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The long, strange journey of our little yellow friend the banana to Ocean Beach

Apple Tree supermarket drama

Apple Tree's Arturo Ramirez: "Some items you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one." - Image by Joe Klein
Apple Tree's Arturo Ramirez: "Some items you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one."

You're a banana. For months you and your siblings have grown up in a clump, hanging from a tree in Ecuador. Life is good, basking in the tropical sun and rain showers. But one day, just as your green skin is starting to show the yellow of ripeness, a man climbs up your tree and with a knife cuts you and your siblings from the branch that has fed and sheltered you your whole life. You're dropped into a crate with other bananas you've never seen before. You endure the embarrassment of having a red-and-blue Dole sticker stuck to your increasingly yellow skin. You are put into a huge ship, where you and thousands of other bananas undergo fumigation, which kills any bugs or rodents that may be stowing away. After a long voyage, you are unloaded in a cold place called Los Angeles. You sit in a warehouse for a day until you are put on a truck that carries you to Apple Tree Supermarket in a strange land called Ocean Beach.

You sit in a warehouse for a day until you are put on a truck that carries you to Apple Tree Supermarket in a strange land called Ocean Beach.

The door of the dark, smelly truck opens and in steps Arturo Ramirez, the produce manager at Apple Tree. He's a kind-looking man, about 5´10´´, with dark hair and a trim mustache. He picks you up, inspects your now almost fully yellow skin, smiles, and sets you back down. Then he moves you, your bunch, your crate, in fact a whole pallet of bananas out of the truck and into the back-room storage area of the market. There you see lots of other fruits and vegetables. Most are some shade of green, but some are red, orange, even purple. Mr. Ramirez puts some of them, especially the green, leafy ones, in a mysterious room from which a frosty breeze blows every time its door is opened. You're glad that neither you nor any other banana is put in there.

Yellow squash. "Even if it's fresh but it has a scar, you know that you wouldn't buy it if you came to the store, so it has to come off the shelf."

You spend a night in the storage room. Early next morning, Mr. Ramirez returns. He wheels a table cart out through a swinging door to the store. An hour later he returns, the cart littered with wilted lettuce, split tomatoes, dried cucumbers, and mushrooms that have gone brown overnight. He fills the cart with fresh replacements and goes back out through the swinging door. When he returns, he wheels the cart up to the pallet you're sitting on. He needs bananas. Will you be one of the chosen who go to the shining place beyond the swinging door? Mr. Ramirez grabs the bunch to your left, the bunch to your right, and finally he grabs your bunch and sets you on the cart.

Mr. Ramirez pushes the cart through the swinging door with a thump, down an aisle full of breakfast cereal, and into a cool, well-lit corner of the store. He very gently places you and the other bananas on one end of a table. "Some items," he explains to a man wearing a T-shirt with "Reader" printed on it, "you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one. You can't just throw bananas out there, because they get all bruised."

From your perch, you have a view of the entire produce section. Sharing the table with you are potatoes, onions, garlic, and small tomatoes. Across an aisle to your left, on a long rack against the wall are lettuce, cabbage, peppers, squash, large tomatoes, bagged salads, zucchini, herbs, ginger root, sprouts, mushrooms.

Across the aisle, straight in front of you, is another table like yours neatly stacked with oranges, grapefruits, pineapples, papayas, and other fruits. That table, as well as the rack against the wall, are refrigerated. Your table is not. It is warm and cozy, like your native Ecuador. "If you put cold air on bananas," Mr. Ramirez explains, "they turn gray. If you've ever seen bananas that are a grainy kind of gray, it's because they were subjected to temperature changes."

The tomatoes on your table complain about the warmth, but Mr. Ramirez says they sell so fast, they don't need to be on refrigerated tables. "Besides," he tells the man, "we put them here because we sell so many tomatoes a day that we have to keep a big space for them. We can't fit as many on the rack. We go through ten cases a day, and we can only fit five out here."

Once he's transferred everything on his cart to the tables, Mr. Ramirez takes a hose from underneath the shelf and applies a light spray to "the greens, lettuce, radishes, green onions, carrots, cabbage, all that stuff." He does this every 15 minutes. "We have to keep spraying them so they won't dry out," he explains. "If we don't, they start to wilt like a flower."

