Shopping without Shopping…

So this morning I determined to put my life on the line and make a Costco run, after dropping off a client’s check at the credit union. This would normally be routine around here: the CU is right on the way to the Costco on the I-17, and so two errands are easily run in one trip. And that Costco is better stocked than the down-at-the-heels store closer to the ‘Hood — a store slated to be closed permanently in a couple months.

On reflection, though… Why?

Seriously: covid figures are going batshit here. At this point, Arizona is as bad off as New York was at the height of its contagion, and our whole state probably doesn’t have as many people as NYC does. Why risk my health and very possibly my life by charging into the germ-laden atmosphere of a wholesale big-box store? Is that or is that not freakin’ kee-razy?

Well, yes, that is pretty lunatic.

So the decision was made: hold the check until the next one shows up, and hold the suicidal shopping jaunt — indefinitely. Instead, order up the coveted items through Instacart.

There are some drawbacks to Instacart, the main one being that because relatively few Americans make a habit of eating whole foods, most of Instacart’s runners have NO clue how to select fresh produce. Nor do they recognize a decent variety of cheese — to them, all cheese is Kraft rubber cheese, and that is what they will grab off the shelf if you ask for cheddar. Even if you ask for a specific brand! 😀

Costco has self-righteously announced that it will not sell alcoholic beverages of any kind through delivery services. So that means if you need to restock the wine, you have to make a SEPARATE order to some other store. So now I’m waiting for someone to show up from Costco and someone to show up from Total Wine. This, IMHO, is mildly annoying. Not a big deal, but…annoying. Time-wasting. Tip-wasting: now I have to tip two runners instead of the one who was really all that was necessary.

Also problematic is that when it comes to Costco, Instacart sends its staff to the one closest to the delivery address. Well. Our Costco, which will close permanently in another month, is located in a slum. Just the other day a woman was killed in the park there by a drive-by shooter. It’s not a place you would willingly go, if there were an easy alternative. And, like any other sensibly run retail enterprise, Costco markets to the local demographics. So a number of things that are available at Costco stores in more middle-class and up-scale locales are not offered at our Costco. Chunk blue cheese, for example. Apparently the only thing pore folks know to do with blue cheese is crumble it up and sprinkle it over a salad. Hence, the only blue cheese you can get there comes in crumbles packed into a plastic container.

But all in all, my sense is that Instacart has more benefits than drawbacks. Videlicet:

Most obviously, it saves you time and gasoline wasted traipsing around the city. I haven’t bought gasoline since the first of April, largely because I’m not traipsing to stores every day or two.

In the Time of Plague, it puts a layer between you and the Infected, reducing the chance that you will catch the dread disease.

As you get older and can no longer navigate insane traffic and acre-sized stores, Instacart makes it possible for you to stay in your home rather than having to move to a life-care community.

On the other hand…

The Instacart lady just arrived. Instead of the deli-packaged black olives I’d ordered, she bought a bottle of icky green factory olives. The salt I’d ordered, which I thought was coarse-ground, is actually fine-ground and so cannot be used in my salt grinder.

That latter is not her fault: she picked up the item I pointed to online…I failed to realize it wasn’t coarse-ground.

Therein lies another drawback: miscommunication.

Soooo…oh goodie gumdrops! Now I get to sit around and wait for the delivery from Total Wine. Then climb in my car, traipse to Costco, stand in line at the return desk, and try to extract a refund for these useless items.

Directly obviating the specific reason for paying extra for Instacart delivery: to avoid exposure to the covid virus.

The Wine Stash gambit

Okay, tell me what you think of this.

It may be crazy. Hevvin only knows, I am crazy. But what heaven really does know, I personally know not. Soo…tell me if this sounds sane to you, or like yet another variety of madness.

I like a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. Indeed, I like that so much that I ain’t a-doin’ without it.

However, Costco, where I usually supply my stash, has decreed that delivery services such as the beloved Instacart may no longer purchase alcoholic beverages for delivery to customers. I was able to snag a couple bottles and a box of KiltLifter (presently the preferred brew) from Total Wine, but frankly, having to order this, that and the other product from this, that, and the other retailer is what we call a damn nuisance.

It occurs to me that if I’d had a decently stocked wine cellar (or stash, since this house has no cellar… 🙂 ), the bar services would present much less of a problem.

