Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sample Lady

Whole Foods has finally arrived in my corner of middle America. Before it was Whole Foods, though, it was Wild Oats, which was basically the same-- a haven of overpriced, pseudo-gourmet organic goods. Wild Oats employed a woman whose sole responsibility was pushing around a cart of samples, tempting shoppers like myself with these free teasers, and persuading us to buy the product. I felt entitled to whatever the sample lady was peddling from her cart when she came around. She hated my guts.

Standing in the glow of the pastry case, wax paper in hand, I have narrowed my options and am deciding between an oatmeal cookie and a zucchini muffin, and I don’t hear her approaching behind me until she growls,

“Like to try a sample?”

I turn facing her, and she narrows her eyes. She recognizes me. I pretend that I’ve never been offered a sample of anything in my life. Our exchange is always the same.

“What do you have?” I ask.

Vanilla Rice Dream Ice Cream, she’ll say, or pumpkin mousse cups, or shaved roast beef and chipotle mayonnaise on squares of organic whole wheat. It doesn’t matter what she’s offering, I always want it. I accept a roast beef sample. I’m chewing, making noises of approval, nodding with a hand to my mouth, and then she lays down the clincher.

“Roast beef is on sale, two for five dollars. Do you need any roast beef today?”

“Oh, no, but I’ll keep that in mind.” I throw in the last part to hint that one day, because of her efforts, I may return to Whole Foods driven by the memory of that sample and purchase an entire case of roast beef. She never buys it. Instead, she gives me an icy look, as if I have fulfilled her miserably low expectations of me, as if I had wasted her valuable sample peddling time. She says nothing, and she turns her cart around and walks away from me, leaving me with a cellophane-tasseled toothpick and a vague sense of guilt.

Maybe I shouldn’t take samples when I only come in for a pastry. Maybe I should save samples for suburban mothers with three junior soccer stars to feed, people who would genuinely appreciate a sale on roast beef. I shake off these notions quickly when I bring my cookie to the checkout and remind myself that everything at this store is too fucking expensive not to take advantage of all the free food I can lay my hands on.


liz said...

oh my god, i love samples too. when i was little i called them "tastes" and my mom would refuse to bring me to the grocery store w/ her b/c i would constantly run off in search of "tastes." the only difference now is that i am not making anybody else run around after me.

Colin said...

Heh, I always feel a little bit guilty about taking samples of something I have no intention of actually buying, but, oh well.

Sounds like you have a really crappy Whole Foods, though, which is too bad. It's actually the closest grocery store to our house, and with all the ultra-liberal college students inhabiting the neighborhood, the staff there are all friendly hippies. And depending on what you're buying, it's not necessarily overpriced. Heck, I go there for store-brand jelly and yogurt all the time because it's cheaper than anything edible at Rainbow or Cub. But beware the granola/Kashi/organic tortilla chip sorts of aisles - that way lies the end of your bank account.

sis said...

Hi Allison! This is your long lost aunt, Sis. Your Dad turned me on to your blog and I love it! Great writing and great subjects. I must get busy and send you Thee Chocolate Chip Cookies and recipe. Man I could use a Belgian Waffle and a Fried Chicken Salad right now. Have to settle for a multi-grain cracker and a V-8. More anon, love sis

john said...

sounds like a fun time; next time just take and walk away ;-)

Mark said...

At Krogers, the Sample Ladies just wanted to get rid of their stuff. (A lot of Kroger's samples are from food that is too old to sell.)

There was a woman who went from one sample tray to another, eating every single bite. A girl at the cheese shop saw her coming, and to be cruel, hid her samples under the counter. The woman threw a fit and didn't calm down until the manager gave her coupons for free items.