Navigating Aspen grocery story can be more difficult than a 14er

Benjamin Welch
The Aspen Times
Experiment with randomly mixing some of these together to make your food taste good.
Benjamin Welch/The Aspen Times | Benjamin Welch/The Aspen Times

I jolt awake at 4 a.m. in a cold sweat; another nightmare.

I dream I’m at City Market, standing in the self-checkout line, which is wrapped around the fruits and vegetables and past the dry, expensive chicken sandwiches. It’s the Saturday night before Christmas. A child screams at her au pair. A man still wearing his skis is stuck in aisle four. Sober people are unknowingly buying 3.2 Coors. The store is out of 20 cent bags. I’m getting anxiety about people peeking in my basket and judging me for eating Chef Boyardee, Red Baron pizza and Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s bedlam.

Speaking of which, here’s a bachelor’s tip: the trick to spicing up boxed mac ‘n’ cheese is to, at the end, add some paprika, chili powder, garlic powder and cumin. I think I know how to say that word correctly, but people flash me the look they always give when they’re not sure if I’m kidding. I don’t know the exact amounts of these spices you should add. Just “some,” OK? Not like the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon can affect the whole flavor of a dish.

If you’re shopping between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., prepare yourself by watching reruns of “Supermarket Sweep.” Then, walk, bike or take the free RFTA bus that stops by the store, because parking lots look like the old Rush Hour Shift puzzle game. The only time I ever drove to the grocery store was my first day in Aspen. Needing to fill my fridge with beer, ranch dressing, beer, off-brand lunch meat, beer and milk for my mac ‘n’ cheese, I hopped in the car and drove what came to be three blocks to City Market.

“Well, this would have been faster walking,” I mused while dodging careening mopeds and construction vehicles blind-faithing it backward out of diagonal parking.

Second, either have your shopping list memorized or written down; if you keep it on your phone you’ll get too distracted by Twitter or Bumble. You have to be a real handsome dude to succeed at Bumble in Aspen. You’re competing against every other 20- (or 30- or 40-) something showing off how adventurous he is, and the most outdoorsy I get is opening the windows after a sweaty Overwatch session.

Out of courtesy for everyone else in the building, don’t take a cart when it’s busy. The aisles in Aspen are so narrow, when I patronize any store past the roundabout I’m amazed at both ease of movement and the variety of Hamburger Helper flavors. It’s like visiting the Oskar Blues taproom after only ever drinking Dale’s Pale Ale — looking around and thinking “now this is inventive.”

It’s hard enough squeezing past semi-intoxicated people while carrying a basket, especially when you’re a little sea-legged yourself. This is the most fun time to shop though, as you start to envision how good the discount meat would look drenched in barbecue sauce and thrown in the crockpot.

When I’m Frankensteining a meal I have to find inspiration from anywhere, even if it means briefly holding the Virgin Mary candles next to the taco shells. And I’m sure I look like the typical stoner, aimlessly wandering back and forth through the store, revisiting aisles.

But I’m not the typical stoner. I’m scouting out how busy each row is — dashing down for some paper plates then scurrying over to the Hot Pockets before grabbing $1.13 worth of bananas that will go bad before I eat them — so that I don’t have to make eye contact with anyone or accidentally bump into people I know.

Seeing your friends and enemies in public is a small-town consequence you have to live with. Quickly commenting on the items around you is a good way to make conversation less awkward before bouncing.

“Oh, hey Grover, uhh… are you getting Magnums, too? Can I grab you a box?”

“No, I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream bars. Hand me one of those Flintstones Push-Ups, though.”

I jolt awake for real this time, and I’m standing at the front of the checkout line.

Having a dream about being in the grocery store while you’re actually at the market is worse than going to work after dreaming for eight hours about screwing up at your job. I diligently stride toward the open self-checkout. I mute the automated voice that screams out the item and how much it costs. “Kumquats!” There’s another fruit I can barely spell. Or is it a seed? “Enter quantity! Seventeen!”

Hey, they’re good on ice cream.