The last shift, in prose. Friday night, 2:30-11, Produce department,
Safeway Store #2117, 2425 34th Avenue SW. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Employee names are in code, as is tradition.

The last shift was fairly uneventful. We had a lot of staff on (wonder
if that was intentional) and got our crap done fairly early. My closing
partners were JERRY-OKE (sounds like karaoke), LOUDMOUTH, EMO and
SKATER BOY.

JERRY-OKE is one of the reasons I held out as long as I did. The second
man in produce, a stocky guy, with a wife and two year old daughter.
With the manager on leave due to a knee injury, it was his show. He
asked for our effort, and gave his own to back it up. He had a fondness
for singing (loudly, and off-key, it should be noted. Thus, the name)
in the backroom, and is very much a people person. He also has this
distinctive, high pitched laugh, that has to be heard to be
appreciated, and a propensity for cursing (a lot) when doing heavy
lifting. One of my staunchest defenders to our produce manager, who was
often on my case.  He’d be in my foxhole.

LOUDMOUTH is well, just that- loud. And obnoxious. My antithesis in a
number of ways. Very social, and considers himself a womanizer
(opinions on the validity of this claim were, of course, varied). We’d
mock him, as he tended to chase the younger girls in our store, but as
it turns out, they’d be the only ones to fall for his act. A terrible
worker, and he and everyone else knew it. Refused to accept
responsibility for his mistakes- he wouldn’t survive in a unionless job.

EMO used to be a long haired guy, constantly moping about his
relationship with his girlfriend. He has the uncanny ability to go from
happy to sad to happy within the span of one conversation. I had my fun
with that, but he was one of the most genuine people there. Since he
got the hair cut, and picked up a new girlfriend, he’s been a little
more level. Has a higher opinion of himself as a worker than anyone
else, and tends to demand respect and obedience from the part-timers,
even when he’s slacking. He usually does alright, now that he’s not
moping around.

SKATER BOY came in at 6- he was away the last couple of weeks at
competition for his chosen profession, and had no idea I was quitting.
He looks like he’s 15, but is, in fact, of legal age, and then some.
Short, blond hair, and a slender physique- he looks like a figure
skater. A tendency to lose focus made him one of the least favored
workers, but he’s a solid guy. He kept making “So this is your last
(insert name of task) here,” remarks the whole night, which was comedy
gold. Over 8 hours, it might have been a problem, but for just 5, it
was fine.

I came prepared, with a change of clothes and a towel, remembering
EMO’s promise to dunk me in the produce sink. Got two high fives on the
way to the backroom, with them knowing full well it was my last shift,
and congratulating me on that fact.

The first few hours were very busy- we got a little behind, and with
the store manager stopping by the department every so often, we’d get
tasked with the dumbest things (“Sure! I’ll stop filling this empty
apple bin, so I can move this display here!”), which didn’t help our
mood. It did, eventually, slow down, and we got caught up, just in time
for CYBER to call it a day, and SKATER BOY to replace him.

EMO and LOUDMOUTH started sniping at each other just before the order
arrived, and I just rolled my eyes. It didn’t matter what it was, they
were both probably wrong. As EMO explained the situation to JERRY-OKE,
I was proven right.

SKATER BOY starts out hauling pallettes of stock down with the
powerjack, and EMO relieves him, noting SKATER BOY’s propensity to hit
things. To be fair, the backroom was pretty full- there wasn’t much
room for error. And EMO isn’t that good of a driver.

JERRY-OKE goes for lunch, knowing we didn’t need everyone here (and
noting that he hadn’t taken a break since we started at 2:30). Sure
enough, the rest of the guys get into it- over who’s hauling stock
down, who’s not pulling his share, while I continue to unload. ‘I won’t
miss this either,’ I decided.

SKATER BOY was just egging the other two on, which was amusing in one
sense, seeing the other two so easily manipulated, but caused me to
say, “Don’t encourage them,” when they disappeared. JERRY-OKE soon
returned, and lent focus (and his considerable lifting strength) to our
efforts.

I did not envy JERRY-OKE’s task, with such divergent personalities,
none of were known for patience or consideration. He soon returned, and
we finished putting away the order. “That’s the last time you’ll have
to put away the order,” SKATER BOY quips.

