Seven years ago when my husband and I found out I was pregnant, we told a couple friends of ours the news.
“You need to get a membership to Costco” Mario said to me, over the rim of his glasses.
I started to laugh. My husband had always talked about how we’d really be grownups when we could buy in bulk. I thought Mario was referring to that.
“No, I am serious” said Mario with his thick Peruvian accent.
“Oh my gosh! Yes!” his husband Carl practically squealed. “You’ll need to buy diapers! It is such a deal there. Let’s have a double date there Saturday morning! We can use our card to get it. You will see how great it’s going to be and then if you like it, you can get your own card!”
They picked us up Saturday morning at 9:30am. It took only 15 minutes to get there but the football field of a parking lot was nearly full. We waited outside till they rolled open the large metal doors. Everyone pushed in with their giant carts.
Carl waved at the lady checking membership cards. “Hello Amy!” he yelled. “Just brought my friends this week. She’s going to have a baby! I am going to be a guncle!”
“You know the lady who works here’s name?” I asked.
“Well , yeah. We come here every Saturday morning. Papi and I go through every row. We get our groceries. We try on clothes. Then we get hot dogs for lunch” Carl cheerfully shared.
Mario rolled his eyes. “He knows every. single. person’s. name.” he said looking up at Carl lovingly.
They were right. We went down every aisle. My husband and Mario looked over stainless steel cooking pans while Carl and I talked about our rumbling tummies.
“Well, you’re pregnant. You have an excuse! I just want to be fat!”
I noticed that the clothes in the center of the store were Carl and Mario’s entire wardrobe.
“Carl, you have that shirt.” I pointed out.
“We both have that shirt” said Mario soberly.
In the end, we decided to go ahead and get a membership for our family life ahead. Mario went with my husband to fill out the paperwork while Carl and I stuffed our faces with a hot dog and a slice of pizza. Each.
And so it began. My love affair with Costco. The first outing I took my newborn son on was a trip to Costco. I breastfed him in the car in the parking lot before going in. He screamed while I bought fresh fruit and vegetables to get my pre-pregnancy body back. He screamed while I looked longingly at the wine I could not drink and would not buy, that trip. I sweated and leaked through the aisles,as I shopped using the skills I had acquired watching years of Supermarket Sweep. The cashier and boxer kindly oohed and ahhed at my screaming infant as I paid. I returned to my car to load it up and several cars lined up to take my parking spot.
“I’m not leaving yet. I have to feed my baby” I yelled at them. No one could hear through rolled up windows, honking and my son’s hungry and tired cries. I sat in the back of the car breastfeeding him once again before returning home.
I returned again the next week and then next, until it became a regular Thursday thing. Every. Single. Thursday. I’d walk up just as the steel doors rolled up.
“Hi Tom!” I’d say as I flashed my Costco membership card.
“Hello! He’s getting big!” Tom would reply pointing to my now quiet and content baby sitting up in the front of the cart.
I started to see the same staff as I came on the same day and same hour every week. I started to know who checked out fast, who was slow, who would still card me week after week like they were doing me a favor. I found my favorite checker, Tony, who was fastidious and friendly. He liked everything lined up just so on the belt but would make us laugh while he checked us out.
One son, became two and they fit perfectly in the double cart that only Costco has. The younger one, too young to sit up on his own but too fat to be in baby carrier, was wedged in the cart leaning against his older brother. Staff got used to seeing me and watching the boys grow. In the midst of the isolation and exhaustion that only a Stay-At-Home-Mom of two toddler boys would understand, I was thankful for the few moments of adult conversation as staff would comment on the boys.
The boys started to adore Tony as he entertained them with endless energy. Once while looking at some new pajamas for the boys, I caught something on the floor moving out of the corner of my eye. We had recently had a rodent issue in our basement so I startled , only to realize, it was Tony, crawling on the floor Gollum style to sneak up on the boys. He would have stickers at the ready for the boys when we went through his line at checkout. The boys would bring him artwork which he would receive in dramatic gestures that made them feel like they were amazing artists and made me grateful.
The Thursday morning team saw the boys start school until there was just one of them with me for shopping day and then only on school breaks. Tony jokes with them that he will give them their first job when they grow up, at Costco.
Now both boys are in school full time so I don’t have to bring snacks or make sure they go to the bathroom before we start shopping. I joke that coming without them is like a spa experience for me. I start to go down each aisle. Tony’s schedule has changed and he wears more hats besides cashier.
I begin looking for a new cashier to follow, like a groupie.
I find Ron.
I stand in his line each week and look forward to the 2 and a half minute interaction with him every week. He has a contagious enthusiasm not unlike Carl who introduced us to Costco so long ago. We check in on weekend plans. Me, soccer games, he brunch with his husband. We share our latest ear-worm and play name that tune. The Theme Song to the Greatest American Hero. We both get a fit bit the same week and decide we must be fit bit friends. We nag each other through the mobile app.
There have been tough weeks for me. My husband travels a lot for work. I have two small energetic boys and struggle with depression. There have been weeks that I look forward to that check out with a side of positivity with Ron. Sometimes the highlight of my week. There are times that I’ve broken pretense with him and got real. In one minute. About being a mom or my anal retentive ways. He asks about my views on the Pope or religion. One day I am the last person in his line. He is going to change stations so management puts a big sign on my cart that reads, “LAST IN LINE”. With no one next in line, Ron slows down a little and breaks pretense with me.
He asks “What’s wrong?”
I had a tough week. I tell him about a volunteer project I am working on where we have no focus or leader. I’ve been frustrated.
He responds “You know Shemaiah, people just don’t get people like you and me. We like to get things done.” He goes on to talk about how we have passion about the things that we are interested in. Ron has been listening to me these last few years in his line.
I realize, Ron is my friend.
I get out to the car and load up my groceries. I take out my phone and open the fit bit app and send him a message. “2.5 minutes a week just isn’t enough. Can we be Facebook friends too?”
A couple hours later I get a Facebook friend request.
Now I get to see pictures of him in a Minion costume.