The Medford Leas Bus to Wegman’s Supermarket
It costs $0.585, let’s say 60 cents per mile, to operate a car. If I drive 10,000 miles, about a year’s worth, it will cost me $6,000. If I drive to Wegman’s Supermarket, about 20 miles round trip, it will cost me $12.00.
I’ll blithely drive to Wegman’s to buy an avocado, some olive oil, a piece of cheese, a loaf of Italian bread, and to pick up a medical prescription. The bill, less the medicine, is shocking: $23.48 cents for a few items resting forlornly at the bottom of my shopping cart. The bill is even more shocking when I add $12.00 for my car mileage. Should I use the weekly Medford Leas bus to Wegman’s? Of course I should, it’s free.
I also drive to the public library in Moorestown center (about 20 mile) almost weekly to borrow and return books, to read the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker magazines, to pick up that interlibrary loan book I requested, and to chat with my friends on the staff. All free of charge. But it will cost me $12.00 in auto expenses. Should I take the Medford Leas bus to Moorestown center? Of course I should..
Last week I did just that: I took the Leas bus to Wegman’s which is in a strip mall about three miles from the center of Moorestown.: The bus leaves from the Main Entrance of our Administrative Offices building at 1:30PM on Mondays. The bus to Moorestown center leaves on Tuesdays at 9:300AM.
I arrived a little early on Monday and I climbed aboard, using the wooden step-up set in place by the bus driver to help us residents negotiate the high first step of the bus. (I disdained the step-up. I disdain the elevators at Medford Leas.)
The bus seats about twenty people. The back seats have been removed to make room room for the walkers of those residents who cannot walk unassisted. The bus door was open, the driver was somewhere inside the building, probably gossiping with the receptionist at the Front Desk.
Mr and Mrs XYZ climb aboard. I’ve seen them around the campus but I don’t know their names. They are about my age, tall and slender, a little stooped, dressed in good if aging clothes. His tweed sport jacket defines him, as does his wife’s page boy haircut. They look like brother and sister. They are textbook examples of my theory that says some people are attracted to and marry their doubles. They go to the rear of the bus, out of reach, for they are sufficient unto themselves.
Jean and Ann come aboard. I know Jean and I’ve met Ann, who is a recent arrival. They are childhood friends, reunited at Medford Leas in widowhood. They sit side by side across the aisle from me, just behind the bus driver’s seat.
Jean says: “I didn’t know you cooked for yourself, Charles.”
“I don’t cook for myself. I just like to have a few things in the house: a piece of nice cheddar, olive oil, some decent bread.”
“I never see you in the Colonial Room.”
“It’s too expensive. I eat in the Coffee Shop.”
“ Be my guest in the Colonial Room,” says Jean, ‘I’ve got more points in my monthly quota than I can spend.”
We residents have monthly quotas, credits, which we pay for in advance. This eliminates cash transactions in the campus restaurants. What you don’t use up in the month is carried over to the next month. Some residents pay more than others, depending upon whether they chose to eat in the Colonial Room or in the Coffee Shop or if they cook for themselves.
The Coffee Shop is cafeteria style; the Colonial Room is a sit down dining hall, served by high school kids. These students, in their Medford Leas uniforms, come in every shape and color. Some of the younger ones are still in their baby fat, eager to please; the older ones are quite cool and professional.
Residents dress up and bring wine to the Colonial Room. The room is attractive with chandeliers, gleaming white table cloths, and stemmed glassware. Many residents dress up; it’s a night out. They carry colorful wine totes. No booze in the Coffee Shop.
“I’ve got more points than Jean,” says Ann. “Come with me.”
“How can I choose between you?”
“Come with the two of us!”
“I don’t have the proper clothes for the Colonial Room.”
“Not everybody dresses up.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Not everyone drinks.”
Louisa enters the bus. “Louisa,” I practically shout, “So nice to see you on the mend. Sit by me.” I pat the cushioned seat beside me. She sits. The driver places her walker in the back of the bus.
“Thank you, Charles. I didn’t know you cooked for yourself.”
The bus starts to fill up. Ann, Jean and I enjoyed our sparring match and now Louisa tells us about her knee replacement. We scatter once we enter the supermarket. I shop quickly for my few items and then I go to the big Wine Shop in the back of the store, just to browse around.
Every wine producing country in the world has its own section in the Shop, some vast, some just a few shelves. I go to Croatia where I find a white for $6.00. It’s a mix of Trebbiano and Chardonnay grapes: the label says it goes well with ‘horse douvres”. A real find. What treasures await in Bulgaria?
I look at my wristwatch; another hour before the bus leaves. Damn! I’m stuck. I have no desire to visit the Target store next door, or go to any nearby big box store on the strip. Starbucks, at the other end of the strip, is too far a walk, and Moorestown center is three miles away.
From now on I’ll drive myself to Wegman’s – on my own schedule. I’ll drive to Moorestown where I’ll take a stroll on Main Street that includes a stop at The Pie Lady’s. I’ll buy stamps at the post office on Chester Avenue, from Edie, who will spread out the colorful checkered sheets before me. Yes, I still write letters, with a quill(!) when I write to little Gracie. I’ll go to the library to chat with my friends on the staff, hand them flowers from Wegman’s, if I remember to buy them.
Then I’ll go to Pete’s Hardware Store whose worn smooth wooden floors are creaky underfoot. Pete knows exactly where tens of thousands of items are shelved. So does Marilyn. “Where’s the Shoo Goo?” “Aisle six.” Yes, you’ll see shrink-wrapped, mass produced stuff too, but if you should need a piece of sheet glass cut to size for a picture frame, go to the back room. The equipment there looks medieval, well, 19th century-ish. The store exudes a homey smell of floor polish, house paint, cracked corn, fertilizer – licorice twirls sticking out of the glass bowl by the cash register – an aura that delights my senses and soothes my soul.
Chocolates for the Library
I remembered belatedly that I hadn’t bought Christmas gifts for my friends, the gang that works at the Moorestown Public Library. I have been a member of the library since 1971 and three generations of its librarians have spoiled me rotten. Margie would call the Reference Desk:
“Is my husband there? Is he being a pest?”
“Yes, he’s here, Mrs. Perrone. He’s no bother. He asks the most interesting questions.”
Sometimes Margie got the Circulation Desk: Cirk tracks down my many requests for interlibrary loan books:
“A bother? He’s our job security!”
In season, Margie sent the gang daffodils and irises from the garden and I brought them figs from the backyard tree. Every Christmas I gave, I give, them Chocolate Truffles from the Whole Foods store. I drive to the store by myself now that Margie is gone. From Moorestown it was an easy run, with just one left and then another left turn. It’s trickier from Medford Leas where I now live: ambiguous dogleg turns, a worrisome hypotenuse, a sudden road name change.
This afternoon I chose the more familiar route, which meant going almost to Moorestown, then driving back down Route 73. It’s longer, but less complicated. It was a bad choice. Fellowship Road dumped me into a maelstrom on Route 73: bumper to bumper traffic with both lanes going very fast. I got behind an 18-wheeler that blocked the view in my lane. Cars and trucks roared past me in the left lane. The car behind me prodded me, bullying me to keep the pace. I gripped the steering wheel hard. Was my turn-off coming up soon?
At speed, nothing seemed familiar, so I slowed way down, touching off a honking horn behind me. My turnoff! I braked sharply, I swerved right, and darted off. No turn signal. The driver behind me howled, leaning heavily on his horn as he passed me.
The Whole Foods store was boiling with customers. Everything had changed since last year; the aisles were narrower and differently orientated. I was lost. I asked a man restocking shelves for directions to the chocolates.. He shrugged his shoulders dismissively; he was a holiday hire.
