“One Diet Pepsi, please,” I say to the woman in a blue polo shirt spotted with pizza grease.
She swipes at a bead of sweat at the fringe of her hairnet. “That’ll be 63 cents.” I come to Costco on Fridays at 2, just after I teach a senior seminar on popular culture criticism. This would be a great place to bring my students, I think, this giant warehouse that’s an amalgam for all of America. The melting pot, but in shrink-wrapped and air-sealed excess. At our Lubbock, Texas, location: 10 pound packages of sliced, pre-grilled chicken breast next to 7 pound blocks of organic tofu next to ever twisting packages of chorizo sausage spiked through with green hatch chilis.
I walk the aisles with my 63 cent soda (already needing a refill, which I will get on my way out), wide aisles which will be filled in a few hours with the after-school and after-work crowds. Folks coming to get 48-packs of bottled water for their kid’s baseball tournament, or frat boys of the smarter variety who have figured out a 64-pack of Shiner Bock costs here what a 24-pack costs at the United Supermarket next to campus. I do not begrudge them this, their baseball tournaments and late-night ragers, their family reunions and float trips down the San Marcos River. But I come at a time when most people are working so I do not have to see them.
I push my cart, big enough to hold a hundred cantaloupes, down mostly empty aisles. In the produce cooler bigger than my two bedroom bungalow, I pause before 8 pound bags of organic baby spinach, delicate leaves I’m worried will become soggy, then moldy, before I can eat through them on my own. But at $4.99, a little compost won’t hurt. Same with heavy, mesh bags of avocados and long, pink slabs of fresh caught salmon. Who can eat all this? Couples, maybe, who toss up an avocado and spinach salad, a little salt, a little balsamic, with cuts of salmon grilled on seasoned cedar planks, all paired with a bright Argentine chardonnay. Couples, who linger on the back porch after supper with a second, then third glass of wine, and then pack up the left-over salmon atop the left-over salad, each a lunch for work tomorrow.
Not so for the single shopper at Costco, drawn here by the thrifty promise of good food in bulk, but left, somehow, feeling more alone, but with a 48-pack of Diet Coke and two dozen pair of low-rise Puma gym socks.