A fictional story based upon my reality.
This is a tribute to people that believe in perfecting a skill that for many may seem irrelevant, the people who we rarely look in the eye when we pass them by. They are the shadow people who add an important element to our society and deserve to have a light shined upon them from time-to-time.
Christmas day eve during the crush of last minute shoppers.
I traveled through the throngs of humanity that mingled in the paper towel aisle with their shopping carts strategically parked dead center, thwarting passage from the right, or left side.
This time the squeaky wheel didn’t work. It just annoyed the hell out of me, grating against my eardrums with each turn of the cart, especially worse when backing up – the inevitable solution to the cart dead-center in the aisle problem. One problem circumvented in the paper towel, facial tissue aisle. Why don’t they call them Kleenex anymore?
Luckily, my cart was already half full at the paper goods juncture of my shopping expedition on Christmas Eve, an expedition I came to believe was likely far worse than negotiating the lushly lined trails of the Amazon with predatory creatures hiding in the foliage. In the supermarket, the predators were easily spotted not hesitating before making a turn at the end of an aisle or cutting someone off at the produce-pass, where the lettuce and carrots forged a salad alliance.
I just needed to scoot down the pet aisle to grab a bucket of cat clumping litter and some doggie treats, which turned out to be trouble free, until I coasted into the check out station. I put on the brakes and waited for the woman in front of me to finish separating her stash into groups of four, each regarded as a separate entity and purchased with a credit card.
As she dealt out the frozen dinners, sack of potatoes, and chips with dip onto the conveyor belt, I noticed the elderly bagger at the end of the ramp eyeing the woman contemptuously. She was so engrossed with adjusting her food groups that she didn’t hear the Bagger say, “Why couldn’t you do this before reaching the register?”
He was quickly admonished by the cashier twenty-years his junior with a sharp look and an, “Oh, Vince.”
Ah, it was whom I had thought. Bagger Vince; the most cantankerous, yet meticulous bagger the Stop & Shop had in their packaging arsenal. They keep him in mothballs and take him out at the busiest times because Bagger Vince can pack a bag like no other.
As the line behind me started growing longer, Bagger Vince became increasingly irritated. I could tell because he started a monologue about the perils of last minute shopping.
“Don’t’ they know that it’s Christmas Eve?” he grumbled.
The cashier just rolled her eyes.
The woman continued counting her food groups and moving them around like a shell game.
“Why do people wait until the last minute to shop? Vince lamented. “They had all week to do this.”
The cashier took the card from the woman and swiped it in anger. Food group number one had completed a round. It was now Vince’s turn to take the reigns. Approaching the counter with grace and ease, he removed a plastic bag and gently loaded it, pushing and prodding then slipping items in with the adeptness of a surgeon, before lowering the bag into the cart.
Food group number two was now ready for processing.
“It’s Christmas Eve for Christ’s sake,” Vince said incredulously.
The cashier swiped the card and let the food group 2 items roll into Bagger Vince’s corner, where he once again performed his bagging virtuosity with style and grace.
Food group 3 followed and then food group 4 with eggs, meat, chicken, and produce.
“Pack the chicken and meats separately, please,” the woman piped.
Vince just glanced at her with a look of disgust in the lack of trust that was exhibited by this obviously naïve shopper, unaware of the reputation that preceded him.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Vince, as his finished bagging and gingerly stacking the four separate bags of food groups harmoniously side-by-side in the cart.
The woman nodded and pushed the cart away, while Vince watched then scratched his head and turned my way.
“Why do you suppose people wait until the last minute?” he asked.
“People are busy.”
“Why did you wait?” he prodded.
“I was sick all week.”
“Ah,” he said. “Well, I guess you had a reason.”
I smiled and admired the finesse of his movements, as he filled my cart of plenty into the ten plus bags with just enough room and weight to make them manageable.
“Thank you,” I said, as I pulled away, catching the twinkle in his light gray eyes.
“You are welcome,” he responded with a smile. “You had a reason, and I can live with that.”
Then Bagger Vince turned to receive the next items that slid his way on the conveyor belt.
His last words, “Why do people wait until the last minute,” caught my ear, while I guided the cart toward the door.
I don’t know I thought. I just don’t know. At least, be comforted by the fact that you can handle anything they push your way.
“Good night, Bagger Vince,” I said, proud that I had shared a moment with a legend, the folk hero bagger of the Stop & Shop mega-size food store.