Under the Sun
Market crowds should be celebrated, not avoided
Reining in chronic grumpiness is hard enough, but when a person hasn't had an essential dose of caffeine in the morning, a slight inconvenience can turn into a test of patience.
Having overslept, the choice was to get to the farmers market late or take time to guzzle a cup of coffee before slamming out the door.
I chose poorly. At least that's how I've come to rationalize uncivil behavior while standing in line at a vegetable stand.
The local-grown foods market at Kapiolani Community College started as a laid-back affair with just a smattering of customers. Everyone got to know everyone. Friendships were easily formed as people with the same purchase priorities gathered around a particular booth, chatting while waiting for the starter's horn to get first pick at Lualualei lettuce or Waimanalo roses. People acknowledged -- without having to pull numbers -- who was there before whom, making for an orderly sequence of service.
Nowadays, finding a familiar face in the crowd that swarms between rows of stalls is difficult, and stopping to shoot the breeze gets you bumped around by frenzied shoppers and gawking tourists.
It was a cluster of Hello-Kitty tourist girls who strained my thin sense of civility. Bedecked in hoodies and purses emblazoned with the "kawaii" insignia, they picked through mangoes and bananas like Goldilocks searching for one that was just right. Other customers, arms full of fruits and veggies, bunched up behind them.
"Next! Next!" the cashiers called, but the girls were unresponsive until the vendor reached over the parsley to touch the first girl on the wrist. He mimed payment. She dug in her wallet for cash, got her change and moved on.
"Next!" the cashier called, but her companion, oblivious of the preceding financial transaction, stood there blankly. He gestured again. Girl No. 2 paid and shuffled off.
I turned to the elderly Chinese man behind me and rolled my eyes. He shook his head in concurring frustration and asked if it was always like this. I said yes, but buying local was a good trade-off. He nodded, but seemed undecided.
Girl No. 3 came up to bat. She put her cup of hot coffee on top of the parsley pile to free her hands for a wallet dive, but it tipped over, blanching the parsley. The vendor, none to pleased with the ruin of his produce, pitched the cup to the ground and tried to salvage what he could. "Ah-rah," she protested, his glare silenced her.
Exasperated, I pushed by her and girl No. 4, cutting in line, a blatant violation of market courtesy. Then the Chinese man abandoned his clutch of cucumbers. "Chee, first time I come here," he said. "Not worth it." Last I saw him, he was headed empty-handed toward the parking lot.
If life offered do-overs, this would be one. I don't know why the man had chosen to come to the market -- for price, or freshness or because of the environmental benefits of buying local. But clearly the incident, and my peevish contribution to it, turned him off.
The crowds at the market mean there is strong support for the islands' farm economy and should be celebrated, not condemned. So Mr. Cucumber, please come back. It is really worth it. I'll try not to roll my eyes.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org