I'm terrible with keeping up on “real adult people” news. You know, governments collapsing, economies crumbling and wars leading to gas prices shooting up into the sky.
I get my news from social media, and my smart friends who ask my opinion (then I down a glass of something to keep my mouth busy for a sec and ask them thoughtfully, "I was actually really curious what YOU thought," then excuse myself to google that sh-t in the bathroom.)
So I only recently found out that clumps of Safeway stores are being closed across Canada.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I shopped at Safeway, which is part of the problem I'm sure. They don't kick it loudly in the big cities where big fancy chains like Urban Fare and Whole Foods sell you organic q-tips for $4 a pop alongside nuts and seeds you didn't know you could eat, salad bars too pretty to plunge a scoop into and every gluten free thing in the world in one freezer. And the lighting is fresh, the staff is bustling and young, and the juice bar's line is the same length as the one to the woman's washroom at clubs. It's not just grocery shopping - it's buying the fuel for the body you want for the life you crave. And it's pretty as f-ck. Anything is possible when someone else makes you a goddamn fruit salad (with NO brown apple wedges) and right beside it is an organic avocado cocoa dip that must be good because a young man with a long necklace and short undercut made it so.
Safeway had no chance. As far as I can see, Safeway is old school but not yet old enough to have come flying back around and be cool once more. Safeway has vast parking lots dotted with abandoned carts softly squeaking in the breeze. Safeway decided at some point to not make any sweeping changes and just rely on their Safeway Club Card and client loyalty and 2 for 1 Old Dutch potato chips to steady them against the tidal wave of grocery shopping couture sweeping us all away in a sea of orchids, Paleo energy bars, organic kale and cashew cheese. Evidently it wasn’t enough.
When I was 9 we lived in a squat and square maroon bungalow at the crest of a street named Marine Drive in White Rock. Hoofing it hard on foot, in 10 minutes you could reach the epicenter of Ocean Park, where my Mom worked (and still works) and where a Safeway sat across the street.
That was our grocery store. My Mom didn't believe in stretching the agony of shopping for food to more than one location, so we got everything there. If she could have done our back-to-school shopping and oil changes there, she would have been blissed out for life.
My Mom was an easy parent. She worked full-time as a single parent and gave us freedoms that don't exist in today's paranoid parenting scene. She handed us all the rope and instead of flying off cliffs with it between our teeth, we carefully wrapped it into neat coils and sat beside it kindly.
She let us take the grocery carts and go flying down the aisles at 8pm after she had gotten off work. If it was a payday we got to put whatever we wanted into that cart, except for Froot Loops, for which she had a vendetta that exists to this day. (Don't cry for us; we totally gorged on that good sweet sh-t at our Grandparent’s place in the summer.)
We'd frantically load in cold tightly packed squares of Kraft cheese slices, hefty jars of pink sweet and sour sauce, powdery packets of pudding shakers, at least 2 boxes at a time of orange fruit roll-ups (even better than the strawberry ones and I'll wrestle you down defending that statement), thick plastic sealed 3 packs of Super Socco (the white ones), sesame bagels, 3 packs of Mom taupe pantyhose, frozen strawberries packed in neon red syrup, tortilla chips, crunchy red apples, pizza-flavoured bites of dough, and always always always an Archie double digest right at the till.
Some month’s money was tight. My brother and I stood on chairs and sifted through the familiar spice packets and jello powder in high cupboards in high hopes we had missed something the last time we looked in the exact same spot. Chubby latchkey kids looking to fill boredom with food was really what it was. We learned to nuke shakily cut pieces of cheddar on top of sliced white Kaiser buns just long enough to melt the cheese but not long enough so that the bread mummified. A couple nights a week our dinners were eaten in the car under the buzz of the 7-11 neon light. Their donairs, huddled next to one another under a heat lamp in front of the cigarettes, were shockingly delicious, leaving shockingly hot orange oil all over your hands and face, and you immediately wanted four more.
When I would see those Supermarket Sweep-style TV shows I would daydream for hours what I would do if Mr. Safeway handed me the keys to the store with a cart and a smile and just said "GO FOR IT."
All the food.
All the butter.
Because you can lubricate and elevate many whatevs food with a pat of melted salted butter.
Peanut butter cups with black paper wrappers that would peel off in one accordion-style tup-tup-tup.
Chips Ahoy mini rainbow chip cookies, that if microwaved for 10 seconds on a swatch of paper towel would be melty and chewy, and exactly like if we had a Mom who had any time at all to waste on baking.
Fancy fruit, like watermelon. Because I would get so obsessive about having enough to myself I would pull sh-t like creating an eating contest, so my brother would wolf down his portion and I could then sit and slowly slyly eat mine while he had none. It was a cruelly satisfying game until he barfed his up and I got in trouble.
On the sweet days when the fridge and freezer was happily full, I would take a jar of that Uncle Ben’s sweet and sour sauce and carefully dump it on tidy white chunks of chicken I had chopped and sautéed, ready to glop the whole thing onto pearly white rice. Getting to loudly chirp out the kitchen window that peeked out onto the front stoop that "dinner was ready" to my weary Mom clomping up the stairs was a warm satisfaction that I can still feel in the parts of me that do things just to get thanked.
Today, a full larder equals a happy heart for me. That serenity when the freezer is so full of possibility that something flies out onto your toes when you open it - that is peace and success I can buy.
In this particular Safeway, the deli counter was immediately to your left upon entry, so that’s where we would head first. After choosing what I thought was the best looking rotisserie chicken, I grabbed the edges of the hot-foiled bag to pluck it out and into the cart. I grabbed the wrong end. The whole chicken, speckled with enough seasoning salt to choke China, slid across the floor in front of us like a slo-mo poultry curling puck. My Mom looked at it, looked at my panicked face, and calmly walked away, very much 'I have never seen that girl in my life.'
I got to tell the deli counter their chicken was escaping into the produce section while my face turned 80 shades of burgundy.
I asked my brother if he had any specific Safeway memories. He sent me this. Aka Solid Gold.
I didn't realize how many memories I had tied up in that box store until the word came of the closures and my heart did that sad thump. It has been happening more and more as I get older, and buildings change and neighborhoods shift and places I once loved so desperately disappear under the signage of something new that I immediately and irrationally resent. Nothing stays the same. F-ck, even Archie Andrews is not long for this earth.
Old. I’m getting older and something weird happens with my memories – they lose any sharp edges and all that remains are the soft sweet curves.
Am I the only one feeling forlorn about these store closures? I console myself with chia pudding and the hopes that you will share your stories below.