Oh, no. I was “that lady.” Sheepish at the long line forming, I apologized for the delay to the first customer behind me. But I had 15 receipts with unclaimed Monopoly tickets and I was hoping to rid my wallet of the growing bulge. No one else was on line when I started unloading my few groceries on the belt, but suddenly time and place became all too obvious. 8:30 at Safeway on a weeknight: Weary commuters picking up ingredients for a late dinner. One mom still in work clothes trying to extricate from her chatty second-grader the exact item needed for the school party tomorrow. What was I thinking? Clearly, my Monopoly ticket task was a midday exercise, when shoppers leisurely peruse the aisles with their weekly lists, and greet and catch up with friends amidst the pasta and diced tomatoes. What a difference the time of day makes.
Grocery stores are a unique, unifying force. The sea of humanity flows upon their shores. Everyone needs food, soap, and gift cards, right? After a while, each store assumes a personality all its own, such as our neighborhood’s Soviet Safeway. One mention of snow in the forecast and voila! Milk and bread are in short order. One good gust of a derecho wind and the power goes out – meat and dairy on sale! Looking for flank steaks one Saturday morning, I asked the butcher if he had any, and he was incredulous as he gazed at the empty shelf and said, “I just put 20 of them out here. Is there a hot new recipe making the rounds for flank steak?”
Then there are the promotions. Grocery stores are marketing machines like any other business, and their reward clubs have gone high-tech with online coupons and scan and save options right at eye-level. What’s old appears to be new again at Safeway, though, as the recent two promotions harken the nostalgia of the 60s and 70s. Collecting S&H stamps yielded Cuisinart cutlery, steak knives and kitchen shears. I had no patience for collecting the tiny stickers but my husband was all in. I admit, my new shears are fierce.
And now, Monopoly. The cashiers must love this one – counting out and dispensing game tickets while wrestling with reusable bags and loading two-tiered, too-small carts. How about the unlucky manager who gets to navigate the naïve through the misleading “Self Checkout” lanes? You can’t scan a cucumber, folks! Who has time for games? Of course my husband and son are all over that Monopoly scam game. Well, they were. Eagerly taping the tiny tickets into place on the game board, my 8th grader narrated the running tally with glee, wide-eyed with confidence and anticipation. “We’re just one ticket away from a 60-inch TV!” “We need only two more to win $1,000,000!” “Two away from a $500,000 vacation home!” A few short weeks later, after opening and researching countless tickets, hoping for a match but still missing the very same tickets, he was a little less eager, a little less gleeful. Sad, isn’t it? Already jaded at age 14 for life lesson #78: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
I wonder what’s next for Safeway? The game theme is popular and has so many possibilities. Maybe Clue! Let’s see, Colonel Mustard in the meat department with a knife. Colonel Dijon Mustard, of course. Maybe Trivial Pursuit. When was the first double coupon used? Back in the groovy 70s, apparently. (Bonus: This would segue nicely with the nostalgia theme.) Maybe Pictionary. Draw the biggest crowd for the win. Maybe Cards Against Humanity. Um, maybe not. Its little sister Apples to Apples is a better choice, on so many levels. Although Cards Against Humanity could work really well with a 30% off wine promotion.
For now, I’ll still collect Monopoly tickets (when appropriate) and try to restore the faith of my 14-year-old. And dream of where that $500,000 vacation home might be…