“And I won’t miss it,” I retorted. We clean up, and resume filling product on the floor.

It’s dead on the floor, and all the guys get to filling and finessing.
And thus, the advantage of five people comes clearly into view. We’re
going to look good in the morning, which brings me some relief. With
the sniping earlier, I was worried this shift was going to be a train
wreck. But time, space, and JERRY-OKE’s return from lunch got us back
on track.

At 9:30, after my last break, I put my wallet and keys in my jacket.
After working what would be my last truck of stock (ambrosia and gala
apples, bagged oranges, kiwi, and bartlett pears), I baled my
cardboard, walked back to the produce area.

The apron came off- it was going to be hung in our open storage area up
top, on the former “wall of fame”. Some of our prior produce workers
had hung theirs up there (until the manager finally got us to take them
down), and I was going to restart the tradition. And so I did.

After coming down, EMO and LOUDMOUTH came into the back room. I removed
my glasses and shoes, the final obstacles to a successful, but clean,
dunking. JERRY-OKE and SKATER BOY  followed- they were to observe.
Though JERRY-OKE probably could have dunked me himself.

EMO walked past, stocking truck ini hand, as LOUDMOUTH starts grinning
like an idiot, noting my preparation. “Ready to get dunked, Churchy?”
he asks. Right before he tackles me.

I did, of course, put up a fight, but JERRY-OKE blocks the path to the
door, and LOUDMOUTH’s superior strength keeps me from getting far. EMO
grabs my arms, and LOUDMOUTH gets my legs. I had the thought that it
was odd to see those two working together after what happened before,
before the sensation of getting wet overtook me.

The water was warm, mercifully, though the sink was barely big enough
to hold me. I leaned back as LOUDMOUTH gets his camera phone. A couple
of pictures (which will be posted here upon receipt of said pictures),
and they grab a double decker stocking truck, to wheel me over to the
break room. JERRY-OKE laughs that distinctive laugh of his, and
congratulates the other two on a successful dunk.

One obstacle- the break room is upstairs. I had to drag my soaking wet
persona up the stairs, grab my stuff, and get into the washroom with
minimal delay.

“One side!” I yelled, taking the stairs two at a time, though the stairs and break room turned out to be empty.

After the change, I came back downstairs- still a half hour to go.
JERRY-OKE’s back there, grinning like an idiot, and says, “Congrats,
Churchy,” while I retrieve my glasses.

I stood in the backroom, taking a lingering look around as the guys came and went. I wouldn’t miss the job.

But for all their faults, I would miss the people. Well, some of them, anyway.

About ten minutes to 11, JERRY-OKE sends the boys out early, as he’s
having us out for drinks after, in celebration of my last shift. We
walk into the cooler, where most of our stock is, for a final salute.

“Final inspection, Churchy,” he said, letting me take a look around.

“Looks good,” I quipped, smiling softly. We stepped out, and I turned out the lights.

We walked up to the punch clock, swapping our goodbyes, and a
handshake, with well wishes. The drinks would bring more of the same
from all sides, but that one, there, with a man I respect as much as
anyone I know, meant more than the rest of them. The crowd (and, yes,
the alcohol, for some) dulled the future moments, though they may not
have been any less sincere.

I think that’s it.

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6 thoughts on “

  1. miguel_senchez

    “Dramatically Vivid”- The New York Times”The pacing is fast, the suspense non-stop”- The Philadelphia Inquirer”His best since S.O.P.W.R.R.L.A. GRANTS CLEMENCY TO A.L.EX”- The New Yorker”A one-sit reading that will cause a lifetime of white-knuckled suspense”- People Great post Dave. I quite enjoyed this stunning narrative. Congatulations on the completion of the safeway chapter of your life. Mike

  2. Anonymous

    dude i’m not saying that delhome is as good as manning. I’m saying they’re alike because they choke up everytime they get to the big time games.

  3. Anonymous

    Wow, very nice and detailed…almost like I was there myself.I definately enjoyed reading that…..but doesn’t it feel good to be finished with working at a grocery store??

  4. Matuga

    Excellent post D. I second Miri’s thoughts.To epitome…uh…wrong post. But Delhomme took Carolina to the Super Bowl three years ago, so calling him a choker is a wee bit short-sighted.

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