The Renovated Parkmoor FoodMaxx Store

FoodMaxx Grocery StoreAfter the Parkmoor post office moved around the corner and a Savers Thrift Store opened, that wasn’t the only major change at the Parkmoor Plaza shopping center this summer. FoodMaxx underwent a major renovation that dramatically improved the store, including new shelving, an open floor layout and self-checkout stands.

The biggest change was eliminating the herding pattern that forced customers to go from the front entrance through the produce department along the left wall, the meat department along the back wall, and into the rest of the store from the right wall. I don’t think that floor layout ever made sense even when the store was previously known as Food-4-Less. With the separate entryways consolidated into a new entryway at the front center of the store, you have access to the entire store when walking in. I still find it difficult after 20 years of shopping there not to follow the old herding pattern.

The warehouse-style shelving was replaced by what I like call to Safeway-style shelving, which is a uniform beige shelving at average height. The new floor layout has wider aisles between the shelves and a central aisle going straight down the middle. The downside is fewer shelves with a smaller product selection (some cut in half). The produce department was expanded to include organic fruits, vegetables and sushi.

All the checkout stands were replaced by new stands that are slimmer, sleeker and modern looking. Like the old floor plan being abolished, you have to get used to the new orientation of the stands with the clerk on your right instead of your left. The stands have padded knee switches to move the conveyor belt when you bag your own groceries (that haven’t changed). I can’t help but notice that there are fewer stands in a smaller space than before. I’m no longer seeing familiar faces, which leaves me to wonder if they retired or were laid off to pay for the new improvements.

The store now has four self-checkout stands near the exit. The computer voice for these machines are identical to the self-checkout stands at Safeway, making me wonder if FoodMaxx bought everything from a Safeway warehouse fire sale. The machines behave the same way except the voice doesn’t ask for your Safeway discount card and dispenses cash in $10 USD bills instead of $20 USD bills (useful if you want to spend less cash at other stores).

The self-checkout stands are available during daylight hours and are blocked off a night to prevent people from running out the door without paying. Although that doesn’t prevent anyone from surreptitiously walking out the entrance with a bottle of vodka, which happened one night when a teenaged girl brushed past me.

The one thing that haven’t changed despite all the new improvements is the long lines. If you’re in a hurry to shop, FoodMaxx is the last place to be shopping at. It’ll be interesting to see if the lines will snake down the central aisle during the holiday season.

Adventures In Extreme Couponing (Part 2)

When my roommate suggested that we could take a European vacation with all the money we would be saving from what we learned at the the Extreme Couponing seminar, I had to groan and laugh at the same time. The Extreme Couponing  TV reality show often show someone piling $1,000 USD worth of groceries into a shopping cart, handing over a thick bundle of coupons to the cashier, and paying 10% or less of the total balance. The goal is to pay ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for everything.

After receiving our five copies of the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday morning, we scanned through the coupon inserts. As I suspected, we may have a problem with extreme couponing. Many of the coupons weren’t for items that we typically buy every week.

Here are a few coupons that apply to me.

  • A $1 USD off coupon for Brut After Shave. This is something that I buy when I can’t afford to buy a $50 USD bottle of Diesel cologne. (Since the Great Recession started in 2008, I’ve gone without a decent cologne for years.) Do I really want to stock up on five bottles of Brut After Shave to save five bucks? Not really.
  • A $10 USD off coupon for the 70-count bottle of Claritin allergy medication. Before my father passed away, he used to buy me generic loratadine when he visited the pharmacy at Kaiser Permantente because it was much cheaper than buying it elsewhere. Even with the coupon, Claritin is still too expensive. Costco has a 365-count bottle of generic lotatidine for $13 USD. That’s a much better deal.
  • A $1 USD off coupon for Johnsonville sausages. Although this isn’t something I would normally get, sausages can be divided up and kept frozen for individual servings. Is this a good deal? Only if I can find it on sale somewhere.

