“Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot” – Chapter Seven

“He’s almost eighty now, but he’s got a mind like a calculator,” Duane tells Edgar, en route to the Bellwether Snacks headquarters, “and he still works, too: two days a week, like clockwork. You can count on it.”

This trip across town was Duane’s idea. He’d stuck his head into Edgar’s office and said he was cruising over to the corporate office, and suggested that Edgar ride along. It was intended as a bit of a rapport building exercise, most likely, but also his first opportunity for meeting certain key management if not ownership figures. So they’ve hopped into the president’s spacious, silver colored truck, and have just about reached their destination.

Though Duane projects a brooding aura, Edgar is beginning to see that their president is for the most part a really nice guy. Sure, nobody you would want to mess with, Edgar thinks it goes without saying, but yeah, the boss’s baseline is probably much friendlier than most would suppose. He has a ton of experience, too, having broken into this business as a meat cutter, decades ago, and slowly working his way up through the ranks, via numerous different companies. And he still has a soft spot for the meat department, in many ways, it seems to Edgar — if earmarking a product line he wants to introduce, thus far it’s almost always something from this department that Duane is bringing him.

In fact, though Duane doesn’t remember this, he was hanging out behind the meat counter at Palmyra, along with Arnie for some reason, on the night that Edgar met him. Edgar of course had no clue who he was yet, nor of his position within this company. He was just in town for the holidays, thinking about moving down to this state, and noticed this establishment, near his parents’ house, a business right up his alley. Edgar himself has more than ten years’ experience specific to grocery stores, and before that had worked at a couple of banks, as well as the accounting department at a factory, and briefly handled the books for a family owned pet store. His former girlfriend’s family, to be precise. But he felt drawn to the grocery world most of all, a far more interesting, vibrant environment than any of those others. So he and his dad had swung through, well after dark on some random December night, and scoped out the Palmyra HHM, had briefly spoken to Duane and Arnie both as they stood chatting behind the meat counter. Soon enough, Edgar was indeed moving here, and turning in an application at this delightfully weird establishment. When he found out who those two were, and their positions within this company, he was all the more impressed that they would have been still on hand at, what, after seven o’clock on a brutal winter’s eve.

Regarding this current odyssey, the Bellwether Snacks HQ is located a peanut’s throw from the state line, visible from the interstate and just off exit 1. As they temporarily lose sight of the place, having just hit the off ramp, Duane moves on from explaining who Walter Locke is, to telling him about the Healthy Hippie truck, a relatively recent addition to their arsenal. Its primary purpose is for Arnie to be out scoring produce from local vendors before daylight, although they also use it for moving product between stores.

“We bought it for $500, but then spent about twenty grand rebuildin’ the engine,” Duane explains with a grin. “Well, that and gettin’ our logos plastered all over it.”

A large, boxy, two story brick affair, the first floor of this massive building is mostly eaten up by the warehouse operation in back, and a couple of meeting rooms up front. However, one corner, accessible from the parking lot, is dedicated to The Nutty Zone, a charming little retail operation. Heavy on the 1970s looking décor, and similar to their Liberty store in that respect, The Nutty Zone could almost count as the 4th HHM location, albeit one which only focused on bulk products, or packaged variations thereof.

After drifting through and briefly checking out the place, being introduced to Penny, the woman who basically runs this shop and seems to be the only employee today, they continue through it, into the hallway beyond. All offices are located above, on the second floor, and after using Duane’s magnetic key card to enter, he leads the way up the stairs.

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Walter has a relatively small office, just to the right of where this stairwell emerges. He’s in his office, but talking on the phone, and only returns their waves, as they stick their head in and keep on moving. Edgar observes some black and white photos hanging on the outside wall, a couple of which appear to feature a much younger Walter, and as they continue walking, Duane fills him on a little more corporate history, that they have similar warehouses and production centers in Memphis, Atlanta, Columbus and elsewhere, though this is the main one.

The setup here is similar to many corporate offices (and, well, yes, Office Space), the standard arrangement of a large, cubicle-divided floor in the middle, surrounded by actual offices tucked into the walls, typically reserved for those ranking a little higher. So it is that their next stops consist of three consecutive rooms along the adjacent wall, where Walter’s two daughters and one son-in-law hold down desks. The daughters are mostly only involved with the Bellwether aspects of this operation, while the son-in-law, Rob Drake, is for all intents the liaison, the one dealing with HHM, if any dealing is to be done.

Though attired in the ubiquitous “business casual” attire — a long sleeved dress shirt, yes, but khaki pants and loafers — and clean cut otherwise, Rob’s grey and white hair is left a little shaggier than one would expect, as maybe one last vestige of his own slightly countercultural past. It’s hard to glean much from one brief introduction, but he does seem to Edgar as a friendly enough guy, probably a little on the conservative side. Whatever the case, he is the person signing their paychecks every week, so it surely can’t hurt to haul himself into this headquarters, and shake the man’s hand.

Speaking of handshakes, as this tour continues next over to the HR lady’s office, Duane is explaining a “handshake deal” he recently reached with Mr. Locke. Walter has told him he has complete discretion for opening up future Healthy Hippie locations — if Duane thinks it’s a good idea, then he will sign off on the project. And as soon as they straighten out some kinks at Palmyra and Southside, to make those stores more profitable, Duane fully intends to expand. But as far as the smaller details are concerned, pricing and other negotiations on the actual products, yeah, Rob is their man.

Dropping off some packet of documents to the HR lady was the prevailing reason behind this trip. Introduced to him as Doris, she’s the textbook somewhat harried, somewhat grouchy seeming old woman in gold rimmed glasses and a button-up sweater, like the town librarian, barely visible behind the mountains of paperwork stacked around her desk. As these two talk in cryptic messages about what they’re “going to do” regarding the employee in question here, related to this document packet, Edgar stands off to the side, smiling and hoping this conversation will be over soon. It’s awkward, though in the meantime he entertains himself trying to guess, based on almost no evidence, who this is, the person about to get either disciplined or fired. Surely it pertains to this purported Palmyra cleanup, but the individual remains a mystery.

He next meets Carmen, their controller, followed by an exceptionally brief sojourn to the belly of this beast, the cubicles. Healthy Hippie Market’s very structure is just about as outrageous as everything else involving the place, and as it turns out, they have exactly one employee on payroll at this building, and she works in accounts payable. Her name is Kathy Ames, an extremely cheerful and talkative person he’s spoken to on the phone exactly once, only meeting now for the first time. This is the woman he’s kicking the invoices up to every week, sending on their corporate box truck after he’s finished going through them. And, while it’s great to finally put a face to the name and the voice, he and Duane are basically peeling themselves away from her machine gun fire of chattiness.

Edgar wouldn’t really say this has been the most compelling tour ever, but an extremely important one, nonetheless, if only to fix some furniture in his mind, and also to reciprocate, get his face and basic Cliff Notes personality points out to them. On their way back down, they take the rear stairwell into the warehouse, and load up on about a dozen cases of “overruns.” Duane’s explaining to him that, by law, they can’t hold over the output from one production run and combine it with the next. If no one orders it, and they don’t need the product in The Nutty Zone, then they box it up and HHM gets the stuff for free. So this is surely helping out their bottom line at least a little bit — and who knows, it may explain some of the candy that Pierre is always blowing a gasket over.

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