Meet Cute #16: Betsy and Trader Joe’s

Betsy pulled into the parking lot of Trader Joe’s.

She turned to her boyfriend, Carl, who was humming a pop song — that one by Daft Punk, she thought — in the passenger seat. “Well, we’re here,” she said. “Excited?”

“I am! Thanks, babe.”

Betsy aimed her Toyota Yaris down a row of cars, looking for an open space.

A middle-aged woman pushed an empty red shopping cart toward them. Betsy veered to the left and the woman mirrored her.

“Betsy!” Carl yelled. “Watch out!”

Betsy gasped and slammed the brakes. The car’s hood squealed to a stop only inches from the woman’s cart.

She and the woman regarded each other in shocked silence. The woman was probably 45, with the rumpled clothes and tired eyes of a mother with young kids.

Betsy raised her arms in a gesture of apology and surrender. But the woman did not smile back. Instead, she lifted her lip in a sneer.

Then she raised one hand from her cart and extended her middle finger.

Betsy sat motionless, too stunned to react. With an angry clatter, the woman backed up and resumed walking. She rattled past Carl’s side of the car, her purple puffy coat visible through the window.

Stunned, Betsy looked at Carl. “Really? Did you see that?”

Carl’s jaw twitched.

“Carl, that woman just flipped me off for trying to avoid flattening her! It was her fault as much as mine!”

“Bets — it’s Saturday,” Carl said. “People get aggressive on Saturdays.”

“OK, you know what? That’s it. I’m turning around. We’re going to Zeke’s.”

“Betsy! Come on. We drove all this way. So one psycho lady flipped us off. We’ll survive.”

Betsy closed her eyes, took a deep breath. She put the car in gear. “You are so going to owe me for this.”


The only spot they could find was at the back of the lot, next to a five-foot-high bank of plowed snow. Part of the pile had toppled into the space. As Betsy pulled in, the Yaris angled upward on her side, tires grinding against ice.

She opened her door, its edge crunching into the snow bank. She shimmied out, stumbling on the uneven surface.

She and Carl met on the pavement. Carl mock-cowered away from her, raising his hands toward his face. “Please don’t hit me!”

“OK, that’s enough of that.”

Unfazed, he pulled her toward him, giving her a side-squeeze. “Look, I’ll buy you a fro-yo after this, all right? Or whatever you want.”

“There’s fro-yo here?”

“On the other side of the shopping center.”

“OK, maybe I no longer want to kill the world.”

Carl gave her a kiss on the cheek.


Betsy had never been to a Trader Joe’s before. For months, she’d been resisting this trip, resisting Carl’s rejoinders and campaigning. She was an architect, after all. At a firm that specialized in historic renovations of public buildings: Schools, courthouses, social service centers. A firm she’d sought out, after architecture school, because it reflected her own values of preservation and public service over suburban sprawl and commerce.

Ever since they’d moved to Columbus, Ohio, for work, the two of them had been shopping at independent stores. The stores weren’t anything spectacular. The broccoli would be conventionally grown, not organic. The romaine lettuce would be half-drowned under the relentless automatic sprayers of the produce cases. The toilet paper would be unrecycled.

But Carl had grown up in Boston, where there’d been a Trader Joe’s on every block. He’d extolled the chain’s cheap organic produce and wine, the “beautiful” cheese selection, the flash-frozen, ethically caught seafood — and, yes, the 100 percent recycled toilet paper.

Most of all, Carl loved that the stores were small and curated — like “little museums of food,” he said. You went in, you found what you wanted. It would probably taste good.

But this weekend they were throwing a party — their first since the move, for a new couple they’d met in their neighborhood.

“Bets, I’m telling you — TJ’s,” Carl had said, as they planned their shopping list. “For parties? It cannot be beat. They have about a million of those little frozen appetizer things. And I told you about the wine.”

So she’d relented.

