A Journey Through the Cooking Glass or We’re Off to See the Costco

Sam Arnold, Guest Columnist

As I walk through the hallowed entrance of the Costco warehouse, wielding my mother’s well-used membership card, a familiar realm awaits me. I immediately hear the faint sounds of shopping carts grumbling down the aisles and the white noise of the giant air conditioners in the rafters. Costco has a distinct and unique feel, different from Kroger and Walmart. The all-encompassing experience opens my senses, and thus begins my journey through Costco.

While other customers grab enormous carts, I decide to walk sans cart to focus on the store, its contents, and patrons. My journey starts at the entrance, and right away, I see the massive interior. Illuminated by thousands of LED lights, it’s impossible to tell if it’s morning or night.

I first pass dozens of giant television sets playing looping videos of animals, beaches, and water. Though stunning and colorful, the visuals do not pique my interest. Even with the Times Square-like entrance, most shoppers pay little attention to the flashy displays, as they focus intently on their shopping quests. Like Dorothy and Toto, customers follow a set path down the yellow brick road into the store. I, too, follow the same path, awaiting the magical treats ahead. 

At that moment, in that corner, I reminisce about Costco workers doling free food samples throughout the store. The world has changed, however, and memories will stay as memories.

Through the crowded carts, I see prepared foods far back in the warehouse. Though a distance away, the large red signs dangling above provide an easy way to see the many meals, soups, and cheeses for sale. The white noise of the air conditioners and shopping carts continues as I grow closer.

The indescribable smell of the warehouse permeates the air. I feel a slight change in temperature near the open area, where the meats and vegetables reside. Not too cold, not too hot, yet not ideal. As the temperature drops, the white noise increases in intensity.

I walk towards the meat and vegetables and see discrepancies within the towering displays. Some items stack neatly, while others resemble my stuffed and perilously arranged fourth-grade cubby. I now recognize the long-familiar smell of raw meat and baked chicken. I watch the rotisserie go around, wondering if anyone has burnt a finger taking a chicken off the skew.

Trinity senior Sam Arnold photo by Line Drive Photography

After perusing the enchiladas and meatloaves, I head for the frozen food aisles. Many of my favorite childhood foods live in these glass-enclosed spaces—giant bags of dinosaur chicken nuggets, multi-packs of Kirkland frozen pizza, and enormous boxes of Eggo waffles.

Further, near the end of the aisles, I see my mother’s golden ticket — the Starbucks coffee pods on sale. At that moment, in that corner, I reminisce about Costco workers doling free food samples throughout the store. The world has changed, however, and memories will stay as memories.

I next trek to the very back of the warehouse, where I see stacks and stacks of paper products -– mountains of Charmin, Bounty, and Kleenex. Though placed in a grid-like pattern, the boxes soar into the rafters – at least three stories high. I resist the urge to climb the Mount Everest of diapers, paper towels, and toilet tissue and stick a flag through the plastic to claim my prize.

My final stop on my Costco journey seems appropriate after my Everest dream —  a place I call the “freezing room.” To no one’s surprise, the frigid donut-shaped room with ice pellets on the wall contains gallons of endless types of milk. Yellow, red, and white jugs fill the small room, and customers quickly grab their selection before their lips turn blue.

After my long lap around the store, I walk out of the warehouse satisfied that I relived an experience I sorely missed during the Covid lockdown. As I attempted to notice all I ignored in the past, this familiar childhood journey became a new experience.

That day I may also have become the only person not to spend a penny in that store.