Image by Lola Rudolphi from Pixabay
Every time I go to Costco I feel like an ant.
Thousands of us descend upon our local big-box store every day, find parking spots, grab shopping carts in orderly fashion. Forage for food, inspect labels, fill carts. As if with a collective consciousness, we pick up on cues, movements, stay in our lanes with little incident.
We do our business on autopilot. Other than the odd angry shopper, it goes pretty smoothly.
I sometimes people-watch at Costco. A mother might coo at her infant child. A wife might debate the merits of quinoa salad with her husband. "Those are a bit furry," someone might complain about the latest batch of strawberries. "That's a good deal," someone else might say when toilet paper's on sale.
It's within these seemingly mundane moments I find a certain serenity.
One day, I was inspecting the amount of salt in different brands of canned tuna.
Then I came upon the sardines.
Mmm ... canned sardines. If you like them, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, well, I apologize for the imagery!
A woman approached. She had blond, shoulder-length hair. "Sardines, oh, these are good," she said, as only a sardine lover could.
"Oh, I love sardines," I replied. "But my wife hates them."
"Well, this guy over here," she said, pointing to her husband," he won't let me eat them in the house."
"My boys and I love them, but my wife complains we stink up the house."
"Just eat them at the office," she joked.
I laughed, then told her how much I enjoyed eating them with my dad when I grew up.
"Oh, my mom used to put them on toast," she said. Gestured with her hands, as if placing some oily fish onto a slice of bread. "A great snack—just like that."
"You could run one of those booths, with free samples," I said. "You'd make a great salesperson."
"They're healthy too, all those omega-3 fatty acids," she said.
"See—you're a natural!"
She held out her hand for a high five. We slapped our mitts. "Right on," I said, then continued down the aisle. They went the other way.
I thought our encounter would make a good story. If I wrote one, she'd probably like to read it. I should go find them and ask if she'd like to be part of my next story.
But my natural shyness took over. Coulda, shoulda, woulda—didn't.
I turned my cart around, walked to the next aisle. I saw them again. Must be a sign!
As I approached, I overheard her say something about lobster to her husband. A seafood lover, it seemed.
I smiled. "I overheard you say 'lobster'—I love that too!"
They both laughed. I really should ask them about a story, I thought. Seize the day.
I hesitated, again. I let them walk by, again.
I took a couple steps, paused, turned around. Husband waited by the corner while friendly woman went and got something. He was looking at his phone. I decided to engage. Walked up to him.
"Hi," I said. "This might sound weird, but I'm a writer and I often write about mundane everyday encounters."
"Okay," he said.
"When I chatted with your wife about the sardines, I thought it was a fun thing, so I wanted to write a story about it—"
"I see you two have hit it off," friendly woman said, returning from her foraging micro-mission.
"He's a writer," husband said.
"Yeah, as I was saying, I write a blog about mundane everyday encounters, and I was wondering if, um ... I wanted to write a story about our sardine conversation, if you didn't mind?"
She smiled. "Sure, I get it. I used to oversee a group of web writers." She pulled out her phone, opened her email app and typed "blogging for the mundane" in the subject field. Handed it to me.
"Cool." I started typing my email address. "You said you ran a web-writing team? Where do you work?"
"Oh, I'm not there anymore, but it was at Health Canada."
"Cool. I'm at Citizenship and Immigration."
"Are you at the C.D. Howe building?"
"Nah, I'm down on Laurier. I used to work in the Comms shop there."
"He's laughing over there," she said, pointing to her husband.
"Small world," he said.
"Ottawa, it's a small town," she said.
"So where you at now?" I asked.
"I'm at ISED."
I mulled the acronym in my head—Innovation, Science, something... So many acronyms in government.
I finished typing my email address. My fingers kept hitting the wrong letters. I hate typing on phones.
"Just press send," she said.
We exchanged names and shook hands. I wished them both a good day.
Sometimes I live my life on autopilot without even thinking about why I do things. Wake up, have breakfast, get the kids on the bus. Go to work, come home. Feed the kids, do dishes, take them to their activities. Feel tired, go to bed. Repeat.
My sardine encounter at Costco helped me realize it's a good practice to take myself off autopilot every now and then. To take a moment and move a little more slowly. To build moments in my day to simply breathe. To call up an old friend for coffee. To take some time for myself and pen a few thoughts. To say hello to a stranger as I walk down the street.
Thank you, friendly woman, for going off autopilot with me.
When I got home. I left a package of sardines on the counter.
My younger son entered the kitchen. "Ooh, sardines!" he said.
Later, my older son walked by. "Yeah—sardines!" he exclaimed.
My wife came in. "Ew, gross, sardines!"
We had a good lunch. I made sure to brush my teeth.