It being never too late to start…here’s my plan:

1. From Total Wine, I order up one box (12 bottles, I believe) of my favorite cheap red and one box of my favorite cheap white.

Note that at this point I now have a lifetime supply of booze. Two crates of wine would, if never replenished, last me a good three or four months.

2. Each time I consume a bottle of this priceless hoard, I order or (one day, I hope, purchase in person) a new bottle, only in a finer vintage than the $8 specials I favor.

3. Keep drinking the cheap stuff, unless guests are here. After a period, all of the plonk will be consumed, and it will all be replaced better wines!

Et voilà! A stash of fancy wines!

My life is improved. The wine industry is supported. And when the next catastrophe hits, I will never feel deprived.

Is that or is that not a brilliant scheme? And what positive changes has the covid bug brought about in your life?

Not in Kansas Anymore…

Argh. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, that’s for sure!

As a side note to today’s you  like to bake bread? If so, try to get your hands on some of this stuff.

This is the Italian flour the Instacart lady showed up with a few days back, instead of the regular white unbleached Pillsbury-type stuff normal people use. Never heard of it, but since actual white flour is now a collector’s item, yesterday I decided to “stretch” my remaining flour with some of the Italianate stuff.

So, my breadmaker holds 5 cups of flour. I put in 2 cups of the Anna Nappy stuff and 3 cups of regular flour and then proceeded as usual. I like to have the breadmaker knead the dough; let it rise in the breadmaker’s container; then turn it out into a couple of loaves, let them rise on the counter, and pop them into an oven. (Tastes better than cooking in the breadmaker, for unknown reasons…)

Well. This combo made, bar none, THE most delicious white bread I’ve ever concocted! 

Dunno what it would do if you tried making the bread with nothing but the fancy Italian stuff, but a slightly less than 50/50 mix was awesome.

Speaking of food scarcity…M’hijito decided to opt the Costco junket this afternoon. Becaaauuuse: they won’t let you in there without a face mask, and he doesn’t have one.

Jayzus…. So I ordered up a few items via Instacart.

Costco has at least 50 varieties of cheap….ahem… delicious wines in the $8 to $12 range. Online? You can access two of them. Yeah. Neither of them anything you’d care to have. So I ordered one mediocre bottle of cheap red, and I guess when that’s gone — about a week from now — I’ll have to send another pup to Total Wine or AJ’s to get a couple of decent vintages.

And are they gouging on the prices!!!! One bag of Ruby’s favorite chicken jerky doggie treats? $24.39. Yeah. No kidding. For 3 pounds. If my ’rithmatic serves, that’s eight bucks a pound!!!!!

Plus tax.

Mygawd. You could buy a damn chicken and turn it into jerky on your grill, for a whole lot less than that.

{sigh} So I guess I’ll have to make my son a face mask. On the other hand, one of the women in the ’Hood has been making and selling them: $6 apiece. That might be preferable to cutting up a good scarf or pillowcase for the purpose.

****time passes…passes…passes****

Eventually, an Instacart guy showed up from the first Costco run of the day. (A real cutie, we might add! Born a mere 50 years too late…) He couldn’t find the brand of cheddar cheese I buy ALL the time there, and tried to claim he’d asked someone for it. This, after I explained in the special instructions where to find it. That’s hopeless BS, because the stuff is a standard there — has been for years.

So…after giving them several chances, I’d say Instacart is NOT going to do the trick as a stand-by in one’s dotage. Their contract help just doesn’t understand enough about food or about shopping to come up with the most ordinary boring stuff that you buy all the time.

Exactly how you would work the age-in-place scheme if you couldn’t get to the store and dodder around in it…escapes me. It might be that you could hire a college kid to make grocery runs for you. In that case, you’d have to do some serious training, because Americans apparently know next to nothing about real food. Evidently all anyone eats anymore is processed junk. So…how do you help them to recognize real food and, in the case of produce or fresh, raw meat, to discern whether it’s any good????


Thought I was kidding about the food dehydrater? Hmmm…not sooo much. The top of the line for these gadgets at Amazon sells for what three (count’em, 3) bags of doggie treats go for at Costco. Cheaper ones range from $40 to $60. Forhevvinsake, it would pay for itself in doggy treats alone in about three months…plus you’d know what was in the stuff.

