Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 25, 2013

Snow spurs grocery store madness

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Though I grew up in a place with little snow, I try to pride myself on not being one of those people who rushes to the grocery store as soon as the slightest prediction of the white stuff is made.

I don’t want to deal with the crowds as well as the possibility that whatever item I need is already sold out. Unfortunately, last week I found myself doubly unlucky in that I had run out of some essentials just in time for the big blizzard.

I woke up Thursday morning and went to the fridge to prepare breakfast only to open the door and find I was out of milk. Naturally, as soon as I closed the refrigerator door I also saw the sleet beginning to fall out my window. I headed to the grocery store — along with half of Mercer County, apparently — to get some milk.

Now, I normally don’t wait until the last minute before a snowstorm to get necessities like milk, bread, eggs and cheese, but it seems like people who don’t even need these items are flooding the grocery store in the last seconds before flakes start to fall just because they feel like it’s the appropriate thing to do. I wonder if there is some innate urge in human beings that alerts them to every item they might possibly run out of minutes before big snowfalls.

Naturally, milk is always kept at the back of the store so you have to push your way through all the other shoppers to get to it. I knew exactly what I needed and where I needed to go, but I found myself getting blocked in by other shoppers who stopped their carts in the middle of the aisle so they could internally debate whether to get the frozen tater tots or frozen jalapeno poppers for their snow day feast. I am typically not impatient with my fellow grocery store customers, but when I just want to get in and get out, I can be a little passive aggressive with my “I’m waiting for you to move” stance.

When I finally got to the milk aisle, I was glad to see there were still plenty of gallons left. I was not happy to see the three other people blocking the milk cases, debating their milk options. I get the same type of milk every time I am at the grocery store, so I immediately go for the right color cap and move on. When one shopper noticed me patiently waiting behind her cart full of doughnuts, instant macaroni and cheese and cucumbers, she moved aside and let me grab my milk before going back to pondering the pros and cons of 1 percent versus 2 percent milk.

When I arrived back at the front of the store after again navigating myself through a maze of dazed shoppers and their carts, I found myself waiting in line behind tons of people with big bags of dog food, milk and snowstorm survival essentials. I don’t know why some of these are essentials to some, but apparently in order to protect yourself from the winter some folks feel the need to stock up on Little Debbie cakes, the big bag of spicy barbecue potato chips, a gallon bucket of strawberry ice cream and a smoke-cured ham. As you may have guessed, I was in line for a good 15 minutes and had nothing better to do than read the tabloid headlines and peruse my fellow shoppers’ bags.

I was able to get out of the store just as the parking lot began to fill up with all the other last-minute shoppers and snowdrifts. By the time I arrived home, it was snowing and I was glad to have my milk. After all, I like milk with my coffee and hot cocoa, especially on snowy days.

Unfortunately, I found myself in need of another run to Walmart Friday morning. It is hard enough to navigate the massive Walmart parking lot on a normal, sunny day, but trying to drive through it amid snow, haphazardly parked vehicles and all the big rigs waiting for the interstate to reopen is an entirely different matter. Finding a parking space I could safely get to and, more importantly, back out of made me feel like I was playing a life-size version of Tetris with my car.

For all the people out in the parking lot, the store itself was virtually empty. I suppose no one had to buy toilet paper, the latest romance novel, a bucket of mixed nuts or lemonade mix in bulk since the snow had passed and was starting to melt by that point.

The truckers were all starting to leave and return to the interstate by the time I was back in my car. They seemed pretty excited about it, smiling, waving and giving thumbs up to me and the other Walmart shoppers in the parking lot, watching the snowbound convoy return to the now open road. I followed one rig out of the snow-covered parking lot, figuring if a 16-wheeler can get through a certain path of slush my car should be able to manage it as well.

As I left the parking lot, I vowed I would never again put off necessary store trips just in case I found myself wading through knee-deep snow and slush. Now, I just have to hope I don’t run out of eggs and bacon before the next winter weather event.

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.