"Stand back! I'm with a condo delivery service!"
My sources tell me those bold words were spoken in an authoritative tone at one of the local grocery stores this week. I know, it sounds far-fetched. However, a reliable source, one who insisted on anonymity, told me that a Dec. 28 trip to the grocery store in Steamboat Springs had a lot in common with a rewards challenge on Survivor.
Steamboat residents have become accustomed to the possibility that during the holiday tourism crush, when the town more than doubles in size, it's possible that the grocery store will run out of eggs and milk. It's especially true when the truck routes between Denver and Steamboat are impeded by large amounts of slushy snow and throngs of misguided people on the way to spend their holiday in Breckenridge.
On this particular night at the local grocery, the entire aisle of chips -- both potato chips and tortilla chips -- had been wiped out.
But a young boy, we'll call him Tiny Tim, spied a grocery cart chock full of chips. It was one of about eight -- perhaps even 10 carts -- being queued up by a single shopper who was dominating an entire check stand. The shopper was purchasing beaucoup groceries.
When the boy cried out, "Daddy, that man has all the chips!" the solitary shopper issued his stern warning: "Stand back, I'm with a condo delivery service!" As if he'd been granted some kind of special status because he was shopping for Demi and Ashton or some other celebrity couple.
I asked my source whether the professional shopper flashed a badge or just his bravado. She didn't recall. A food riot seemed inevitable (That's nacho chips! They're mine!), but I am told that calmer heads prevailed.
Now, I can understand that for those who can afford it, hiring someone to do your grocery shopping for you before your arrival at your vacation home is a wonderful luxury. Who wouldn't appreciate checking into a luxurious suite where the pantry is full of Grey Poupon, chevre and sweet gherkins, and the chardonnay is already chilling in the stainless-steel wine cellar? It's a good business, and I salute the local entrepreneurs who are putting their plan into action.
But it's another thing entirely when you're denying Tiny Tim the last bag of Mi Casa tortilla chips. How can Tiny Tim have a proper New Year's celebration if he has no chip with which to dip?
I myself had to go without my usual New Year's Eve feast of pickled herring in sour cream sauce this year. I guess the herring section had been wiped out by a marauding band of Viking shoppers.
I was still feeling traumatized by that sacrifice when my dear wife asked me at 5 p.m. New Year's Day if I'd mind running to the grocery store for a few things.
"Actually, sweetie, I'd rather run headlong into the defensive front of the Cincinnati Bengals."
A chilling thought entered my mind. What if her New Year's resolutions included sending me on suicide missions?
No sane local goes to the grocery store at 5 p.m. during holiday week -- right? But, she was preparing a special holiday meal, so I headed for the sports closet and dug out my elbow pads. "I'm going to wedge my way right through those groups of four middle-aged men debating which brand of spaghetti sauce to purchase," I promised myself. "I'll teach them to mess with a local!"
Upon arriving at the grocery store, I was stunned to find a parking spot within 10 cars of the front row. I was even more stunned to walk through the automatic doors and hear a voice on the public address system announce: "Check station nine is available with no waiting for orders of any size."
I strolled through the store checking things off my list with very few problems. I ran into one group of four couples from Columbus, Ohio, who were conducting a Buckeye huddle in front of the breakfast sausage, but that was about it for swinging shoppers. There were plenty of oranges, ample cartons of eggs and everything else -- including tortilla chips and pickled herring. I asked around for an explanation for how it could be so mellow at the grocery on the first night of 2006 with 15,000 visitors in town.
"They're all still hung over," one wag interjected.
And so my wish for you is that 2006 is devoid of hangovers, full of pickled herring and that this becomes the year when you finally get your own grocery valet. Because dammit, you deserve one.
Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.