Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NJ foodstamps

No, I am not on them. But I feel for anyone who does, because yesterday I lived a day in their supermarket-shopping shoes and it wasn't pretty.

It was another round of provisioning, this time for fresh veggies and fruits and whatnot. The only supermarket in the walking vicinity was...PATHMARK at the Old Colony Shopping Center.

Now, Pathmark is the antithesis of Whole Foods. I don't know if I've ever seen one in Manhattan or the close borders of the outer boroughs; they seem to exist purely where other supermarkets dare not go. Anyway, I regretted not having a rental car anymore and not being spendthrifty enough (in my new incarnation as long-term sailor) to reserve a Zipcar that would whisk me away to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods in Hoboken/Edgewater. I would have to walk to Pathmark--a solid fifteen minute walk at that. Luckily, my best friend came to visit with her baby and said she would drive me to Pathmark and back with my groceries. Yay!

I was expecting the worst: nothing but imitation Twinkies, rotten cabbage, RC Cola, and USDA Grade D meat. And it didn't help when, a minute into the store, we heard a guy on his cell phone saying, "I can't believe I'm in this ghetto-ass Pathmark." (We turned around to see a nattily dressed black guy contemptuously rejecting an apple.) But we were wrong!!! Ok, the meat selection was still not very good--not an organic, grass-fed sticker in sight. And the lettuce was sad looking. Otherwise, there were very good heads of broccoli, ripe tomatoes, green-to-yellow bananas, Paul Newman salad dressing, Mrs. Meyer's handsoap (?!), Illy coffee, and tons of great ethnic ingredients like Jamaican curry powder, made in Kingston, and coconut milk--and loads of thick-hair-friendly hair products. I was in heaven, and my friend, her baby, and I wandered leisurely up and down every aisle,

"Can't believe this is Pathmark!"

"I know, look, they have linden tree tea!"

We got to the register. Only one person ahead of us in our line. Good, because friend's baby needed a diaper change. We waited and chatted with the baby in a shopping cart that was left in our care while the mom went to get something she'd forgotten. And waited. And waited. What was going on? We glanced around. The other lines weren't moving either, and we were all checking each other out with the same purpose. (Every single person in line, apart from my friend, her baby, and me, was black, by the way. Jersey City clearly had a border, and we weren't on the historic downtown, white side.)

Half an hour crawled by with not a single item beeping across the red scanner. Computers were down. There was no answer as to when they would be back up. One Pathmark employee spoke anxiously into an ancient landline phone. Shoppers backed their carts out of line and into empty lanes in hopes that Pathmark would just open up new registers. The lady in front of me just packed up her stuff off the belt, into the cart, and pushed on out of there to where Duraflame logs usually sit. My friend and I looked at each other and thought "It seemed so different, but no, it really is Pathmark."

Finally, a cashier came over to my lane and asked if I could pay in cash. I said sure. She reopened the register and started scanning. So far, so good. A few people drifted back into my lane. Finally, as I handed the cashier my money and started bagging, someone yelled, "Credit cards are working. Cash is working. It's just New Jersey EBT that's down." Moments later, an official announcement was made: "NJ food stamp processing is down. If you are paying with NJ foodstamps, I repeat, the system is down." No word about when it would be back up, or apologies for the fact that a half-hour wait would stretch to who knows how long.

Three of the five lanes stayed blocked, with at least 4 carts in each, as people with food stamps settled in for a long wait. My friend and I wheeled my bags out in the shopping cart, only to be blocked by blue barricades just outside the automatic doors. You can't take Pathmark shopping carts to the parking lot. Because you might, what? Steal the cart? Shove the cart home because you don't have a car, and never return it? Either way, the store treats its customers like thieves and deadbeats. Glad I'm just passing through.


  1. You write so well Jane.
    Bon Voyage !
    This post is a little Sex and the City ... they do have pathmarks in Manhattan ... you snob!

  2. Hey! Of the 30 Pathmark stores in a 30-mile radius of Manhattan zip code 10025, only 4 are in Manhattan! They are at E. 125th, W. 145th, W. 207th, and Cherry Street.

    And I am not Sex and the City!! I have actually lived in Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn! =)

  3. How do I upload a photo of Jane with Mrs. Meyer's hand soap?