There is a strong connection between the summer season and cinema ticket sales. Blockbuster movies premiere left and right and I’m in the center of it all. Practically living in the fish bowl of a box office, I usually pull at least 35 hours a week selling tickets and answering phones. I do double shifts on the weekends and usually have two days off during the week. This schedule doesn’t leave much time to escape from my everyday hustle, that’s for sure. The few opportunities to get away include two cafes and a trendy bookstore, all of which close their doors before midnight. The only places in town with 24-hour service are Wal-Mart and Whataburger. Welcome to Lake Jackson, my friends, where everyone is at home by 10 p.m.
Even with my many hours at the theater, money is a bit tight on a cinema employee’s paycheck. I’ve got bills and college classes to pay for. With no possibilities of a vacation in sight, my boyfriend, Matt, and I try our best to unwind whenever possible. Sometimes a quiet night cooking and drinking together does the trick, but let’s just say that our taste buds don’t exactly line up with our budget. The grocery options in our area are lacking, so what is a young couple to do with a pocket of change and an appetite for the creative and unique?
After a quick drive into Houston, we arrive at the queen diva of all grocery stores. Central Market stores are a line of H-E-B grocery markets that go beyond your usual shopping experience, and we try to visit every few months. Walking through the doors of the building you feel a fresh breeze that cools you right off after the summer sun tried to scorch your soul on the walk through the parking lot. Immediately there are customers and employees bustling about, this way and that. Carrying plates of sushi, bottles of designer iced tea and usually an alcoholic beverage or two. Now, I’m five feet tall and can usually be found in flip-flops and shorts. The people I encounter here tower over me in their designer duds and their magically frizz-less hair. It’s electrifying to walk into an endless sea of new people so different from yourself. Isn’t that one of the reasons vacationing is such an attraction?
If the store sounds posh, that’s because it is. The produce is always crisp and the meats fresh. The shelves are stocked full with product, and the wine and beer selection is just incredible. Local brewers are highlighted along with elegant wines from distant places.
Sure, the high-class atmosphere is an escape all on its own, but what really makes the gas money worthwhile is the endless supply of free samples. I’ve never purchased any of the café lunches available, and even though I’m sure they’re delicious, I really see no need because of all of the tasty samples offered all around the store. From ice creams to sushi, it’s a delectable mini feast and I just can’t get enough.
I pride myself with being a tad sneaky when it comes to the candy samples. There is a giant section for candies, nuts and dried fruits. Rows and rows of tasty treats are ready for you to bag and buy. Employees roam around the aisles and are available for you to chat with about sampling the sweets. Unfortunately for me, it’s always the same man practically guarding the chocolates that I’m so obsessed with — small, chocolate squares oozing caramel and topped with sea salt. These heavenly, salty-sweet delights call my name from the moment I walk through the doors. How do I handle this situation? I act extremely curious and pretend as if those scrumptious morsels are a new experience for me. An award may be in order for my performances, because I’m never questioned as I reach the tongs into the bucket and pick up one of the tasty chocolates. Vacations are all about indulging yourself, and if I’m counting these trips as miniature vacations then I am sure as hell going to indulge.
My wallet has been used a few times at the store as well. Usually on wine, chocolate and bread. The bakery offers a variety of breads, bagels and muffins that blew my mind during my first visit. Their cheesy garlic loaf is crazy good, and there is no way I could get a hold of one as tasty back home.
The Central Market Effect, as Matt has coined it, is the outward appearance of an individual, object, or location that exudes confidence and lavishness. The patrons, the employees, the products and the architecture all seem to shout “Look at me! I am here and I am great!” Roaming about amongst the natives is intimidating no doubt, with every shirt and skirt pressed and no spot in the building unpolished. Coming from my situation, a trip to this grocery store is an escape and adventure all in one. Would I prefer a trip to New Zealand? Sure. Yet until then, I know where I can go to unwind and explore. Immediately following a Central Market excursion I’m always left wanting more, or at least wanting to start the trip all over again.