January 29th, 2013
From the time I came to San Francisco it took me 38 years to get to Rainbow Grocery. This is a store, not a chain, and it has its own page in Wikipedia. Its devotees swear by its goodness, it’s organic mindedness, and its devotion to fellowship. Whenever I’m hob-nobbing with my lefty friends I always have the same worry, will it occur to them that I am unfamiliar with Rainbow? I’ve got to get my ass over there and experience the miracle of communal marketing before I’m exposed as just another Trader Joes liberal. Finally, I did it.
On a recent Thursday night, my friend Pete and I went there. I felt acceptable because Pete drives a really old Chevy pickup. The truck is a sign of respect for those in America who must carry car repair tools on even the shortest errands.
We found a parking spot in front of the store! We both stood at the meter, digging in our pockets for change. It’s 4 or 5 bucks an hour to park there. Somehow that fact didn’t fit in, ideologically, with the brotherly nature of a Rainbow shopping trip. But I was filled with anticipation, standing there in a light rain with Pete, feeding the parking meter. I was a bit taken aback because I always pictured a huge, log-cabin style building to house their organic goods. Right now, I can’t say what the market looked like on the outside. I think it was just gray concrete. Inside, it was a darker gray. Or it simply appeared that way because the lighting was so poor. People stood in twos and threes speaking reverently about a handful of mushrooms, a jar of tea leaves, or a knob of cauliflower. I inhaled deeply, hoping for he cheery aroma of tangerines, but all that entered my nose was more gray. Pete and I dutifully walked the aisles. We picked up a few items, examined them, but did not place them in our shopping baskets. Everything was too expensive. In a moment, Pete said, “You ready to get out of here, Fred, this place is a dungeon?” I nodded and we headed out. As we climbed into the truck I thought, geez, we ought to stay another 40 minutes to get our parking’s worth. We still had about 3 dollars on the meter.
We were hungry. I suggested Whole Foods. The other end of the shopping spectrum. If there were any republicans in San Francisco, this is where they’d come. We pulled into their downstairs lot, then went up to the shopping floor to have a look. Pete compared prices and said that everything here was about 10% cheaper than Rainbow. Whole Foods? Really? Most people called this place Whole Paycheck. But we had a couple chicken sandwiches. They were good and, compared to most restaurants, inexpensive. The dining area, downstairs, was fed by the elevator so there was always a lot of traffic brushing your elbows while you were trying to eat. But I had no complaint. Rainbow Grocery was finally leaving my nostrils.