<i.>Something seemed wrong lately at our friendly neighborhood Spartan grocery store. The rhythms of life seemed, somehow, a little bit off. I'd noticed it building, slowly but surely, over the last couple weeks. The standard employee banter had lost its usual edge, or even seemed a tad forced, at times. The eye contact became more hit and miss. But those weren't the only indications, as I quickly discovered.
Before long, odd little signs started popping up at the checkout lanes: "WE ARE SORRY, BUT WE CANNOT ACCEPT WIC OR BRIDGE CARDS (Reckoner's Note: for food stamp recipients) AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE." Soon enough, we'd end up feasting our eyes on this little gem: "21 AND OVER IS THE LAW! YOU MUST SHOW ID WHEN PURCHASING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES. NO EXCEPTIONS!!"
How odd, I told myself, since 21+ is the gold standard in most jurisdictions nationwide? Or is somebody trying to underscore something that we already know? What gives, exactly?
I got my answer soon enough, on my nightly trip to score a two-liter or two of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi.
<ii.>I found myself standing behind a gent with his own modest haul of beer -- a six-pack of something or other, if I recall correctly -- and assorted snack food items. Suddenly, he popped the question: "Hey, where's Mike?"
The cashier furrowed her brow. "What you do you want with him?"
"You know, Mike," the customer persisted. "The guy with the shirt and tie, carrying the big, oversized cell phone..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," the cashier responded. "He was here 10 years. Well, he's not here anymore."
"Really?" The customer frowned. "Why not?"
The cashier sighed. "We got bought out a couple weeks ago, by the son of the current owner." She explained that his father wanted to get out, retire, enjoy some well-earned rest, that type of thing.
The customer jerked a thumb at the signs. "Oh, and that's why you can't take..."
A-ha, I thought. They're transferring the license owner to the new regime, which is why the food stamp cards are on hold for awhile.
"Okay, so what became of Mike?"
"Well, whenever a new owner comes in," the cashier explained, "they typically prefer to bring in their own people, new blood, whatever you call it. The only way that Mike was gonna stay here, they told him, was that he'd have to start over..."
"Wow!" The customer sucked in a breath or two. "You mean, he'd have to go back out on the floor?"
<iii.>"Pretty much, that's what it would have meant." The cashier frowned. "He didn't wanna do that, so that's why he's gone."
The customer finished counting out his change. "Man, that sucks. I liked the guy."
"Well, that's what's happened," the cashier sighed, a little harder this time. "Anything's possible when a new owner comes in. Right now, there's a lot of changes going on..." She gestured toward the signs. "And we don't know yet what's gonna happen."
"Wow, that's too bad." The customer finished scooping up his change into his pocket, grabbed his six-pack and snacks, now safely tucked into their cheap plastic bags, and walked out.
Within a minute or two, I followed out the door. I thought about all these times that I'd seen Mike, who presented the upbeat facade of the local store manager better than most of his cohorts I'd seen. Then I thought of him coming home, and breaking the news to his family, a forty- or fiftysomething-plus man effectively hearing, "Sorry, kid. Time to start over."
Most likely, I'd never see him again, unless he found a similar foothold with the competition...Aldi's, Martin's, Meijer's Walmart, take your pick, you name it, there's quite a few locations...another domino rolled over in the never-ending quest for corporate profit.
I couldn't shake those images out of my head for most of the week. --The Reckoner