Gratitude for Groceries: Avoiding a mental breakdown on Aisle 8

The Superstore I frequent is always busy. Early morning, afternoon, and evening; it doesn’t matter what time you pick, you will endure 3 unavoidable challenges:

  1. A re-enactment of Mad Max as you locate a parking spot amid a sea of libertarian drivers capitalizing on the murky assessments of fault assigned by Manitoba Public Insurance to accidents in parking lots.
  2. A game of red-rover navigating tightly packed aisles filled with Type-A personalities duel-wielding shopping carts.
  3. A lengthy wait at the checkout compounded by a coupon-cutter at the front applying a level of scrutiny to her receipt typically reserved for border security.

Recently, Superstore tried to address one of these challenges with a guarantee that all checkout lanes will be opened at all times. This is an admirable step forward as it not only address challenge #3, but also provides more employment opportunities and hours for Superstore staff*.

Superstore is capitalizing on the new checkouts, stationing a greeter at the door to hand out cupcakes during the Thanksgiving weekend and emphasize the glories of the new initiative.

Given my massive sweet tooth and susceptibility to distraction by bright colours, the orange and black Halloween cupcakes attracted me like a moth to a flame. The greeter cheerfully extolled the benefits of having all checkout lanes staffed as I simultaneously turned off my podcast and consumed a cupcake without dropping my phone or wearing said cupcake…a feat that borders on a small miracle for yours truly.

Her discussion inevitably trailed off as the next shopper came through the door, but it made me reflect on how agitated people get while waiting in checkout lines. My own experiences as an employee at Sobeys for more than 2 years attest that people embody all the stages of grief as they wait in the checkout line.

I have seen shoppers pace uncomfortably, glare at fellow shoppers, swear at staff and children and even throw fruit at cashiers. Clearly, being pushed to such emotional extremes while purchasing groceries must be awful and I sincerely hope that their lives improve.

However, I also find the emotional hardship to be a bit silly. At the end of the day, we are just buying groceries and all of the negative emotions that froth to the surface from the experience seem…misplaced.

The whole experience of grocery shopping is a display of our opulent standard of living. Being able to buy groceries for a fraction of their historical price and from one convenient location is a luxury, plain and simple. To experience intense negative emotions and express a misanthropic demeanor suggests a misalignment of values.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, grocery shopping is not without its stresses. A child screaming in my ear or a catastrophically poor driver laying into his or her horn will take an emotional toll on anyone. But here is a personal strategy for keeping a level head:

Podcasts

For anyone that has access to an audio device (research shows smartphone ownership alone is at 68%), load up a few audio episodes about something important in the world, and listen to it.

A few weeks back, I found myself waiting for twenty minutes in a checkout line prior to the new policy and found myself listening to a CBC report on Syria. Listening to a gut-wrenching reports on the refugee crises, it became very hard to get upset over the challenges of the grocery store. It also instilled a sense of gratitude for what I have. This gratitude continued long after the podcast ended, I cleared the checkout aisle, and endured the Thunderdome experience of leaving the parking lot amidst a sea of shoppers and lead-foot drivers. I have so much to be thankful for and the fact that grocery stores represent a stress-point in our lives is a reminder of how well-off we are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

If you enjoyed this article and my writing, be sure to follow and share it with your friends!

*I am not familiar with Superstore’s staffing practices and am assuming the most altruistic of purposes.

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Followers

A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

Cheating: Then and Now

checkers

I still remember the first time I experienced cheating. I was in kindergarten and playing a dinosaur-themed version of checkers with a classmate named Braden. The game started out well enough; we moved our checker pieces- delightfully modeled as rubber T-Rexes- across the iconic grid, each space colored to look like rock and lava. This was back when dinosaurs and the floor being made of lava were the two coolest things that a young boy could ask for.

Then it happened.

Braden declares his T-Rex is going to do a quadruple front-flip (or “super-mega flip” as Braden called it) across the board and land on an empty space on my edge of the board, conveniently becoming a King piece in the process.

Gullible as I am, my five year-old mind knew that bull$@%! was afoot. I tried to dispute the maneuver, but Braden simply declared that those were the rules. Of course when I attempted a similar “super-mega flip”, Braden declared that I was not allowed to do that.

Not wishing for blood to be spilled over a game of checkers, I reluctantly finished the game, taking my loss in stride and avoided playing Checkers- or with Braden- ever again. I was always a Chess guy anyways.

A pleasant aspect of board games is that it is really not worth it to cheat. Cheating is typically easy to notice and has immediate and immense repercussions. You are one card falling from your sleeve away from souring friendships and alienating yourself from your gaming group. Unless big money is on the table (i.e. Poker tournaments), there is very little incentive to cheat in board games.

Growing up in the 90’s and 2000 period however, I was also an avid PC gamer during the renaissance of online shooters. Games such as Unreal Tournament, Battlefield, and Alien V.S Predator were staples of my childhood. As much as I love these games, the moment I stepped into the online realm, I encountered cheating on a level that made the super mega-flips of childhood checkers seem…well childish.

Cheating in online gaming commonly took the form of hacks, 3rd party programs that modified a player’s experience or avatar in their favor. Hacks took the form of automatic aiming, one-shot kills, and even flat-out invincibility. A player may have one or more of these hacks, ruining the game for all other players.

Sometimes, I would run across a hack that left me awestruck. One such incident happened during a match of Alien V.S Predator 2, when a player somehow managed to become invincible, invisible, move at twice the speed of other players and kill with a single strike of their spear, which they swung endlessly and was a tell-tale sign the hacker was near. On top of all that, the player found a way to duplicate himself, allowing to avatars to stalk zoom around the level, ripping the other players to shreds.

Moments like that made me walk away from the computer and go outside for some physical activity. I suppose I owe these hackers a thank you for having motivated me to start on the path to completing a marathon.

Marathon running is seeing the silver-lining in what is a tremendous problem with online gaming. The trouble with online games is that the anonymity and the fact that the group of players changes with each match, providing infinite opportunities for cheaters to have their fun implementing hacks, taunting other players, and being all-around dregs of humanity.

With board games, player groups are comparatively difficult to find and once labelled as a cheater, you will have trouble staying within these groups or maintaining friendships. Cheaters even risk confrontation because of their actions face-to-face with a man or woman potentially multiple times their size.

Today, cheating can still be found in both mediums. As long as rules exist for a game, there will be those that seek to bend or break them. As I spend more of my limited gaming time with friends as opposed to strangers, I encounter cheating less and less. Though I will never understand what motivates players to cheat, I do know that the less time I spend playing with anonymous stranger, the better my gaming experience will be, online or offline.