By Tim Hayes

“Do I look like a banana to you?!”

The small, elderly, besmocked cashier at the checkout line all but shouted this bizarre question at me, her thin, gray, mousy hair trembling with agitation and rage atop her cantaloupe-shaped head.

“Uhhh, no?” came my proffered response, hoping that was what she wanted to hear.  At that point, my meager hopes totaled paying for my little collection of groceries without incident, getting out of that crazy store and making it back to my car as quickly as possible.

In other words, just another trip to City Shoppe.

An old-style grocery store – notice I didn’t say “supermarket” – City Shoppe looked pretty beat-up inside, with fading linoleum floors and freezers that had been battered by thousands of dented, mismatched shopping carts over the decades.  But it had the staples, all within easy reach and contained within a manageable space that you didn’t need a GPS to navigate.

We patronized City Shoppe for 20-plus years, zipping around, Road Runner-like, because you knew exactly where the precise item you wanted sat on the shelf in its eternal aisle.  They didn’t swap the merchandise around in City Market, no sir.  Plain, predictable, no-frills grocery shopping.  That was the good part.

The flip side came with some of the folks who worked there, including Mousy Hair the Cashier.

You also had Cosmo the Singing Deli Guy, who would serenade customers for the full duration of his shift behind the slicer, whether you wanted a half-pound of off-key warbling with your oven-roasted turkey and American cheese or not.

Next came Francis the Angry Butcher, who took it as a personal affront any time a customer asked for a specific cut of meat or for a fresh dozen ground-beef hamburger patties.  I attributed this personality quirk to him spending way too many years ankle-deep in red meat and cow blood, but what do I know?

Most trips also promised an encounter with Ralph the Territorial Milk Man, who invariably and inexplicably blocked access to the size and flavor of dairy product you happened to be after at that moment, and who steadfastly refused to step aside, donned in his frayed baseball cap, winter jacket (it’s cold working in front of a giant refrigerator all day!), and hand gloves.  Such dedication to a singular task of stocking hundreds of bottles of cold milk may sound inspiring and praiseworthy, but not so much when it feels like he’s “in the paint” on a basketball court, setting a screen that you can’t defend.

A friend from out of town once accompanied me on a swing through City Shoppe.  As we climbed back into the car, he said, “I feel like calling ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and telling them, ‘Hey!  We just…found…EVERYBODY!’”

The madcap run of City Shoppe ended earlier this year, as its lease expired.  Some new froo-froo, all-natural, high-end, specialty “Grocerie Salon” looks to be the next occupant of that space.  So much for no-frills shopping for staples, I guess.  It sure was interesting while it lasted, but that’s progress, they tell me.

By the way, Mousy Hair the Cashier had become so angry that day because some co-worker had taunted her from three checkout lines down as “Hannah the Banana.”  You just don’t get that kind of entertainment in a big old sprawling supermarket, you have to admit.

Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting