Breaking Red

I made a Safeway run yesterday, something that has become a high-stress affair. There is so much to keep track of these days, and that’s not even counting the items on your grocery list. Gotta make sure you have hand sanitizer. Mask. Hazmat suit. But for me, those one-way arrows directing the flow of traffic are the worst.


I inevitably find myself glaring at the scofflaws who end up going in the wrong direction, but they are masters at avoiding eye contact. I swear, some of them are doing it on purpose; you can tell by their steely looks of determination, almost daring you to call them out on their faux pas.

I’m too much of a by-the-book guy to flaunt the rules myself; in fact, at one point I found myself inadvertently wandering the wrong way down the cereal aisle and quickly overcorrected by doing a very poor imitation of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I’d hate to be labeled a smooth criminal. arrows

The aisles are pretty straightforward, but it’s the open areas with multiple bins, like the bread/bakery and produce sections, that are most confusing. I don’t blame people for getting turned around there. The arrows diverge in multiple directions seemingly at random. Go this way for butter, that way for buns. This way for asparagus, that way for oranges. It’s like a giant maze—and much like laboratory rats, if you navigate it correctly, you are rewarded with cheese.

At one point I was pushing my cart down the produce aisle when an older gentleman smiled at me and gave me a thumb’s up. I figured he was maybe congratulating me on following the arrows so expertly, so I returned the gesture as he, too, was going in the right direction.

A few moments later, we crossed paths again. “Thank you!” he said.

Wow, I thought. This guy really takes these directional arrows seriously.

“No problem!” I replied.

“How long have you been in?” he asked.

I started to say, “Twenty minutes or so. Got a short list this week.” At that point I noticed he was looking at my ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE t-shirt, and suddenly it all made sense. He wasn’t thanking me for my flawless ability to follow directions, but rather, my service to the country.

My [nonexistent] service to the country.

My dad was in the Air Force. I was not. I did live on Ellsworth AFB for three years back in the 1980s, and we make a trip out there whenever my parents come to visit. I picked up a few shirts from the base exchange last year and wear them on occasion. It never occurred to me that somebody might think I was an actual airman.

By now, I was stuck. My only choice (short of admitting that there had been a rather embarrassing misunderstanding on my part, which of course was never really an option) was to press forward with the little white lie. I soldiered on, if you will.

Military humor.

“Two years this June,” I answered. Which, in my defense, is when we moved to South Dakota.

“I was stationed there myself for four years,” he said.

“Small world!” I replied. I wanted to add some Air Force-related phrase, one that would be bandied about by fellow airmen, an attempt at a Band-of-Brothers type camaraderie, but the pressure was on and all I could think of was Semper Fi, which belongs to the Marine Corps. The jig would have been up in a heartbeat, so instead, I said, “Oh, there are the avocados! Gotta run. Have a good day!”

Whew. Close call. Thank god he didn’t salute me.


Later on, I realized I could have said “Aim high!” or “Fly-fight-win!” and that would have won me mad respect. OR, to really convince him I was legit, I could have said, “Look at all these shoppers breaking red. There’s no discipline these days, amirite?!” This refers to walking outside the designated personnel areas (marked in red) on the flight line or not using the designated entry and exit control areas. Perfect for the situation, huh? Talk about a missed opportunity.

The penalty for breaking red, by the way, is having your face pressed to the ground with a boot on your back and an M-16 aimed at your neck.

I think the best solution is to just let Tara keep doing the shopping…


28 thoughts on “Breaking Red

  1. I did not pay attention to the marks on the floor at Aldi’s and yesterday I went shopping with my husband, retired Army. I started to go down the third aisle after finishing with the first and he asked me, “Do you see the arrows?” I was like, “Huh, anytime I have followed the orders, I usually end up in trouble.” I was feeling frenzied and sleep deprived. I asked him, “How do you know that?” I figured it was his military time, longer than mine or his attention to detail. No, he said, “I got into trouble with one of the associates last time for not paying attention to the lines.” Our conversation with my husband wearing his army hat evidently intrigued a few women customers who stared at us with curiosity. My day improved a little. If you don’t join all, at least leave them talking about you.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, they do enforce them in Tampa bay area. Husband was telling me today of the strict enforcement at Lowes. If you enter the garden section, you must get on another line as you cannot go into the store this way. In other words, there are two separate lines for the store and the garden section.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I hated shopping BC (before covid). Now? I suffer 2 days of anxiety and a nightmare the day prior I have to get essentials. But…this was a great story! You better hope you don’t run into this dude again though… 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shopping has NEVER been something I’ve enjoyed. It’s more of a necessity…and now, it’s even worse. I even looked into grocery delivery services, but Rapid City is too small still to offer that. I’ll just be sure to wear non-military clothing the next time I need avocados, I guess!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “…and quickly overcorrected by doing a very poor imitation of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I’d hate to be labeled a smooth criminal.”

    HA! LOVED that reference, Mark! That’s actually my favorite video of Michael Jackson. Damn, could he dance or could he dance?

    It’s the same here, all the stores have arrows and signs all over the place that remind you about social distancing and wearing a mask. They even hand out hand sanitizer.

    I love how you play along with a story (like I do) and make it up as you go along, while the other person doesn’t even realize you’re doing it. It’s called being a great BS Artist. HA!

    Have a faaaaabulous week, my friend!

    And remember….“Aim high!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, now. Let’s not hesitate in calling a spade a spade, ha! I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a BS artist. It’s a badge I wear with honor, lol.

      Aiming high for a good week. You do the same, Ron!


  4. Bahahaha! I would have made something up, too. Easier and faster than the truth sometimes! LOL!

    Since I’ve started wearing my mask, people I do not know have been waving to me. Ok, it’s only happened twice but I guess I’m easily mistaken for others when only my eyes and hair are showing? Like you, I just wave back and play along.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hahahaha too funny!

    I’m sad to say the Great State of Arkansas is no longer wearing masks or following any rules. At least not at my Walmart today. I was one of the few, along with the workers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well if you run into him at Safeway again, you’ll have all your phrases locked and loaded. But, I would add, that might encourage him to talk to you more in depth about your (nonexistent) military service, and then you’d be stuck again. So, yeah, let your wife do the shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am the designated shopper around here. I went once on Day 30 and today, around the 7 week mark. Yes, Hazmat suit and challenging people. Funny story on the t-shirt and thumbs up. Good move on the avocado segue.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m beginning to think my wife is using a grocery store trip as an excuse to get out of the house – except now she drags me along. (Bag boy, you know.) Around here, Freddies doesn’t seem to have the arrow policy, but Safeway does.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Our supermarket is not lined with arrows. I know because I just asked The Mister, who does our shopping. He and the little one are the hunters. I excel at feathering the nest. My other daughter excels at living nocturnally.
    I have been to Walgreens. Our local Walgreens is super close and convenient, and I am a regular there.
    My husband served 14 years, Marines and Army, and I tell you what — whenever possible, I wear military shirts on my walks, because I’m convinced I’m safer in them. Anyhow, I would go crazy of impatience in trying to follow arrows and maintain distance. While I understand the importance of not breaking red at the store, it would be personally painful as I can’t bear to be still, but I would do it, because I understand the importance.

    Liked by 2 people

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