Many coupons require purchasing two or more items. Extreme couponing has become so popular in recent years that manufacturers and stores are losing money as store shelves are cleared out when an item goes on sale. If you have to buy twice as many items to use a coupon, this may reduces the savings and the incentive to stock up on that particular item. You may have to work harder to find better deals.

Unless one of us wins the lottery, a European vacation is out of the question. The underlying assumption is that $900+ USD would be saved on $1,000 USD worth of groceries. From the videos I’ve seen, this plays out in two ways: the shopper either banks the unspent money into a savings account or pulls out $100 USD to cover the final bill total. Any money we save from extreme couponing will probably buy something shiny. Maybe a new iPod Nano?

Adventures In Extreme Couponing (Part 1)

My roommate wanted to sign us up for a 90-minute seminar on Extreme Couponing at the San Jose Mercury News headquarters in North San Jose. Since he couldn’t complete the sign up form on his iPad, he sent me the URL and I signed us up for two tickets under my name on my MacBook. The website stated that the Media News Group, which owns most of the regional newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the largest distributor of manufacturer coupons. I told my roommate to expect a hard sell for newspaper subscriptions.

I could never figured out exactly where the newspaper office was located. We spent 20 minutes driving up and down North First Street, and from the airport to Fry’s Electronics on Brokaw Road, but still couldn’t find it. A quick check of the iPad with the GPS enabled indicated that the freeway went over East Brokaw Road. Was that the 680 in East San Jose? We drove past Fry’s Electronics and discovered that the 880 has a Brokaw Road exit. No surprise that I didn’t know about that particular exit. The 880 is king of potholes from Silicon Valley to Oakland. (Now king of construction zones with Caltrans paving over the potholes.) No one takes the 880, if it can be avoided.

We drove around the San Jose Mercury News main building to follow the signs that led to a side entrance for employees. After walking past the security guard in his glass cage and down some long hallways out of the 1960’s, I handed over the printed tickets to a woman at a table. We entered a large room with a stage at one end, long tables folded up against the back wall, and plush office chairs filled with an audience that was mostly women. Not surprising since women have traditionally done all the shopping.

The seminar started with the door prizes, which alternated between a $20 USD gift card for Safeway and a $20 USD coupon book for fast food restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was surprised that my name was called out on the third draw to win a coupon book. I never win door prizes—or anything else. A nice surprise.

We saw several videos from the reality TV show with shoppers filling up their shopping carts with $1,000 USD of groceries, handing over a thick bundle of coupons, and paying $10 or nothing at all for the entire amount. A woman spoke on how extreme couponing works by collecting the coupon inserts from the Sunday newspapers, waiting for products to go sale, and buying five or more items to stock up.

As I suspected, the newspaper had a special deal of five Sunday-only subscriptions for $50 USD. I stopped subscribing to the newspaper years ago because the neighbors kept stealing the paper off my apartment doorstep if I didn’t get to it first. Despite my reluctance, my roommate signed up for the newspaper deal and began our adventures in extreme couponing.

Getting Older With Sweet Young Things

My birthday came and went without notice. Always a good thing. After I turned 42 a while back, it became increasingly difficult to remember exactly how old I am. (A friend told me I was 43-years-old this year.) We went to Hooters in Campbell for my birthday dinner, watched the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s play baseball on different screens, and talked about the sweet young things who waited on the tables.

Hooters has always been a difficult place for me to enjoy eating food there. Besides being too loud when a major game blared from all the  screens and the bar brimmed with louder drunks, I don’t have a favorite menu item. If I go to Pasta Pomodoro on The Alameda or at Santana Row, I always ordered the tortellini. But at Hooters? Meh. (My favorite new word for this year.)

I keep trying something new. The western BBQ burger was a top contender for several visits, but that’s something I normally get at Carl’s Jr. The boneless chicken wings fell flat with the Parmesan garlic sauce. This time I tried the buffalo chicken sandwich with Parmesan garlic sauce and liked it well enough to try it again on my next visit. This might become my new favorite—or maybe not.

