The Things You Can’t Order


Sydney Fogel, Guest Contributor

In the summer of 2020, each day, my sister and I went out to grocery shop. We were tired of being cooped up in the house, so we turned to Instacart for our solace. There was nothing like the freedom we felt on our first few runs, strolling through the aisles at Jewel or Mariano’s, and the houses were always so beautiful and unique. I remember, in particular, one with a long path that led up to a gorgeous house on a hill. As we got out of the car, two shining golden retrievers raced up to greet us, breathlessly. I petted them as my sister hauled bags of groceries onto the porch. Snapped the picture. Order complete. 

Not every person who used Instacart lived in a fairy tale, however, and we met as many nice old ladies as we did youthful-mansion-barrens. Like one old lady who invited us in to talk because she was lonely or another who kept three baskets on her porch labeled Instacart, Doordash, and Ubereats, respectively. Each basket contained an assortment of snacks – Fritos, pretzels, candy, and fruit snacks. I was very pleased with this, being that my role was the hungry sibling sidekick. 

Some houses, though, were scary, decrepit old places where we had no problem dropping the groceries and running. Other homes were beautiful stories that demanded to be observed in their entirety. I remember a few gated neighborhoods in which all the houses looked identical; they were cream-colored with sandy finishings. There was a bridge and a bike path that overlooked a shimmering lake. The summer sun bathed everything in a warm halo-y glow. It was like walking into a dream. 

As amazing as the houses were, my Instacart experience wasn’t really about real estate. The most fun my sister and I had was belting out musical numbers at the top of our lungs as we drove. The farther the house or the store, the better. Of course, we’d never admit it, but I think the best part about the whole situation was that we got to spend time together. We loved talking about life and psychology on forty-five-minute drives, debating sci-fi thrillers between produce aisles, and spending half our tip money on bubble tea. All of it was our escape from the terrifying pandemic that surrounded us. 

On one of our last Instacart runs, we watched a crow kill a finch. No reason, just murder. I’d never known birds could be so violent, and I’d never intended on learning that. Horrified, we scooped the little guy up and rushed him to the nearest animal hospital. I use “nearest” lightly as it was about five miles in the other direction. The finch most definitely died before we got there, but the receptionist took him anyway and assured us she would call if his condition improved. We thanked her and left. 

After that, the escape didn’t feel so freeing anymore. I started school again and my sister had to work. Beautiful days were wasted, languishing in front of a screen. Our grand plans crashed down faster than they’d taken off. The fun was over and reality was beginning to close in on us. 

In my entire life, I don’t think I’d had an experience quite like my Instacart-ing summer, and I don’t think I’ll ever have another.  Driving around with her, I learned a lot about my sister, and we formed a forever bond. I know I could’ve had it a lot worse, so I’m glad I got a few months in that grocery-filled bubble to escape from the real world. Even though I had to eventually go back, I’m glad I get to carry that with me forever.