Uh, Meijer's... we've had a problem.
March 15-21 2020
(I'm writing this part of the blog on April 11th, five weeks into the COVID lockdown.)
I bet that before COVID-19, I was cooking dinner for me, my wife, my Dad, the best Mother-In-Law I've ever had, and whoever else was around, maybe four or five nights a week. I enjoy my family, I like entertaining friends, and I really like eating. It helps that the people who eat my fare tell me its good, and they say it often enough without prompting that I keep making it. Which is nice for me, because I like cooking, and if I'm honest, I like grocery shopping too.
Normally, I'm a "grocery shop two or three times a week" kinda guy. I go to the store, see whats fresh, what looks good, and then I plan meals for a day or two in advance. With the lockdown freshly in force, and some reports of some shortages at the stores, I decided that I could do my part and put off the shopping for a little while, and wait for things to get back to normal. I went back to the local Meijer's on March 17th, St Patrick's day, because I thought a Corned beef would be nice, the rush would be over, and Dad needed a few things.
Well, I was in for a little bit of a surprise. Corned Beef was on sale for $2.99/lb, but there wasn't any to be had. That in and of itself wouldn't be surprising. If Meijer's has something on sale, you can bet that they won't actually have it for sale. That's normal for the store. You go for the sale item, you leave with something else, that's how it works. But this wasn't normal. No corned beef. No ground meat. No chicken. No frozen foods.
Surprisingly, there was almost no bottled water. I mean come on, bottled water? Really? You might not know it if you are from out of state, but, we have really good water here in Metro Detroit. Flint got into trouble with lead because they stopped using Detroit water. Metro Detroit ain't Flint. Why would there be a run on water?
Water was nothing compared to cleaning supplies and paper products though. No hand sanitizer. No soap. No bleach. No napkins, no paper towels, and almost no toilet paper. Just after I took this picture of the paper products isle, a store manager came out and said he was going bring out a pallet of paper towels and TP, and if we would calmly line up and wait for him, every one of us could buy one of each. So I did something I've only ever done while camping on a memorial day weekend at a crowded Army Corps of Engineers campground- I waited in line for someone in authority to bring me my allotment of toilet paper. Camping was a lot more fun.
I didn't know on St. Patrick's day that I was going to be writing a food blog, or I would have taken a picture of the awesome Irish stew that I ended up making out of some sorry looking chuck roast that I was able to score on that trip to Meijer's. They also had some really good looking Brussels Sprouts that also went into the stew. (AKA "Belgian micro cabbage", 'cause nobody likes Brussels sprouts, but Belgian micro cabbage is totally hip. All the kids are eating it now, fried with bacon, or in stew.) Beef, Belgian micro cabbage, parsnips, onion, and NO ORANGE CARROTS cause it's St. Patrick's day, all simmered way down in beef broth and Murphy's Irish Stout. Heaven in a bowl, served over mashed potatoes, and I wish I had that picture of it. Instead, you can see me and Rika wearing our Irish finest- our Michigan State University Spartans shirts. Rika's Mom remembered St. Patrick's day and wore a pair of camouflage pants to dinner. I'd say she was trying to look like a member of the IRA, but she wears those fatigues a lot. Dad forgot to dress in green for dinner, but he had some whiskey so that made up for it.
Again, I didn't know this was going to be a food blog. Because of the trauma of the grocery store, I decided I'd better do my Home Economics Best and start keeping track of what I had on hand, and what I was serving. On the 18th, we had some little sirloin steaks on the grill, steamed green beans, grilled mushrooms and salad for the four of us. It says so on my note pad.
Thursday is always "date night", so on the 19th Rika and I "went out to dinner". Except that all the sit-down restaurants were closed by executive order. It doesn't sound real great, but we ended up driving through the local Arby's for roast beef sandwiches and curly fries. For the record, Arby's is not gross. I'm not sure its beef, but I am sure I like whatever it is. Arby's was was open, and it was good. I'm not much for fast food, but those first lockdown fries dunked in Horsey Sauce™️ were just the comfort food we needed.
Friday night I made BBQ. The four of us had grilled pork chops; acorn squash halves baked with brown sugar, butter, and bourbon; iron skillet chipotle cornbread; and green cabbage carrot sweet pepper peanut cole slaw. Also was awesome. Also no picture.
Uh.. Meijer's... Main Bus B Undervolt.
I tried to go shopping again four days later on the 21st. We needed a few things, like bread. Dad wanted some rice, and hamburger. That was a big no-go on the bread, and on the rice. I lucked out again though, and the nice Meijer's manager had me wait in line for my one package of burger, and someone from the back brought out an entire pallet of toilet paper.
People were stressed though. As soon as the employee dropped the pallet jack, some asshole ran up and tried to grab an entire unopened shipping carton of AngelSoft. The employee said, loudly, box-cutter in hand, "Sir! There is a strict limit on that item, and I haven't even opened it yet. And Im sure these other people were all in line before you. So set it down. NOW." I've never seen ten shopping carts all aimed at another human being with such murderous intent before, and I hope never to see it again. The box-grabber dropped it and took off, and didn't take his cart with him. It wasn't very full. I waited very politely, and silently, along with the other shoppers for my TP.
There was another stressful part of that trip. We recently, within the last year, started getting professional grocery shoppers working the Meijer's. They are called "Shipt Shoppers", and they wear these green T shirts, and shop with someone else's grocery list on their phone. They buy the stuff, and deliver the groceries to whoever ordered them. Its like a gig job, pretty much anyone can sign up to do it and make a little side money. I've even thought about doing it, since I like shopping and I already hit the stores a lot, but I'd be doing it for fun and exercise, and the shipt shopper people probably need the jobs more than I do.
Anyway, I can tell you it's no fun to be a shipt shopper right now. I saw a meltdown in the canned soup isle. One poor shipt shopper just in tears with another one hugging her, trying to console her. "Don't they understand what the stores are like right now? I'm trying my best, but the items aren't available! No I can't get you Progresso Chicken Noodle. I can't get ANY SOUP AT ALL. And then they yell at me, and I get a message saying they've canceled the whole order! I've already been shopping for 30 minutes trying to find their stuff, I'm almost done, and now I don't get paid. Its the third time!" It was heartbreaking, and while I got a lot of groceries, I went home that night completely demoralized. I don't know what we did for dinner, I didn't write it down, and I'm sure I didn't taste whatever it was.
Toilet paper box grabber guy? You suck. And Progresso Soup guy with the temper who made the Shipt shopper cry? Chicken soup is just chicken and water, its easy enough to make fresh and tastes better than the canned stuff, so you should quit being such an insensitive jerk about it. I bet those Shipt shoppers would have liked to say that right to your stupid face too, but there wasn't any chicken in the meat isle that day at the Meijer's either.
To all Shipt Shoppers and grocery store employees out there, this could be the worst disaster we've ever experienced. But with you out there doing your best, (and with all due respect to Gene Kranz of NASA), I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.
Hang in there.