The lady who makes the face masks says she’ll put a couple of them in her mailbox. So I’ll drive one down to my son, which will elicit a crabby response but at least he’ll have one. And so will I. I’ve been too lazy to make the things (plus I think it’s pointless, since they do nothing to protect you from getting the bug and probably do rather little to protect anyone else). Anyway, at least we’ll each be able to disguise ourselves as righteous, when called upon to do so.

heee heee hee HEEE! On that note, that idiot Trump is in town, entertaining his constituency of morons and sheeple. I just checked and found THIS bit of hilarity.

Nope. Not in Kansas any more…

First Instacart Experiment: FAIL!

LOL! Well, ordering up stuff from Costco via Instacart did not start out on the most auspicious foot of all possible feet. 😀

So I jump through the hoops to sign up to Instacart. Once you establish yourself as an official human with an official charge card, you can navigate over to the store of your choice — they seem to be doing deliveries from every market in the city.

Once in the virtual store, I order up a few things that I need — not many, because this is a test run.

Among the discoveries:

  • Steaks are now way outside my price range. Check that off the list, right away.
  • They do not display “Coastal” cheddar cheese, which is the brand I favor. I order another brand.
  • Neither do they display blue cheese in chunks. Apparently most of their customers think of blue cheese as something that exists only in crumbles.
  • They’re out of flour, like every other retailer in town.
  • They do not carry cucumbers (but we knew that…).
  • But they do have a particularly wonderful brand of smoked salmon.

Whatever. I order up a bunch of stuff, including a package of apples, since the trees are almost out of oranges. When the orange season ends, I go back to eating an apple with breakfast.

Amazingly, their delivery arrives at 11:22 a.m. Yes: I ordered around 9 a.m. and they showed up over here before noon.

Also amazingly, apparently ringing a doorbell is not part of the delivery person’s job description. She dropped the delivery on the front porch and, since I don’t have a smart phone and can’t get texts, she e-mailed me.

Forty-five minutes later, I notice this e-mail. It is 102 degrees out there. Cripes.

So I fly to the door and drag the stuff into the garage, where I wash down every plastic-sealed goddamn package in detergent water before hacking it open with a pair of scissors.

Fortunately the cheese was not melted. That’s because, like most US-made mass-produced “cheeses,” it’s not cheese. So now I have a gigantic brick of tasteless orange stuff. Yuck!

This is not unexpected. However, here’s the jaw-dropper:

Costco sells its apples in plastic clamshell boxes. One of these boxes holds 12 apples.

What I got was a plastic bag that appears to have come with something that required measured dispensing — not a grocery store bag, but made of the same flimsy, environmentally polluting flyaway plastic. And, in there were nine apples.

I didn’t register this until I’d washed them and brought them in the house. And boy, was I annoyed.

So now I email Instacart to complain about this — after I’d already clicked 5 Stars in response to the lightning-fast delivery, even though I was also a little annoyed that the delivery lady couldn’t be bothered to ring the doorbell.

Forthwith I get back an annoying form letter. This morning a letter from a human arrived, saying they’re giving me a $5.49 refund.

Okay. So…that’s not too bad. This afternoon I’m going to order a few things from AJ’s, my favorite overpriced retailer.

So far, perusing the offerings…

  • Yes, they do have flour. King Arthur, no less!
  • Wine prices are prohibitive: they’re trying to get $15 for a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon blanc. That’s an $8 wine.
  • On the other hand…some Bogle wines are only slightly inflated: around twelve bucks. That’s still too high for cheap wine…I can get my son to buy that for me.
  • They do not offer the chunks of blue cheese online…only crumbles.
  • They do have a couple of their good loaves of bread, which will spare me from having to bake it.
  • Apparently you can NOT buy fresh meat from AJ’s through Instacart. Fortunately, I still have plenty in the Costco lifetime supply.

However… If you order through Amazon, you can get blue cheese in a solid piece (assuming you don’t mind paying $15 a pound for it). Apparently Amazon doesn’t deliver wine.

However, Instacart does deliver from Total Wines. I haven’t looked yet to see what the charges are there. The best nearby place that I’ve found for cheap table wine is, incredibly enough, Walmart’s Neighborhood Market. That’s where I found the amazing Oyster Bay wine to start with. They also carry several other drinkable brands.

At any rate: this afternoon we’re at Instacart Experiment #2: I just clicked “send.” We shall see….

Panic à Costco?