But worse than patronizing the store itself was the getting there. This was Columbus, not Boston, which meant there were only two Trader Joe’s stores in the entire metro area. Both were located a 20-minute drive from their downtown apartment, in faux-town square shopping malls. The one they’d chosen was at Fairfield Commons, which also boasted an IMAX movie theater, a Nordstrom Rack and an Apple Store.

Now, approaching the store entrance, Betsy cringed. She recognized the facade cladding as “thin brick,” a cheap half-inch brick veneer. Everyone leaving and entering the store was white and wearing Uggs and/or yoga clothes.

Inside the store, those same people packed the aisles. The place was a zoo, a dull roar of voices and cash registers.

“OK, remain calm, babe,” Carl said. “I know how to handle this. We’re going to get a cart –” He grabbed an abandoned cart from a nearby aisle — “and then leave it here.” He parked it beside a lightly trafficked display of blackberries.

Before she’d had a chance to reply, he’d dropped a couple of packages of organic romaine lettuce — $2.99 a bag, not bad — into the cart. Then came a flurry of other salad vegetables: An English cucumber, tomatoes, red peppers. Plastic packaging, emblazoned with the store’s logo, encased each item.

“See, I read about that, the excessive packaging,” Betsy said.

But Carl didn’t hear, or pretended not to. His eyes had taken on a sheen of intense focus. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s triage. We’ll start with the frozen foods because that’s always the craziest.”

He pulled her to the frozen food aisle, dodging a half-dozen carts. From the freezer case, he plucked out a box of frozen stuffed mushrooms, stowed it in the crook of his arm. “These are incredible. Melt in your mouth.”

As Carl continued to make selections, Betsy’s eye caught on an area of vegetarian food. Vegan breakfast sausages for $2.29. That was the best price she’d ever seen. Plus the packaging said “Hi” and was brightly colored. She scooped up a box.

And meatless meatballs, too! They’d have at least one vegan at the party, so…

Next were the cheeses. Varieties they’d never dream of buying at Zeke’s were accessibly priced here. Aged gouda. Real parmesan. Manchego…

“You want to pick out one or two? Whatever looks good? I’ll grab the crackers,” Carl said.

Crowds of people maneuvered around her, hands snatching up packaged wedges. In a covetous frenzy, Betsy selected four varieties of cheese, then chastised herself and put one back. The blueberry goat. They could do without the blueberry goat.

Then again — why not? Who knew when they’d be back? And it was such a lovely blue color, with no preservatives…

She dropped her selections into the parked cart, then reunited with Carl. He guided her through the rest of the store. They picked out wine and toilet paper and almonds coated with 72 percent cacao chocolate. Betsy found her favorite variety of all-natural licorice, at the best price she’d ever seen, and took that too.

She took a deep breath, willing the return of her former resistance. “How are they able to sell this so cheap?” she demanded. “There’s got to be some kind of exploitation going on. Violation of labor laws or human rights in some poor developing country — something like that.”

“You’re just feeling Trader Joe’s guilt, babe. That’s all. It’ll pass.”

In any case, the question was academic. She was buying the licorice.

After no more than 20 minutes, they’d finished their rounds.

“See? Not bad at all, right?” Carl asked.

“Well, I feel dirty and exhausted,” she said. “But other than that –”

Carl gave her a playful elbow in the side. “Whatever. I saw the look in your eye when you found the vegan sausages.”

As they waited in the check-out line, Betsy felt a hollowness in her stomach. It was familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

Then she knew. The hollowness was the feeling of incipient addiction. The same sensation she’d felt when she started binge-watching Girls a few months ago, or when she’d first discovered fro-yo, or the bizarre 1980s music videos of Kate Bush on YouTube. She’d spent an entire week of nights and lunch hours reading everything she could find about Kate Bush.

The line moved forward. A checkout guy with shaggy hair grinned.

“Hey guys,” he said. “You find everything you needed?”

Betsy stared at their full cart. They didn’t need any of it, she realized. Not the dried figs or the five bottles of wine or the pastry canapés. And yet somehow she couldn’t fathom putting a single item back.

It was too late. Good Betsy had fallen into bad love.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *