Observations at a small, southern supermarket on Thursday, July 3rd:
The first parking space in front of the store is available (thank you, Mama-Too), but I’ll need to make a tight U-turn to get into it. To make parking just a little more difficult, someone has left a grocery cart near the front of the space. It’ll take skill and precision to avoid hitting it with my left front bumper, but I decide to go for it. As I begin to pull into the space, a woman who is walking across the parking lot to her car takes a couple of steps to the side and rolls the cart out of my way. I smile and wave to her in appreciation, and she smiles back. The woman is about my age, and she’s overweight like I am. Judging from the way she walks, I’m pretty sure her feet hurt. She's black, and I'm white, but we are sisters under the skin. As she gets behind the wheel of her car and I climb out of mine, we simultaneously give each other one more little wave of acknowledgment.
At the meat counter, an older man, slightly disheveled and walking as if he’s in a hurry, interrupts the chubby young stock clerk. “Can you tell me where to find trash bags?” the older man asks. The young clerk pushes aside his cart of frozen chickens and walks the customer all the way to the aisle he seeks. The clerk stays to help the man find what he wants. The customer thanks the clerk, then tucks the box of trash bags under his arm, turns and speed-walks toward the check-out stands. He’s still pressed for time, but he’s smiling now.
In the frozen foods aisle, a father and his adolescent son fill up the aisle as they survey the selection of microwavable dinners. The son is a smaller version of the father, built exactly like him, and both of them are dressed in shorts, t-shirts and deck shoes. As I approach them, the son pulls back, moving their cart with him to make room for me to pass. They both smile and say hello, and I think about how much I like young people with good manners.
At the dairy counter, a young Asian woman accidentally bumps me with her cart. A shocked expression flits across her face, then she puts her fingers over her mouth and breaks into an embarrassed giggle as she tells me she is so sorry. Her giggle makes me smile, too, and we both go about our shopping, no harm done.
At the check-out counter, the clerk is a twenty-something African-American woman. She has blond streaks in her straightened black hair and a keloid scar in the lobe of her right ear. The manager, a balding, middle-aged white man, steps over and begins to bag my groceries. “Do you smell it?” he asks the clerk, and she rolls her eyes and nods her head. “I’m gonna get high if I smell much more of it,” she says with a broad smile. I inhale deeply, then I can smell it, too, although it takes a few moments for me to realize what I’m smelling is marijuana. We laugh and make whispered jokes about special sales on brownie mixes.
Two young Mexican men stand at the end of the next counter over. Both of them are holding plastic bags containing their purchases, and they’re carrying on an animated conversation with a young white guy who’s in the process of checking out. The Mexicans have apparently had time to clean up after work, but the white guy is still in his khaki work clothes and heavy boots. His hair is long, past his shoulders, tangled with sweat and very curly. He’s buying a single large bottle of beer. I eavesdrop on the three men as their talk turns from construction work to their plans for the holiday week end. Their energy level is high, and they all seem very happy.
This store has two front doors, one on either side of the building, and in the space between them there are dozens of cases of beer, several different brands, stacked into a tower that’s about six feet high and ten feet wide. As I maneuver my grocery cart past the colorful beer display and out the door, I become aware that the store is still playing Jesus music on the P.A. system. I also become aware that the music no longer annoys me, that even if they are trying to sell salvation along with soap (and beer), it’s no big deal.
There is diversity in this little marketplace. There are people here of different ages, different races, different cultures, and different lifestyles, and the interactions between us have been not just tolerant but downright friendly. Here, today, we’re more alike than we are different.
It’s the 4th of July weekend, and, at least in this microcosm, united we stand.