Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Losing My (Gluten-Free) Religion

I love Trader Joe's.

It's always just weird enough to be interesting, but not so weird that they don't have (some) semi-normal food.

But I think they must have some kind of machine in each of their parking lots that causes what I call The Trader Joe's Effect, which turns normal people into blithering idiots with no ability to make simple turns, drive ten feet further to an empty space, or anticipate what might happen five seconds in the future. (The machine might also temporarily make people unaware that anyone else in the world exists, but that could just be a side-effect of living in Los Angeles.)

And The Trader Joe's Effect usually extends into the store as well, where people routines leave their carts blocking entire aisles or just suddenly stop and refuse to move for 45 seconds while they contemplate gluten-free pot pies and look for products they've bought for years which vanish as if they were never for sale anywhere.

So when a new Trader Joe's opened a few blocks from Casa Clicks and Pops, I was thrilled that I could walk there and buy cheap semi-gourmet cheeses or mango chicken sausage while avoiding the slack-jawed insanity of a Trader Joe's parking lot.

The staff was lined up at the front in their Hawaiian shirts, handing out balloons. I entered the large, new building (with wide aisles and big windows) and noticed a huge display of Charles Shaw wine (aka "two-buck Chuck"), arranged to resemble the Getty Museum (with gourmet white chocolate bars set up as an edible Getty Museum monorail). And this was blasting from the store's sound system:

I asked a manager what the music was and he had no idea. "But it's vaguely sad, right?" he said. "And sad makes people buy cheap wine and free-range eggs."

So I wandered through the aisles, where people still acted like idiots and blocked my way (only in this store it was slightly easier to go around them). I guess the music served its purpose: by the time I left the store, they were down to the last dozen free-range eggs, the white chocolate monorail had been ripped from its tracks, and the Two-Buck Chuck Getty Museum looked more like a Two-Buck Chuck tribute to condo projects abandoned halfway through construction after the economy went south.

When I got home, I learned that the music in the store was the Vitamin String Quartet, a "group" that doesn't really exist. Vitamin Records has been using the name (and a shifting group of players) over the past few years to release dozens of albums that reinterpret various rock songs with string quartet instruments.

I was crushed. I hoped the "group" was the brainchild of some half-mad symphonic refugee who'd undergone a musical conversion at a sweaty punk club in some city's seediest section.

Sometimes, the truth is enough to make you lose your religion.

PS: To further disillusion you, there's no guy named "Trader Joe," either. (And the jury's still out on that Santa Claus guy...)


Anonymous said...

That is so true about every Trader Joe's I've ever shopped at.

Damn, I miss their frozen foods!

whiteray said...

Sad music and cheap wine, I can see. But free-range eggs?

Alex said...

Whiteray, you make a good point. I'm not sure the eggs would go any further if they were free-range!