I Miss The Independent Grocers

I’ve been frustrated a bit lately when I’m out shopping. Mostly because the people who work in the chain grocery stores don’t really care about what they’re selling, but about their meager paycheck that they get each week. When I can’t find something and ask one of the stockers they usually don’t know what I’m talking about. It didn’t used to be like this and I do kind of miss the old days.

I’ve been cutting back on my salt and realized that malt vinegar on a baked potato or fries didn’t make me feel a need for salt. So I’m in a store and couldn’t find it and asked a stocker where their malt vinegar was. She scratched her head because she didn’t know what it was. If I asked her where the Prid nam plah [Thai fish sauce] she would have been able to show me in a second where it was. I guess at that particular grocery store which caters to mostly Asians they don’t have to think about anything else.

We were shopping at another version of the same chain and I couldn’t find the Bisquick. I happened to see a stocker that was fairly caucasian looking so I asked him where was the Bisquick. His response? Beeskweek? vat is dat? [That’s my best insulting sounding version of a Russian accent]. I finally got through to him what it was and he took me to it, but as I said before, it didn’t used to be like that.

My Mom always hated chain grocers and always wanted to support the local so we went to Foremost Market as a kid. Mark and Vic and Lynn were like family to us.  Their prices were competitive with the chains, but that just meant that they had to work harder. These three were Armenian I think, but they knew their customers well enough that one night we got a phone call that I answered and heard, Eric this is Mark tell your Mom that we’ll have fresh basilico and tagiarini in early tomorrow. My Mom always made pesto before it became cool and it was being slathered on everything and Mark knew that and he knew that by telling my Mom that she’d be in first thing in the morning to pick it up and we’d spend time making pesto sauce when I got home from school.

If I stopped by on my way home from school to grab a soda I’d always be told what was good so my Mom would know what to buy. There was always one of them going through the produce yanking the stuff that had gone bad instead of leaving it there figure someone will be stupid enough to buy it. I miss Foremost Market. Everything that wasn’t boxed or canned came from somewhere close by and they even sold Wright’s Pink Popcorn and regularly carried It’s-its. I suppose I shouldn’t focus looking back on the old days, but at least back then they were more helpful. As a side note, Foremost was the first place I got to try prosciutto di parma and it was the industrial made crap that the chains sell today.

Robert “Fleetwood” Bowden of KPOO

Yesterday I was invited down to KPOO 85.9 FM radio to talk with Robert Bowden of the Fleetwood Report show. This was one bad dude. His Dad was king of heroin dealing in the Bay Area and he emulated his Dad and from the age of 12 spent the next 17 years of his life in and out of prison for pimping, drug dealing, you get the picture. This could have been a lot worse, but this is a guy who has turned his life around and now writes books about it and runs organizations to get ex cons back on their feet.

When I got there I sat in with him while he was doing a few voiceovers for his show which runs from 12pm-9pm Monday through Friday. I first saw him and he reached out and shook my hand and smiled at me and I kind of took the smile as one of those, I’m going to eat you alive type of things, but I realized after we sat down and talked that I totally got it wrong.

He’s actually a pretty good guy who’s written five books in addition to doing his radio show and is also reaching out to people though cable TV in many cities around the nation. He’s been at KPOO for about five years and has been out of jail since 1997. He runs a group call the homeboyhotline.org to help ex cons to keep from going back to jail. He told me that when you get released from jail you’re given $200 which will last you about 72 hours and then you’re back to doing what you did which ends up putting you back in jail again.

This is a guy who’s had a hard life and the fact that he could turn himself around and help other people who’ve gone through what he’s gone through and turn them into better people is a good thing in my book. I recorded my interview so what you hear it very raw, like he is and he didn’t hold back at all. I was glad that he did that because I’ve watched a bunch of the scared straight shows and this little chat did more to make me to want to keep myself straight than any TV show.

My main fascination was asking what it’s like to be on the inside. Again, he didn’t hold back. The food is awful, the guards are predators on the prisoners and their main goal is to break you down and destroy you. I could understand that if they were breaking down the bad side of you that caused you to be there, but it seemed more like they were breaking you down to destroy your self respect. Fleetwood managed to use spirituality to keep himself together. I don’t normally like to go in that direction, but Fleetwood was really speaking from his heart and he’s someone that isn’t a criminal anymore.

If you listen to the recording, please remember that while Fleetwood is talking from the heart, he will say something’s that will shock you, but he’s a good guy and he taught me a lot while I talked to him.