to go. I have done that a few times just so that I wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet. Sometimes it is nice to be able to shop without fear of being stampeded for a free food sample.

  8. Ginny Marie January 16, 2013 at 5:05 am

    Here in the Midwest parking lots are large and spacious, but we have a season called “Winter.” So the shopper has to wear boots and a parka to avoid freezing to death when walking the mile or so to the store, and then the shopper feels like she is roasting alive once inside the store. 😉

    • Jack January 17, 2013 at 12:40 am

      Hi Ginny,

      It sounds like just getting to the store can be an adventure in and of itself. That bitter cold would make me not want to leave..ever.

      Although roasting alive might not be so pleasant either so… 😉

  9. Julie Barrett January 16, 2013 at 3:44 am

    The best thing about not having to go to an office M-F 8-6 is the discovery that you can grocery shop in peace after dropping kids at school on Monday morning. NO ONE is there, but you! Florida doesn’t have Trader Joes but we do have Costco…I park at Sports Authority and walk over, avoiding the traffic (vehicle and human), and above all else, stick to my list and bring cash only, no checkbooks. I’m not sure why but my husband is building a greenhouse…I’m pretty sure a $5k greenhouse will take the rest of my life to repay itself in actual produce, but I could be wrong…

  10. Louise Ducote January 16, 2013 at 2:43 am

    Clearly Dante forgot to leave Costco-on-the-weekend out of his levels of Hell. You are a brave hunter/gatherer, no question. I do all my shopping early in the morning and would rather be hungry than go on a weekend afternoon!

    • Jack January 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      I am the man who is unafraid to move his cart over, under, around or through all that lies before him. It is why I put on war paint before I go shopping.

      Every now and then I bring wiffle balls and a bat that I can use to encourage people to move.

  11. Jules January 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    I was at Trader Joes a few weeks ago and there were almost three accidents of shoppers not paying attention and cars. It was crazy funny. I hate shopping and refuse to do it on weekends.

  12. Jared Karol January 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Reading this post has given me new faith in starting my own garden. Thank you for that.

  13. My Half Assed Life January 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    This is exactly everything I hate about shopping. Where I live the worst possible time to go is at 1pm on a Sunday.

    When do I finally get myself together enough to go shopping? At 1pm Sunday.

    • Jack January 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Every now and then I find that 1 or 2 on Sunday afternoon turns out to be the perfect time to go– haven’t figured out if everyone is at lunch, church or a movie, but the damn place is virtually empty.

      Or maybe that is a recurring fantasy…

  14. Mayor Gia January 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Ugh i HATE food shopping on a Sunday. Booo crowds booooo

  15. Stacie January 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    If you move to NJ, most TJs and Costcos do not sell alcohol. Whereas this is supremely inconvenient compared to my beloved CA, it does make the experience of buying TP less crazy!

  16. Michael January 15, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Hence why I go early Saturday morning to Wal-Mart or other grocery store to do food shopping.

    I can whisk up and down the aisles quickley or at least have the next aisle over to rundown. Next aisle over? Needed to bypass some person who insists on parking their cart sideways or in the middle of the aisle so they can check the label to see if it has all the required nutrients or has some minute item they possibly, quite maybe, perhaps if they caught a wiff of or sneezed on could be deathly allergic to.

    Add to this, no lines at the check out! Hence less likely to choose the wrong line because the cheese at the back of the store has no price tag or UPC code.

    Oh the humanity of it all!

    • Jack January 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Michael,

      Weekends in Los Angeles are almost always busy at the grocery store- just a perk of living here.

      The lack of lines at the checkout sounds great. I would love that, especially after having navigated past the person blocking the aisle with their cart.

  17. Betsy Cross January 15, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Hehe! I don’t shop. I know what I want, run in and out, or leave with nothing if I can’t get it done quickly! Good for you for sticking it out and getting it done! LOL!

    • Jack January 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Hi Betsy,

      That is a smart way of doing it. I try not to spend much time wandering around most stores, but I admit that Costco just sucks me in–love that place.

  18. Janice January 15, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I’m sure this was a trying experience, but I have to tell you, Wal Mart on “check day” has to be the deepest, hottest level of Hell. It just has to be.

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