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Beer and Undies – Tales from the Beer Department

Davis Food Co-op Beer Selection

Davis Food Co-op Beer Selection

Boring bit: I work two afternoons at the beer department in the Davis Food Co-op in Northern California.

Interesting bit: Davis is full of university folk and hippy-types, and the Co-op customer base is made up of the grooviest selection of these groovy and alternative foodies. It’s true that we carry a diverse selection of foods, both “traditional” and “wacky” organic and small-producer items. The customers appreciate and expect this selection, and many of them come back again and again, and a good number of them buy beer.

This customer demographic and the fact that I am an Englishman by trade, lead to some interesting conversations, both about beer and culture. Just occasionally there’s an insight into human nature. One such cropped up yesterday, as I was busily restocking the shelves.

It was hectic. The student season has started again, which means an influx of people, both returning regulars and new blood – all those freshers (first-year students) who have been told that the Co-op is the groovy place to shop. In short, the place was heaving, and I’d been lugging many 30-pound crates and boxes of bottles hither and yon for what seemed like entire days. My attention was diverted from the main task, however, when a neatly-dressed couple hove into view pushing a shopping trolley laden with the aforementioned goodies – the trendy packaged pasta, organic produce and fashioanbly hip breakfast cereals. He was wearing a white shirt and tie, she was in a business suit and patent-leather shoes. Folk like this tend to stand out from the crowd in the Co-op, as business suits belong to The Man, and the Co-op is owned by its customers.

Anyway, they parked their trolley out of the way. He began to peruse the beer selection (which is pretty diverse, given the size of the store). She stood patiently as he scanned the aisle, moving slowly from the expensive single-bottle selection toward the general-consumption six-packs. Occasionally he’d pick out a bottle and examine it, and I could see the mental wheels turning, and I empathised with him as he wrestled with the pros and cons of each brew. It can be a tough decision, picking out a beer in a place like this. Try it in the average small-town store and you’ve the choice between Miller, Budweiser (American, not the original, which is now marketed as Checkvar) and the scant selection of other smaller breweries. Not here though, and not this man. He was clearly a man of taste and knew his product – he just couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted at that moment. He was clearly in his element though, and I decided to leave the standard customer service questions alone for the nonce.

Five or so minutes elapsed, enough for me to focus on the task at hand; filling the gaps left by the milling crowd. As I worked my way down the aisle again though, I noticed the tell-tale signs of impatience in his wife. She wasn’t quite folding her arms and tapping her foot, but the tension in her jaw and the tightening of her lips had increased in the intervening minutes. He was still happily going through the selection of single beers and had the aspect of a man who as close to a decision. He held a bottle of Chimay in one hand and was poised near the British beers. Suddenly, her bubble of patience burst. “How long is this going to take?” she asked. I spotted ice cream in amongst the other shopping, and I understood her concern. He, on the other hand, was not impressed, and I will remember his response with great delight.

“You took half an hour to not choose some underwear earlier today. I’m going to take ten minutes to actually buy myself a beer.”

In a moment, domestic harmony was suspended, and in the worst of all possible ways – husband embarrasses wife over her choice of frillies. This was not what I expected. She for her part turned pink, opened her mouth and then realised that there was nothing she could say. She caught my eye, I caught his. Here was a moment of delicacy. “I can help with the beer”, I said, as she collapsed into a dreadful silence. “I can spend hours not buying books, and I have the same beer dilemma all the time.”

He left with the Chimay, my recommendation of Albino Python and a slightly smug look on his face. I wonder though if he sports a black eye this morning.

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  1. loulou
    31 August, 2009 at 05:02

    Half an hour to not choose underwear? Blimey. With that time ratio, I’d be tapping my feet in the beer aisle for a good half a hour.

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