Something you may not know about me: I’m a huge nerd when it comes to the food industry. Primarily fast food but anything that has to do with the supply and demand of food products — this includes grocery store science and psychology.
Today I read an NPR interview with Benjamin Lorr, author of The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s now on my list), but it seems the author spent a few years studying the ins and outs of the supermarket industry — from riding with truck drivers delivering product, to listening to entrepreneurs trying to make their homemade deliciousness compete with big-name products on the shelves, to even getting a job on the front lines in a New York grocery. The author’s intention is to shine a light on the somewhat dark topic of what goes on behind the scenes of the grocery industry, kind of how Fast Food Nation did with the fast food industry, and I’m excited to read about it.
But reading this interview has inspired me to share some of my stories from my time spent working in a grocery when I was a teenager. It’s coming in multiple parts, so please brace yourselves for some banal stories about a 16-year-old punker working his first “real” job over the next week.
To set the tone, it was a Winn-Dixie in Allandale (closed now, of course). I was 16 with a black Honda Accord and I was tasked with paying the bi-annual car insurance bill. The gig was given to me kind of as a favor as the manager and my mom had a mutual friend. The manager’s name was Berry which I thought was appropriate because he was a rather large man whose mustached face was always red, much like he was either always flustered or just particularly ripe. The interview was uneventful as I basically had the job in the bag as long as I didn’t cuss or get naked before getting the official word.
After putting forth very little effort, I was hired as Winn-Dixie’s newest bag boy. My wage would be $5.15/hour and I’d have to wear a teal polo with a name tag and a button that said “ASK ME!” My job duties included bagging groceries, returning unwanted items to the shelves, helping customers to their cars, returning carts to the building, sweeping the entryways, cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the break room and basically any other grunt work that usually gets delegated to whoever is at the bottom of the totem pole.
I was told on my first day by some of my new coworkers to never ask for time off — if you did, you’d get those days off but they’d cut your hours violently afterward. Other rules included no accepting tips from customers, minimize conversation with the cashiers and drop whatever you’re doing and report to the front if someone pages you.
Three weeks after I started, my mom took a picture of me in the kitchen wearing my teal polo and holding up my first-ever paper paycheck. Six months later, I quit. But a lot of things happened in between and I’m going to share some of my favorite stories for the next several days.
Until then, ever onward, y’all.