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by C. Jeanette Tyson

I was crawling south on Lamar at noon. There, just short of the intersection with Sixth, workers were taking the letters off a building. The ďwĒ was gone, also the ďhĒ. The parking lot was nearly empty. I thought this is the way towns shut down, one letter at a time.   
     Then the traffic pushed me forward and there it was.

     Donít think I wasnít worried that I was all a-tingle over a grocery store. Had my life really come to this, and so soon? But this, dearie, is no grocery store. This is the fabulous new Whole Foods.
     The new store had been under construction for the entire two years Iíve been here. Iíd heard about the parking garage with 900 spaces. Iíd thought briefly of nice, wide aisles and fresh paint and bright lighting. Occasionally I might ask someone when it was supposed to be finished but it all seemed so far away.
     Then last month I found myself at the old store chatting with the deli guy and the check-out gal about the upcoming move. "So, are you ready?" Iíd say. "Itís so exciting." They gave me the same look extremely pregnant women give you. The ďeasy for you to sayĒ look, the one thatís very clear on who has to do all the work.
     Then, after all that build-up, the day came and I got my back up. I declared my intention not to venture near that circus for weeks. I vowed to go to Central Market, which I have finally learned to navigate. And which, incidentally always seems to be full of gorgeous men. I resented the idea of a parking garage.
     But I needed milk.
     So I established some rules: I had to park in the surface lot. I had to be out in twenty minutes.
     Crawling six blocks down Lamar took almost fifteen minutes though I canít honestly say that was any slower than usual. Once I got there, I was waved cheerfully into the parking lot by the attendant. I slipped into a spot right there in front and dashed inside, only to be stopped in my tracks.
     Spectacle is the word that comes to mind. There are mounds and mounds of vegetables, buckets and buckets of flowers, stacks of olive oil in gallon cans, pyramids of vinegar, troughs of beans and nuts, tables overflowing with every edible thing you have ever thought of and quite a few you havenít.
     There was the sushi bar, the wine cellar and the huge beer closet, the freshly ground peanut butteróooh, how about one with chocolate! There was the bakery, juice bar, trattoria. Ok, where the hell was the milk? I got directions.
     The self check-out was quick and easy. On opening day I was in and out of the store in about nine minutes.
     There are seven restaurants in this grocery store. At Fifth Street Seafood, men stand around in suits and loosened ties, drinking beer, forgetting the day, just like Grand Central Station.
     If you donít want to eat out, itís now incredibly easy to stay in. Throughout the store, there are entire meals just waiting for you to take home and claim as your own . The veggies are already cut and look, thereís tofu or chicken, too, for stir-fry. Here are tortillas so you wonít forget them on Aisle 18. The selection goes far beyond carrots and celery sticks: thereís butternut squash, haricot verte, mange tout, all cleaned and chopped. Thereís asparagus tucked into beef, bacon curled around scallops.
     The irony of this grocery store is that you never have to cook again. But what if you want to, love to cook? Then heaven awaits you, my friend. If your recipe calls for opo squash or galango root, this is the place. Come here for a hedgehog, bluefoot or hon shimeji mushroom instead of a plain portobello. Get your banana leaves right here.
    Of course the store continues its support of local growers. Now you not only know where your spinach comes from, you can see a picture of the family who grew it -- their quotes pepper the produce section, reminding us that this slick, grown-up Whole Foods definitely remembers its roots.
     If youíd like a little mayo on your sandwich, there are 25 kinds. Ketchup? 13. Mustard? Oh please, thereís more mustard than all the Smart Dogs all the kids in this town will ever eat.
     Speaking of kids, if you lose yours, I can tell you where to find them: the Chocolate Bar. Rumor has it theyíll dip anything in chocolate. I might be there myself.
     Blueberries, blueberries, Iíve got your fresh blueberries! Half a pound a ground, coming up! Have you been to Pike Place Market in Seattle and heard the fishermen yell? Have you gone to London not to see the Queen but to stroll through Harrodís and gasp at the wonders scavenged from the colonies?
     A friend thinks that from here on, in Austin, we will refer to Before Whole Foods time and After Whole Foods time.
     The place is huge and it will take a while to learn to navigate. I didnít even get to the playscape or the masseuse. But I need bread now so I guess Iíll have to go back.
     Who knows. There might even be a person or two in Austin who thinks itís about time.

     C. Jeanette Tyson thinks she has the best job in the world, being a mom to Maddy and Jackson. But having such a grown-up place to go for peanut butter makes it even more fun.


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