Went over to the Costco on the I-17 this morning to stock up on some products the store here in the po’ folks’ part of town doesn’t carry. Amazingly, for example, you can’t buy a chunk of blue cheese here in the low-rent district. But the store up north has a very nice Bel Gioso blue that’s wonderful. They also have a propane dispenser, the only Costco in town that does.

It’s always wise to plan one’s trips to that place propitiously. So a bit before noon on Friday morning I figured the store wouldn’t be too crowded. Hit the Albertson’s first, then hit the freeway, where a couple of those lighted message signs informed us that a construction worker had been killed. So got off the freeway to avoid a traffic jam and got to the store the back way.

Not too crowded? Hah! The Coronavirus Panic run on grocery and hardware stores has begun.

The place was jammed.

But it was weird. Normally Costco customers are exuberantly oblivious of their fellow grocery-cart pushers. And a lot of noise goes on and people are happily rolling toward whatever doodad they think they can’t live without. Not so today. Not that people weren’t talking and kids weren’t carrying on…it was that they were strangely quiet. And bizarrely polite — people would motion you ahead instead of cutting you off to get there first.

I got one of the last packages of toilet paper. People were buying a lot more TP than paper towels, but the paper towels were also going fast. And I nabbed the second-to-last package of boned chicken thighs. Drumsticks were gone. One of the butchers told us they were out of chicken and wouldn’t get more in until the first of the week.

It really was just…kind of a weird experience

Anyway, if you haven’t already done so, now may be the time to make a provisions run. If Costco is any measure, it looked like paper goods (especially TP!) and easily cooked or grilled meats were going fast. In these parts you can’t buy hand wipes, but countertop wipes by Lysol will work as well or (probably) better.

Don’t forget to keep the gas tank topped up, too.

Morons, Money, and Ay-Mazement

One of the excellent Chinese scholars for whom I’ve been privileged to work decided to try to pay through Western Union, which required, I expect, some extra hassle on that end. PayPal, as you may recall, dropped the ball colorfully some time back, forcing me to close my credit union account and reopen it with a different account number. The decision to quit using PayPal effectively closes down my business with clients in Asia, since there aren’t a lot of easy ways to transfer money internationally from the mainland. However, we did learn that Western Union does business there, so we decided to try it.

This experiment took place several weeks ago, right before I started to get sick with the current enervating epizoötic. When the client asked me to go over to a Western Union office to see if the money came through, I searched out a site that seemed not too alien — a Walgreen’s at Seventh Street and Camelback.

Western Union is popular here, because Latin American immigrants can use it conveniently to send remittances to family back home. It seems there’s a Western Union kiosk on every corner. So I go in there — at some risk to life and limb, since 7th and Camelback is one of the craziest intersections in a city full of crazed drivers — and am directed to a free-standing computer into which one is supposed to enter data and somehow extract money. How is unclear. I ask the clerk who supposedly knows how to work the thing: looking into her eyes is like gazing into a deep and motionless void.

Moving on, I reckon I’ll ponder through this conundrum later.

Now I come down with a bacterial infection followed by a viral bronchitis picked up from the Mayo’s ER, leading to a month of incapacitating illness. I haven’t been able to drag out of bed long enough to fix a decent meal, much less traipse around the city and do battle with a new-to-me system.

Client asks me to puhleeze find out whether payment has come through, a lot of time having passed with no word from me. I try to beg off. This whinge buys a day or two of delay. Finally I am importuned to get off my duff and go try to figure this out.

Having almost died trying to get into that Walgreen’s parking lot (and having no great craving to try again with Ms. EmptySpace), I call an office supply and FedEx store that The Copyeditor’s Desk often does business with and ask them if they by chance have Western Union.

“No,” says my guy. “But in my experience, every Fry’s grocery store in the city does.”

Oh yeah? Fry’s, you say? Well, hot damn. There’s a Fry’s supermarket right around the corner from M’hijito’s house…and just down the road from Costco, whereunto I also need to repair. Look it up online, and yep: that Fry’s does have Western Union.

Drive on down there, make my way across the rather menacing parking lot (at least this store does kindly have some fairly prominent security guards lurking around), surface at the customer service desk, and…migawd! Find a clerk with a measurable IQ! And the contraption is behind the desk, where the customers are neither expected nor allowed to put their sticky little paws on it.

