Now, I go to the grocery store every two or three days. There is no such thing as a bad time to go to this store; there are only awful times and unbearable times. I go to one of the (very) few full-service grocery stores in my neighborhood (I also sometimes buy food at Duane Reade, because it's not much more expensive and usually more convenient, but the selection is highly limited... my parents, who have never lived in New York, tell me I should do my grocery shopping at corner stores, which is probably because they have seen neither the prices nor the selection at these locations). It is always crowded, unless it is a time that is convenient to shop, and then it is extremely crowded. Customers squeeze past each other in the aisles, and you have to grab what you want to buy as you walk, because if you try to stop the tide will push you along. Intersections generate vortices of people and carts or else total gridlock. People who are ordinarily polite and deferential use their baskets and carts as defensive weapons; people who are ordinarily assertive use them as offensive weapons. The staff in charge of restocking shelves barrels through the mash of customers pushing tall carts, ignoring the elderly women whose carts they sideswipe and anyone who might be trapped in their path.
At the registers, it's all efficiency. Somebody tells you which register to go to, somebody checks and bags your groceries, somebody else whisks away your basket as you empty it, you swipe your card, and you're done. Today I was at register 8 buying my essentials for the next 24 hours and the woman at register 9 had lost her wallet. She was only just realizing it when I got there: she rifled through her bag, checked her pockets, looked on the counter under the bag as if maybe she'd already taken it out. How can this be, she asked the woman working the register. I don't have my wallet. I felt bad for her, less because of her lost wallet - probably she'd just left it at home or at work or in her other bag - than because of her confusion. Where could it have gone, she asked. She wasn't talking to me, of course - nobody in New York is ever looking at me or talking to me, unless I am the specific person they are trying to interact with, which I'm still not quite used to - but I made a show of looking around on the conveyor belt and floor in my vicinity, in case she'd dropped it without noticing or in case she wanted help. The woman working my register gave me my receipt to sign and my bag of groceries. The customer at the register next to me gave up looking through her bag. Oh, this is so annoying, she said. The woman working her register shrugged, dropped the already-bagged groceries in a bin behind her of items to be returned to the shelves, and waved her hand in the air. Next on 8! Next on 9!