February 14, 2003

Netgrocer: It's not for everyone, but it's definitely for me.

There are few tasks I despise more than grocery shopping. I avoid this task like the plague, or anthrax, or smallpox, or whatever is the hysteria of the day.

And when I finally force myself to do it, I find myself desperately missing Martha, my former maid.

Martha not only cleaned my apartment and did my laundry, but also walked the dog, went grocery shopping, cooked, and made flower arrangements that would make the other Martha proud.

Martha, the maid, not the mogul, seemed to find her maternal instincts in shopping for me, occasionally sneaking in foods she thought I should eat more of and somehow forgetting to buy things I distinctly recalled putting on the list.

Of course, I'll never forget how grateful I was when Martha bought a toilet plunger for me. (Look, there was just no way in hell I was going to walk down Eighth Ave. in Chelsea carrying a plunger.)

So, where was I? Oh, I hate grocery shopping, all the more so since moving to my current home in Philadelphia.

As a somewhat recently transplanted New Yorker, I'm now living without a car. I'm actually doing okay with that, since Philadelphia is one of only a handful of American cities where turning one's back on the robber barons of Houston, Kennebunkport, and greater Araby doesn't require a psychotic change in one's day-to-day routine. (Well, to be honest, I'm doing okay with it for now. I know I eventually will succumb to the lure of something like this or maybe something like that.)

As my broker was only too enthusiastic to point out, there are two large supermarkets within "walking" distance of my home -- strangely enough, directly across the street from one another. She neglected to mention that said walk is a bit of a hike, particularly on the return trip as the loops of those damned plastic bags magically convert themselves into straight edge razors.

I tried. I really tried. I hailed cabs for the return trip, enduring unbearably long waits amid a humbling pile of ramshackle sacks. I cajoled friends into driving me there and back. I even -- gasp! -- once took a bus. Enough. I'd had it. Actually, I'd more than had it as it became apparent that the winter of 2002-2003 was going to be a complete bitch. No more.

I wasn't even sure anyone was still pursuing the sell-groceries-on-the-web business model, but one night last week I checked into it anyway. Hey! Netgrocer is still around! What the hell, I'll give it a shot.

A godsend. Truly a godsend. The prices are, as best I could tell, the same as what I've been paying (I wish Martha had been sitting next to me! Something she would happily do, the coupons she clipped on my behalf no doubt in hand.); the site is easy to navigate; and the selection encompasses everything a typical shopper needs and then some.

Maybe I went a little crazy running through Netgrocer's virtual aisles: It's pretty easy to fill multiple shopping carts when you don't actually have to push them around. I racked up a tally much higher than I expected and had second thoughts as I approached the "cash register."

But I'm glad I pressed on, for the abundance that arrived -- by Federal Express Ground -- just two days later is equivalent to what I could have foraged from eight trips on foot and four by cab, making the delivery charge, which seemed a little steep, worth every penny.


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