Friday, November 14, 2014

Might as well say you hate Santa Claus and Unicorns while you're at it.

I was recently reminded of one of the odder events that happened to me while I lived in Iowa between 1998 and 2000.

  • Raymond Bradley Completely true, completely funny/sad story - I moved to Iowa from Maryland back in 1998, and it is a very white state - only about 4% of the population is a minority of any type - black, Asian, native, etc... - but there are sizeable black neighborhoods in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ft. Dodge...the cities and decent-sized towns, basically. Not so much in the small towns, though. My job involved marketing internet services through the state, so I went to lots of small towns. I would not call most the small-town folk "racist" as much as I'd say "not terribly worldly." However, I went to this one western town's community meeting to talk about internet, and met a citizen that was asking me about parental filters and porn-blocking software - pretty common requests. He seemed decent enough until he asked me where I was from. I said Annapolis, Maryland, and he was genuinely interested in why I moved to Iowa. He mentioned that his family was going on a trip to DC that summer. He asked me where I was living in the state, and I said Des Moines. He goes "oh, I never go to Des Moines!" emphatically. Des Moines is a pretty normal city, by any measure, so I asked why. He said - surrounded by his neighbors - without a hint of irony or sarcasm - "too many n****** there!" which is a complaint you don't hear much about Des Moines. Boring? Sure. Poorly managed? Ok. Flood prone? Occasionally, but "too many NOT A NICE WORD USED BY RACISTS AND RAPPERS" is not one of them.

    If you do the math, figuring that less than 4% of the state's population was "minority" and then subtract the native American population, the Mexicans and Asians, you're basically looking at 35,000 or so black people in a state of 3+ million people in an area a bit bigger than Pennsylvania. Figure a few thousand in Ft. Dodge, and almost ten thousand in Cedar Rapids, and another couple of thousand spread elsewhere, that leaves about 20,000 black people in Des Moines, out of 250,000. In other words, about the average population percentage.

    Now, I had not really heard that word much since I moved out to the Midwest outside of some comedy CDs, so it took me a second to process what he had said. There were hundreds of things he could have said that were more logical - confusing roads, too much traffic compared to these small towns, higher cost of living, not enough bowling alleys - and I would have understood his complaint. Des Moines has black people, but Atlanta, it ain't. So, I said "really? I hadn't noticed."

    He repeated what he'd just said. He wasn't joking.

    Figuring I had possibly met a member of the KKK - remember, they don't like Catholics either - I figured he was testing me, seeing where I lay on the Hatred Scale. I said "well, there's none in MY neighborhood!" which, given that there are more black people at Caps' games than in Iowa, wasn't much of a shocking statement, but he was satisfied with my answer, and he moved on to eat a ham and butter sandwich.
    As the evening was winding down, and I knew I had a clear path to my car, I said to him "when you get to DC, it can be a tough place. Make sure you stay in Prince George's County, you'll be safe there." He goes "Thanks for the tip!" and I drove back to Des Moines checking my rear view mirror the whole time in case he Googled PG County's demographics.
  • Raymond Bradley I also threw in a "you'll LOVE Baltimore!" in there for good measure.

from - The Wreck of the Salmonella Fitzgerald

...this seems excessive, no? This is from the Shop Rite in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Missed it by *that* much
We all know that expiration dates on many items are little more than educated guesses. I grew up in my family's small grocery store near Annapolis, and we often would eat the foods that were either nearing or were at their expiration date, generally with no ill effects. Sure, the dates on milk cartons are pretty accurate, and it's wise to avoid eating deli meats, breads, or prepared foods much past their sell-by date. But most frozen foods can last well past the date stamped on their packages, as long as they're stored correctly. Even now, seeing food a week or so past the sell-by date just doesn't bother me.
Which makes this dented and worn box of Steak-Umm's chicken steaks I found at the Shop Rite so ridiculous. Super market freezer doors open and close all the time, and that simple action changes the storage temperature. People often will put a refrigerated item in their cart and carry it around the store for an hour and then randomly plop it  in between the Oreos and the Chips Ahoy. How many times have you seen a shopper put back ice cream in something that wasn't a freezer? Seven additional months of who-knows how many random grabs and placed into how many carts, going through how many freeze/thaw cycles, not including how long it sat on the shelf before April 2014?
there were two boxes left...hmmm...
Now with extra salmonella if you use your bonus card!
That leads me to the sale price - the store had two boxes left, they had different items behind the chicken Steak-umms ready for purchase, AND they just happen to have a two for $7 sale?? Coincidence? Interesting... . I'd guess somebody in the store knew this box of Steak-umms was well-past the expiration date and either didn't care, or were told to ignore it and sell it anyway, clearing the shelf space at any cost rather than lose a couple of bucks. Given that this location is near a large senior citizen community, perhaps the buyer wouldn't be able to see the small print, or wouldn't have the taste buds to tell the difference.
Seeing this mangled box in the freezer reminds me to start paying attention to the sell-by dates again. Back when I was a kid, that meant counting the chocolate milk boxes that would expire in the next 24 hours, and figure out how many would be left over for me to drink. Now, it means to keep an eye out for potentially dangerous food.
No matter the reason or the excuse, this is bad grocery store managing. I wasn't giving the store the Anthony Melchiorri white-glove dust test from "Hotel Impossible;" I was looking for frozen vegetables I could keep at work. I'm totally ready to pitch "Grocery Impossible" where I fix horribly-run grocery stores. Food Lion can be my pilot episode. Maybe the whole first season.
Note : I moved the other box of chicken Steak-umms out of the way for the photos, and it had a "best if used by" date labeled comfortably in 2015. Having tried the Steak-umm chicken flavor, my personal recommendation for a "best if used by" date is "never."
- Ray