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When I moved into my apartment, I needed to buy dishes, a microwave and groceries. I was thrilled to find a small microwave and a new box of unpacked dishes at Goodwill. No way I could carry a microwave and the heavy dishes back myself, so I chose the dishes. I figured I could come back later for the microwave.

I got on the 1 train and carried my awesome deal three avenues, two streets and four flights of stairs up to my new home. I laid on the bed for a while before venturing out again. Groceries were my next priority, so I took the train 30 blocks again and bought two bags’ worth at Trader Joe’s.

Grocery shopping is not easy in Manhattan. There’s a reason so many people use Fresh Direct or equivalent. I really struggle with that, and I blame: 1. My Minnesota upbringing for making me unwilling to pay for something I could do myself and 2. My Seattle raising for making me reject the option that comes with excess amounts of packaging and waste.

My approach to grocery shopping is to grab a basket. That way I can only buy as much as I can carry. I also keep two roll-up shopping bags (Thanks, Tara! Best gift ever.) in my purse, so I can carry my bags on my shoulders, which is easier for me than carrying paper bags by the handle. Then I shove myself onto a crowded train, where everyone’s Trader Joe’s spoils fill the space.

My neighborhood does have a couple bodegas and supermarkets. But don’t confuse a New York “supermarket” with Cub Foods or Safeway. It’s nothing like that. In fact, if these supermarkets were in Seattle or Minneapolis, people would assume only meth was sold there and wouldn’t go in. The aisles are cramped and the produce looks like a shopping cart ran over it. The sidewalk stands or specialty produce markets are the only places to buy fruits and vegetables.

Trader Joe’s is where I do the bulk of my shopping, but there’s an art to that as well. Don’t go Mondays. Mondays are insane. Picture a line on the sidewalk as if people are trying to get into the hot new club. That’s a bad day. On an OK day, the check-out line begins at the front of the store. I’m not joking. On a rainy Saturday morning, though, you can get in and stand in a line only about 20 shoppers deep. The allure, of course, is that groceries there are half the price they are anywhere else in the city. So worth it! And muchos gracias, Trader Joe’s, for your same-price-everywhere policy.

So now I find myself in an 80 degree apartment. I need an air conditioner before City Kitty gets any crabbier. I’m wondering if I can order it, and time the delivery for when my brother-in-law is in town to help me carry it upstairs. Welcome to New York, bro!

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