Some grocery store thoughts after three weeks on the job

Working at a fancy-pants grocery store in the Bay Area is a good way to learn how much rosé in a can people drink.

And LaCroix. My god, the LaCroix.

I’ve been settling into shifts and getting a sense for the job. I’m stunned I can work here if I don’t know what kombucha is. The organic overlords haven’t noticed yet.

It’s not rocket science, but it is a workout when I’m standing all day and loading watermelons in double bags. The store hooks up employees with non-slip safety shoes and I picked out the Air Monstrosities in super dork black. These shoes are so wack Lavar Ball would charge only $295 for them.

I love it when customers have Warriors shirts on and we can talk sports. One time I yelled ROLL TIDE at a woman who came through my line in a Bama hoodie. She yelled back and people wondered what the hell we were laughing at.

The majority of customers are friendly. I feel a little surge of happiness when I recognize the regulars. The breakdown of customers is positive: 85% are pleasant, 10% are on their phones, and 5% are grumpy. No matter how nice someone is, the expectations can go too far.

Yes, I brought a 5lb bag for 20lbs of groceries and yes, I will complain when the bag is too heavy.

I feel like a jerk typing that sentence because playing food tetris is the only thing I can complain about and it’s nothing. I’m lucky. Bagging groceries while the freelance sports gigs are slim feels okay. It’s a chance to recalibrate my ego. Is there any work beneath me? Will I get my hands dirty at a pay-the-bills job while I search for the career-job? I’m lucky, but I’m not special. This isn’t new for millions of Americans.

My coworkers (all names changed) are a cool cross-section of students, artists, parents looking for a second income, and people trying to find their next career-job too.

Mark is in school to be an interpreter. American Sign Language is close to his heart and he’d like to work at a hospital.

One manager, Lucia, is working this job and another one while going to law school. I think she sleeps on her feet.

Some co-workers seem more trapped than others. Danny lives in a city about 30 minutes away where rent is cheaper. I asked him if he works full time and he said he can’t because the hours wouldn’t match the bus schedule he relies on. Danny has the kindest manner with customers. I want him to win the lottery.

Willie sometimes works his eight hours at the grocery store and then goes to his six-hour second job at a restaurant. He says he eats well, at least.

We all find moments to walk away from the cash register or bagging to collect carts outside or wipe down the eating area. It’s a chance to remove our smiles and take a break from being “on.” Customer service is non-stop interaction.

My favorite shift is closing. I like glaring at the people who linger in the eating area after the store is closed. In my mind, I’m letting them know this isn’t a restaurant. In my actions, I’m stacking the chairs as close as I can to where they’re sitting.

When customers are finally gone, one register stays open so employees can buy their groceries. We get a 20% discount. There’s also something called mania, where we get free grabs on the food from the bakery that’s not fresh enough to sell in a couple days. Mania is a swarm of employees swooping in on a cart of carrot cakes and cookies. As Mark says, let’s get our diabetes on!

This job is good. Freelancing has been tough, so this grocery store gig is a place where I regained a routine. It’s simple, but I have a place to go, co-workers I like, and honest work to do. It’s not the main meal, but it is nourishing in ways I need.

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