the time i almost freaked out in whole foods.

This post is hopefully the first of many where I do some long writing, reflecting on different events and moments from my life in the past few years. Here goes nothing:

***

The year and a half I spent working for a consulting firm in Austin was an interesting time in my life. It was, in actuality, my first real job. The first form of employment I received after graduating from college. I was technically a permanent temp with no benefits that worked by the hour, but dammit, it was a job. One that called for various tasks outside of my daily research for the communications arms of the firm. Tasks that went a bit above and beyond the administrative realm and involved running errands around downtown Austin, sweating in the ever-present heat and cursing the restrictive office casual outfit I had on. But in the beginning, I simply wanted to do my best, impress my bosses. Show them that I was capable of any task they thought to assign to me, no matter how big or small. This wass a good, gung-ho attitude to have… but it’s also why Whole Foods was almost my downfall.

I can still vividly remember this, one of the very first errands I ever had to run. My office manager called me to her desk across the office, notifying me that I needed to run an errand and it would require use of the company card. I walked over to learn more details; she handed me the card and quickly explained that I would have to head out to Whole Foods and buy lunch for our boss and the men he was meeting with that afternoon. First question: what should I get? She suggested sushi and perhaps a couple of side dishes, along with some fresh fruit. I nodded, checked the time and quickly walked the two and half blocks to where my car was located. I had 30 minutes.

It was a simple enough trek. Drive from 10th and San Jacinto towards Congress, turn right on 6th. It was on the drive there that I immediately realized in the few months I had been living in Austin, I had never once stepped foot into Whole Foods. And this wasn’t any Whole Foods; it was the giant flagship store. My palms immediately began to sweat. The company credit card weighed heavy in the pocket of my work slacks.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me personally (or at all), I am sometimes prone to panic. Put me in a confusing or unfamiliar situation and my inherent reaction is to flail around helplessly, like a fish out of water. It’s something I’ve worked on for years, so I have a better handle on it. But every so often, I have moments where my reaction simply can’t be helped and the panic sets in before I can stop it. This was one of those moments.

I pulled into the massive garage and somehow managed to find an open spot (still a miracle in my mind, given the hour). I followed the crowd up the the escalator, acting like I knew exactly where I was going (I didn’t) and  I was any other Austinite stopping by Whole Foods for lunch on a weekday afternoon (I wasn’t). Once I reached the top, I promptly paled at the sight that greeted me. A throng of people milled about aisles and aisles of organic groceries. And I had no idea where anything was, much less knew where to start. I could feel the panic creep up on me again, only to push it back down. You can do this. This is nothing. You’ll be fine. You’re a smart, young woman with a freakin’ college degree. You’ve. Got. This.

I picked up a basket and began to walk around in search of what I had been sent to find. The clacking sound made by my heels seemed so loud in my ears and I started to sweat again. Once I reached the opposite side of this ridiculously large store, I found what I had been looking for: hot lunch of various kinds being served to the masses. Mission almost completed. I glanced around, somewhat frantically, looking for sushi. Where is the goddamned sushi? I managed to find it, neatly packed in small servings and in giant platters. Again, I realized that my manager hadn’t really specified what kind, how much… Crap. I grabbed my cell phone and quickly called my office, trying not to sound panicked as I asked for a bit of clarification. I remember thinking she sounded so nonchalant about the whole ordeal, suggesting I get the big platter and oh, don’t forget to grab some salad as well. Salad… right. I quietly observed how others made their way about the salad bar and again, completely and totally faked it. Oh, me? I come here all the time to get lunch for my office. Yes, I do quite enjoy cherry tomatoes. I don’t care much for the couscous.

Once the basket was properly filled to the brim with overpriced food, I lugged it over to checkout, all the while checking the my cell phone and praying that there would be time for me to get back to my car, drive to the office, carry armfuls of food across a couple of blocks, up to our floor, and (carefully) dumped into plates and bowls, before the meeting began and my boss (loudly) asked where the hell I was and what was taking me so long. I tried not to process the ridiculous amount that was being spent on this lunch and quickly handed over the company card. The Whole Foods cashier smiled at me, somewhat sympathetically. I must have looked frazzled. I certainly felt frazzled and was probably about 10 minutes away from full-on meltdown.

The transition from Whole Foods back to my office is a bit of a blur, but I did manage to make it with some time to spare (some time being about 5 minutes). I handed back my manager the company card and the accompanying receipt. I made my way back to my desk, sitting down with a relieved sigh. I had done it. I had completed what would probably be my one major task of the day. All I did was go to Whole Foods but man, did I feel accomplished. (Again, this was my first real job out of college. I saivored any sense of accomplishment when I could.)

I didn’t know at the time that this was only the beginning of my life as an errand girl, driving all around Austin for the most mundane and odd things when needed. I didn’t complain to my superiors; not once. I nodded and smiled, completed each and every task with minimal effort. I became a pro at picking up lunches and laundry and delivering invoices and packages. I did this almost every other day, for a year and a half. And when I decided I needed a change, a change that required leaving not only Austin, but the state of Texas, I was wished the best and sent on my way. I have good memories of my office in Austin. It was definitely one of those “learning experiences” everyone keeps talking about. And only now, do I find myself pretty grateful for said experience.

As for Whole Foods, it ended up becoming a familiar place as time went on. I went there with friends for events, stopped by to pick up the occasional bag of Progress coffee and took my family there once or twice for lunch while they were in town. I learned where things were located, slowly began to navigate the store with some ease. The last time I stepped foot there, I know that the store was nowhere near as big as I had made it out to be in my mind that first time.

So, I managed to leave everything–Austin, my job, my vague attempt at starting a life after college, and yes, even Whole Foods–behind and picked up where I left off back in Chicago. I sometimes still panic but these days, it takes a lot more than a large, organic grocery store to freak me out.

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