Coffee heat rising

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?

Of Retail, Runners, Recession, and…Birds?

Yesterday I ordered a few things from Costco via Instacart. One of these was a 50# bag of birdseed. I’d sent them a message that I’d have a wheelbarrow ready, so we could just slide the bag out of the runner’s car into that and I’d roll it into the backyard — with the exception of one young male, most of their runners seem to be willowy young women.

What shows up at the door are not one but two joyous, hefty, and energetic lesbians. I say, I’ll bring round the wheel barrow. One of the women says no problem, I’ll carry it…where do you want it? 

So I let them in the back gate and the gal lifts that massive, inert sack of bird seed and strolls into the backyard with it like it weighed about as much as a three-month-old. The other one is the chatty type, and so she and I are having a good time yakking. I end up thanking them mightily for the hauling job (and giving them a generous tip). The chatty one says they just moved down here from Vegas because they couldn’t make a living up there. They got laid off their jobs in those gilded precincts and started working for Instacart to keep food on the table…and not much food. She said Instacart has a minimum payment to their runners of $7 per trip. But time after time, they — the two wymmen — would get orders for something in the range of seven bucks. So that means that if Suzie Q orders $7 worth of goods from Sprouts, Instacart makes nothing on the transaction.

Nothing!!! Think o’ that!

And think of what it implies for the runner: Here in lovely Phoenix, it takes me about 10 minutes to drive to Costco…5 to park and hike into the store. A typical Costco store covers about three acres. Let’s see…hmmmm… You trot to the far end of the store and you buy a bag of toilet paper (if you can find it), picking up stuff along the way: 15 minutes. Now go back out, 5 minutes to the car, after standing in the check-out line about 8 minutes. Now another 15 minutes to get to the customer’s house… That’s almost an hour. Seven bucks an hour…and you pay for gas, wear & tear on your vehicle, and car insurance out of that. If I’m not mistaken, you’re now deep in negative territory…

Here Instacart has a minimum order of $35…or at least, that was what I understood. Maybe that’s a local policy? She said they were already doing better here than  they were in Vegas, anyway.

§ § §

A-A-A-N-D this morning it’s another amazing adventure here at the Funny Farm! 😀

Ruby wanders out into the front courtyard where what should she find but a baby bird on the ground. Looks like an infant mockingbird. Or thrasher, maybe. The bird panics when Ruby goes over and sniffs at it. I call the dog off and pick up the babe, literally seconds before the watering system kicks in.

It’s frantic.

Bring it into the house and tuck it into an old checkbook box.

My neighbor Joel is out in front, teaching his high-school kids online. I annoy him by breaking into whatever he’s doing — because I know he and his kids have rescued wild birds before and think maybe the high-school has some kind of program for said rescue. He says no, he took the last bird down to Liberty Wildlife… South of two freeways. South of the river. Deep in one of the dankest slums this side of Albuquerque.

Ohhhhkayyyyy…. I try to figure out if there’s an alternative.

…Not so much.

Secure the nestling inside the box with a loosely wrapped paper towel, so air can get in and (i hope…) the bird can’t get out. Fortunately, it’s too exhausted and terrorized to try to escape. Climb in the tank, tune in the cowboy station, and start drivin’ drivin’ drivin’…..

Ohhhhh dear God, i hate driving in Phoenix….

But it’s not the usual teeth-jarring horrible drive. Only two morons cut in front of me. One idiot marches purposefully against the red light across a major intersection. Two construction zones. One really sad, heartbreaking bum, so, sooooooo stoned, one would say stoned out of his head but he apparently was out of his head to begin with, and so skinny, like either he never eats or the meth really burns the calories for him or maybe a bit of both. One pimp, dressed to the nines with his hair dyed orange, strolling past a strip club. Two railroad crossings, thank God neither of them occupied by stalled freight trains. Only one 737 shriekin’ in low across south 24th Street. Traffic relatively light. All in all, not a bad day for a drive.

Get down there and find the place with no problem. There’s only one person in front of me at the drop-off window, also turning in a lost baby bird.

Chat with the staff. The front desk supervisor told me they’d probably take in a hundred baby birds today.

Why? There hasn’t been any wind to knock them out of their nests…whaaa?

“It’s just the season,” says he. This happens every spring. And, he added, Liberty Wildlife takes in TEN THOUSAND BABY BIRDS A YEAR!

Holy mackerel!

It’s a huge facility. I gave them a little donation.

And drivin’ away thought…..hhhhmmmmmm….. If I have to drop out of choir because of the covid sh*t, that would be a place to volunteer.

So I’ll keep that in mind.

10,000 lost chicks a year. Think of that!

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.