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Groceries on Broadway

As I’ve embarked on this journey to seek out moments of caretaking at Duke, I’ve started developing a sort of antenna-like sense that alerts me whenever this type of moment might happen. As I see someone heading towards a door, running for the C1 or navigating a crowded parking lot, I sometimes hold my breath and think, “Okay, here we go, I’m about to see something good.” I scramble to open my notes app, put on my writing cap and brace myself to witness someone extend themselves to caretaking. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Despite what occurs in the actual moment, though, the readiness for that kind of interaction has me curious about my own notions of care. These moments are ripe for obvious acts of kindness, so I pay extra attention to them—yet lately I’ve witnessed (and felt) caretaking that’s snuck up on me when I wasn’t sleuthing it out. And in all honesty, it doesn’t look like caretaking at first glance, but I’m pretty convinced that it is. 

A couple weeks ago, I meandered into the Harris Teeter on Hillsborough Road (the unofficial weekend gathering spot for undergrads) and paused near the entrance as my roommate and I decided whether to get a cart or a basket. As we’re standing here, I make eye contact with one of the Starbucks employees and offer a decently bland head nod and closed-lipped smile (which he can’t see through my mask). Rejecting my drab offer of friendliness in the best manner possible, he ups the ante and begins to sing, fully serenading the produce aisle. For the first few notes I’m too taken aback to really register anything substantive, but then I hear a few words, see him shaking a carton of coconut milk in his left hand and realize he’s singing Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.” I catch my roommate’s eye to confirm that she’s experiencing this too and then turn back to him where he’s begun belting even more loudly, “You put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up.”

My earlier head-nod peace offering is looking increasingly inadequate by the second. At this point, there is absolutely nothing to be done except a dance, so I dust off my jazz hands and get to work. When he finishes belting out the last chorus, he pauses, looks directly at us, then says excitedly, “The art walk is coming back.” 

He goes on to explain that after two years, the Durham Art Walk and Holiday Market is returning, and he’s looking forward to volunteering. He tells us that in the past, he and some friends have performed different music compilations, and he decides to give us a sampling of his other songs. We get a taste of "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" and some Van Morrison, and I think we may have continued all afternoon if it weren’t for the line of customers that started to form at the register. Glancing over his shoulder to notice them, our barista musician grumbles a bit before shuffling over and ending the performance/dance exchange. We say goodbye while we begin our shopping, and then as we leave the store and say farewell again, he initiates another musical number to send us off with. Still reeling in the parking lot, I thought this was a one-off interaction, that I‘d cashed in my once-per-lifetime coupon for a grocery serenade.  

Then, this past Wednesday, I’m shuffling along in the back corner of Harris Teeter when the first few notes of Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” hit the speakers, and the characters around me begin to change. An employee is mopping the aisle and begins to walk in step with the rhythm, turning the cleaning aisle into his runway. A few moments go by, and I’m walking towards an intersection of rows when a fellow shopper passes by, trying to catch up with his companion who’s far ahead of him. But suddenly, when the chorus hits and karaoke time begins, he’s no longer in a hurry. Slowing down his pace to match the drama of each note, he fully belts the lyrics, “cause ya had a bad day, you’re taking one down…,” and each note seems to grow louder, reverberating off our row of soaps. His lack of inhibitions somehow sets the precedent that—at least for this aisle—nothing is embarrassing and performance is encouraged. So now I’m singing too, the three of us stationed at our various points, warbling onwards to the rest of our shopping endeavors. 

I left both these moments grinning to myself, as though someone had taken my hand and walked me to a totally different Harris Teeter and an entirely new mental framework for the day. I felt completely cared for by these two people, not because they purposely sought me out to open a door but because they infused our little space with playfulness and unexpected fun. 

It took initiative though; someone had to take the lead and signal that—hey, I know we’re all doing errands right now, but what if we sang or danced together for just a second? These types of moments most certainly do not default into existence; we needed some thought leaders of whimsy, if you will. There’s something a bit selfless about being the one to take the lead on this, to step into the playfulness first in order to open the door for the rest of us. 

So thank you Hillsborough Harris Teeter, thank you singing shoppers. Note taken, caretaking doesn’t have to look like traditional instances of letting someone go before you in traffic. Holding open the door to absurd musical numbers can do just the trick. This feels like exciting news, as though the opportunity to take care of each other opens up much wider and our mutual possibility for warmth becomes all the more accessible. 

Sara Kate Baudhuin is a Trinity senior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

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