A kindly sales attendant led me to the chocolate hoard, deep in the heart of the store. The display table was smaller than I remembered, surmounted by a modest pyramid of Chocolate Truffle boxes. I chose four of them and, holding them to my chest, I shimmied through the crowd toward the cashiers; then to my car in the parking lot.
I started off for my apartment in Medford Leas. There I would attach the satin bows that I had purchased, and I would sign and attach the preprinted greeting cards. I chose the less familiar route to avoid the mess on Route 73.
Unfortunately, the approaches I knew had changed: a new strip mall, a business campus, a sprawling new residential area. What used to be orderly right-angle intersections were now an underpass, a confusing intersection, and winding streets leading back to themselves. I was lost. I drove aimlessly for fifteen minutes on streets devoid of people, devoid of sidewalks, and not a gas station in sight.
My son Stephen has always said, Dad, if you ever get lost while driving, call me on your cell phone. I know I’m in California but I’ll get you home via the GPS on my iPad. How could I admit to him that I was lost on roads I’ve used all my adult life?
I saw, far off, the high-rise office buildings on Route 73, and I pointed toward them. Suddenly Springdale Road! That I knew. I turned on to it and headed toward Route 73, back to Moorestown – not to Medford Leas as I had planned. I was tired. Once in Moorestown, I’d go directly to the library and present the gifts as is, with no bows, with no greeting cards.
“The attic closet is out of bounds,” Margie would announce in November. That’s where she hid our Christmas gifts. On Christmas Eve she’d bring down the gifts and the big bag containing this year’s supply of wrapping paper and the half depleted rolls from last year.
She’d sit mid table in the dining with her scissors, the scotch tape, the wrapping paper, the flat spools of ribbon, and the loosely wound balls of soft yarns. We were discouraged from entering the dining room lest we detect our gifts in advance of Christmas morn. But her cats would enter and wreak havoc. Margie would enjoy their antics for a while and then she’d chase them and close the pocket doors behind them.
Margie wrapped the gifts beautifully: rich shiny paper that looked like patent leather. The tightly wrapped corners and the neatly folded end flaps were perfect. She tied the packages with matching ribbons or with soft yarn and she attached the beautiful bows she’d made from scratch. She wrote out the cards in her distinctive handwriting: From Margie to Carlo, From Carlo to Margie, From Nanda to Stephen, From Nanda to Huna etc, etc.
“Have you bought the chocolates for the gang, Dear?”
“Yes, I have, but you don’t have to wrap them, Margie. I’ll give them just as they are.”
“ Cialuzz, please give me the boxes.”
Margie picked up Cialuzzo from my mother: Ciali (Cholley) for Charlie, to which my mother would add uzzo, the suffix that connotes affection .
I’d hand Margie the boxes and she’d return them wrapped, with ribbon, bows and cards beautifully in place. All I need do was sign the cards.
Dear, dear, dear Margie,
Back I went into the crowded, fast moving traffic on Route 73: I planted myself in the righthand lane and drove slowly, provoking the displeasure of the drivers stuck behind me. Somebody gave me the finger as he pulled out and roared past.
I arrived at the library worn and shaken; I sat quietly in the car to pull myself together. I rehearsed the light-hearted speech I would make as I handed out the boxes of chocolate. I’d plead forgiveness for their unadorned state. The gang would laugh.
Maria Esche was sitting at the Reference Desk by herself. Good! She smiled as I approached.
“Merry Christmas, Maria,” I handed her a box of chocolates. “Please forgive the … … please …”, I choked up. “I’m sorry, I … I …”. Maria stared as I turned away and walked toward the Circulation Desk. Ro was on duty there. Her smile fell when she saw my face.
“Merry Christmas, Ro. Please pass these around.” I handed her the big Whole Foods shopping bag, I turned, and I hurried out before she could speak.
I opened the door of my car and I slipped in. I gripped the steering wheel and rested my forehead on its upper curve:
Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.