We had been dreading this past weekend for months. A few times a year we rent a Uhaul van and stock up at Costco, mostly for cat food. This time around we had more than Costco in our sights, though, so we needed the van for a few days. All told we hit Costco, Ikea, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and of course, Sahadi's (okay this wasn't really part of the agenda, but we did stock up on hummus and baba ganoush, which is already going fast).
This whole process was complicated immeasurably by all the snow we got nearly a week before. I thought it would have all melted by the weekend, but a lot of it was still around and causing trouble. This made driving the van all the scarier; I don't drive often and have never really gotten used to the size of a cargo van (Uhaul apparently rents minivans but I wouldn't be able to go to the local gas station to pick it up). However, the upside of the snow was a relaxing of both Uhaul's stringent cleanliness rules as well as the parking laws. I 'parallel parked' several times in positions that would normally be considered 'blocking the whole street' and got away with it. Nobody even honked at me.
The Costco trip was pretty much the same as always: we fill up the cart with as much cat food as possible, check out, unload the cart into the van, then go back for several more carts of stuff (much of which is, again, cat food). This is tense but annoyance is mitigated by tricking people into thinking we are about to vacate the parking space, only to turn and walk away right after unloading). The Ikea trip was notable only because we managed to spend way too much time wandering around, as though lost in a labyrinth, only to purchase one item (a new sofa slipcover to replace the ones the cats have destroyed).
The real interesting thing on this jaunt was visiting Gateway Center Mall. It's apparently in "Spring Creek, Brooklyn," which I have not only never heard of but also suspect is a name made up by realtors who want to de-emphasize the fact that this mall is actually in East New York. But it doesn't matter where this mall is, because it looks exactly like every mall, everywhere. But it was pretty crazy that this mall lies in the shadow of Starrett City.
East New York starts off kind of like our neighborhood in Bushwick and quickly gets shabbier until it morphs into the kind of suburban sprawl you see in the less affluent parts of Cleveland, all low-rise buildings and chain restaurants. The mall itself is built on a former garbage dump and is on such a big lot you can't even see the surrounding city when you stand in front of it. I assume this is all by design. For when you enter any of these stores, you are immediately transferred to that self-same store, anywhere it may exist in the US.
For instance, while shopping at Target, I kept thinking "Oh I can't buy this, I won't have space in my suitcase when we go back." Then I'd be struck by the fact that we were 4 miles from our house, and had driven there in a cargo van. Home Depot was especially generous in space and in-stock items (I finally got a new snow shovel after ours broke trying to dig the cats out of the blizzard). We had a gift card for Bed, Bath & Beyond, a lovely present but it was surprisingly hard to pick out the stuff we needed, free or not.
So many little things seemed odd, like shopping with a full-sized cart, and taking that cart right out to the van. Shopping in New York is normally a take-what-you-can-carry proposition, and not having that limitation kind of sails one into some dubious waters. No wonder most of the country is morbidly obese, if you can drive literally from your door and not have to carry heavy goods any significant distance or have any repercussions therefrom (assuming you have space to store the stuff when you get home), very little actual physical activity is required. I'll remember that thankfully when I'm trudging up the steps to the J train, if not for the constant schlep of living in this city, I'd probably be big as a house.