There are two Trader Joe’s within walking distance of my apartment, both no more than fifteen minutes away even when it’s chilly. I can actually see one of them from my bedroom window, and its friendly red lettering seems to beckon to me from across the Charles.
That is not the TJ’s I frequent; the one in Brookline is my go-to. I know its layout, its cashiers, which times I should avoid its cramped city-sized aisles, when the produce is the freshest. The path I take to get there meanders over tree-lined sidewalks and past lovely homes and crowded parks that give me a glimpse of a future I might one day be lucky enough to have. Shopping there means a short reprieve from the hustle-and-bustle of Commonwealth Avenue, and even though the overstuffed paper bags I always carry out make my shoulders moan, I think it clears my head.
The other, oft-gazed-upon TJ’s was a wildcard. With no grandmother in Cambridge to speak of, its location over the river and throughthe woods kept me away for the past three-and-a-half years. That journey, though allegedly short, was a mystery; my Brookline shop was safe and familiar. Routine was too easy to pass up.
But on a Wednesday afternoon earlier this semester, I left class early and had no backpack. It wasn’t cold enough for excuses, and I was actually standing on the BU Bridge when I remembered I needed more cheese. Before I could talk myself out of it, I hung a sharp right and embarked toward both the unexplored grocery store and the Shell Station Sign, which has quietly become my Citgo Sign of the West.
Stepping over crunchy fallen leaves, I found myself walking along and eventually within a field. I’d idly watched people playing soccer on it before, from my ivory Buick Street tower, but had never really given it a second thought. Gazing toward Boston with my feet firmly planted in a different zip code, counting faraway windows until I found my own, I didn’t feel as small as those people kicking around a ball had always seemed.
I reached my destination without incident, and it was nice, though unremarkable. A chain store is a chain store, no matter how you parse it, even though I remember a time when the only TJ’s were on the other end of the country. I got what I went for, cheese and milk and tea and spinach, but those cheerfully-decorated paper bags seemed lighter than usual. I guess perspective isn’t very heavy.