Gasoline-o-Wow!!!

The dermatologist has summoned me to revisit her redoubt tomorrow morning — on the far side of the universe: south of Sun City, west of terrifying Maryvale. This entails driving driving driving…and guzzling of gallons of gasoline.

The tank was about a third full, which probably would have sufficed to get there and back. But I didn’t want to take a chance, so decided that when I took my mail-in ballot up to the post office today, I would buy some overpriced gasoline at the QT. And while out, run by the Leslie’s Pools store to pick up a replacement for a cracked pump pot basket.

Y’know…the last time I filled the gas tank on that car was May 14. That was two months ago. So that suggests the car used only a third of a tank of gas a month, under the Quarantine Regime.

The amount I pumped this morning — to replace two months’ worth of fuel — came to $20.30.

Now consider this: On April 1, when the present covid imprisonment began, my gasoline budget was ninety dollars a month! And yes, that is how much I regularly spent on gas then.

What has done this trick is ordering groceries, household supplies, and gardening products through Instacart and Amazon. For eight bucks, Instacart will make a run on whatever crazy place you please. And Total Wine, BTW, will deliver for “free.” At eight bucks a trip, two carefully calculated grocery-store or Costco runs per month cost you all of $16. Okay…$20.30 plus $16 will set you back all of 36 bucks…a far cry from $90 worth of gasoline.

What’s racking up that 90 bucks? Running around town to buy this, that, and the other at Costco, Walmart, Albertson’s, Safeway, Home Depot, and waypoints, whenever you happen to think of it. If instead you’re budgeting your car rides — by sending runners to pick up items from those stores and then using your car to travel to local destinations only when you absolutely have to — you could cut your gasoline costs alone by 50% to 66%.

But of course a car’s costs include far more than just gas. There are, for example, the oil changes, the new batteries, the tires, the smog tests, the insurance, the registration fee…and that’s only for newer cars that are relatively trouble-free. And it assumes you’ve paid for the damn thing and are not coughing up anything from $300 to $600 a month for a car loan.

What this suggests is that replacing your car with delivery services, Amazon (which also is essentially a delivery service), and ride services like Uber and Lyft could save you shitloads of money. Even if you kept your car, budgeting your rides to go only to places where you have to show up in person — the doctor, the dentist, the vet, the hair salon, the movie theater — would cut the cost of car ownership drastically.

It might even allow you to get rid of the car altogether. When you really need a car to haul something or go on a vacation, rent one. Otherwise…why pay to park one in your garage 365 days a year?

If you had a redundant two-car garage, what would you use it for?

The Instacart Experiment: Living & Learning

Okay, so after the last Instacart experience — which was mixed, but overall pretty good — I decided to try again, needing a few items from AJ’s Fancy Overpriced Gourmet Grocery that I knew M’hijito would not be able to pick up in this week’s Costco expedition. This led to another strangely entertaining interlude.

Once again, the runners tried to substitute stuff for products they knew little or nothing about. Instacart would be excellent if you bought a lot of plain-vanilla processed, packaged foodoids — since these seem to be what most Americans eat today. But if you ask for anything at all different from what they’re used to, the results can be hilarious.

Day before yesterday, I tried to get another package of the Italian flour the last AJ’s runner stumbled upon (not having any clue what she’d found). The cupboards were bare of old-fashioned unbleached flour, but she found a tiny package — one kilo, 2.2 pounds — of real, unadulterated, un-Round-Upped, un-genetically modified Italian flour. I pointed to a picture of it on the AJ’s site and said that and only that was what I wanted. She showed up with a pound of tapioca flour! Heeeeee!

Asparagus? AJ’s carries, tucked away in a particular part of its produce department, lovely thin dainty spring asparagus. Well. Spring has sprung. I got the King Kong of asparagus, thick stocks trying to take after a sequoia tree. So those’ll be…uhm…just yummy. Maybe I can make them into asparagus soup, if I can find someone who can figure out how to buy plain old heavy cream. 😀

So, it looks like, unless there’s a way to connect through Instacart with a single person whom you could train to shop in your own style, that system isn’t going to work well for the Aging in Place scheme. It would work to some degree — you could get SOME of the products you use regularly. It surely would be better than the Beatitudes, because even if you were buying mostly processed foods, they’d still be better than the chow served in the old-folkerie’s mess halls…uhm, “restaurants” (heh!). But you’d have a very hard time getting an ever-changing variety of runners to bring what you want consistently. And that would be annoying.

An alternative might be to train your cleaning lady to shop for you. At least if you had her at hand as you were presenting your requests, you could say “…and if you don’t see this, that’s OK — don’t try to substitute anything else.” Someone like Luz, for example, could pull this off a lot better than the Instacart runners, because she’s very smart (indeed) and because she knows how to cook.

And another alternative might be to hire a college kid… There used to be two culinary schools in town. Two of the community colleges now have culinary programs, and there are a couple of free-standing scams. You could hire a student in one of those — community college kids, in particular, are always looking for side gigs. And if they’re interested in food and cooking, they’d probably have a better shot at understanding what you’re asking for.

The adventure continues…

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….

Making the Best of Self-Isolation

Planning a new strategy. As you know, I’ve decided I really love my house and want to stay here till I croak over. That decision taken, it’s time to begin putting in place a few mechanisms to make that possible. The self-isolation gig has spawned some services that may help with that project.

We already have the yard guy, the cleaning lady, and the pool guy. The C.L. is laid off for the duration of the coronavirus plague, but the other two are around. While I’m less than fond of housecleaning, it’s still easy enough for me to do.

But now, I think, might be a good time to get used to using grocery delivery services like Instacart. Old age or no old age, this coronavirus thing is going to be around for quite awhile. Those in the know believe we’ll see a second wave, and it’s likely to be ugly. Grocery shopping was never my favorite activity…so I’m thinking it would be wise to stay out of grocery stores as much as possible, whenever the lockdown ends. And make that a permanent thing.

So this week I think I’ll sign up for Instacart and try ordering a small set of items…

  • Some fresh produce: gotta know how well they can discern the difference between ripe, green, and rotten stuff. Some years ago, I tried Safeway’s order-out service. Total bust: apparently they consigned the job to stockboys who have never eaten a fresh veggie or piece of fruit in their lives. Most of the produce they brought was inedible.
  • Kleenex: M’hijito couldn’t find that on last weekend’s foray into the shopping jungle.
  • Sugar and flour: these also have been off the shelves for weeks.
  • Cucumber: good for making xergis, one of my favorite standbys.
  • Knee brace: put my knee out walking four miles the other day.
  • Lettuce: heads I planted are already bolting to seed
  • Cheese: staple breakfast food for someone who dislikes eggs, mush, and greasy meats
  • Smoked salmon: decent substitute for cholesterol-laden cheeses

Once I’m on their rolls, it will get rid of some inconvenience and save a whole lot of gas.

We’ll see what their shoppers can do with those. If it’s not a total bust, the plan is to continue doing this once every couple of weeks. Of course, I’ll still have to visit the various stores now and again, just to keep up on what they offer and where they stock it; I figure I could go to a couple of stores once a month or every six weeks, as long as I’m able to.

Get this started now, and then when I reach the point that I can’t drive to or hobble around a Costco, an important mechanism for maintaining independence will be in place.