Tobyjoe and I discovered Fairway this weekend. We took the Volvo to Red Hook and did a little shopping. We’re having some people over this Friday for a late Thanksgiving dinner and it was the only place I could find a free range, organic turkey for less than 70+ dollars. Plus, they have a parking lot.
I admit to being a little blown away by Fairway. And I’m not sure if they all look the same everywhere but I seriously doubt it. This one is in a massive, old warehouse and sits right along the East River. It’s totally different from any other grocery store I have ever been to. I think Toby put it well the other night when we were having a snack at Sweetwater with Missy, “It’s sort of like a movie set; you’re just waiting for the car to come crashing in through the walls and into the massive stack of fruit.” It looks set up, posed.
Fairway reminded me a little bit of New York City. It has everything you need but it also makes you feel a little uneasy. People were running around with one person in mind, themselves. It’s chaotic, loud, and a little frustrating. Plus, it gives the false impression that it’s tough.
There are days where I wonder how this city manages to function, stay together, work at all. It’s admirable that so many people from so many different backgrounds coexist in one place without killing one another. And I get the feeling sometimes that if one piece were to fail – if the trash men stopped coming, the MTA Mobile Wash Unit stopped dispatching their late night trucks, or if Starbucks ran out of coffee – the city would trip.
Each section of Fairway reminded me of the plethora of New York City neighborhoods. The produce section butts up next to the kosher meats; the meats are near the fish and self-serve, the fish near the coffee, and the coffee near the cleaning supplies. Each aisle and area has its own personality but when they come together it’s a little chaotic and you find yourself wondering how you got there and what insane person architected the whole thing.
I was standing among the apples trying to figure out which ones would work best for baking when a neighboring pear decided to step out of line and leap from its heap. It hit the floor with a thud and I immediately stopped breathing. There was a split second that it became abundantly clear there was a good chance all the pears will follow this lone pear’s rebellious tactic. There was a moment of terror that this one pear could be the pear that brought the towering pear display down entirely. I felt worse knowing I was the closest person to the lone pear.
Recently, on a Monday when New Yorkers are generally surlier than usual, there was another unplanned service problem that took place on the L Train. People became more and more agitated as the minutes ticked closer to 9, myself included. Finally, one waiting passenger began to yell. His voice rose. His faced turned red and the veins became plump with anger. He began to spit and yell. Most of us stood there wondering what he was capable of, just how far out of line he might get. Will he get others to react? Will this cause a miniature riot? Will things break down on the L Train? Will this guy cause a ripple on New York’s delicate social contract? Generally speaking, New Yorkers are far too overworked and exhausted to follow in the footsteps of any one rebellious pear. Plus, a single New Yorker doesn’t actually have as much power as this lone pear at the Fairway. We just don’t matter that much alone. We take solace in that fact.
The store and the towering food displays that line its aisles, feels even more fragile because of the constant flow of people and large shopping carts. I watched one cart drive directly into a row of olive oil, forcing one to the ground, which caused a major oil spill. And it was noon on a Saturday. And just like getting to the Upper West Side from Midtown in a cab during rush hour, everything backed up. People were visibly irritable and ready to take out whoever got in their way. It took me 10 minutes to get to the dairy section.
At the cheese counter we ran into a guy who wanted an extremely rare, Italian table cheese. As he tried to describe the cheese to the cheese guy, he kept using his hands and forming a round circle, touching pointer finger to pointer finger, thumb to thumb.
“It’s round. It’s soft. It’s a table cheese. It’s extremely rare.”
“I don’t think we have that, sir. But we do have other rare Italian table cheeses. Would you like to try what we do have?”
“No. Thank you. I want this cheese.”
New Yorkers are picky. They are picky on the streets when ordering their bagels and five-dollar cups of Starbucks coffees. They are picky about where they shop, where they live, and what newspaper their friends read. They are picky at Fairway when ordering cheese. And they don’t care if everyone else knows.
The New Yorker and the Fairway shopper know no shame. Couple them together and one must tap into one’s reserve tank of patience.
Sometimes, I come home after a long day and I realize that somewhere along the line I spent 200-dollars. I don’t have anything to show for the dark, cold hole in my pocket but I’m 200-dollars poorer than I was when I left that morning. Sure, there was that salad and sandwich I got from Wichcraft, and the macchiato from Oren’s, but I never actually bought anything that I didn’t consume. Where did all of my money go?
On Saturday, we left with about 13 bags of groceries. By the time we got to the checkout aisle, we had a cart full of food. It was overflowing, it seemed.
“235” I guessed.
“360.” He taunted.
“265.” She said.
It’s been a couple of days now and we’re trying our best to not spend a fortune by eating out every day, so we’ve been packing lunches, eating dinner at home, etc. And the strangest part about our visit to Fairway, and the part that reminds me the most of New York City, is the fact even though we spent all that money and had all those bags, we don’t actually have any food in the house.
I’ll go back. I’ll deal with the L every day as well and the traffic and the hole in my pocket. Every New Yorker justifies living here somehow. We have to. If we ever do stop buying into it, and give up all together, we might just be the one piece that brings it all crashing down.