It’s easy to shine when you’re surrounded by stars…

And that, boys and girls, sums up my almost 17 years at Trader Joe’s. They made it easy. Until the last day.

Thursday, before opening, we were listening to showtunes when One Day More from Les Miserables came on. Someone cranked it up and I was belting it out, channeling my inner Ethel Merman. And then it hit me that I should be taping it, so got the last 50 or so seconds of it on tape…

Right after we opened, my coworkers did a conga line around the store with cutout pictures of me as their heads. I knew at that point I was in serious trouble. I want a picture of that, please… But all and all, it was a more or less a regular day, for me… I was still being bossy and telling people what to do. Just because I’m not going to be there doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion of what they should be doing and what should be happening…

They humored me.

And then it was Friday.

I’ve had jobs that I have danced out, slid out, and stormed out. Never have I had tears streaming down my face. But tears were there – OMG were there tears…

I’ve spent the better part of the past 17 years embarrassing my coworkers, and they spent the better part of the last month paying me back. There has been a picture of me with a guest book for customers to sign for several weeks with a countdown clock on it. I knew that the last day was going to be excruciating, but, one does what one has to do. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun – and so emotional.

The day started out fairly normally. Ryan filled out the Daily Log – our job assignments for our shift – and had me listed as “Anything You Want To Do” for the entire day – not exactly how it was normally written for me, but, what the heck. I knew I had to keep busy even if I wasn’t being officially scheduled, so I headed back to the Demo Station.

A dozen bees were hanging from the ceiling and this was on the wall. Okay. I can handle it. But it’s also a reminder to never be friends on Facebook with your coworkers. They have access to photographs… Diane was scheduled to work over there but I knew she had a million and one evil things up her sleeves, so I started the coffee, set out the morning treat, and went about things like it was just any other day. I figured I needed to be nice to the woman who was going to be humiliating me later…

The first crack in my defenses came during our Morning Huddle – the time we go over what’s happening, share information, eat… Mostly eat… We went through the morning notes and everyone was laughing and congratulating me, when they asked me if I had any final words. The voice cracked and the tears started. So much for my macho cover… Fran got me a box of tissues and marked my name on it – in really big letters.

As blustery and boisterous as I can be, I really, really hate being the center of attention. I’ve never liked it and I doubt I even will. That, of course, didn’t stop anyone…

The morning was running relatively smoothly. I had originally been told that the festivities would begin about 2pm. I was told it was now 11am. A quick text to Victor, because he, Phoebe, and Nancy were going to come up and witness…

It’s 11am and the four of us are being shuttled around the store – making sure I couldn’t see what was going on. Diane and Sandy called me over to the Demo Station – and it began.

Jen brought over a Depends Retirement Cake she had made.

I then received my retirement apron that Barb handmade. Awesome, or what?!?

I was then given a requisite floppy retirement hat and told to sit in the rocker – with a blanket over my knees. And so it began…

It was a live version of This Is Your Life. Evidently, I have shared a lot of my youth – and youthful indiscretions – with my coworkers over the years. Who knew they were paying attention?!?

Inwardly, I want to crawl into a hole. Outwardly I took turns laughing and trying to dry my eyes. Diane did a fantastic job playing hostess with the mostess and she had me in tears – literally. It really was fun, in a masochistic sort of way.

And then it was schmooze time with customers reminiscing about this and that, kids who I remember as toddlers now off to college, marriages and divorces, cooking tips and cooking philosophies… The same stuff I’ve been talking about for years – but a lot more political in my waning moments…

And then I escaped to the back room where the food was being set up. It was Pot Luck Heaven with a score of dishes created by the creative crew! The cake that Garvey made was out of this world and it’s the only picture of food that I actually got. if any of y’all did, send them to me!

Awesome. Totally awesome.

  • Maria made Spanakopita
  • Liz made Ceviche de Cameron
  • Mariah made Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding
  • Susan made Pineapple Cake
  • Lauren made Veggie Stromboli
  • Barb made Eggplant Parmesan Non-Meatballs
  • Elizabeth made Romesco Sauce
  • Jeff brought Pizza
  • Ryan made Eggrolls in a Bowl
  • Garvey made that cake

I will eventually have all of these recipes online.

Back out into the store…

Sandy made a playlist of music and it was just blasting away… She nailed me with her choices. We were up in the front of the store singing I left My heart in San Francisco, and both of us were crying! Customers were applauding our efforts!

It’s now a bit after one and I am emotionally drained – I’m ready to go home. I’m scheduled until 3:30pm, but the Log does say “Anything I want.” I figure that means go home. As I start to make my choice known, Sandy tells me I can’t leave until 1:30. No explanation, just that I can’t leave until at least 1:30. I have worked with Sandy for almost 16 years. if she says I’m staying – I’m staying.

At 1:30, I found out why I couldn’t leave… It seems my in-laws planned a little surprise of their own – except they hadn’t told Victor – or anyone at the store. Victor had sent a picture to his sister when he got home earlier, and immediately received a panic phone call telling him what was happening! He then called the store, spoke with Sandy, who then, flat-out told me I wasn’t leaving.

Over The Top.

At this point, it really was time for me to get the hell out of Dodge. I was your basic mess. I had so many gifts and cards I needed a shopping cart to get them all out.

It’s difficult to explain just how much fun I’ve had over the years, and the awesome people I have had the pleasure of working with.

I have met so many fun people – the customers completely filled my Retirement Book. The comments are heartwarming and humbling. Who knew that simple acts of kindness, a smile, or a snarky-fun comment would really have an impact on someone’s day?

The company has changed a lot from the 110 stores they had when I started to the almost 500 today. But what hasn’t changed is the love and caring of the people who work at store #632.

We still live 2 miles from the store and we’ll still be shopping there. The only thing that’s going away is my employee discount.

And having to get up in the morning.