Eavesdropping, you hear the man in the Reader T-shirt ask Mr. Ramirez how he knows when to pull something from the shelf. "It's easy," he answers. "I act as if I were a shopper. You have to act like you are buying this stuff. Everything that you wouldn't buy has to be taken down. Even if it's fresh but it has a scar, you know that you wouldn't buy it if you came to the store, so it has to come off the shelf. If you leave it up there, nobody is going to buy it, and it's going to make the other stuff look bad."

"Do you ever turn away deliveries because the produce isn't fresh?"

"Every single week," Mr. Ramirez answers. "We check everything when it comes in, and if I don't like it, I just send it back. It happens probably two or three times out of the week because I buy daily. I want my stuff fresh. I want quality and a good price. If I don't have the quality, I just return the stuff."

"Have you ever seen rats or insects in the deliveries?"

"In the old days. In the old days it was bad. They came out of the boxes. With the bananas, they used to bring these big spiders and big cockroaches. But now, everything gets fumigated in the boat, and when it comes out it gets fumigated again. When they used to pack stuff in the fields, you'd see corn that had been bitten by rats and stuff like that. But that stuff doesn't happen anymore. The quality control has improved a lot in the last five years."

"Where do you get the produce?"

"Probably 40 percent comes from suppliers in L.A. and the other 60 percent comes from suppliers here in San Diego. I've worked in this business for 16 years, and I've been meeting a lot of people and a lot of companies, and I've got all the numbers here," he taps his temple. "If I need stuff, I call them. If they've got something to sell, they call me. The way I work is, I order big on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Unless I need special things, I don't buy on Mondays because most of the stuff is old. It has sat in the supplier's refrigerator since Friday, and they try to sell it off on Monday."

"Is anything you sell grown in San Diego County?"

"The mushrooms, the alfalfa sprouts, the bean sprouts, stuff like that comes from local farms. I buy those directly. The rest of the stuff comes mostly from other parts of California, some from Baja, and sometimes from as far away as Chile and New Zealand. Apples, when they are out of season here, come from New Zealand."

"How does the pricing work?"

"It all depends," he answers, patting a watermelon. "Big items, like these melons, we raise the price maybe 20 percent [over what we paid for them]. Stuff that goes fast, like tomatoes and lettuce, we make less of a percentage on. Stuff that's slow to sell, you make more of a percentage on. Sometimes, you just want to move something, so you cut the price to keep things moving."

"What kinds of things sell quickly when you cut the price?"

"At this store, because of all the restaurants around here, lettuce and tomatoes. But bananas, we can put them at ten pounds for a dollar instead of a dollar a pound, and the customers still buy the same amount they always do."

Mr. Ramirez leads his guest away to the back of the store. Meanwhile, a long-haired customer wearing a tie-dyed shirt and flip-flops approaches your table. His eyes, peering from beneath pierced eyebrows, scan the banana display. He reaches out and selects you and your siblings, looks you over, and drops you into his shopping cart. He pays for you at the checkstand while a young man in an apron puts you in a plastic bag with a box of Cheerios and a Snickers bar.

Outside the store, your new owner hangs the plastic grocery bag from the handlebars of his beach cruiser and pedals west toward his beachside apartment. During the ride, his hand enters the bag and removes the Snickers bar. A minute or so later the wrapper is thrust back into the bag, ripped open and empty.

At the apartment, you're tossed onto the kitchen counter, still in the plastic bag with the Cheerios and Snickers wrapper. There you sit until the next morning, when your new owner dumps you out on the counter. He pours himself a bowl of Cheerios, which he eats on the brown plaid sofa while watching Bugs Bunny. When he's done with the Cheerios, he walks over to the counter and tears you from your clump. It's the first time you've ever been apart from your brothers and sisters. On the way back to the couch, he grabs your stem and pulls it down and to the side. A wide section of your beautiful yellow skin rips away from your ripe innards. Flopping onto the couch, he grabs another section of your skin and peels it down, then repeats the process again until your skin is in three sections hanging down over his hand, and your sweet, white fruit stands unveiled. It isn't pain you feel at this moment but a sense of fulfillment. This is why you were created. You, your siblings, and every other banana in the world was made by God to give sustenance to animals. You are fulfilling His plan; who could ask for more? As a bonus, it's not a monkey or a parrot that is about to devour you, but a man, the highest of God's creatures. This is the proudest moment of your life.

Your new owner raises you and thrusts your top third into his mouth. You notice his tongue is also pierced....

