By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Maybe even at Vons it was a crock. But it seemed to work for me. And it allowed me to service my inner bargain hunter without patronizing the likes of anti-union Wal-Mart.
What did I care if the seafood and ground beef at my Vons had to be used within two days or else? And who needs gourmet supermarket sushi?
I feel a surge of the old magic as I toss the 4-ounce container of Benahist (an antihistamine) into my cart: $2.99 — compared to the name-brand Benadryl for $6.79. Score!!!
I also find items I ran out of weeks ago, including this special stain remover that takes out blood and milk. Not even Home Depot has it. And my 6-year-old had three bloody noses over the course of the strike. Then, around the corner, gleaming like the Holy Grail, is Oral-B’s Princess toothpaste, Hannah’s favorite. Over the months, we’ve gone through a cast of cartoon-character and childhood-icon toothpastes — Barbie, Harry Potter, Arthur, Scooby-Doo, Rugrats — trying to find one that met my own princess’ standards. Now, clutching the precious tube, I practically fall to my knees in gratitude.
But every time I start to feel good, strange reminders intrude. The meat selection is thin. A gaping opening in the cereal aisle yawns between the Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and the single box of Crispix. Bottled water is stacked in bins that once spilled over with cucumbers and peppers of all varieties and nationalities. No organic produce at all. Instead of fresh fish, there’s a sign reading, “This service counter is temporarily CLOSED.”
I overhear two checkout clerks talking. They’re speaking of a co-worker who, impatient with a customer, ripped the lady’s Vons card out of her hand and slammed it through the electronic reader.
“So, is everyone back from the strike?” I offer cheerfully.
“They come back tomorrow,” replies my checkout clerk. “This is our last day.”
Ah, there it is. The market is in a purgatory between strike and return. I realize suddenly that these workers, traipsing zombielike through the aisles, are not even wearing nametags — they’re so anonymous, so temporary, so poised to go wherever it is that strikebreakers go. My checkout clerk smiles, friendly-like. She could have been, perhaps, a real Vons worker.
I clutch my receipt. I’ve saved $47.22 — 24 percent.
Under the glow of an early-morning moon, Glenn “Felix” Hackenberg, 53, checked his $2,000 apple-red 16-speed Klein road rocket before joining 15,000 other riders for the 20-plus-mile bicycle portion of Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon. This would be his third marathon. One fellow bicyclist glided by and smiled. “There you are — the famous one-legged rider,” he said. “I’ve heard about you passing everybody.”
I had never heard of him until I nearly plowed into Hackenberg while driving up a steep Sunset Boulevard incline recently in Pacific Palisades. The sight of him made me stop in astonishment. I waved Hackenberg down to find out how the hell he could crank up that hill with just one leg. He told me he’d begun his ride at Sunset and Vermont before climbing the Hollywood Hills, heading west on Mulholland, and then south down Sepulveda toward the sea. He would continue down the Strand bike path to Torrance and then back home through the heart of the city. By day’s end, Hackenberg would have 60 miles of hard tarmac under his wheels.
He didn’t always pedal his bike. Back in 1987, Hackenberg, riding with his wife on his new Honda 450 motorcycle, slammed into a car. He flew 30 feet through the air. “My head was like a bowling ball bouncing across the pavement, and I was lying in the street and could see that my wife of three months was lying in the gutter.” The gruesome accident cost him his left leg above the knee. “There were a lot of times when I didn’t want to live. It was a nightmare. I lost count of the operations.” After what he calls his “decade of crying,” Hackenberg took up bicycling sans prosthesis in 1999. It was good exercise as well as a way to recreate with his wife, who survived the accident.
Meeting Hackenberg, I felt ashamed. In the past, I’ve skated up to 90 miles a day across SoCal, but I did this with the benefit of two legs. Or, I used to. This last year has been a tough one, and my feet have been gathering dust. After outfoxing death for more than a year, my father died of kidney cancer on November 30. And my drinking was out of hand — alternating between cheap vodka and boxed Franzia wine — and I was often flat-ass drunk by 6 p.m. A month after he died, my father appeared to me in a dream. Kicking back in an Elvis pompadour and a black leather suit, Pops told me that I’d soon join him on the other side if I didn’t kick the booze.
I corked the bottle the next day and haven’t imbibed since. But I still wasn’t skating like the old healthy days. And in comes Hackenberg, this one-legged man, who had gone through hell. After parting that day in the Palisades, I headed to Venice, strapped on my skates and went for a 15-mile jaunt. And again the next day. And the next.
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