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The parable of the root beer

February 8, 2013

It's too early in the morning for any of these.

It’s too early in the morning for any of these.

So I was on my way to a Super Bowl party, not because I’m a football fan, but because someone was kind enough to invite me. I intended to swing by a supermarket on the way to pick up something to drink and something to snack on. My route took me near one store, a local, upscale market (boutique would not be too strong a word) I rarely visited. I went in with a clear shopping list in mind: snack food of indeterminate nature, aka whatever looked good; a bottle of gin I wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave; some tonic water not made with corn syrup. Yeah, I’m one of those people. Deal with it through the end of story, okay?

I walk in, head for the booze aisle, stop to try the store-made guacamole, notice the coffee aisle next door. Some coffee might be welcome later in the evening, right? I secure a half-pound of beans and return to liquor, where I pick out my gin of choice. Now, tonic.

There are two ways to lay out a standard supermarket that sells liquor. One has the mixers adjacent to the alcohol, the other has them with soft drinks. This was a type two store, obviously, since no mixers were in sight. I made my way to the soda section, which did not, alas, have a sign saying “mixers and other stuff someone might stir spirits into,” so I had to eyeball the shelves. Almost at once I stumbled on something unexpected: root beer. A root beer section within a section, actually, ten wire shelves brimming with root beers (and birch beers, and cream sodas) of every description and formulation. Fifty varieties of root beer.

I didn’t know there WERE fifty varieties of root beer. I also didn’t realize, until that moment, how cool it was that so many permutations on the root beer theme existed. My son, who likes root beer with the unfettered enthusiasm only nine-year olds and the insane can muster–wait, Jack Black has a root beer?–would have popped with joy had he been there. I wondered what would think of birch beer? My festive mood got the better of me. A few minutes later, I checked out, with my snack food (aforementioned guacamole and some blue corn chips), my gin, my tonic (next aisle over, as it turned out), my coffee beans…and nineteen different bottles of root beer (plus one birch beer, to expand my son’s horizons).

Afterward, I imagined what my shopping experience would have been like had I gone to a more efficient sort of store. Let us call it…Orinoco Marketplace. I would have entered the store, a building the size of Rhode Island, and been greeted by a staff person who remembered everything I’d ever bought there. Moreover, said staffer would know everything that anyone ever bought there, and could tell me, when I expressed interest in an item, what other things people who bought that item also bought. I wouldn’t need to wander the labyrinthine aisles in search of anything–all I had to do was ask, and the item would come to me, along with the staff person’s recommendations for possible extras I might like. “People who buy tonic water,” he would purr, “also buy ice. And ginger ale. And mixing spoons.” A puzzled frown might cross his face. “And cordless vacuum cleaners.”

I would have left the store with some sort of snack, my gin, my tonic, some ice, and possibly a small household appliance I didn’t need. And my son and I would not be currently rating root beers on index cards for future reference and/or online guide.

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