walking toward the door as I approached the Burger King.
“Wait! Please,” I shouted. “I don’t even want a whole meal. I’ll settle for a fish sandwich, some fries and a ride home.”
“Hurry up,” he said. “We closing, man.
I can’t give you no ride. It’s every man for
“But look out there!” I pleaded, pointing out to the sea of hail on the parking lot.
He was already shaking his head. “I can’t help that,” he said. “You want the fish sandwich or not? You better make up your mind quick, ’cause we’re closed!”
I took the sandwich. And then, standing on the curb of the Burger King, looking out into a moving slush of hail and rain, I knew my luck had run out. I was going to get wet and cold. I sloshed through the two-foot-deep Hail River, and made my way home.
Attention, bargain shoppers, boomed the PA system in my head, we have some crazy deals for you today here at rock & roll Ralphs. Over in Aisle 10 we’re practically giving away toilet paper. Pick up 24 rolls of Angel Soft for $6.99. Thirsty? Twelve-packs of Heineken are only $8.99 — that’s nearly half off the regular price of $15.99. Limit two per customer with a Ralphs card. Also, be sure to stop by our quality meats department, where you’ll find an assortment of pre-packaged chicken, steak, pork, fish — all marked to go. At Ralphs, slashing prices is our way of saying thanks for ignoring the strike.
Honestly, I had no idea at first that I’d crossed the picket line. There were no picketers picketing when I drove up. And judging by the few available spots in the parking lot, the strike had either come and gone or it
was a figment of our collective imagination all along.
Inside, however, a grim reality presented itself. The deserted deli should have been my first clue something was awry. Instead of expensive cuts of meat, fine cheese and fruit salad, there were barren stainless-steel shelves. Boxes of Tide and bottles of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider were arranged in front of the deli’s refrigerated encasement — each conveniently on sale. A lone placard read: “We’re sorry but this department is temporarily closed. However, regular service will be resumed at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The inequities were hard to overlook. I found an overflow of Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza in the freezer section, and only a jug or two of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail a couple aisles away. In between, random boxes of grocery items, which looked as if they were abandoned just prior to being loaded on shelves, had been fashioned into crude aisle displays. Certain brands weren’t in stock. Some food was rapidly nearing expiration. I was reminded of a trip I took to Russia, in the early ’90s, where shopping at the markets was like visiting a rummage sale.
One improvement: The employees at the new-look Ralphs seemed fashionable compared to their predecessors. No more drab tan-and-green uniforms. Scabs are allowed to wear whatever they wish. Teenagers sporting Vans and Hawaiian shirts took instructions from a manager dressed down in jeans and a sweatshirt. But forget about asking someone for help; despite the Ralphs name tags, it was hard to tell who worked there and who was shopping.
At the checkout, I asked the cashier how he landed his job. He told me that he had just moved to L.A. and, incidentally, applied for the position the day before the strike. Since the hiring manager knew what was about to happen, he told the guy to hang tight. When the strike went into effect later that night, the call came to report to work the next morning. Even though he expects to get canned once negotiations are completed, he said the money is good while it lasts. In the meantime, he’s got first dibs on the hottest deals in town.
Thirty-two-year-old Paul Ogata is the seventh comedian to arrive. He hails from Oahu, Hawaii, and actually got in a day ago. So here he is at 3:32 a.m., camping out at the Laugh Factory on Sunset, where the 10th annual Aspen Comedy Arts Festival is holding open-call auditions. The first 100 people in line by 8 a.m. are guaranteed a tryout. This is the second and last day for auditions here in Los Angeles.
My buddy drove me over at about 1 in the morning. Part of my brain wondered if there would be anybody there at all. I mean, I’ve never slept outside for anything. The warmth and comfort of my bed always seemed more appealing than any concert ticket or audition slot.
Stuart Papp, however, has a different view of things. If it weren’t so damn cold outside you’d think he was in his living room. Armed with blankets, books, heavy jackets and a green, collapsible camping chair, the ‰ young comic seems quite cozy under the bright lights of the Laugh Factory’s marquee. He has been here since midnight.