What does that mean, really? Does it mean good things come in small packages? Yes. And no. It’s not something exclusive to size, just that bigger isn’t automatically better. Longer isn’t always better. What matters is what you do with it.¤
A real-life example is produce. I can get absolutely gigantic apples or peaches or strawberries, firm, and colorful. That first bite, however, might not match the greatness that piece of fruit promises. When I was a kid, we had a cherry tree, raspberry bushes, and a strawberry patch. And a mulberry tree, but that’s not something you find in stores all that often. They were tasty, though. I wasn’t allowed to touch the raspberries, because those were my mother’s favorite, but in season, coming home from school or from the pool, I’d stop and pick some strawberries or cherries that the ants and birds hadn’t gotten. I know what they’re supposed to taste like. Michigan, my neighbor to the north, is well-known for cherries. So is Ohio for that matter. And yet, the cherries I buy in the grocery store now tend to come from Washington state, a couple thousand miles away. Quite a bit of the produce we see in stores has been modified so that it travels well, doesn’t bruise easily, doesn’t rot quickly, looks pretty, and is bigger. Taste is a minor consideration. So is nutrition, for that matter.
It’s not just food, though; a bigger store, for instance, might have more selection, but might not have the personal touch a smaller one would. I was reminded of that last night. The grocery store I prefer is small, maybe six checkout lanes total, and a handful of self-checkouts^. While at the wine tasting – that’s right, wine tasting at the grocery store – we discussed other nearby stores in the same chain. One up the hill was small, larger than this one, but still small, parking was challenging, and the attitude is very snotty, a little unwelcoming for anyone who appears to be “other,” not from there. The other is gigantic, parking is a nightmare, it’s always crowded – it even has a State Store in it. It has a tremendous selection, including some things you might otherwise only find at Jungle Jim’s, it’s brightly-lit, clean, and again, HUGE! I don’t like it. Just like my favorite store, it pulls from a fairly diverse population. Actually, a good chunk of the same population. The distance from my house between the two is a difference of a few tenths of a mile.
I get so lost in there. They remodeled some years back, and I can’t find anything anymore. I worked there briefly, as a second job, years ago. I couldn’t do it for too long. But then, the only person who would go hungry, homeless, or naked if I were broke is me; the incentive isn’t as strong as it could be. Frustrating when I consider in college I not only had a full load of music classes – there are many 1 and 2 credit courses, so it took a lot to be a full-time student – I also worked in the dining hall, which resulted in a bit of derision from the average student at my alma mater who’d never had to work a day in his life, AND I was a beer vendor, which sort of evened out the dining hall. Couldn’t drink it – legally anyway – but I could sling it. Physically, I was in great shape. Going up and down concrete stairs, carrying a case of glass bottles, shouting at the top of my lungs to be heard rows and rows away; How I managed to keep my singing voice through that, I don’t know. I didn’t have to work all that hard, though, considering. Well, think about it – you’re out with the guys, the wives/girlfriends/kids are at home, and you want a beer. There’s a dude just a couple aisles away, fit, working the crowd. And then there’s a girl+ a few more aisles away also selling beer, also fit, but she’s a girl, young, maybe attractive, but certainly female. There were men who waited for me to come by. I didn’t get rich by any stretch, but I did alright. Anyone working a 2nd job, or working full-time, raising a family, and going back to school, I am in awe of you. My mother did that. No idea how.
I’d recommend everyone spend at least one year in a job where you are interacting directly with the public. Pay attention, learn something. Figure out how to read people, and find out what it’s like when someone takes their bad day out on you. Maybe you can be less of a jerk to someone who is doing a job like that, hmm?
Where was I? Oh right, size. A tale of two stores.
As I’d mentioned, both my favorite grocery store, and the gigantic one have a similar population. The one is huge, even has a little clinic in it. So, clinic, state liquor store (kept separate from the main store), wide selection, wide aisles, brightly-lit, generally clean, and just freakin’ huge! It’s impersonal. It feels like my presence makes no difference one way or the other. I’ve had occasional interactions with the staff, and they’ve been helpful and polite, no complaints on that front, but I was a customer, not a person. At my favorite location, the staff is no more or less helpful and polite, but I kinda feel like a person there, instead of a metric.
There are exceptions, of course, and horrible examples, but generally, just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean it’s better. I don’t feel the need to drive around in a gigantic SUV, although I know there truly are excellent reasons to do so that have nothing to do with ego or perceived inadequacies. I don’t need a 3,000 square foot house. I don’t need a 20-oz steak with a 3-lb baked potato†. I certainly don’t need that 5-gallon jug of mayonnaise.
My point is this‡ – we need to remember the smaller things, the things that make life living. Maybe it’s playing catch in the front yard with your kids, instead of pushing them to get on a championship little league team. Maybe it’s having dinner at a small, single-location restaurant that maybe has less selection and smaller portions, but high quality, instead of that national chain with indistinguishable menus.
I’m not saying don’t go to the national chains, those all started as a single location once. Just – don’t forget the little guy.
ºThanks, Barb, for the inspiration!
¤Low-hanging fruit, I know…
^I prefer the lanes with a real person, but if it’s crowded, I’ll use the first available
+At 19, you’re still a girl; maybe not legally, but definitely still a girl
†I do need these duck fat fries, though.
‡Yes, there actually is one