My personal version of hell. Photo: flickr/juicyrai
I stood in my striped boxer shorts in the kitchen, listening to my girlfriend's latest accusation.
"Did you eat my yogurt?" she asked, rooting around in the refrigerator for her last container of Greek yogurt. It's thick and packed with protein, and lord she loves her protein.
I wiped a white smudge from my lips. "No. Why would I do that?" Unlike George Washington, I can tell a lie. She fixed me with a withering gaze. "Because you never go to the grocery store," she said. "That's not true," I replied. "Buying beer doesn't count," she said, gesturing to the fridge's bottom shelf. It was crammed with dozens of bottles of delicious drunkenness. "Don't touch my beer!" I said, grabbing a bottle of Brooklyn Brewery's lovely, lemony Sorachi Ace. "Just buy groceries," my girlfriend declared. Her tone indicated that it was a command, not a polite suggestion.
Dear readers, I have nothing against grocery shopping. As a child, I loved spending Saturdays with my mom at Kroger, where the aisles were wide enough to accommodate an SUV. Saturdays meant sample day, a free smorgasbord of frozen pizza, microwaveable burritos, cubed cheese and sliced deli meat. "Would you like another, sweetheart?" the smiling sample ladies would ask, passing me another toothpick-speared morsel. "Go tell your mother how much you liked it."
Beyond free food, I loved finding bargains. My brain filled with recently learned long division, hands clutching coupons clipped from the Sunday paper, I'd suss out the best prices per ounce. "We don't need name-brand flour," I'd tell my mom. "The store brand costs less." Even as a child, I was a cheapskate. And the name of the game was buying in bulk. Rice, sugar, beans, beef— everything's cheaper when bought in arm-straining amounts.
Bringing home those heavy, low-cost foodstuffs was a snap thanks to our skyblue Colt Vista minivan, which brings me to the crux of this tale: Without a car, shopping for groceries is a big ol' botheration. (Yes, there's FreshDirect, but buying groceries on the Internet feels unnatural, like browsing for a mate online. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to grocery-shop like I once dated: with lots of fondling.)
Like most New Yorkers, I do not own a car. My last vehicle, a tan-toned Nissan Stanza minivan, gave up the ghost in 1999, following a 24-hour breakneck jaunt from Denver to Dayton, Ohio. Since then, I've driven Coney Island's Eldorado bumper cars more often than an actual auto. I prefer biking, which keeps me from ballooning to 300 pounds of grease and beer.
But my girlfriend likes sliding behind a steering wheel. Whenever we, say, return to Ohio or New Hampshire, she pilots our rental. "As long as I'm driving, I don't mind long car rides," she says. I'm OK with this arrangement. She drives. I drink. Everyone is happy. Then our friend Matt ruined our equilibrium with an offer my girlfriend couldn't refuse: share their station wagon for less than $90 a month. "I'll be able to go hiking and antiquing," she said, "and you can go grocery shopping."
Buying groceries on the Internet feels unnatural, like browsing for a mate online. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to grocery-shop like I once dated: with lots of fondling.
So, on a snowy Sunday, I found myself piloting the station wagon to Sunset Park. My destination was Fei Long Supermarket (6301 8th Ave. betw. 63rd & 64th Sts., Brooklyn, 718-680-0118), a former auto-body shop converted into one of Brooklyn's best Chinese groceries. The produce room stretches nearly a block, offering rows of 'shrooms and garden-fresh greens. Freezers overflow with dozens of different dumplings; the noodle aisle is a carbohydrate cornucopia; and stir-fry sauces are stacked to the ceiling. Sweetening the deal is Fei Long's parking lot. It's plenty spacious and easily accessible. Not so easy? Driving to the supermarket.
An unsung benefit of not owning a car is never suffering road rage. But it took two minutes to be stricken by that affliction. "Get the hell out of my damn way!" I screamed at an idling livery cab, waiting in the middle of the road for a customer pickup. Red lights, traffic jams, glaciers chilling in the road: My lazy Sunday drive became a pulse-quickening, blood-boiling excursion. I actually empathized with drivers who lay on the horn to chastise jaywalkers. But I refrained. I retreated into my happy spot, a delicious land loaded with all the dumplings and noodles I'd soon acquire. I eased into the parking lot, locked the car and gazed longingly at an empty trunk that I'd soon fill with food.