Getting creamed buying our coffee
Modern appliances may make it impossible to burn our morning cup of Joe, but other conveniences make it easier to get steamed about a daily routine like coffee.
Consider this a morality tale even if the moral may be as clouded as a mug filled with creamer. Sometimes it makes sense to trust tried and true small-town practices. Other times you’re only going to get burned.
That, at least, is the experience I’ve learned in my approaching old age since taking over the bulk of grocery shopping for my 97-year-old mom.
She’s not exactly what you would call an undemanding shopper. Everything must be a precise size, brand, and flavor, down to the smallest note on any container. This is especially true for her morning coffee — one very particular brand, packaged in a very particular way that almost no one else seems to use anymore.
For months, I watched a stack of cans of her coffee at Carlsons’ Grocery get smaller each time as I picked up her preferred poison. I took to counting cans at each visit and soon realized that I, in all likelihood, was the only person buying this particular brew — prefilled filter packs in a pre-K-cup style.
Eventually, I took the last can. As any good small-town native would know, I knew I could grab Greg Carlson and ask him to order more. That’s what my mother would have done. But with all the COVID supply chain difficulties for unusual brands and the fact that Carlsons’ doesn’t exactly have excess shelf space to stock things that don’t promptly sell, I decided to take a different tact.
Buying a different packaging style of the same brand went over like changing morning coffee to afternoon tea, so I decided like a deer in the headlights to venture onto the Information Superhighway and order some of the preferred stuff from the Great Satan itself, Amazon.
Order No. 1 shipped. Our ever-talkative Alexa even told us when it arrived. Except it didn’t. An hour or more of punching numbers into an automated help line Amazon maintains revealed it was delivered to someone who lives three miles away, with a name and address not at all similar, whose business partner happens to owe this newspaper a pile of money from decades ago that we’ve never been able to collect.
Rather than be confrontational, I sought a refund and ordered again. Order No. 2 was promptly reported by Amazon’s website to have shipped. Except it didn’t. Further investigation revealed that the seller — not Amazon itself — had merely created a shipping label but had not sent the item to the shipper. That was weeks ago. It still hasn’t sent it today.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It’s one of my favorite sayings. But I apparently ignored it by placing Order No. 3 — this one directly from Amazon — and it arrived in perfect order two days later.
Half of the 40-day supply of coffee is gone now, and I’m left in a quandary whether to seek out Greg, rely on Amazon (but this time read the fine print about who is fulfilling the order), or buy a new coffee maker that uses the type of pre-packaged coffee that it seems easier to find nowadays.
The latter probably is out. A 97-year-old who still works to help gather memories from 135 years ago isn’t exactly the type to embrace change.
For the rest of you, one lesson is clear: If at all possible, local merchants will bend over backward to serve your needs. Mega-retailers who work out of big boxes and computer screens sometimes do — but are far more likely to bend you over backward if you don’t read their fine print.
Just last night, I think I got my answer. I was standing in Carlsons’, looking for my own personal poison. A clerk sweeping the floor happened by and volunteered, without my ever even hinting to ask, to check in the back for what I couldn’t find.
See how often that happens in a big box, on a computer screen, or even at a chain store in town. Put that in your morning cup of conversation and sip on it.
— ERIC MEYER