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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why I hate the Commissary

The commissary is not my friend. I've been to 3 different commissaries across the country (Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Fort Leonard Wood Army Base, Missouri; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.) I've also been to the annex at Camp Williams National Guard station in Utah when I was 11. They're all the same. Over-crowded warehouses decked in the stars and stripes where people are herded through like cattle, shopping carts are marooned in the middle of aisles, and people are fighting over the box with the coupon taped to it.

Knowing that, I still decided to do my grocery shopping at the commissary today. I am a loyal, loyal, LOYAL customer of the California chain store known as the "Fresh and Easy". I am so loyal, in fact, that my shopping trip on base actually left me with pangs of guilt over not giving my business to the local F&E. But I just had to find out if the commissary was really cheaper. At the F&E I can get a bag of avocados for 98 cents, a pound of chicken breasts for $1.29, and bread for 99 cents, just by playing the weekly coupon mailer right. Plus the store brand is delish, the checkout is all self-service, the bags are double-ply extra large, and the whole store is energy efficient. So how does the commissary compare?

It doesn't. I probably won't shop there again and if I do, it will only be for the extra-wide parking spaces that easily fit my giant 4-door pickup. Oh, and I'll bag my own groceries.


Because I hate the commissary baggers. Now, hate is a strong word, especially when directed at high school students just trying to earn a buck. I was one once, working at the grocery store for 3 years bagging and cashiering. And because of that 3 years I spent in food retail I know EXACTLY what I'm doing when I shop. Some people are food snobs, others are car snobs...I'm a grocery snob. I purposely put my items on the conveyor belt in the order I want them to be bagged and will sometimes even butt in and bag my own groceries if they aren't picking up on my subtlety. "Those" kinds of customers drove me insane when I was a bagger, but now I completely understand where they're coming from. Bagging really is an art-form. It's striking a balance between fitting as much as you can into one bag without crushing anything or making it too heavy to lift.

The commissary baggers, to be quite frank, haven't picked up on that art form yet and they probably never will.

Take for instance the guy who bagged my groceries today. He was quiet, seemed fairly nice, and I gave him a $3 tip just for the tremendous hassle of moving items a whole 2 feet from the counter to the basket. I know they aren't paid hourly but honestly...a $3 tip from 1 customer means all he really has to do is average 2-3 tipping customers per hour and he's already making minimum wage. Judging by the backed-up line, I don't really think that's going to be a problem either.

Anyways, I was willing to give him an extra $2 if he offered to take it out to the car. Yes, I'm one of "those" customers as well. He didn't offer. So I handed him $3 and wheeled my cart out the door, careful to put a little extra HMPH! in my step.

As I unloaded the groceries I looked down at my cart and realized that not only was my avocado in a bag all by itself, but so was one onion and a can of cat food. The milk was practically gift-wrapped in 4 bags and the eggs got an entire paper bag all to themselves.

They must have a commissary bagger conference or something every year where the baggers can "share" their scams with one another because the kids working at the one in Fort Leonard Wood once divided up $30 worth of lean cuisines into 29 bags and 2 shopping carts, while the ones at Hill Air Force Base padded the bottoms of the paper bags with 19 sales flyers, trying to take up room and make them look more full.

I feel bad for the woman behind me. She actually DID have 2 carts. I bet she left the store with 4.

So the number one reason I will probably not go back to the commissary is because, aside from it not being any cheaper than my beloved Fresh and Easy, I don't really appreciate carrying a million practically empty bags up to my apartment. I even get after the people at the Fresh and Easy for "under-bagging", I'm not about to let some 17 year old commissary worker get away with the exact same thing.

But before I go, here is the ONE good thing at the commissary:

The picture doesn't do them justice. They are beautiful strawberries, for $3.79 for the whole giant container. Every commissary I've ever been to has always had consistently beautiful fruit. Fort Leonard Wood had amazing grapes (maybe they invaded the Napa Valley?). Camp Pendleton has stellar strawberries. So maybe I will go back just for the strawberries.


Gaile said...

I bought a 4 lb tub like that of GREAT strawberries at Costco Thursday for $5, and LOVED THEM! (yes, they are alomost all gone, between serving them with strawberry shortcake the other night, and on the waffles I made for Hubby this morning.

Laura said...

I was trying to freeze them in little baggies with mangos for individual-serving smoothies in the morning, but I kept eating them out of the bowl lol.

Amber said...

Yes...I think all us military wives agree...we all HATE the commiSCARY, as I call it. Seriously...HATE IT! I like when I have to carry my baby on the front of me, so I can have both my arms, and I have a case of water under my cart, and I'm trying to put it up on the belt...and NOBODY helps me!

And of course, I also get the bagger that is an old asian women, who can barely speak any english, and I end up putting all the bags of groceries in my car myself because she is too slow. I should keep the tip for myself!


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