AKA Abraham Bacoln

July 2, 2009, 7:44 pm
Filed under: tidbit

The old deli kitchen

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Pardon this bit of self-indulgent rambling.

I got my first job in the wine industry in February of 2002 and it was literally as the result of a finger poked at random into the Help Wanted section of the Times-Picayune. They were looking for stockmen and cashiers. The short version of my career is this: I showed up, got the job as a stockman, came to work on time and did what was asked of me, and as a result got several kicks up the ladder. I worked for months at the retail store on Baronne and of course experienced the frustrations of a retail store but overall really enjoyed my time there. I felt like I totally fit in with the company. By the end of 2002 I had been promoted to a position in our Mid-City offices, and I left the store to go sit at a desk and push papers. I worked there from 2002 until the storm.

Okay all of that is a grand oversimplification but you get the point.

What I’m trying to say is this: when I was working at this company before the storm we had two stores – one in Uptown New Orleans and one out in Metairie. I always aligned myself with the Uptown store, because that’s where I started. Most people in the company have a fondness for one store or the other, and for an astoundingly high number of us it is because that’s where we started our careers as stockmen (or stockwomen, or cashiers). The Uptown store is where I learned about wine, where I learned how to pour, and how to taste, and where I was thrown into the driver’s seat of a delivery van and forced to learn the layout of the city. That’s a great job, I might add – whenever you get to a new city, get a job as a delivery person. You’ll learn the bad parts of town right quick. It didn’t take me more than once driving down St. Bernard to realize that the biggest streets on the map might not always be the best way to get somewhere.

Anyway, the Uptown store is where I learned to love wine. I greatly furthered my knowledge during my desk job in Mid-City, and by attending every Thursday night tasting that I could, but the Uptown store is where it all started.

The last time I was there would have been some point in the summer of 2005.

As with so many of my stories, you know that Hurricane Katrina comes next. I left my flooded apartment and flooded possessions and flooded workplace and went out to the Great Northwet to find a new life, then ended up back in Tennessee, and then realized just how damn much I missed this city and this company, and in December of 2008 I came back here. I got a different job with the same folks, and now I sit in a different office in the same building in Mid-City.

During my first trip back here post-Katrina, in March 2008, one of the first places I drove by was the old Uptown store. It was shuttered, closed, the result of flooding and looting and everything else bad that happened during the storm. Since that first post-K view I have driven by many times. I parked there twice during Mardi Gras and that was somehow the most bittersweet – there should have been a lot full of employees’ cars and someone I knew guarding the entrance, but it was just me, my girlfriend, and a big empty lot beside an empty building.

Finally today after having been back at work for six months I had an opportunity to see the gutted insides of the old workplace, a chance upon which I jumped with both feet. My boss knows I do the photography so he encouraged me to bring my camera along. We drove there along with the owner. He and my boss were going to discuss what was left inside that might still be salvageable before they tear down the old building. I went along just to see the place.

And … it was very strange. I didn’t live the post-K New Orleans experience. I did my grieving somewhere else. It’s been three years and ten months now, and I don’t have any pain left associated with the hurricane – not that I really ever did in the first place. So … when I set foot inside the store I was awash in old happy memories. I didn’t feel sad, full of regret, full of remorse. I just felt invigorated.

My boss and I talked about the first time we ever met, the night that all the stockmen (of which I was then a part) moved hundreds of bottles of wine and tons of shelves so that we could replace all the carpet. I saw the signs on the walls declaring the various wine regions. I saw the handwritten chalkboard sign above the old cheese counter. I saw the customer courtesy phone where tens of old ladies had stood and chatted, just far enough out in the aisle to keep me from being able to wheel my hand truck by and stock shelves. I saw the warehouse upstairs, the receiving room in the back, the remnants of the old deli and kitchen and walk-in cooler.

I saw on the floor upstairs the inter-office memo from late summer 2005 saying, “There is a restructuring in the Inventory Department. Kevin O’Mara is now the Inventory Manager of the Wholesale division” – my most recent promotion before the storm worked its magic.

I saw two half-full bottles of Ojen. I saw one ancient bottle of the old style of Ojen. I saw floors and ceilings, walls and windows, and I was filled with every happy memory I had of the place and not a single one of the bad. It was, to say the least, an uplifting and fulfilling experience – something I didn’t expect in the slightest.

So now I’m content. Now I’m ready for them to tear it down and build anew. I got my last visit.

I don’t know about the others, those dozen or two people still with the company that worked there for years before I did – decades before I did – that lived half their lives in that building. I can only hope they feel the same sense of relief and happiness that I do in our decision to move forward and build something even better than that which we used to have.

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