Sunday, October 26, 2008

Time for the annual Cider Story

Cider is evil. Did you know that? Sure, it looks innocent, a rich, brown nectar sitting there on the shelf in clear plastic jugs, beckoning the unwary. But deep in its dark soul lurks dastardly and terrifying plots!

Okay, maybe not. But I am paranoid about cider, as everyone who works with me comes to find out each fall when the yearly pallet of Louisburg Apple Cider arrives in the store. But there is a reason for my paranoia, and it is this:

The first autumn I worked at Walmart I spilled 47 gallons of apple cider.

Actually, I didn't spill it. It spilled itself at me. I just got to clean it up. In the Walmart "spills and hazardous waste training module" it says that "spill in excess of 10 gallons are considered too big to be cleaned up by store employees". Don't you believe it! See, it happened like this:

We have a walk-in produce cooler that's about eight feet wide and about twelve feet deep, with wide steel shelving lining both sides. When the shelves are full, the excess is stored on wooden pallets down the center of the cooler, and there is almost always at least one pallet full of freight in the cooler. (Sometimes there are as many as three. If we get slammed with more than that we have to take over the meat prep room which is unpleasant because then we have to kidnap Glen, who bitches about it, and tie him up in the Culligan water softener cage. We'd take over the deli cooler, but those deli girls are just scary!)

Well, the first fall I worked produce we had a pallet full of cider against the back wall. The cider was stacked seven cases high with four one-gallon plastic jugs per case and we were down to two rows of cider with other things on the front of the pallet. None of us were aware that the bottom cases had gotten wet and that the only thing holding up the cider stacked against the wall on the left side was the stack in front of it. I took the cider from that stack out to fill the floor display, came back and the entire stack had collapsed. The cooler floor was littered with busted jugs, sopping cardboard and approximately 24 gallons of apple cider.

Obviously, I couldn't clean up the mess with the pallet in the way. I got a pallet jack (sort of a manual fork lift) and very carefully pulled the pallet out into the produce area in front of the door. I successfully maneuvered it past the floor drain right outside the cooler, swivelled it slowly and set it down ever so gently.

And POW! Another stack of cider went over!

That's how I spilled 47 gallons of apple cider. Two years have passed since then with no other major mishaps (we did have a couple of jugs explode last year, but that's only to be expected). I still don't trust the stuff, though. I know it's just sitting there . . . watching . . . biding its time . . . .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama, in St. Louis, speaks before historic building

Today, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke before massive crowds (estimated at 100,000 people) on the lawn of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. In the background and, so far as I have seen in news stories, unremarked, the Old Courthouse watched history unfold yet again.

In the background of the picture at the top of this news story: look for a white building with a patinaed copper dome. This is the Old Courthouse. It is a white, Federalist-style building with two wings flanking a rotunda capped with a copper dome based on the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome. Built in 1827, it served as a center for law and order in what was then known (to some) as the last civilized city in the west. In 1947 the County of St. Louis deeded it to the Federal Government and it is now listed on the National Historic Registry and is home to a museum.

It is uniquely fitting that this building should bear witness to Obama's historic run for the presidency, for it was here, in 1847, that the Dred Scott anti-slavery case was first heard. After a series of appeals and counter-suits, in 1857 the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott and his wife, who had sued for their freedom. The case was a landmark because it established that no one of African descent was considered a citizen of the United States and that, not being citizens, they were not entitled to bring action in a court of law. It also struck down the Missouri Compromise, which made northern parts of the Louisiana Purchase "free territories", by ruling slaves to be property which could not be taken from their owners without due process, even if their owners travelled to places where slavery was illegal.

This ruling angered northern politicians and abolitionists, polarizing the opposing factions on the question of slavery and quite possibly hastening the onset of the Civil War. Ironically, the Scotts' owner, a widow, had re-married to a congressman who was an abolitionist and he arranged for them to be freed shortly after the Supreme Court ruling was handed down. Sadly, Dred Scott had but scant time to enjoy his freedom. Just nine months later he died of tuberculosis.

And today, within sight of where Dred Scott and his wife were first found by the law to be property subject to the fifth amendment, 100,000 people of all races turned out to hear a charismatic black man speak of his very real aspirations for the presidency. I'd like to say here that I, personally, support Barack Obama, not because he is black (or in spite of the fact that he is black), but because I am impressed by his intellect and his achievements and I believe he is the best person to guide our nation through these troubled times. But it is nice to look across this massive crowd to the green copper dome of the Old Courthouse and reflect on how far we've come in 161 years.

Incidentally, I have to confess that I didn't notice the Old Courthouse in the background because I am a super-savvy historian (alas!). The Old Courthouse is one of the locations that appears in my as-yet-unpublished murder mystery, The Reenactment.