As for the Giants and the A’s, I don’t think anyone cared. This was a regular game, not the playoffs. Everyone wanted to watch the London Olympics. I was shocked to discover that the Munich Olympics massacre took place 40 years ago around the same time as my birthday. I had vague memories of seeing that on TV at the time. The resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974 made a stronger impression as I was destined to be a political news junkie.

No one at Hooters knew it was my birthday. I didn’t want a bunch of sweet young things singing the Hooters birthday song and giving me a heart attack at the same time.

I find it difficult to be enthusiastic for sweet young things that are more than half my age and whose ultra-thin waists are smaller than my hand. I’m a big guy with big hands who like mature—but still younger—women with “hips made for babies” (my favorite description of Aviendha in Robort Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series). These sweet young things had neither maturity nor hips for they are still babies themselves.

The sweet young thing who waited on our table made the evening more melancholy for me. She reminded me that if my life had went differently when I joined a Christian campus ministry group 20 years ago, I might have been married and she would’ve been my daughter. I’m old enough now to have regrets.

My friend, however, had no qualms about dating a sweet young thing half his age. Until I pointed out that these sweet young things were probably living at home with a father who owned a shotgun. He frowned at me, I smiled back. Nothing curbs the enthusiasm for a sweet young thing than a shotgun.

Food Blog Gets Nine-Year-Old Girl Into Trouble

A nine-year-old Scotland girl, Martha Payne, got into trouble when the local newspaper ran a headline about her food blog that featured photos of the meals served at her school and the small minds of the school board banned her from publishing any new photos. That got the blogosphere riled up. Soon the small minds were backpedaling away from the ban as the controversy attracted the attention of political higher ups. On top of that, she was also raising money to feed children in Malawi.

Publicity caused by the ban helped the schoolgirl smash through her £7,000 fundraising target for the Mary’s Meals charity – with total pledges of more than £30,000 being made by Friday afternoon.

The total stood at only about £2,000 on Thursday evening.

A Mary’s Meals spokesman said: “We are overwhelmed by the huge response to her efforts today which has led to so many more people donating to her online donation page.

“Thanks to this fantastic support, Martha has now raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi for children receiving Mary’s Meals as part of our Sponsor A School initiative and has broken the record for hitting a Sponsor A School online fundraising target in the quickest amount of time”.

Thanks to the small minds of the school board, Mary’s Meals will have more than enough money to open kitchens to feed as many children as possible.

The Return of Flicks Chocolate Candy

I came across a curious display at the local drugstore: Flicks chocolate candy.

Flicks Chocolate Candies

I haven’t seen these since the early 1970’s when I was little boy. I often played with my candy before eating them and Flicks did double duty. After coming home from the grocery store with my mother, I would go to the end table in the living room, open the wrapper at the end of the tube, dump the chocolate drops out and count each piece out aloud. If I didn’t know what the next number should be, my mother would count off of her fingers to help me along. After I ate all the chocolate, I took the wrapper off the cardboard tube and used it as a “telescope” for my imagination.

At some point I stopped eating Flicks and started eating M&M’s, sorting and counting the colors. Along the way Flicks disappeared from the store shelves entirely. According the company’s website, Flicks stopped making the candy in 1989 after the 100-year-old production equipment was damaged when moving to a new city. A new owner acquired the recipe and brand in 2004, and painstakingly reconstructed the original machinery to produce Flicks chocolate candy in 2005.

What’s the new Flicks chocolate candy like in the 21st century?

The biggest change was the packaging. Before you could open the wrapper at the end of the tube and spill out the chocolate drops. Not with today’s food safety regulations. The chocolate drops are now in a plastic bag. That killed half of my childhood memories when I opened the new Flicks. As for the chocolate drops, they still melted in my mouth and tasted the same as I had remembered from all those years ago.

Alas, the display bin is dwindling down to nothing after being available for a month. I doubt that the drugstore will stocked them with the regular candies. For a brief moment, I found and lost my childhood again.

Why Is There A Coca-Cola Vending Machine In My Foyer?

