Reflecting On My Grocery Line Hustle

Grocery Youth

In 2001, the world was entrenched in strange and uncertain times much like the one we find ourselves in nearly twenty years later. The tragedy started more localized in the United States but the effects were certainly global as an endless war began. The internet was growing and information was becoming more readily available, although, we wouldn’t see the exponential expansion of information for years to come and we still heard of major events almost exclusively through mainstream media outlets. I remember the days after 9/11 were riddled with anxiety. I was fifteen going on sixteen when the towers were hit, and the talk of a war and a draft and a certain many things that were far out of my control came to light.

Despite the events of those dream-like-years of my life, most of my anxieties weren’t actually justified. They were over-blown teenage bullshit that many of us deal with like acne, hormones, romantic relationships, homework, trying to understand how the world works, religion, etc. My simple and secure life seemed shaky and undefined. And I needed something to move the needle forward. 

Grocery Youth

It was during this time in my life, like so many others, that I desired freedom and autonomy. I didn’t want to be held in check by anyone or anything. “Teenage Angst” takes different forms for individuals depending on external and internal circumstances but my “struggle” was a normal one and given that I’m from the United States, having a car was an essential part of my identity.

When you have a car, you are no longer held by where your feet can take you, and through the lens of youth that is a huge accomplishment. It’s a natural cycle with modern convenience. But freedom is severely limited, if not a complete fallacy, because they take that same license from you when you’re too old. And you finish your final years being chauffeured around by people. 

Grocery Youth

In order for me to embrace the unchained existence for which I longed, I needed a car. And to acquire a vehicle my parents wanted me to get a job. I was fifteen and willing to work. My previous summers were spent pulling weeds and digging holes for folks from my parent’s church. But this would be my first real job. I applied at several places but the only serious option at my age was my local grocery store. So, I submitted an application for the position of Courtesy Clerk and fortunately, they needed help and I was hired on.

My first day on the job consisted of boring videos about safety procedures and company policy. I remember rolling my eyes at the silliness of their rules and regulations. By that time in my life, I already despised authority, but I wanted that car and the freedom it represented, so, I was willing to forgo my rebellious intuitions in hopes of losing my virginity in that sweet whip I would buy with all the money I would make from $6.15 an hour.  

A young woman escorted me on a tour of the store. She introduced me to my co-workers as we casually walked around. It felt like I was going behind the scenes on a movie I didn’t much care for or understand, but I hadn’t seen the stock rooms or receiving areas of a store before, and I found it to be surprisingly fascinating.

The other teens working at my store went to the same local high school together. I felt a little out of place, at first, given that I didn’t have any of the same classes or teachers. But, soon, that melted away and I was shooting the shit with everyone, bitching about customers, and hoping for tips from customers I helped out to their car. It was far and few between that I would receive gratuity, but it was foundational in developing a sense on how to read people and situations.

Grocery Graduation

The summer of 2001 was wrapped in the shroud of elapsed boredom. Nothing of note happened that summer. I don’t have any particular emotional attachment to the ongoing of those few months. I didn’t make any life long friendships from that job. The kids were fun to joke around with at work but that’s as far as the relationships went. I would see them from time to time over the next few years of high school, but there wasn’t a lasting connection. I guess not every relationship carries importance. As far as I can remember, it was all a means to an end and I achieved my goal and I had fun while I did it. 

As I fell headlong into my sophomore year of high school, my tenure at the grocery store came to an end with the beginning of basketball season. During my time as a courtesy clerk I managed to buy a car with the money I saved. My parents chipped in some cash for taxes, but I was the proud owner of a 1985 Honda Accord with a sunroof, air-conditioning and a fuel injected engine. Some of my fondest memories centered around my first ride; I lost my virginity in the back seat, smoked way too much weed in public places, and drove friends to parties with the windows down, blasting Tom Petty. I felt alive with a sense of pride as I cruised around suburbia ias a teenager

Other jobs came and went – some harder than others, and today, I’m back in a grocery store, which, to the best of my knowledge, is right where I need to be. I’ve owned several cars since then. None of them gave me a sense of accomplishment like that old Honda. The memories of my first job don’t hold much gravitas in my life either. My priorities shifted somewhere along the journey. Now, just maintaining job is more important than the result of my hard work. It feels empty. It’s harder to stay focused. There isn’t a obvious goal in my purview. That’s why I write. But it leaves me wondering if I am living to work or working to live?