Trader woes

Visions of Two Buck Chuck danced in their heads

TJ’s HAS LANDED <br>On the day before it opened, Trader Joe’s shelves are stocked and ready for Chico consumers.

On the day before it opened, Trader Joe’s shelves are stocked and ready for Chico consumers.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Trader Joe’s:
801 East Ave., Suite 110
Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

I don’t like change.

My friends keep me humbled by pointing out my hypocrisy; I tolerate changes that suit my tastes, support my hobbies and/or cut the legs out from underneath a philosophical adversary. They’re right—particularly when it comes to food and restaurants. Still, I’m in a chronic state of bereavement over the loss of “Old Chico.” The population growth, the traffic, gray-cinderblock monoliths, strip malls with the same stores as Redding, Red Bluff, Vacaville … Twenty milligrams per day of Prozac helps exercise my attitude of acceptance.

Walking out of the Tinseltown movie theater last week toward Long’s Drugs, I slipped. Overcome with bitter resentment toward the changing face of my hometown, I stopped, benumbed, staring into the window of the Trader Joe’s—opening sometime before Christmas (Editor’s note: The store opened Dec. 5). My reflection gazed back at me as the muddled images of shelves, ladders and unfinished drywall inside provoked a visit from the ghost of retail-yet-to-come.

I was led, hand-on-cloak, to gatherings I would be attending this holiday season. I saw tables of food, gloriously presented and brooded over by the hosts. Platters and chaffing dishes flanked by pine boughs, candles and faux-Victoriana in an attempt to create a whimsical leap into a Grandma Moses print. Some tables were even peppered with that cute little shiny green Christmas tree confetti sold in bulk at party shops along with balloons weighted down by organza bags filled with cherry and green-apple Jelly Bellies.

The food on my Dickensian sojourn was always mediocre. At party after party, in presentation and juxtaposition, edifices of each host’s taste were piled and molded like the mound Richard Dreyfuss obsessed over in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Yet my limbic database, with its overdeveloped sense of recall, would not let me enjoy anything—not for mere sustenance or as a prop to disengage in meaningless small-talk.

“This is the same previously frozen, microwaved, no-thawing-necessary, chicken satay on a stick with spicy peanut sauce you’ve had at the last four parties,” said my palate in an “oh-by-the-way” tone.

“You’re right!” Sharp glances left and right found coconut shrimp lanced with frilly-topped toothpicks and potstickers bathing in previously hermitically sealed ponzu sauce. A longer glance revealed more of the same—chicken and lemongrass goyza, spring rolls and over-cooked, starchy pad Thai masquerading as cold Asian noodle salad.

“So why has Asian finger food displaced traditional holiday party fare?” I asked.

“How should I know? I’m just your palate. Why don’t you pour yourself a horribly mismatched glass of Two Buck Chuck and pontificate for awhile?”

The tannins and alcohol of my bulk-market merlot declared war on the lingering spicy peanut sauce. No beer. I felt hot. With no jacket to remove, I made for the door to find relief outside in the crisp December air. I stepped outside and found myself back in front of the unfinished Trader Joe’s. A breath-mark the size of a Frisbee was the only evidence of my extended trance.

I continued shuffling toward my car realizing little by little that my personal revolt against the homogenization of Chico is silently and slowly being defeated. The endless migration of chain stores and their keen marking departments are tireless in their efforts to displace our individuality and creativity with convenience.

Oh, certainly you’ll catch me shopping at Trader Joe’s once in awhile; I’m a victim like everyone else—I’ve heard so much about that powdered green tea chai latte mix. “Potable nirvana,” they say.

Ultimately, my spirit is buoyed by a reassuring, yet constricting, life jacket knowing that with any change, along with the bad, we can always conjure up a glimpse of something good. Perhaps the onslaught of too-convenient-to-resist TJ’s morsels will finally drive a wooden stake through the heart of that damn jalapeno-and-artichoke dip from Costco.