Every one of has been to outdoor markets both here and abroad. Maybe you recall as I do, strolling after midnight along the Seine perusing food stalls and passing trinket sellers, practicing haggling skills as interior monologues. Was there ever a gooey grilled cheese sandwich as good, or fattening? Or, like me, maybe you see yourself surrounded by agitated sellers on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, wishing my Catalan language skills were better than zero. Name a third world country and think of that market, of the dirt, the smells, and the prices.
But I digress, as is my usual technique. AS we know, life can be tense around the Christmas holidays, and sadly, there is no one else to blame. We’d been rushing here and there, getting everything ready for visitors and parties. No sooner had we gotten back from an errand when we discovered some forgotten item, and with that look of “what-else-can-go-wrong?” on our faces, headed back to the car, and off to the market—again. It was a running joke in our family. Our almost never used cell minutes burned away as we called with last minute needs at the market.
We’ve got another kind of market, but not the third world type. No haggling allowed, you just need a lot of patience. You enter the small parking lot with trepidation, hoping that the person in front of you will, in fact, turn in the direction their turn signal blinker is pointing, and then make it quickly. The trick is to find a legal space among the diagonally parked, outside the lines hordes.
It was in such a marketplace that my wife, on one of those many holiday errands found true peace and understanding. I’d just come back from the grocery store, so it was her turn. We needed just a few things, and Trader Joe’s, or “T.J.s” as the cognoscenti call it, was the place to go. This store, now owned by a German firm, was then just good old T.J.s.
She returned within a half hour. “I had an interesting experience at T.J.s,” she said unloading the three or four items that she’d bought.
“And….” I asked, concentrating on something else.
“I found a parking space, amazingly, and not too far from the door, and made it back with no near misses.” She smiled, waiting for my congratulations. “Well, there was a line with only three people ahead of me, and…”
“And,” I interrupted, “they all moved out of the way so you could be the one to pay first?”
“Hardly, but let me explain.” She wasn’t smiling. Time to listen and learn, I thought to myself.
“I’ve got the mental picture in my head so tell me what happened?” I wiped my flour-covered hands on my stylish, manly cooking apron, dropping most of the white powder on the kitchen floor. A Pillsbury weather event.
“Well, you know how the T.J.s cashier takes your items and removes them from the cart, and once you’re standing at the credit card thingy, he swipes and scans your stuff and totals it up?”
“With you so far,” I said, losing interest in this conversation and worried that my cream cheese was getting too soft. I resisted touching it.
“Well, there was an older woman in front of me with a large order, she had a full cart. I noticed that the checker kept scanning my stuff as if it was with her order—my stuff—so I told him to stop.”
Now she had my attention and I was interested—hot cream cheese be damned! “And?”
“The cashier said to me, ‘That lady in front of you asked me to add your items to her order, and told me that she’d pay for it. Didn’t give a reason--just asked me to do it.”
“And, so did you speak with this lady? Did you know her?” I stooped to pick up some flour.
“Yes. I walked over to her and thanked her, she was a nice person, not rich, not poor, just average, kinda like us.”
“Wow,” I said. “What did she say?”
“She just told me that she liked to do nice things for people, and this was one way to help a total stranger.”
“Amazing,” I said. “Did you get her name?”
“No, I didn’t but she did say that she hoped that I’d do the same for someone else.”
“That’s sweet,” I answered. “So, I guess you paid for the person standing behind you in line? Keep the pay-it-forward thing going and all that?”
“Are you kidding?” My wife almost shouted. “That guy had a full cart of stuff!”
Like I said, life can be tense around the holidays.