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Eleven Items or Less

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Elana Koff

Fresh Marts for Food: When the cupboards are bare, Millie really knows how to shop around.

Millie shops around

By Millie

The cupboards are bare over at Millie's. In the refrigerator sita pack of batteries and a leftover carton of sesame chicken from Tulan (Vietnamese restaurant on Sixth Street). The situation wouldn't be so bad if Millie didn't have 25 guests arriving for a sit-down dinner in a little over an hour. How did Millie get in such a situation? Suffice to say, one minute you're a horny bachelor, the next minute you're a gourmet chef conversing with strangers in a chat room on AOL. We've all been there.

Millie starts at Safeway (2020 Market St. at Church). If you haven't noticed, Safeway on Market Street is expanding, metastasizing like a cancerous tumor. However, Safeway is staying open during the renovation, adding a dash of chaos to what is usually a bleak and terrible monument to mass consumption. Under these conditions, shoppers and employees alike have to work together if any shopping is going to get done.

Pretty much everything is in disarray. The kitty litter is next to the spaghetti sauce, the salad dressing is over in the bakery. Turn down one aisle and you'll meet stacks of boxes that look as if they've been there for weeks. The next aisle offers seven different types of Scotch tape--traditional, satin, crystal clear, magic, double stick, utility and transparent. (Mailing, masking and freezer tape can be found just one shelf up.) Millie enjoys wandering through the endless maze of aisles, rearranging things where appropriate, pointing lost seniors in the right direction.

The newly expanded Safeway offers 18 checkout stands, four of them express lanes. The diverse crowd lines up dutifully--the leather guy next to the yuppie mom, next to the homeless teenager, next to the old couple, next to the corporate type. Under the unforgiving neon lights everyone looks washed out and suburban. "Oh the humanity!" thinks Millie before cutting off a Girl Scout and leaving with an armload of provisions.

Next stop: Rainbow Grocery & General Store (1745 Folsom St.). If you're looking for a more holistic grocery experience, Rainbow is the place for you. It's for the groovy, organic, revolutionary lesbian in all of us. Where else can you get organic hard-to-find produce like cherimoya and burdock root? Or bulk stuff like grains, spices and coffees? And periodicals like Natural Pet and the Reclaiming Newsletter? At Rainbow you can find all your vegan favorites like tofu, millet and guava extract. There's even a helpful job/apartment/futon-for-sale posting area--in Spanish and in English!

The crowd is dreadlocked, tattooed, pierced and proud. Folks are laid back but fashion conscious. No one flinched when a voice over the loudspeaker announced "Montezuma, call 330." Millie draws the line at packing his own groceries. "Some traditions are worth holding on to," he mutters as he picks up his organic greens and grains and heads for the door.

From Rainbow it's a quick and easy jaunt over to Trader Joe's (555 Ninth St.) for those essential party pieces--smoked salmon, low-cost Chilean wine and frozen shrimp rolls. Lots of easy-to-whip-up, low-fat snacks for the busy urban professional give Trader Joe's a bachelor-pad feel. However, the decor is more "bleached-out boathouse" with nautical flags hanging about inexplicably. Millie should've just rented the place and let his guests pick among the aisles for hors d'oeuvres. The theme of the party: "Shipwrecked Gatsby."

The crowd is well dressed and quick-witted, tossing off bon mots over shelves of mineral water. Mercifully, there are few kids running underfoot. The parking lot, however, is an obstacle course of consumers darting through traffic to the adjacent Bed & Bath. (Millie almost runs over some idiot toting one of those lightweight, semi-transparent hampers that everyone simply must have.)

Millie is just about home before he remembers the low-fat hummus. Millie pulls into Bazouzi (4401 18th St.), the popular neighborhood corner store, in hopes of finding this essential item. Upon seeing a frantic Millie, the always jovial proprietors, Tony and Julie, suggest a soothing herbal tea and their last Sunday Times--free. "No one's gonna buy it anyway." They even take out the family photo album to show photos of their kids on rollerblades. Millie quickly forgets about the hummus and the dinner party. Instead, he hangs out at the counter of Bazouzi swapping stories and telling jokes, enjoying a San Francisco endangered species--the little guy.

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From the February 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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