The infallible whipped-topping test for small town amiability

The Baltimore Sun

Recently, I combined a holiday visit to my husband's family in Indiana with a Janet's World tax-deductible civic research trip.

Preliminary results indicate there's a lot to like about Carmel, Ind., starting with the fact that the town's name is just an "a" away from a classic candy filling.

Basically, Carmel is a place very much like towns across Maryland, only located in the Midwest, where people do not need bumper stickers to remind them to be civil. I was born and raised on the East Coast, where frankly it might be a good idea for some folks to have smiley faces tattooed on their foreheads to telegraph just a hint of caring. And if you have a problem with me saying that, you can just shut your trap!

At first, I was struck by how Carmel managed to avoid the suburban hodgepodge of strip malls, creating instead a cheery, stroll-able "Arts and Design District." It conveyed "let's stay a while," rather than the "let's get the heck out of here" I feel driving down U.S. 40.

But to review a town properly, you cannot simply cruise its upscale shopping district and dine at its finest restaurant. Though this is critical for any thorough report and so my accountant, Dranoel A. Rellim and Setaicossa (whose name has been spelled backward for privacy), should make a note of this. I'm happy to report the lobster penne at Deeter's restaurant is to die for.

Yes, to experience a region fully, you must get off the beaten path. Or, you must perform a random test of the community's genuine trust of strangers in the form of an extremely embarrassing moment. The latter is the Janet's World preferred methodology.

Our family was staying in my brother-in-law's home, so we did a typical family food shop the first day we arrived. Among the items we purchased was a canister of whipped cream. Later that evening, the kids discovered the whipped cream had been opened. So the next day, when I needed a few other items from the market, I took it back with my receipt.

"I know this is hard to believe," I said to the customer service clerk, "but I just bought this yesterday, and when we opened it last night at dessert, we discovered it was used. In fact, it's almost empty."

"You're kidding!" the clerk exclaimed.

I popped off the cap to reveal a crusted nozzle, and entreated her to shake the half-empty can.

"Unbelieveable!" she said, smiling.

We chatted about who in the world would be so brazen to break open a canister of whipped cream and squirt it in his mouth while grocery shopping?

"People do all kinds of strange stuff," she said, directing me to the aisle for a replacement.

When I brought it to the service counter, she asked if I wanted to open it to be sure it wasn't tampered with.

"Yes! Yes, I will, if you don't mind," I said with zeal. I broke the seal, revealing the can was fresh.

"Have a great day!" she chirped as I left. I was impressed. This town is one place populated with pleasant people, I thought.

I returned to my brother-in-law's home and promptly put the can in the refrigerator door where I would normally put a new can of whipped cream. And that's when I discovered - right next to the replacement - the brand new canister of whipped cream I had purchased the day before.

I had, apparently, returned my brother-in-law's family's old whipped cream.

So I would like to apologize to the town of Carmel and send your supermarket $2.79. But instead, I think I will just come back soon and attempt to return opened luncheon meats and milk cartons and bags of chips, so the world will know how gracious you truly are.

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