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Last week I went downstairs to the foyer of my apartment building to check out the availability of the laundry room. I found a brand new Coca-Cola vending machine in the middle of the foyer. Like an alien artifact that had no business being there, I was somewhat mad to see this monstrosity here.

First, I’m a diehard Pepsi fan since the New Coke disaster in 1985 and would never go back to Coke. (I did try Kosher Coke when my friend brought a bottle over during Passover week, which was way too sweet of my taste.) I wouldn’t mind if it was a Pepsi vending machine. Not that I would buy from a vending machine. Pay $1.50 to $2.00 for an upscale drink in a 20-ounce bottle? No way. The local stores sell two-liter bottles for less than a dollar when on sale. A much better deal. Besides, most vending machines don’t stock caffeine-free Diet Pepsi in any sizes.

Second, it’s taking up floor space in an empty foyer that will make it difficult to move furniture out through that particular entrance. I’m sure the people with five parking spaces located out front will be happy not to find a U-Haul truck backed up in their spot on the weekends. On the other hand, this might discouraged those people who parked the U-Haul truck out back, move furniture through the foyer, and out to the smaller apartment buildings.

Third, the apartment complex must be hard up on cash since removing all the vending machines in 2007 after a series of caffeine-fueled graffiti incidents, leaving only the one at the swimming pool in a gated area. Bad enough that the rents went up by seven percent this year after staying flat for two years straight. Now they can earn an extra buck off of each beverage sold. I’m sure all the college students will enjoy having their favorite caffeine hit available within walking distance.

Then again, this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen here. After one windy day blew in leaves and small branches from the outside, I stepped into the elevator to find a lizard trying very hard to blend in with the brown floor tile and hissing at my feet. He/she/it didn’t look like a happy camper.

A Taco Rage Shooting At Taco Bell

Last week there was a shooting at the McDonald’s down the street from my apartment complex that was probably gang related. The suspect was last seen running up the street towards Taco Bell. The victim had died yesterday and the police made no arrests yet. Also in the news yesterday was a shooting at a Taco Bell in San Antonio, TX, where the suspect ordered seven Beef Crunchy Burritos, got upset when they were no longer on sale for $0.99 each (regular price is $1.49 each), and shot at the manager with a BB gun. The SWAT team had to use tear gas to flush him out of a barricaded motel room.

This begs the obvious question: What has Taco Bell been putting into their meat filling lately?

Okay, that’s an unfair question. It’s only coincidental that the suspect in one shooting was seen heading towards a Taco Bell in San Jose and a suspect in another shooting shot up a Taco Bell in San Antonio. A cause-and-effect between eating food at Taco Bell and experiencing a “taco rage” to start shooting haven’t been firmly established.

Not yet, anyway.

What has been established is that eating at fast food restaurants is unhealthy. Even McDonald can take the most healthiest ingredient, oatmeal, and turn it into a loaded sugar bomb that cost times more. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, you need to stop eating at fast food restaurants. I still run into friends who thinks it’s amazing that I stopped eating out and how they would just die if they didn’t. (If they don’t change their habits, they will die from either clogged arteries or a stray bullet.) It wasn’t an easy transition.

I ended up working for tech companies in Mountain View that made driving out to get fast food something I couldn’t do since I was still taking public transportation. I did eat at the cafeterias that had healthier food options and my weekly lunch budget limited the amount of food I could get. Google was the worst place to eat at since the cafeteria food and mini-kitchen snacks were always free, where the typical worker gains an average 25 pounds. (The mac-and-cheese on Fridays was still heavenly delicious.) I eventually gave up eating lunch to use my one hour break to write two-thirds of a 700-page first novel behind the steering wheel of my car.

After two years of being unemployed and three months of being underemployed, all I can afford is to eat at home is a regular diet of beans, eggs, rice and tuna. On the few occasions that I do eat out, I often find myself trying to order the smallest possible meal and still end up feeling sick. Once you give up eating processed foods, it’s really hard to go back to being sick all the time.