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I’m Pretty Sure I Was a Covert CIA Operative in Another Life

My first job with an actual paycheck was quite literally flipping burgers at an A&W Root Beer restaurant attached to a gas station when I was 15 years old.  I came home from my first 8-hour Saturday shift, forearm speckled pink and red from hot grill grease, the clanking sound the frozen burger patties made when I threw them down on the sizzling surface still ringing in my ears, my belly full of fries and my head full of pride because I’d gotten so good at something I’d known nothing about just 8 hours earlier.

It didn’t take me long, however, to learn that once the pride wears off, boredom sets in, and it’s time to move on to something new.  I’d mastered burger assembly, fryer operation, and simultaneously taking orders through the drive through headset while making a root beer float with one hand and counting change with the other.

I’d learned all I cared to know about the fast food industry, and the white-collared jobs of teenage corporate America beckoned with their shiny, manufactured name tags and morning staff meetings and profit charts.

Aside from the employee discount, my favorite part of working at Best Buy were the secret shopping trips I was assigned to take with some fellow employees to report on prices at a competing local company.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about that, but hey – this was 12 years ago – there  has to be a statute of limitations or something.  But if no one hears from me for a couple of days after I post this, you might want to contact the authorities.  Unless, of course, they’re in on it.


We’d forgo the pressed blue polos and khaki pants and don our “street clothes,” packing our tiny pens and notebooks and product “shopping” lists so we could record the numbers all stealth-like because I’m sure I looked like your average 16-year-old surround-sound shopper comparing prices and writing down SKU numbers.  We totally blended in.  Except for when we didn’t, and then store management promptly kicked us out.

Then we’d play some video games and eat at Burger King and head back to our store to regale our envious coworkers with our harrowing tale.

I was reminded of this blast from my teenage past yesterday when Don, an employee at the Fresh Market in Southern Pines, caught me taking photos inside the store with my camera phone.

The difference is that this much more technologically savvy time around, my intentions were pure.  I mean, if you were used to only shopping at… say… the Dollar Store and suddenly someone introduced you to the world of Wal-Mart, you’d want to commemorate the occasion, wouldn’t you? And since I recently told you about my frustrations with my nearby Food Lion grocery store, I knew I had to share the Fresh Market experience.

Hence the blurry camera phone pictures.

I mean… I couldn’t very well whip out my DSLR and tell the deli employees to smile.

I had to be sneaky, people.  Corporate espionage is serious business.

Plus, it was just more fun to do it this way.

Justin was off work yesterday, so we decided to head to the upscale Southern Pines area to hit up their Lowe’s (since ours was destroyed by a tornado) and grab a nice lunch.  We also thought we’d stop by this place called Fresh Market, about which our neighbor raves.

All I can say is, how have I lived a mere 45 minutes away from this gem for 4 years and never gone??

We were greeted by a diverse group of freakishly friendly employees.  Seriously.  If I’m not mistaken’, I’d say that they all actually liked their jobs.

The produce was amazing.  It all really did look fresh.  The variety was incredible.  I mean, I don’t actually have a need for baby summer squash, but I might have to find one now.

Because they have it.

Need a potato?  How about a yam?  What color would you like?  Because here they’re not just potatoes, people.  You have options.

Want to grind your own fresh coffee beans?  Be their guest.

And the meat?  Oh, god – the meat.  Remember when I went to Food Lion with the intention of buying brisket and all they had was this lousy tongue? I mean, it was value priced because it was about to expire. And no one likes expired tongue.

Well, the fresh meat selection at Fresh Market did not disappoint.  Gorgeously marbled steaks like the veins in Calacatta tiles, chicken with lovely, yellow fat, and a seafood selection that made me think we’d traveled east – not west – to get to the store.

And, while I didn’t see any tongues on display, I’m fairly certain that, had I asked, the friendly folk behind the counter would’ve gone to the back and produced a nice, gleaming, not-about-to-expire beef tongue just for me.

Unfortunately, Don caught me before I could snap blurry photos of the freshly baked bread, bulk candy and nuts, and superb deli area.  You see, he’d found my Achilles heel.  The wine.  And the quality of my covert ops quickly deteriorated as I was faced with an actual selection.

Don knew my weakness.  And instead of kicking me out of the store, he exploited it to his fullest extent, taking me on a tour through the bottles and valleys and vineyards, explaining the intricacies of the various types and tastes and prices, and imparting on me some actual knowledge that I’ve somehow managed to avoid during my past several years of avid wine consumption.

I’m not going to lie – a little part of me wanted to have Don’s babies.

I’m now fairly convinced that this is the only place around here where I’ll be buying wine from now on.

Except, of course, for emergency situations.

And any other time I want to drink wine without driving all the way to Southern Pines.

And while the prices for some things were definitely higher at Fresh Market, I’m willing to pay a bit more for quality, service, and – you guessed it – the ambiance of a place that smells like freshly brewed coffee and all natural peanut butter over baby vomit and stale cheese.

I’m basically a marketing director’s wet dream.

And tonight, while I sip a new kind of Don-recommended Cabernet from the Columbia Valley in Washington to go with my incredibly tender grilled fillet (a splurge, yes, but sometimes we need these things in our lives), I will somehow find a way to be okay with that.


