I don't shop at Ralphs on Flower all that much. I've become so accustomed to shopping for food bargains at Little Tokyo Market, Big Lots, and my other special places, that going to Ralphs pretty much seems like going to Saks Fifth Avenue.
But that doesn't mean I don't like shopping there. Because I do.
I am always dazzled by the vegetable section - where everything looks picture postcard perfect. And I really like the fact you can get a cup of coffee in the middle of the store and read a paperback while you sip. I also find it fun to listen to the manager over the loud speaker announcing wine specials. "Go to aisle 10. 50% off on your favorite Chardonnay. For today only."
Actually, going to Ralphs was one of my first downtown experiences, too.
I had just lived here a week, a transplant from the Westside, and the only store I knew was Ralphs - so in a weird way it felt safe, familiar, as if I knew it. I was only there a few minutes when this nice guy walked up to me with his cart and asked, "Are you new to downtown?" And I answered, "Yes, do I look it?" And he said, "It's just that I haven't seen you here. Have you been to Pete's Cafe yet? Great food."
Then he went on his way. But, he made me feel welcome and part of a community. Albeit a community of eccentrics, but a community.
So it was no surprise, that when I went to Ralphs I would continually meet people. The short guy with pink spiky hair and earrings who almost ran me over with his cart - but apologized profusely when he did. The young yuppie couple with the baby - who asked me where the baby food was - go figure, and then gave me a high five even though I didn't know.
And then there was the 80ish Japanese couple. These two really left an impression. Here is how I met them. I was standing in front of the Mocha Mix section. I like Mocha Mix in my coffee. Looking at the daily price special. When I got a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to see an elderly Japanese man and his wife. The man very politely asked me in broken Japanese-English, "Where is the milk?" I pointed out the milk section. He bowed and thanked me. I bowed and thanked him for thanking me. Then his wife bowed. I bowed again.
Later in the yogurt section, figuring out if I should buy Yoplait or Ralphs brand, I got another tap on my shoulder. This time it was from the woman. She was holding a huge jug of milk, and in very broken English, she asked me when the date of the milk expired. I tried to explain it to her again and again, but she simply didn't understand my English.
Frustrated, but wanting to help her, I asked one shopper if he knew Japanese. Then another. And he asked another and so on, until there was a crowd of us around the couple. No one spoke Japanese, so the couple kept on bowing, and we kept on bowing, until, finally somehow we communicated with them.
As I looked around at our group. Black, pink, jeans, couples, suits, Latin, Jewish, male, female, all ages - I was amazed at how we were all willing to come together to help this couple.
And instead of my "senior moment," I call it my "downtown moment." One, that I will never forget.