At long, long, long last the much-anticipated grand opening finally arrived. And no, I am not referring to the Florida State Fair, our region's annual tribute to clogged arteries.
This was far more important. Finally, the Publix at Fletcher Avenue and N Dale Mabry Highway reopened its doors after a nearly yearlong renovation. And for all of us who are twisted, pathetic creatures of habit, once more life has meaning again.
Publix literally moved my cheese and now it has put it back where it belongs.
"So I suppose you are going to camp out overnight waiting for the doors to open," the Azalea of Athens snarked. She knows me too well.
Well, of course I would never do something so ridiculous. It would obviously interfere with my otherwise thrillingly routinized life and it would also require perhaps having to talk to other people. Still, it was a tempting thought.
After all, it has been a very long year of shopping at other Publix locations. I've felt like Moses wandering the grocery desert in search of which aisle to find the club soda.
For years I had followed the same Saturday routine of errands, eventually winding up at the Publix Dale Mabry store. And I discovered, when I wrote a column last year kvetching about the closing of the market, just how many other people there are who similarly lead carefully structured lives. For us, as I noted, Tony Shalhoub's obsessive-compulsive detective Monk seems to be a perfectly normal, reasonable man.
Occasionally I would run into one of my fellow Publix refugees cast into a sort of grocery store diaspora. And there, standing in front of the Tasti-Lee tomatoes we would have a brief group therapy encounter. When, oh when would we get our Publix back? Soon, we would be told, soon. But not soon enough.
There were moments when I would occasionally come upon a Publix employee from the old store working at another location until the remodeling was completed. They seemed so lost, so out of place — like discovering Tiger Woods playing croquet.
Oh the other Publix stores were very nice. But I always felt like a stranger in a strange aisle, never quite adjusting to the enforced change in a routine of life honed over so long a period of time. Variety being the spice of life is highly over-rated.
I found myself as I traversed N Dale Mabry gazing at the construction under way and wondering when my long sundry nightmare would end. And last weekend, it did.
But the grocery gods can be unbearably cruel. With great anticipation last Saturday I drove into the Publix parking lot looking for a space — and looked and looked and looked. Two things occurred to me. You would have thought Publix was giving away free food, which as a matter of fact they were. And it is entirely possible north Tampa is populated by more obsessive-compulsive types who had been going through grocery withdrawal for the past 11 months than I ever imagined.
By Sunday a parking space finally opened up.
To be sure, the newly refurbished Publix is a sight to see. Bigger, more selections — and the food samples were lovely. Clearly the grocery's corporate parent in Lakeland is extending a huge, single digit . . ., uh, banana in the general direction of the chi-chi Whole Foods Market a short distance away on N Dale Mabry.
As I walked into the doors an employee from the old store came up and hugged me. It had been too long. My vittles exile had ended.