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Dennis Hong

Regarding secret shopping trips, that reminds me of my friend who does marketing for an Indian casino here in San Diego. She and her coworkers are sent on undercover gambling trips to other casinos in town to see what kind of promotions they have.

It’s a rough job. I feel for my friend.


Hmm.. I wonder if she has to use her own money, and if not, does she get to keep her winnings?

Definitely rough, but someone has to do it. ;)

Dennis Hong

Yeah, they give her some money. Yup.


Wait, someone gives her money to go into a casino and gamble with?! Who do I have to sleep with to get that job? JK, sorta.

Now that you’ve found the Fresh Market, you are not allowed to ever go back to that Food Lion. Feel free to stop at a local liquor store, because I realize that wine emergencies happen, but no more Food Lion for you.


Hahaha yeah that gig doesn’t sound too shabby! I’m not big on gambling, but that’s probably because I don’t like losing my own money. But my employer’s money? I can definitely handle that.

Well I might have to go back to Food Lion occasionally for things like milk and cereal, because I’m not quite making enough – or any – income to support buying all my groceries there. But one day… that’s the dream. :)


That is such a coincidence! You know, a little part of me misses that 3-walled Bagaces store. ;) Soon enough you’ll be standing in a mile-long line at a huge U.S. store where they have 12 lanes open, but each one has 6 people already in line with carts filled to the brim. Of course, a bit of variety – and not just in the rice aisle – might make up for that. ;)


I know I know, there really should be an in-between. Actually when I was in Virginia I ordered my stuff online and just drove up to the store, pushed a button and my groceries magically appeared! It was cheaper than the deliver service which I also did a couple of times. I definitely feel overwhelmed at US stores, do you REALLY need 15 types of Cheerios? I think not.


I worked on a blog last year for my Environmental Studies class and it led to a lot of picture-taking at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. I felt so crazy taking pictures of buying cucumbers and peanut butter, as if I were some kind of alien from another planet and never been grocery shopping before.

For the sake of a great post though, these awkward moments must be overcome. Loved the comment about wanting to have the grocery man’s babies. It’s strange, I find myself wanting to have babies with the most random people too….wow, that doesn’t sound slutty at all…


And sometimes the awkward moments are what make it a great post. ;) (Not that this one was, but you know what I mean.)

I’m starting to get used to being “that girl” with the camera, though. I’ve found that if you act like you’re supposed to be there, people generally tend to leave you alone. But every now and then, you have to go stealth – makes it more fun!

Haha, I’m so glad I’m not alone in my random babymaking urges. :)

Marisa Wikramanayake

This is what I love about Freo. I live in the city centre of Fremantle which is the port city for Perth in Western Australia.

They used to have butchers and bakers and greengrocers just two doors away from me but of course high rates have edged them out to suburbia.

But there are two huge supermarket chains within walking distance – and they know and accept people want to eat a wide variety of things so really the only reason I get to complain about them is their pricing wars.

There’s an Asian food store for all the odd spices and things (Maldive fish, anyone)? There’s Kakula’s which is an independent century old local grocer shop selling all sorts of exotic and foreign and locally produced organic food.

Then there are not one but two markets in Fremantle – the East End Markets on the southern quay of the port and the Fremantle markets on the Cafe Strip/South Terrace – both are open over the weekend – both have fresh fruit and veg stalls and the Freo one has a SL food stall so if I have a hankering for cutlets, I can go get them.

Then there is the fresh veg shop next to the supermarket, along with a butcher and Liquorland. Plus Freo has several pubs and they all usually have an attached bottleshop that sell imported beers (Tiger beer!). And yes Australia – especially WA – is full of vineyards so people drink a ton of wine here – local and imported. Wine can be had for $6 a bottle which is technically even cheaper than the price of a kilo of beef or chicken.

So I am spoilt for choice but where do I go when I am broke? I take my fishing rod and go down to the beach – two blocks away – and catch herring for dinner.


Wow, your area sounds fantastic!! And honestly, there’s something to be said about catching your own fresh dinner. (Though I realize there’s a huge difference between wanting to catch it and having to catch it.

I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time, but that did remind me that I wanted to discuss something with you regarding your “How to Write a Book” series. If you’re not making money on that, I’m thinking you probably should. I realize you’re working on a sci-fi novel, but in the meantime, you’re ignoring a gem you’ve already created. While it may not be the genre you originally intended, you have true knack for instructional/inspirational writing that I think maybe you should explore.

Drop me an email sometime and let me know what you think…


LOVE Fresh Market! Chef took me there as part of a date one time, and it was so much fun! It was in November and I saw a cranberry bog. HOW COOL!! I definitely want to go back. And move in there.


That sounds like an awesome date idea!

A cranberry bog? Is that what the guys in the cranberry juice commercial are standing in?? That would be sweet!


EXACTLY like the Ocean Spray commercials! Only it was in a big container that you could use a large slotted spoon to pull cranberries out with. Now, if only I knew what the hell to do with fresh cranberries… I’m totally a canned cranberry sauce kinda girl. If it doesn’t have the lines from the can, it’s not Thanksgiving! :)

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