If I Die in This Whole Foods Parking Lot: A Letter to My Family

A shopper’s final thoughts as he circles a Whole Foods parking lot

If I die in this Whole Foods parking lot, please tell my family I love them. Tell them I tried. There were just too many cars and not enough humanity. If you find this note, tell my wife and children I thought of them and wish I had never stopped off to buy “fresh from frozen” jumbo shrimp and those really delicious grilled artichoke hearts that are vacuum-sealed and sold near the edible flowers. They only sell those artichokes at Whole Foods. And now my children have no father.

My day went something like this.

I left the house at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday operating under the misguided assumption that the middle of the day in the middle of the week would be a good time “to just get a few things.”

Target went relatively smoothly. I purchased a variety of Honest cleaning products for my wife. I also picked up a 24-pack of tissues that will live in my trunk, a box of Pilot pens, and one Adirondack Folding Patio Accent Table. We don’t have a patio.

From there it was onto Ralph’s to buy all the chemical-rich cleaning products we’ll actually use to clean the house after the organic products fail, and Diet Coke, because they don’t have it at…

Trader Joe’s, where I picked up those new roasted sweet potatoes in the lettuce section (geniuses), and I got that really good pineapple salsa any sane person would happily drink, and a variety of “natural” frozen meals that are more calorific than Taco Bell.

Like, I said, just a few things.

Finally, on the way home, I stopped at Whole Foods.

I hadn’t even planned to go. And perhaps this was my mistake—a lesson that can be passed onto the survivors. Whole Foods is something you need to plan—like a snowshoe to the South Pole or climbing Everest. Whole Foods is not a store to patronize on a whim. Whole Foods is not an object of fancy. Whole Foods is not a lark.

I’ve been in this parking lot for days now—none of us moving, none of us parking—so I’ve had time to contemplate what a Whole Foods is.

At first glance, Whole Foods is a planning failure. The parking lot is always designed as if this glorious cornucopia of capitalist abundance and social signaling is an average grocery store—a thing to speed through as quickly as possible. But one does not speed through Whole Foods. One luxuriates in its variety, its class, its health and its freshness. It’s a place to ponder the wonderful possibilities of Smart Bacon and strike up conversation with strangers about the merits of biodynamic herbal tonics. Zoning commissions of America—if a supermarket offers more than seven types of washed-rind cheeses, you must triple the minimum number of parking spaces, because I gotta check out those washed-rind cheeses.

But if you simply view Whole Foods as a failure of government and private enterprise to plan, you miss the bigger point. There is a psychology to it. A Whole Foods parking lot is a challenge. A moat. A crucible. The Whole Foods parking lot experience rewards patience. It nods to inner resolve. It requires an eagle eye. All of which—and this is the beauty—will benefit you inside of Whole Foods as you wait 12 people deep to sample blueberry-pancake flavored pork sausage or spot the last of the white alba truffles on sale.

You must be worthy of Whole Foods to enter Whole Foods.

Into this trial of grit—this parking lot of the damned—I drove, because I had a desire for crustaceans that did not originate from an industrial aqua-farm in the Arizona desert. “Whole Foods,” I thought. “I’ll breeze in and out.”

My hubris was my downfall.

It’s 4 a.m. I long ago finished all of the food and drink in the car. My phone is dead. I am writing this on a piece of paper. The car is out of gas from driving around looking for a place to park. Not that it matters. I am boxed in by Range Rovers and Priuses, all of them immobile. I fear leaving my vehicle, lest I fall victim to the roving gangs of stroller-moms and Crossfitters.

I take full responsibility. I accept my fault. I angered the Whole Foods gods with my nonchalance, my thinking I could “just pop in and out,” and I have paid the ultimate price. You can’t just pop in and out of Whole Foods.

Mark my words. If for some reason I survive this nightmarish ordeal and escape this parking lot alive, I am never, ever coming back. For like a week, minimum.


Joe Donatelli is Senior Writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @joedonatelli and Facebook. He most recently wrote What Your Email Sign-Off Really Means.

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