COLUMN: A special connection in the produce aisle

It started over carrots – the really fresh ones with the bushy green bits still attached...

It started over carrots – the really fresh ones with the bushy green bits still attached.

The foliage hangs out of the plastic bag if you don’t trim it off.

And Gary the produce guy had the required knife, or utility scissors.

Simple as that, really. It doesn’t matter which store. It starts with an S, so take your pick of several.

After a few repetitions of this Saturday morning procedure, Gary observed that my teen daughter and I regularly did the family grocery shopping.

We’re obviously still close, and that’s a good thing, he opined.

Clearly, in her early years, I was doing something right as a father, because if I hadn’t, it would be too late for father-daughter bonding now, he told me.

I’m not sure why, but I found that quite reassuring.

I mean, Gary is not a psychologist, or counsellor. He’s a produce guy in a big supermarket.

But sometimes, the best advice, or sagest wisdom is issued by ordinary individuals who have been there.

Happily, you don’t need special credentials to dispense common sense.

Gary has a stock of that, developed from his own experience with kids and life in general.

I know a few people like that, although there’s only one produce guy among them.

Anyway, he came to know our names, and likewise. He had an advantage there, since he recognized my picture from this page.

He was a regular reader of the paper, and usually had some germane comment to make about a local issue, particularly if I had written about it.

He agreed with my musings on most things, which was good, because who wants to be arguing politics or social values with the produce guy on Saturday mornings.

Over the past four years, Gary followed our travels with keen interest. He marvelled that my daughter and I did a trip together somewhere every year, just the two of us.

Keep her close and communicating, he counselled, and she’ll get through all the trials and tribulations of teenhood without major issues.

And then he’d trim our carrots.

After one of the occasions my wife did the weekend grocery shopping, she remarked that there was a really helpful, pleasant guy in the produce section, named Gary, who chatted with her regularly.

Sure, we said. We’ve known him for a long time.

It was quite some time before Gary put one and two together, and came up with the same family, which is apropos of nothing in particular, other than it illustrates his consistency with his customers.

And that’s the point of this, I suppose.

In this rushed world of big box everything, endless aisles, throngs of shoppers, and emphasis on speedy service, it’s unusual to develop even a superficial relationship with someone serving customers, let alone a first-name friendship that delves into matters such as raising kids and travelling the world.

He’s not the only one in our grocery store like that, actually.

We know Pam at checkout as well – who has graduated from university and is going to become a chiropractor, taking her training in California.

They make Saturday morning “country comfortable.” And they make their store more than a little bit special.

It’s more than customer service. It’s customer connection.

Not every shopping interaction can be like that, but when it occurs, you just have to stop a moment and appreciate it.

Gary just retired a week ago.

We’re sincerely going to miss him.

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