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Apple Tree's Arturo Ramirez: "Some items you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one." - Image by Joe Klein
Apple Tree's Arturo Ramirez: "Some items you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one."

You're a banana. For months you and your siblings have grown up in a clump, hanging from a tree in Ecuador. Life is good, basking in the tropical sun and rain showers. But one day, just as your green skin is starting to show the yellow of ripeness, a man climbs up your tree and with a knife cuts you and your siblings from the branch that has fed and sheltered you your whole life. You're dropped into a crate with other bananas you've never seen before. You endure the embarrassment of having a red-and-blue Dole sticker stuck to your increasingly yellow skin. You are put into a huge ship, where you and thousands of other bananas undergo fumigation, which kills any bugs or rodents that may be stowing away. After a long voyage, you are unloaded in a cold place called Los Angeles. You sit in a warehouse for a day until you are put on a truck that carries you to Apple Tree Supermarket in a strange land called Ocean Beach.

You sit in a warehouse for a day until you are put on a truck that carries you to Apple Tree Supermarket in a strange land called Ocean Beach.

The door of the dark, smelly truck opens and in steps Arturo Ramirez, the produce manager at Apple Tree. He's a kind-looking man, about 5´10´´, with dark hair and a trim mustache. He picks you up, inspects your now almost fully yellow skin, smiles, and sets you back down. Then he moves you, your bunch, your crate, in fact a whole pallet of bananas out of the truck and into the back-room storage area of the market. There you see lots of other fruits and vegetables. Most are some shade of green, but some are red, orange, even purple. Mr. Ramirez puts some of them, especially the green, leafy ones, in a mysterious room from which a frosty breeze blows every time its door is opened. You're glad that neither you nor any other banana is put in there.

Yellow squash. "Even if it's fresh but it has a scar, you know that you wouldn't buy it if you came to the store, so it has to come off the shelf."

You spend a night in the storage room. Early next morning, Mr. Ramirez returns. He wheels a table cart out through a swinging door to the store. An hour later he returns, the cart littered with wilted lettuce, split tomatoes, dried cucumbers, and mushrooms that have gone brown overnight. He fills the cart with fresh replacements and goes back out through the swinging door. When he returns, he wheels the cart up to the pallet you're sitting on. He needs bananas. Will you be one of the chosen who go to the shining place beyond the swinging door? Mr. Ramirez grabs the bunch to your left, the bunch to your right, and finally he grabs your bunch and sets you on the cart.

Mr. Ramirez pushes the cart through the swinging door with a thump, down an aisle full of breakfast cereal, and into a cool, well-lit corner of the store. He very gently places you and the other bananas on one end of a table. "Some items," he explains to a man wearing a T-shirt with "Reader" printed on it, "you have to treat like little babies. Bananas are one. You can't just throw bananas out there, because they get all bruised."

From your perch, you have a view of the entire produce section. Sharing the table with you are potatoes, onions, garlic, and small tomatoes. Across an aisle to your left, on a long rack against the wall are lettuce, cabbage, peppers, squash, large tomatoes, bagged salads, zucchini, herbs, ginger root, sprouts, mushrooms.

Across the aisle, straight in front of you, is another table like yours neatly stacked with oranges, grapefruits, pineapples, papayas, and other fruits. That table, as well as the rack against the wall, are refrigerated. Your table is not. It is warm and cozy, like your native Ecuador. "If you put cold air on bananas," Mr. Ramirez explains, "they turn gray. If you've ever seen bananas that are a grainy kind of gray, it's because they were subjected to temperature changes."

The tomatoes on your table complain about the warmth, but Mr. Ramirez says they sell so fast, they don't need to be on refrigerated tables. "Besides," he tells the man, "we put them here because we sell so many tomatoes a day that we have to keep a big space for them. We can't fit as many on the rack. We go through ten cases a day, and we can only fit five out here."

Once he's transferred everything on his cart to the tables, Mr. Ramirez takes a hose from underneath the shelf and applies a light spray to "the greens, lettuce, radishes, green onions, carrots, cabbage, all that stuff." He does this every 15 minutes. "We have to keep spraying them so they won't dry out," he explains. "If we don't, they start to wilt like a flower."

