Dancing down the aisle, the cereal aisle, that is

A WEIRD thing happened last week at the grocery store.

I must first explain that I have long looked upon grocery shopping as an activity to be endured, never embraced. Like Old Mother Hubbard, I refuse to make the trip until the cupboard is seriously bare. Even though I hurry up and down each aisle, trying to get it over with, shopping for me is a long, agonizing experience.

But last week, something strange happened. I had barely started pushing the one-bad-wheel cart down the cereal aisle when I noticed they were playing "my" music: vintage Motown! Not some Muzak version, but the real deal, a Temptations tune I hadn't heard in decades.

And it was transforming. Suddenly, I felt I was no longer foraging for food, but time-warped back to my dancing days in a high school gym. Alone in the aisle (Thank goodness my kids weren't with me!), I felt my feet start cart-pushing to the beat and, yes, I did hum along. I didn't realize how much I was enjoying myself until an unsuspecting, middle-aged man rolled his cart into the far end of the aisle, near the Corn Flakes. My first fleeting thought was, "I wonder if he'll ask me to dance?"

He didn't, as it happened. But that didn't spoil the mood. I filled that cart to overflowing with food while the music filled me with memories.

I'm not stupid. Carried away, maybe, but not stupid. I realize that "mood music" is just the store's ploy to lure me in and say, "You belong here. You, Ms. 1973 Graduate, are the target customer for today." But what a great ploy it is! I wonder if every Sunday afternoon is Boomer Day? I'm not so won over that I want to make trips for nothing. However, it may be worth my time to call ahead and get the playlist.

THE grocery store isn't the only place that sends musical messages over its speaker system. The mall shops where my daughters drag me carry messages, too. Some blast music only teens can tolerate. (Message: "Obviously, we don't have clothes that fit you, lady. If your ears can't stand to be here, you know these are not your racks.") Others offer more adult-friendly fare. (Message: "We know you're only here to pay for what your kids want, Mom, but we're trying to keep you in a good mood until we see that charge card.")

The music at my gym is my least favorite. I have trouble distinguishing the words, but it sounds a lot like, "Oh, baby, oh, baby, if you're over 30, you don't belong here, oh, baby, oh, baby," which gives me yet another excuse for not crossing the gym's portal.

I'm intrigued by what effect the combination of boomer music and marketing might have on places that want to say "You belong here" as we age. Will it be commonplace to walk into a nursing home and hear "Born to Be Wild" belting out of the speaker system? I sure hope so. Perhaps we'll select our senior site depending on whether we prefer Motown or James Taylor, The Doors or The Beatles. (Of course, we may need special facilities for devotees of disco.)

I find comfort in that thought.

What worries me, though, is that the generation behind me will in turn demand their music. What happens when techno-hip-industrial-rap-hop or whatever that stuff is becomes the norm at the senior center?

That's a long way off, though, so there's no use worrying about it. For now, I have a little grocery shopping to do.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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