This excellent young women sits down before the machine and shortly disgorges something over $400, which she forks over without even asking for a transaction fee.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! This, I realize, is enough to pay the cleaning lady for about five visits, obviating my having to make a cash run on AJ’s or the credit union for two or three months. If I were good, I would of course stash the cash in the corporate checking account. But I’m not good, and I no longer have to be good, because WonderAccountant and I converted the S-corp to a sole proprietorship, meaning (in effect) that the money is mine, mine, ALL MINE! All I need to do is file the receipt and an explanatory note with this year’s tax papers and hide the stash in the safe, where it will await the services of the Cleaning Lady from Heaven.

And best of all, I’ve met a human being with a measurable IQ.

The journey did not start out that way. Cruising down Main Drag East, out of the ‘Hood toward the precincts occupied by the Fry’s Market in question, I pass a fool cruising up the sidewalk on roller skates, a stupid grin on his face and a dog running beside him on a leash. The dog stands knee-high to the man — who himself is a good six feet tall. They are flying along within about two feet of a five-lane thoroughfare. Most of us drive 40 to 50 mph on said road, which is heavily trafficked. As I shot past this apparition, I counted eight cars around me. Nary a one of us could have stopped to avoid hitting him if he had stumbled into the street or if the dog had decided to shoot across the road after a cat or another dog.

So. Moron #1.

Of many. Every single goddamn moron in the city has to get in front of me. Heading south, a tow-truck flatbed does a Y-turn across all the lanes of north- and south-bound traffic to deliver his load of broken-down cars to a repair shop. Northbound, a city transit shuttle hogs the fast lane, and noooo, he’s not getting ready to turn left. He’s just having fun holding up traffic.

At any rate, having found a Western Union site with an employee who evinces actual competence overrides the annoyance factor entailed in having encountered three morons between here and there.

Now it’s on to Costco.

Yesterday when I visited the Costco up north, which has a fairly safe parking lot, I picked up a  bag of coffee. So sick was I that I didn’t even see the thing: just grabbed it and ran. When I went to stash the loot in the car, I finally noticed that it was a bag of Starbuck’s beans, not the San Francisco Bay brand I usually buy. Feeling slightly better today — and having to venture near the mid-town Costco anyway — I decide to brave the parking lot where the lunatic tried to kidnap my neighbor’s baby out of her car, there to return the Starbuck’s and get the preferred product. It’s early, so parking’s not a problem to speak of. And the place is not even very crowded yet.

Well, wouldn’tcha know it: As usual, Costco has ferreted out the product that I like and, naturally, gotten rid of it! No offense…you may think Starbuck’s coffee is just grand, but that, alas, would be be because as a red-blooded American you’re readily hornswaggled by advertising. It’s terrible, low-grade plonk dressed up in a corporate emperor’s new clothes. Try San Francisco Bay brand if you’d like to see what I mean. Or maybe not: if you do, you’ll never be able to swallow SB again…

Costco was charging a lot less than Amazon’s vendors demand, which made it eminently affordable. But no…I’m not paying $20 to have a bag of coffee beans dropped off at my front door for the porch pirates to steal.

So this made for yet another trip, over to AJ’s to buy a bag of their over-priced, locally roasted, just OK coffee.

By now I’m getting tired and light-headed, and again having trouble drawing enough air into the lungs to sustain life. Onward.

Into the ‘Hood, where I spot one of our pet bums plodding along the sidewalk by the park: a really filthy, scary-looking guy with his face and head shrouded under a hoodie. He approaches an athletic, sportily dressed young woman jogging toward him on the sidewalk and tries to panhandle her. I pull over, wait, and watch, figuring I may have to drive over there and pick her up. No: she repels him easily. She strides off. I wait. He does not turn to follow her. A small miracle.

Home at last. Let the dog out, start to fix lunch. A cop helicopter roars over and circles Upper Richistan a few times. Then he shoots across the street just to the north of the Funny Farm and takes off northerly along Conduit of Blight. Delightful.

Discretion being the better part, I decided to stir-fry some scallops in garlic over a stove burner rather than, as planned, grill a piece of steak outside for the mid-day feast. This made for a nice meal…and a nice mess to clean up. Ohhh well. The cleaning lady will earn her pay on Monday. 😉

Sooo…still sick but slightly better. I estimate another four weeks before the cough stops. Probably longer to get completely back to normal. Yea verily, quite possibly not until it gets hot again: that would put full recovery in May.