Eavesdropping, you hear the man in the Reader T-shirt ask Mr. Ramirez how he knows when to pull something from the shelf. "It's easy," he answers. "I act as if I were a shopper. You have to act like you are buying this stuff. Everything that you wouldn't buy has to be taken down. Even if it's fresh but it has a scar, you know that you wouldn't buy it if you came to the store, so it has to come off the shelf. If you leave it up there, nobody is going to buy it, and it's going to make the other stuff look bad."

"Do you ever turn away deliveries because the produce isn't fresh?"

"Every single week," Mr. Ramirez answers. "We check everything when it comes in, and if I don't like it, I just send it back. It happens probably two or three times out of the week because I buy daily. I want my stuff fresh. I want quality and a good price. If I don't have the quality, I just return the stuff."

"Have you ever seen rats or insects in the deliveries?"

"In the old days. In the old days it was bad. They came out of the boxes. With the bananas, they used to bring these big spiders and big cockroaches. But now, everything gets fumigated in the boat, and when it comes out it gets fumigated again. When they used to pack stuff in the fields, you'd see corn that had been bitten by rats and stuff like that. But that stuff doesn't happen anymore. The quality control has improved a lot in the last five years."

"Where do you get the produce?"

"Probably 40 percent comes from suppliers in L.A. and the other 60 percent comes from suppliers here in San Diego. I've worked in this business for 16 years, and I've been meeting a lot of people and a lot of companies, and I've got all the numbers here," he taps his temple. "If I need stuff, I call them. If they've got something to sell, they call me. The way I work is, I order big on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Unless I need special things, I don't buy on Mondays because most of the stuff is old. It has sat in the supplier's refrigerator since Friday, and they try to sell it off on Monday."

"Is anything you sell grown in San Diego County?"

"The mushrooms, the alfalfa sprouts, the bean sprouts, stuff like that comes from local farms. I buy those directly. The rest of the stuff comes mostly from other parts of California, some from Baja, and sometimes from as far away as Chile and New Zealand. Apples, when they are out of season here, come from New Zealand."

"How does the pricing work?"

"It all depends," he answers, patting a watermelon. "Big items, like these melons, we raise the price maybe 20 percent [over what we paid for them]. Stuff that goes fast, like tomatoes and lettuce, we make less of a percentage on. Stuff that's slow to sell, you make more of a percentage on. Sometimes, you just want to move something, so you cut the price to keep things moving."

"What kinds of things sell quickly when you cut the price?"

"At this store, because of all the restaurants around here, lettuce and tomatoes. But bananas, we can put them at ten pounds for a dollar instead of a dollar a pound, and the customers still buy the same amount they always do."

Mr. Ramirez leads his guest away to the back of the store. Meanwhile, a long-haired customer wearing a tie-dyed shirt and flip-flops approaches your table. His eyes, peering from beneath pierced eyebrows, scan the banana display. He reaches out and selects you and your siblings, looks you over, and drops you into his shopping cart. He pays for you at the checkstand while a young man in an apron puts you in a plastic bag with a box of Cheerios and a Snickers bar.

Outside the store, your new owner hangs the plastic grocery bag from the handlebars of his beach cruiser and pedals west toward his beachside apartment. During the ride, his hand enters the bag and removes the Snickers bar. A minute or so later the wrapper is thrust back into the bag, ripped open and empty.

At the apartment, you're tossed onto the kitchen counter, still in the plastic bag with the Cheerios and Snickers wrapper. There you sit until the next morning, when your new owner dumps you out on the counter. He pours himself a bowl of Cheerios, which he eats on the brown plaid sofa while watching Bugs Bunny. When he's done with the Cheerios, he walks over to the counter and tears you from your clump. It's the first time you've ever been apart from your brothers and sisters. On the way back to the couch, he grabs your stem and pulls it down and to the side. A wide section of your beautiful yellow skin rips away from your ripe innards. Flopping onto the couch, he grabs another section of your skin and peels it down, then repeats the process again until your skin is in three sections hanging down over his hand, and your sweet, white fruit stands unveiled. It isn't pain you feel at this moment but a sense of fulfillment. This is why you were created. You, your siblings, and every other banana in the world was made by God to give sustenance to animals. You are fulfilling His plan; who could ask for more? As a bonus, it's not a monkey or a parrot that is about to devour you, but a man, the highest of God's creatures. This is the proudest moment of your life.

Your new owner raises you and thrusts your top third into his mouth. You notice his tongue is also pierced....

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