Armand Lobato, The Produce AisleThere’s a certain amount of levity allowed, even encouraged, in organizations. In last week’s column I suggested that the occasional safe, practical joke in a produce operation can provide healthy team-building.
Laughter is, as often said, the best medicine.
For example, I recall one of my co-workers once loosened the watering hose connection so that whoever attached it to the wet rack spigot was certain to get an unexpected, cold shower. Of course the counterpunch came when the same practical joker was set up later on, walking into the cooler and having a rigged bucket of freezing water spill on his head.
Revenge, as they also say, is a dish best served cold.
Another time, one of my clerks hid a realistic-looking large plastic lizard inside a case of corn. When I opened the crate, I must have jumped back 10 feet. We all got such a kick out of the prank, that as each crew member arrived to work that day, the first thing assigned them was to stock the corn, with the lizard similarly planted for everyone’s amusement.
Sometimes the little moments of levity come when you least expect them.
My favorite example involved an all-too-familiar but peculiar customer, Mrs. Myron. Several times each week, she sought out anyone available to help select her produce. Mrs. Myron was friendly, but insisted on shopping for her few purchases in the back room instead of from our displays on the sales floor. We put on a helpful front, but everybody dreaded being the one corralled to hold Mrs. Myron’s hand.
One busy day, I returned from transmitting the weekend order to check on my crew. As I walked through the produce aisle, I saw several loaded, but abandoned produce carts on the sales floor. Not a clerk was in sight.
Thinking they must have taken a break, I checked all the usual spots around the store, even the back dock area, but found no one.
As I started to return from the upstairs lunch room I noticed the door to the catwalk (the area that security uses to watch for shoplifters through two-way mirrors) was ajar. Investigating more closely, I heard muffled voices and laughter. I opened the door and discovered my entire crew, huddled in the dark, cramped space.
Before I could say anything, one of them pointed down against the window.
“Shhhh — Mrs. Myron.”
I looked. Sure enough, there she was, walking around, looking in vain for a produce clerk. And here we were, a bunch of grown men, hiding. Naturally, I did what any responsible produce manager would do in such a situation.
I closed the door behind me, and joined them.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.
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