Eric Bergeson: Tuscon Mamas at the checkout
One thing about city living: You can go days without any outside social contact other than the checkers at the store!
The checkers here are friendly. They tend to be retirees. Quite a few are “Tucson Mamas,” a name cooked up by outsiders for female Tucson natives.
Tucson Mamas have straight, long hair. None of this piling your hair up in a big poof like Midwestern women of a certain age. Tucson Mamas let it hang.
Their skin is leathery from years of sun. They wear heavy Southwestern jewelry that jangles when they walk. Tucson Mamas are fond of capes and other flowing garb. No Mom jeans to be seen.
When you see a Tucson Mama, you think of herbs. You probably can smell some herbs. They are earth women, tuned in to the desert.
Tucson Mamas usually have a long, bombastic history of unsuccessful marriages. They tried the traditional thing, and now they’re done with it. In the unlikely event they have a man now, he’s been successfully tamed and is back at the house watching HGTV.
I picked up a box of Kleenex and a bunch of bananas the other day. A Tucson Mama checked me out.
“Well, that should get you through the night!” she growled.
I laughed. I enjoy the no-nonsense cracks of Tucson Mamas.
I walked to my car. As I opened the door, a voice behind me said, “Here.” Tucson Mama handed me my credit card, which I left at the till.
“Typical,” I said, and thanked her with an embarrassed laugh. She did not laugh.
“You probably needed the attention,” Tucson Mama said.
“Just like my ex-husband,” she grumbled as she walked back to the store.
Yesterday, I was checked out by an entirely different sort of Tucson Mama. Her name was Juanita. She looked exhausted.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“My body says it needs rest!” she said. Then she explained.
“My grandkids left the fridge open. It froze up and everything spoiled,” she said. “I spent yesterday throwing everything and defrosting the fridge.”
“I am very tired!” she added.
Juanita looked to be in her late sixties. Latino families are big loving clans who honor their matriarch. Juanita probably has grandkids in her house every day.
Yet, Juanita, who by all rights should be retired and enjoying her grandkids full-time, was checking groceries.
It occurred to me as I walked to the car that refilling her fridge probably cost Juanita a day’s wages. You aren’t getting ahead at that rate.
I felt bad for Juanita.
Tucson’s largest convenience store is Circle K. There are 110 stores in the metro area. When they advertise for employees, they emphasize they want people who are “friendly and outgoing.”
That’s what they get. Many of the clerks are Tucson Mamas, and they don’t hesitate to banter.
They aren’t intimidated by the gruff truckers who come in for coffee in the morning. They tease them until they loosen up and show a little humanity.
One trucker asked for a pack of Marlboro reds.
“You’re sure you don’t want two?” said Tucson Mama.
“Nope. Quitting after this pack,” says sullen trucker.
“Yeah right. Heard that before. There’s a deal on two. Here you go.” Tucson Mama said as she rang up two packs of Marlboros.
Sullen trucker shrugged, paid and walked out.
Another Tucson Mama sings to the radio through every sale. Loudly. Nobody bats an eye. She’s out of tune. But she keeps singing while she makes change, bopping her head back and forth.
So refreshing. No “have a nice day!” fake friendliness in the Tucson Mamas. They do their job, they do it well, but they do it their way.
I get the feeling the company values their uniqueness, because every Circle K store has its resident character, male or female.
“Where you headed today?” they ask a trucker they see most mornings.
“You need to go home and get a warmer coat!” they bark at young bucks who try to get by without a winter coat when the Tucson temperature sinks below 60 degrees.
I wish I could do something at Christmas for the Tucson Mamas at the checkout.
You can’t have a Christmas meal for them because they’re at the store working. These stores never close.
And they’d be too proud to show up anyway. If there is anything Tucson Mamas have, it is pride. They’re proud of their tough lives, and they’re proud that they came out sane.
I guess if there’s anything I can do, it is to keep forgetting my discount card, leaving my credit card at the till, spilling coffee, and other typical behavior so they can scold me a bit and take care of the problem.
Sigh. Another hopeless male.