My grocery store is really known for two things: offering low prices and having the worst parking lot in North America. It’s like a demolition derby where the winner gets affordable avocados. To help with congestion, the owners hired Avi, a parking lot attendant who wore sunglasses that were so thick they looked like the goggles that a welder would use.
A few years ago, I went shopping during a heat wave, and Avi was out there in the parking lot, drenched in sweat as he directed people to their parking spots. I decided I wanted to do something nice for him, so when I was inside, I bought Avi a bottle of water for fifty cents, and when I gave it to him, he was so thankful. I drove home that day, really impressed with how amazing I was.
When I went shopping the following week, however, Avi remembered me, and even though it wasn’t as hot outside, he asked me for another bottle of water. I was so taken aback that I agreed. And then, as though to prove to both of us that I was a good person, I promised him that I would always look out for him.
This was a mistake. Because from then on, every time I went shopping, Avi would ask for a bottle of water, and I didn’t want to go back on my word and make things awkward, so I would buy him a bottle of water. Eventually, I just accepted the fact that I was the Water Guy.
This became our new dynamic, and a few months later when I was walking inside to do some shopping, Avi reached out and touched my arm. “No more water,” he said. Hearing that, I thought that I was done. I thought I had paid my dues and that someone else would soon be by to pick up the torch of charity that I had been carrying. But then Avi finished his sentence. “Instead… carrot juice.”
The thing is, the carrot juices the store carried were more than just liquid carrot–they were fortified with antioxidants or gluten or whatever makes a root vegetable get all fancy–and they cost five dollars apiece. He was taking advantage of my generosity, and I was upset, which is why I was surprised when I heard myself say, “One carrot juice coming up.”
I bought Avi his stupid juice, and he thanked me, but as I drove home, I vowed that while I had made peace with being the Water Guy, there was no way I was going to let myself become the Juice Guy. Friends suggested I just go to a different grocery store, but I refused. This was about principle. Why should I change because someone was being unreasonable?
Instead, I did the mature thing, and I tried avoiding Avi. I started rearranging my schedule and shopping at really inconvenient hours–early in the morning or late at night–but it didn’t make a difference. Whenever I went anywhere near that parking lot, Avi was there, and he would ask for a juice. I’d then feel obligated to buy him a juice, and every time I put that carrot juice in my cart, it felt like I was giving up a piece of my dignity.
This went on every single week. For two years.
Not too long ago, when looking over my finances, I calculated that being the Juice Guy had cost me five hundred dollars, which was the exact opposite reason as to why I was even shopping there in the first place. I was livid–not just with Avi, but with myself. I had let this go on far too long, and it was time to take a stand. Enough was enough.
The next time I went shopping, it was hot—like, the kind of heat that hurts your eyeballs—and when I got out of my car there was Avi, sweating and directing traffic. When I passed him on my way inside, before he could even open his mouth and ask me for a juice, I cut him off and said, “hot one today, huh?” He stared at me, stunned, as I marched inside.
When I pushed my cart past the juice section, I felt this surge of triumph. But as I shopped, everything reminded me of Avi. I tried to ignore how every other shopper was guzzling a gigantic bottle of water, telling myself that they weren’t doing so because of the heat; they were thirsty because they had probably just exercised.
Even though we were in an air-conditioned building, all of the employees were sweating through their uniforms. There was no way they were sweaty because it was hot out. Rather, they were probably uncomfortable because the Hawaiian shirts they were wearing weren’t very breathable. Granted, I felt flushed too, which I chalked up to the adrenaline rush one gets from being brave enough to stand up to a bully.
But when I rounded the corner and saw a bunch of parents and their children loitering in the frozen food aisle trying to cool off next to the black bean burritos, all I could think of was Avi out there in the sun, sweating profusely and fogging up his gigantic sunglasses.
The guy worked incessantly in the worst parking lot in North America, and I was about to take away a small bit of comfort he had. It was in that moment, I knew not what I had to do, but what I wanted to do.
I walked back over to the juice section, and when I put a carrot juice in my cart, it didn’t feel like I was losing a piece of my dignity. It felt like I was gaining it back, because instead of acting out of obligation, I was making a distinct choice. It felt good, and when I gave Avi his juice, he shook with gratitude. It felt great.
I’ve bought Avi many more juices since that day. And next weekend when I go grocery shopping, I know that Avi is going be there. I know that I’m going to buy him a juice. And I know that I’m going to be more than happy to do so. Because I am the Juice Guy.