At 6: 00 a.m., the dim lights shine down on the sleepy workers preparing for the day. The bakery at Wegmans is buzzing with employees who are making and setting out everything from fruit tarts to olive bread. Al, the middle-aged baker with dark hair and a profound mustache, is busy mixing the dough for his next loaves of bread. Next to Al, Jenny is boiling the bagels. In her early twenties, she looks younger. Leona begins taking the "old" bread off the shelves to send to shelters. The fluorescent lights reflect in her glasses as she carts the bread to the back room. Pat is adding the finishing touches to a fruit tart. Her gray hair is tied up in a neat bun under a yellow hat.
Three girls in their early twenties arrive to order a cake. As Leona glances at them, one is sticking her finger into the newly made tart.
"Did you want to buy that?" Leona asks.
"No," replies the girl "I didn't think it was real."
Leona sighs and removes the contaminated tart. All of the employees agree that although they love working with the customers, they believe many have no respect for the food they've spent all day making.
Wegmans is open 24-hours-a-day, but at 7: 00 a.m., the store lights become brighter, welcoming everyone. Marge, a service associate, arrives to prepare orders for customers. She is older, full of life and opinions. While she is giving out samples, or "spruking" as we call it, an elderly man arrives. He asks for a sample and eats it quickly.
"Mmm ... this is good, I'll have a loaf of this and could you pick another kind for me, too? I don't want to get in trouble if my wife doesn't like it," he honestly tells Marge.
She gets a loaf of currant bread. "Tell her Priscilla gave it to you if she doesn't like it. There's no one here with that name, so no one will get into trouble."
He shakes his head.
"No, I'll tell her Elbert gave it to me. She'd get mad if she knew I was talking to another woman."
Soon a man who bears a great resemblance to Al Bundy from "Married With Children," walks past the bakery. He turns around at the seafood section and walks back to get rolls. He stands at a bin for a moment. Then, without using a napkin, he grabs a roll and drops it. He tries to catch it but succeeds only in squishing it between the bin and his knee. He nervously laughs, knocking over the sign that says "Rolls." He throws the roll back into the bin and sprints away.
Leona and Marge both agree the best part about working here is interacting with customers. "Well, most of them," says Leona. She explains there is one woman she doesn't enjoy serving who always wears a green long-waisted coat and a frown.
"She cuts in front and yells at us when asked to wait her turn. When she tells us to cut her bread, if it takes more than a few minutes, she screams and doesn't come back for it."
Marge recalls a time when she was "spruking" and a woman with her young daughter asked for some bread. A short while later, they returned.
"Thank you so much!" the mother said sincerely. "That bread kept my daughter occupied the entire time!"
Marge looked at the girl who was still holding the crust in her tiny hands. "Why didn't you eat your crust?" Marge asked the girl. "It's really healthy for you."
The little girl shrugged as she looked in her hand and then said to Marge with a big smile, "My doggie is really healthy then, 'cause he gets to eat all my crusts."
About 9: 00 a.m. Kevin, the bakery manager, arrives. He immediately begins ordering everybody around. He tells Al to "bake faster and, for goodness sake, don't let the bread get so dark." He yells at Pat for "letting" the girls touch the tart because that's $10.99 down the drain. Then he commands Leona and Marge to get more Italian bread so he can make garlic bread. The rest of the day is strictly business.
Right before Leona leaves, a familiar face arrives. It is an older man with a Greek accent who often comes to the bakery. Leona is spruking and he asks for a sample. She cuts him a large slice and he happily walks away. A few minutes later, he comes back without his jacket and asks for more bread. Leona smiles and cuts him another large piece. Later she says that this man comes by all the time, each time pretending to be a new customer. She has seen him at other stands getting samples, but he never buys anything.
The clock reads 11: 00 a.m., and it's time for Leona to go. She says good-bye to everyone and walks away with a smile. "Every day you get our best," she quietly murmurs as she heads for home. c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.