Hidden Gems at Trader Joe’s (and I’m not talking about food)

Wait. Let me back up. Before I talk about the hidden gems at Trader Joe’s that aren’t food, let me just get one little confession out of the way.

If you went in recently hoping to score some of those awesome organic Rainier cherries, I’m sorry to say that I took the last box.

It was kind of hidden (like what I did there?) next to the boxes of those other (subpar) cherries. To rub it in, I’ll mention that it’s now officially the weekend, I’m on the couch with pen and paper, and my pile of pits and stems is growing. [Editor’s note: Now it’s Monday, and the cherries are all gone.]

Some pen and paper and a good snack lead to a lovely Friday evening for me, wild gal that I am.

Write longhand. Eat fruit. Repeat.

Thank You, Savior Joe

A friend once called Trader Joe’s the “secret to making rent” (he was talking about San Francisco, but I think the assessment holds). Cheap and good, no? I know I’ve longed for one in my neighborhood, but I settle for including a stop there during outings to other parts of the city.

How does Trader Joe’s save us? For starters, the store lends itself so well to games. Have you played them?

  • Can I grab a few stopgap snacks and catch the bus that’s coming in 12 minutes? (The answer is usually yes!)
  • Can I manage to get some damn bananas? (Somewhat rhetorical. We seem to be banana fiends in Chicago. I’ve gone on more than one occasion and come home banana-less [and dejected].)
  • Will anyone care how hot and sweaty I am after running six miles to seek coconut water and some fruity snack bar or other? (Definitely rhetorical. I do it all the time. They don’t kick me out. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.)

Sometimes You’re the Weirdo

OK, so I have another confession about Trader Joe’s. One time I turned myself into a weirdo pseudo-shill because my Lantern essay had just been published and I was off the charts (probably a lack of sleep—just a guess).

I became that weirdo. I made a quick spot check of the basket of the woman in front of me (everything was most decidedly, and proudly, vegan), and I noticed she seemed to be in workout gear.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you know where this is going.

I said hi, whipped out a copy of the book, and in about 10 seconds tried to explain why I was giving it to her.


But, in my defense, I’ve attended enough workshops on marketing and branding to know that you can’t be a wallflower when it comes to getting your words into the hands of people.

I’ve established myself as a hermit-introvert. I’ve also been working really hard on smashing (or easing) out of that mold whenever I can.

Because I cannot write in a vacuum.

I Need a Price Check on Writer Camaraderie

On a recent trip for provisions, I got in the line of a friendly Trader Joe’s staff member. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I have usually crossed his path after acupuncture when my qi is flowing and the world feels hopeful and bright. (And I’m not exaggerating here. Restorative doesn’t even come close to describing what some expertly placed thin needles can do for your outlook and disposition.)

I’m usually pretty chatty at Trader Joe’s after some good ol’ community acupuncture, which means that in the few minutes it takes to purchase avocados and quinoa and various other foodstuffs (let’s not forget those cherries), I can manage a pleasant conversation.

If it’s not abundantly clear already, I’ll be so bold as to say that I’m at Trader Joe’s, like, a lot.

And here’s where I found another hidden gem. It turns out this particular Trader Joe’s pal is a writer. Yes! A writer! Live and in my face, helping me stock my cabinets and fridge.

During our dose of food-based capitalism, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen him in a while (uh, hope that didn’t come off as stalker-y). He said that he just got back from being out for six months after having rotator cuff surgery (owwwww) and was applying like mad for writing jobs.

When I exclaimed that I was also a writer (I told you I feel expansive after acupuncture), but an editor to pay the bills (mandatory disclaimer), he asked what kind of stuff I write. I whipped out a business card and mentally sighed in relief for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I finally put up a post last week after a long dry spell and therefore wouldn’t come off as a charlatan.

Who’s in charge of the editorial calendar around here?

If you noticed this gap in posts, thank you for not saying anything. I’ll send a fruit basket.


That’s a pretty big post gap. I thought we could all ignore the telltale heart bleating under the floorboards, but, hey, I’m nothing if not an open book.

But I digress. Let’s get back to my hidden gems: connection—writer camaraderie—even brief, and inspiration for me to write more, and a big heap of thoughts to ruminate on.

Like how so many people carry around dreams and creative fires that can so easily get suffocated by the everyday, the mundane (current and ongoing struggle for me). How being just a teeny bit open in a public setting could make you a weirdo but also turn into something more, if only for morale and creative confidence. How so many people just want to tell stories. And how these people turn up in some pretty neat places.

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