Three Little Words

Trader Joe's, Martin Haro
And the rain fell, and the sun came out, and I was at work right before 7. San Francisco, 11.28.18

“Hello,” “Please,” and “Thanks.”

People of the world, these are the three little words ya gotta remember when you go to a grocery store, always and forever, but especially during this pandemic.

Look, I know what I’m talking about when I gripe about the casual cultural classism and racism that surprisingly permeates San Francisco, or the societal indifference and intolerance toward the bulk of our most pressing community problems, and I’m calling it out. I used to work at the Trader Joe’s on California & Hyde, and since the time to mention it all is right now, well…here I am, laying it all on the line to remind you of the Golden Rule because, if you are not mindfully using these three little words and giving what you want to receive, then you are a shit customer and part of the problem, OK. Respect recognizes respect, and I’m talking about a greeting, basic kindness, appreciation. I mean, y’all don’t really think that stores like TJ’s simply happen, as if by magic, right?

Disclosure: I left the German family-trust-owned, Monrovia, Calif.,-based company last September, after three years and three days, due to a poor experience with a customer. Now, because every story has three sides, I’ll simply say that I felt like this customer pushed me over the edge as an employee (there to do a job, not to put up with entitlement and and rudeness and snowflakery, attitudes that are far more prevalent than anyone imagines in this so-called super-liberal/progressive city) and as a person (which I am…a person deserving of the aforementioned basic human decency). This person got what they gave, for a change, didn’t like it, and thus set out to get me (and my three years of impeccable reviews, satisfactory customer feedback, and undeniable leadership and initiative) cancelled.

Whaddya gonna do. (I’ll tell you what I did: I cut my losses. I declined the invitation to transfer to another store because I felt it was predicated on placating the caprice of a person who thought they could control my destiny. And because it was time to move on and get back to writing. Y’ see… I prefer to tell the story much more than to be the story.)

Le sigh. This many months later, it’s all chill. And I tip my hat to my old colleagues now more than ever.

On the general, grocery store employees do so much more than the majority of the populace realizes, particular those of use who have never done the job. (I never had, and boy, was it more demanding than I’d previously thought or imagined.)

First of all, when you are in the grocery game, you might be among the ones that get to the store a good couple of hours before the sun has even begun to think about rising, to receive and unload trucks full of product. That product has to be sorted by section, checked and crosschecked and worked onto shelves, quickly and efficiently and carefully. Then, after the store has opened, everyone has to put on their cashier’s hat (and remember all the codes for this apple and that apple and that other apple, and what the deal is with that vegetable that was in yesterday but isn’t in today, as well as where things are, and what’s being highlighted, and what’s unavailable…and why). You gotta organize everything that didn’t get worked onto the shelves, and prep what’s going to be shared with local food banks, and properly sort out what needs to be spoiled. You gotta ensure the floor is in good shape, clean and safe. You gotta tidy up the backstage area. Then, you also gotta think like security because you never know who’s coming in and in what state.

We have to host you, entertain you, run to get you another carton of eggs because A) Yes, one or two may have been already cracked or B) It was you who actually broke ’em because you weren’t thinking when you put heavy things on top of ’em (probably because you aren’t focused on the simple task at hand). We gotta listen to your crazy (none of us cares or needs to hear that you believe that we’re in the Matrix, dude – and, please, stop calling us slaves for working for The Man or whatever).

Grocery store workers must navigate myriad stimuli and put up with gross inappropriateness. With people questioning our accents and/or heritage (my, my, how ethnocentric can you get?). With such acute cases of self-unawareness that must be experienced to be believed. With strangers touching us! Or saying sexually explicit shit to us. With some folks’ misguided Trump support and political provocation. With banal complaints about non-seasonal fruits being unavailable (because they’re out of season – duh) and with willful ignorance about trade between countries, which, again, manifests not as curiosity but as casual racism and cultural entitlement whereby some would have the United States of America receive products from other countries but not reciprocate the practice, all so that you may be able to shop to your heart’s content 24/7/365.

I know consumer protections are being dismantled under the orange hemorrhoid’s regime, but weaponizing your right as a consumer to voice displeasure with an interaction or experience with an employee (or the entire store) for black magic – to get someone in trouble or fired – is pathetic. Because you people don’t know. You think you do, but you don’t, and you forget that everyone else has their own story, too.

But the American worker has to take it and shut up or some of y’all will teach us a lesson. Because the system has taught us that the customer is always right, even when they absolutely are not. Because, end of the day, money talks, and the vibe toward the (woefully underpaid) American worker, up until this pandemic, has been be grateful and comply or else. (And don’t even think about unionizing.)

Trader Joe’s, Publix, Safeway, CVS, Walgreens, banks, restaurants, post offices are all staffed by human beings. People like you and me. Folks with dreams and aspirations and joys and traumas. Accomplished, award-winning former TV producers, DJs, composers, and writers. Actors, too (hello, Geoffrey Owens). Folks who are in recovery. People who are struggling. Veterans young and old that are not being nurtured or appreciated or taken care of by the nation they volunteered to serve, that are left on the fringe to fend for themselves without sensical, effective support from the VA (R.I.P. Mike). Law students one Bar Exam away from their path, a recent nursing grad still waiting to be hired. OMG, so many young students. And moms and dads that have to drive into the city from far away because the City by the Bay has priced away the people who keep the service industry running – commutes that, btw, bleed out paychecks. To be the last in a long line of production to touch the product you need is an immense responsibility. (To be the one to take that product home is a privilege. Do not take it for granted.)

So a little gratitude and more empathy toward your grocer is not that much to expect or feel like you deserve or, even, in your case, give. After all, you get what you give.

It boggles my mind that some of y’all are still being shitty to my old co-workers during this, the testing time of COVID-19. It really does. As we can see from our selfish treatment of Earth, and from our governmental greed-based failures, karma is a bitch. And this time, for this, the end of our world as we knew it, she brought a friend, Mother Nature.

Hello. A new democracy is rising. Let’s do well to remember to do unto others as we would have ’em do unto us, please.

Thank you.


  1. Humble-brag here: I went to the local pharmacy last week and the clerk pulled me out of the very long line and announced that I was the nicest and most polite customer that they have and therefore I never had to wait in line.

    Having had jobs that range from hot dog vendor and CVS cashier to senior PR executives, I have always made it a point to practice common courtesy UNLESS one is rude or obnoxious or somehow so insecure that that person is rude or obnoxious to me or to someone else in my presence. I cannot understand how it why people just cannot treat one another with respect and I think the current administration makes it acceptable. You know the old saying “The fish rots from the head”…

    Liked by 1 person

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