By Meredith Hughes
Insta has a nifty ring to it, right? The best part of horrible “instant” coffee, for example. Insta-gram, that place where online photos demand your attention, especially from the family you hold dear, albeit from a distance.

So Instacart caught your eye, especially after having decided not to venture inside grocery stores awash in virus droplets for a while, given this period of plague. And with zero interest in lining up in the old fogie shopping line, pre dawn.

Instacart was started in San Francisco in 2012 by Apoorva Mehta, a guy who grew up in Canada, trained as an electrical engineer, worked two years as a supply chain engineer for Amazon, needed a bigger challenge, quit, started assorted online businesses, failed at them all, until… he liked to cook, had no car, and wanted food from assorted places.

You, like Mehta, want groceries, and you want them delivered to your door, instantly. Because you are busy bingeing old episodes of Rumpole of The Bailey, or playing “grab the mousie" ad nauseam with your cat, or trying to teach your grandniece in Maine basic world geography via Zoom. ( Don’t get me started on the baffling intricacies of Zoom…) Or whatever.

So you seize hopefully/haplessly on the insta part of the remote grocery cart thing, and download the cute carrot-emblazoned app onto your phone. You excitedly discover that the human Instacart shopper doing your bidding will trot around not only Smith’s, Albertson’s and Sprouts, but also Costco, Natural Grocers, Sam’s Club, Target, and CVS. Even Petco. Your choice.

And while in many other states of these United ones, Instacart is allowed to deliver alcohol from the grocery store of your choice, that is not possible in New Mexico, whose booze laws are such they might well have been written by the Puritans.

But. Beware. Choose one store and stick with it, especially on your maiden voyage. ( Thank the gods you are not on a bloody cruise.) Put in your zip code, and create an account. For free delivery, you can sign up for Express, at $9.99 a month or $99 a year. If you choose more than one store at a time, you may find yourself mis-juggling carts, putting cucumbers into the CVS cart, and having to wrestle them back out. With Express, however, your shopper actually can dart from one outlet to the next, and bring a combined order to you.

If you are a tech fan you likely will admire the rollout of goodies, which is remarkably well done, and visually appealing. Easy to use.

You begin by choosing free-range eggs, you add it via the plus sign, you decide no, no kale, you subtract, you choose replacement items just in case, or tell the shopper “no”, there is no replacement for organic ginger snaps, and Instacart pops in to inform you your delivery will not exactly be instant, more like, uh, four days from now…

The enticing bit is that you now have four days in which to add or subtract items. Naturally, you add. Talenti ice cream is on sale, and your old favorite flavor when you were a child sitting in a booth with your family at Howard Johnson’s, mocha chip, is available! Talenti calls it Coffee Chocolate Chip, but so what. Plus 2, by gum.

Eventually, you must stop fiddling with the list, because a few days have passed and your carrot phone app is telling you that Paulette has begun shopping. You can “chat” with Paulette, though you hesitate to impede her progress, but you urge her subliminally to check the sell-by dates of those eggs, and to take note of the shaggy edges of the chard, and pick another, but hey, back off.

Now Paulette is choosing a replacement for the pepper jack cheese, you are putty in her hands, but she comes through with dill havarti for the win, more or less. And so on. You can watch your list of 31 items sink slowly down, as Paulette does her thing. At one point, there is a notable pause between item 15, and 14, and you assume Paulette has heeded nature’s call, as one must. Or perhaps is clueless as to what broccoli rabe is. So be it.

Then once again Paulette is on the move, and you watch the shrinking of the list down to zero.

Now you picture Paulette masked and gloved, pushing the actual shopping cart to her car, and disgorging the contents, all in paper bags, into the backseat. Where her hound Roscoe normally lounges. OMG.

The phone app picks up Paulette as she drives smoothly out of the parking lot and heads for your home, and while it’s a bit vague as to where Paulette is, your address is firmly and accurately in place. You watch the map and wait.
And you do give in to the “chat” possibility, thanking Paulette profusely for doing your shopping, and asking if she would please place the shopping bags in a battered-looking red wagon parked in front of your door. The wagon once belonged to your son, now 36.

You ponder wistfully the fact that were said son nearby, there would be no need for Paulette. You wonder how best to wash the virus bits off four containers of ice cream without melting the contents.

A masked Paulette has arrived, hurriedly lugging bags. You enthusiastically wave out the window at her, delighted by this Insta shopping success, while at the same time convinced that the tip you added to the order could not possibly have been enough.

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