If we’re spending money, stores don’t have to make it hurt so much


MORRIS – I realized recently that I don’t enjoy spending money.

Not the student loan or cell phone check I have to send every month, I think only the protagonist of a Marquis de Sade novel enjoys that monthly ritual, but the actual act of spending money in places has become a chore of the highest drudgery.

Take gas stations, for example. It’s been years since I could fill up my tank by finding 10 bucks in change in the seat cushions – and about as long since I’ve carried change as well – but with the advent of the preferred customer cards and rewards programs frequent filler cards, it’s no longer a quick stop to top off the tank.

Some places have a half-dozen questions to answer before you can fill up. And God help you if there’s a car wash at that location.

I don’t want the days sports headlines coming from a mini TV, just let me give you my currency in exchange for goods and services so I can be on my now-less-than-merry way.

Grocery stores are another. Buying food for the week immediately sets that vein throbbing in my head.

Why are the good tortilla chips and the good salsa never in the same aisle? They put the fake chips and the fake salsa together, but for anything my snobby palate prefers I have to wander all across the store to find.

I’m aware grocery stores are the result of decision by committee and marketing, which is why the pizza sauce at my local store is two aisles away from tomato sauce and there are no less than three places I can find canned vegetables.

But there are only two people in my household, and after spending 45 minutes in a grocery store trying to find the lime juice, I get the urge to start playing bumper cars with the other carts in the aisle.

(OK, that last one was kind of my fault. It was right by the limes, which makes sense, but in my home we keep in in the fridge, so you can see where I may have become frustrated.)

It seems the only store I don’t hate going into is a bookstore, which is kind of ironic because it’s really the one I should never have to set foot in again.

Amazon, which will probably become our nation’s feudal overlord somewhere in my lifetime, began as a bookstore because books are one of those things you really don’t need to touch before you buy them.

They’re mass-produced, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, a picture of the cover looks the same online as it does in the store, and it’s not hard to put the inside flap information up underneath the picture. They even have one-click shopping, and then it’s at my house in two days.

Yet I have favorite bookstores, and will drive stupidly long distances to shop at them. I will brave parking garages or driving around city parking with nary an uptick in my blood pressure even though I’ll set fire to a grocery store parking lot if I find a stray cart in a spot I wanted.

But it’s the piles of books, and the limitless potential for internal travel they provide, that bring me there. There’s never a crowd except during that rush before the holidays, and it’s always quiet.

Everything is laid out neatly and appropriately – by subject, then alphabetical order. I never have to go hunting for a second volume because some marketer focus-grouped the idea about putting them in separate places.

Your corporate bookstore will play 20 Questions with you at the check out – but there are more white rhinos in the wild than there are of those chains anyway.

I pick my book – or books, if there is a sale or I’m feeling particularly financially irresponsible – and I give them money and I go on my way.

Usually there is a coffee shop nearby, and I can indulge my other vice while I read whatever I just purchased.

It’s not instant gratification, but it’s a nice, slow burn towards satisfaction.

Maybe there are people out there that enjoy the grocery store.

I’m not one to judge. But if I’m spending money, it would be nice if merchants would make it a little more convenient.