Besides pushing the mower for Dad’s yard care business, my first job was as a box boy at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Fife. Somehow, I managed this coup a year before I could drive, so I rode my ten-speed down the hill past Patti’s house to go to work. And back up. It never occurred to me until now that this would be an issue in the dark or snow, but the question never came up. I’m sure mom would drive me.
Treatise On How to Bag Groceries
I wore a tie on the first day of work, and before I was let loose to do anything, the manager took me aside and taught me how to bag groceries. It’s a thing and, apparently, a lost art.
If you’re sensible, you know the routine: shampoo doesn’t go with bread or fruit. It’s heavy and leaks sometimes. Frozen foods go in the same bag, doubled to keep the cold in and to keep from tearing. Bread goes in a bag by itself so it won’t get squished. Do your best to cushion fruit and veggies, and don’t put any cans with hard edges in with them. Think about all this stuff when you toss the bags in the cart – or buggies as they’re called around here. Heavy goes on the bottom, and you never put anything on top of the bread. It’s common sense and courtesy, except that it’s not very common.
Once trained, I got the real prize: working with Margaret Kinoshita all day. She was a University of Washington cheerleader and, well, ‘nough said.
I’d been there a couple months and came in on Saturday morning. I loved working Saturdays. We were always busy then, but something about the air and smell and how clean the store was felt great. I was there to open, and a couple hours later, in the middle of the busiest time of the morning, a lady came through with a ton of groceries. She paid with a check, and I pushed her cart out to unload it. We got to her car, and she stopped me.
“I work for Piggly Wiggly,” she said. “You did a good job bagging,” and she sorted through the bags. “Nothing’s flat, and even the bags of frozen stuff are holding up since you double bagged them. I’m going to give you a good report,” she said. I beamed.
“But,” she said, and I felt the hammer hovering. “Do you work with that checker a lot?”
I was working with Margaret again and saw my chance to protect her, like a linebacker she cheered for. “Well….”
“Well, nothin’. Here’s the thing. You go tell her that I’m writing her up. I gave her every chance to check my ID for the check, and she was too busy or worried or dopey to care. We have got to check IDs.” She punctuated hard between each word. “You can’t believe how many bad checks we’ve let go through our lines. We have to toughen up on this. “
“I’m sure she was just being nice,” I said, West Coast Denn.
“Nice or not, you tell that young lady she’s in trouble.”
I trudged back to the store to tell Margaret, wallowing in my failed effort. I told her, and she didn’t care a wit and just laughed about what some old biddy complained about in the middle of her busiest shift. That’s what you get to do when you’re a cheerleader.
Since these halcyon days of doing what the boss said, I’ve changed careers a few times, gone to college a few times, and moved a few times. I’m out of the grocery business now and living far from the wonderfully mild weather of Western Washington. I bake now on most days in the swelter of South Carolina. My wife squeals that she’s on vacation every day, and I squeal that this has got to be a kind of purgatory.
We have a Piggly Wiggly here, too, and one of my best friends is the manager. We laugh together that we both started with the Pig, but he never quit. I’ve had dozens of jobs, but he’s had one: one employer, one boss, one job his entire life. I shop there sometimes but mostly go across the street. It’s a little more upscale, and hey, I’m from Seattle. They are a bit expensive but I can get anything I want and – my criteria for any store – they have a good newspaper selection, meaning that I can get a USA Today. It’s the closest thing in town to a national newspaper of any sort. I used to get the Wall Street or the NY Times at Starbucks, but I was the only one buying, so they quit selling them. I’d like to complain, but there’s a flame in me that says I can’t come across as entitled. Anyway, I like this store except that they know nothing, NOTHING, about how to bag groceries. I could check out by myself but refuse to use the self-check bots, believing they will take away needed human jobs. It’s a caring thing.
But. There’s a guy here who must work the morning shift, just when I come to the store. He’s usually the only one there to ‘bag’ and I get him every time. His plan, if he has one, is to take whatever the checker slides across the scanner, in any order, and toss the thing in a plastic bag. Like toss. Like throw. If the checker stops for any reason – to check an item code, say – he grabs whatever item is handy and starts flipping it, seeing if he can make it land on its’ top. So, any bag I bring home might be filled with chips for the girls, a loaf of bread, and, yes, shampoo. I hope he advances soon to be the manager of the store. It’s my experience that people who are lousy at doing are often gifted in telling others what to do.
Of all the silly things about this, I got in trouble for his antics one day. My wife and I were checking out, he was bagging, and the checker stopped to read the label on a piece of fruit. So this oaf grabs my daughter’s can of PRINGLES – POTATO CHIPS – FRAGILE POTATO CHIPS – and flips it to see if he can get it to land on the top. I’m confused – maybe he doesn’t know what Pringles are – and very politely grab the can and put it in a bag. My wife watches the entire shenanigan and gets that look. That ‘we’ll talk about this in a minute’ look. She pays, and I push the cart, and she’s mad at me.
“What are you doing? Let him bag the groceries,” she says. “Did you see him? He looked at you like you were a dope. Just let him do his job. Jeesh.”
I laughed. “Fair enough. I’ll let him do his job. But I have one suggestion,” I said, holding up my finger and stopping the cart. “I’ll wait here while you go and buy another can of Pringles for the girls.” I picked up the one we paid for and shook it next to my ear. “This one is full of sand.”
A Job Offer
I still shop there but have kowtowed to the self-check robots. The manager watched me the other morning, probably making sure I don’t swipe the last copy of US Today. He finally sidled up and said, “Hey? Over there?” He pointed to the service desk. “We have applications. Fill one out,” he said, laughing. “We need you – we really need you – to train our checkers. You know what you’re doing.”
I laughed, “Brother? That’s a low bar. It’s pretty easy. Especially with this setup.”
“Dude,” he said. “you would be shocked at some of the struggles I see.”
I packed up and left, tossing the coupons that spit out at me in the trash, looking forward to getting home and timing myself on the LA Times Crossword. And thinking about a training program for baggers once I make manager. Nice.
Leave it to Wiki to save us: how to bag your own groceries.
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