“Well, it looks as if we’re finally out of salsa,” I said.
This was said more to myself than to Mrs. G., since she was in the living room watching TV whereas I was in the kitchen, home of the salsa and chips. The acoustics from here to there aren’t that good but we were indeed out of salsa and I have no idea how. We had plenty.
There were two answers to this problem that seemed obvious: (a) we needed more salsa and (b) we’re going to Sam’s Club tomorrow for more salsa.
Sam’s Club, BJ’s and Costco are pretty much the same thing—they are all warehouse stores, albeit with slightly different inventories and loyalties. I’ve never been in a Costco, but we have Sam’s and BJ’s in our area, with a Costco coming soon. When they announced that Costco was coming, people immediately leapt over the moon with excitement and then came back down and got in line to wait for cheap eyeglasses. I haven’t seen this kind of reaction to a new store since Trader Joe’s came to town.
The big draw for any of these warehouse stores is that in addition to using their enormous buying power to score overstocks at lower prices, they also sell gigantically sized portions of things for less money than smaller portions of the same things. Massive containers somehow bring down the cost per ounce, while buying in quantity brings down the cost per fleece jacket, houseplant and just about everything else. These savings are then passed down to consumers. It’s sometimes a case of fuzzy math and careful planning to get it to work, but if one is careful, it can be a cost savings and a lot more convenient—unless you want a bag. You can’t even buy a shopping bag at Sam’s Club, so you just pitch your loose stuff in the trunk and let it fight for space with the spare tire and the golf clubs.
Which brings me full circle to my salsa.
Mrs. G. and I were never salsa people or chip dipping people in general, but for some odd reason this changed a couple of years ago. We got into hummus and shortly after that, salsa. We had a dip monkey on our backs that, so far, has not gotten into the exotic stuff such as guacamole or baba ghanoush. Could salsa prove to be a gateway dip? Time will tell, I suppose.
Once we were into salsa, we soon realized that a small, 1950s size jar of it cost a lot per ounce. A large flagon of the stuff was only two dollars more at Sam’s Club and held several pounds more than its little brother, which is why it’s always a shock when it’s gone.
The next day, on a salsa mission of deep intent, we parked the car and went into Sam’s Club, grabbing a shopping cart along the way that was large enough to hold the car that we drove to Sam’s Club. These carts are so ungainly they should come with rudders, but they aren’t as bad as the flatbed carts. People who own convenience stores usually grab those, and I’m always amazed at the freight they can Tetris onto these things. The fun part of this (for me, anyway) is watching them try to take it all apart in the parking lot and rearrange it into the back of a Kia Forte. It’s as if I’m watching a weird, backwards version of Jenga, played out with tubs of red licorice, shrink-wrapped bundles of pocket-sized Kleenex, sugar-free gum and bottled water.
Sam’s requires people to flash their membership cards at the entrance, which is a bit of a nuisance since a purchase simply can’t be made without a membership card. The whole process of showing it at the entrance seems a little affected to me. One can walk into Tiffany’s and browse around for free, but to even get into a place that sells kettledrums full of cheese puffs, that, my friend, is for members only.
We always go into Sam’s with the intention of buying just one thing, but it never plays out quite that way. We’ve gotten better, but we still grab a cart. I’ve been caught in the hinterlands juggling a twelve roll package of paper towels and a piping hot rotisserie chicken one too many times to be fooled again.
It’s immediately apparent that the bright fluorescent lights and the five-story ceilings combine to make everything look small. They had an aisle display of televisions lined up like Rockettes that started at thirty-two inches and went all the way up to eighty-inches. Even though I knew better, I stood there and found myself thinking that seven-plus feet of television would absolutely fit on top of my dresser. The entire store is an optical illusion, geared for a world where people are nine feet tall.
We finally made our way back to the salsa aisle, and dropped an eight and a half pound jug of the stuff in the cart. I was thinking of the condiment jars my mom used to buy that were roughly the size of a teacup when I saw a display of teacups that were the size of soup bowls. The big salsa jug makes sense for us in other ways, because we use salsa for a lot of things besides dipping. I like it in an omelet and my wife recently discovered that it’s delicious on baked fish, but whom am I kidding? It’s primarily used for chips.
Now we need chips.
They had a pallet of Garcia Special Recipe Dippers, so we grabbed a bag of those. One bag is just shy of two pounds and the size of a bed pillow, so our cart was filling up fast. We also found some corn chips that are shaped like little bowls. The innovation of this along with a potential chip to salsa ratio of amazing was hard to resist. Two of those went the cart.
While we were looking around, Mrs. G. snagged a four-pound bag of frozen Maine blueberries (she likes a lot of blueberries on her cereal) and a four and a half pound bag of Mexican corn. I had no idea where all this was going to go once we got it home, since two people can only eat this much food so fast and these jumbo packs are clumsy to store.
Circling around, we found a box of plastic trash bags with one hundred and eighty bags inside—enough for ninety weeks worth of garbage. Twelve bucks. Those went in the cart, followed by a forty-five roll bale of toilet paper, a dozen kiwis, and a huge bunch of bananas that looked as if they were hacked out of a banana tree fifteen minutes ago. I thought they were string limes, but in the time it takes us to walk from the produce department out to our car, they should ripen up nicely.
Do we need eggs? Sure we do. A shrink-wrapped package of thirty-six eggs went in the cart. It’s now looking as if we own a restaurant. I remember my mom buying half-dozen sized packs of eggs and toilet paper by the single roll for our entire family. Mrs. G and I are two people with Sam’s fever buying quantities that could satisfy a barrack full of Marines.
As we made our way up to the checkout, I was reminded of why these warehouse stores know they’ve got you. People love a bargain, perceived or real. When we needed a new cordless landline phone, I bought a four-pack of them because it was cheaper to buy four phones than one—or even a replacement battery for the old phone. Two of them have never been used. A few months ago, I got a great closeout deal on underwear—five pair in a package for less than four bucks. I will never, and I mean never, have to buy underwear again. I couldn’t wear out my inventory of underwear if I scooted on my butt from here to California.
As we checked out, the cashier asked if we found everything. I couldn’t think of anything we couldn’t find. They have everything from cars to toothpaste (oh nuts, we need toothpaste—and nuts) and everything in between. I answered yes, swiped my card and off we went, passing people at the snack bar who were eating hot dogs bigger than my forearm. It never ends, and I always leave feeling a little like Jack climbing off the top of the beanstalk for the first time and looking around at the larger than life world before him. It’s overwhelming.
But at least I had salsa. Jack only had beans.
©Rick Garvia 2014. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.