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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Walls Do not a Prison Make, Nor Iron Bars a Cage…

In lockup“The Prisoner of Chillon,”  George Gordon Lord Byron

Tell that to a pumpkin, squash, gourd,  shock of corn, or apple residing at Kurt’s Vegetable Stand these days. Yes, this fall Kurt’s  produce stand looks like a minimum security prison, fruit and vegetables incarcerated like felons. Felonious vegetables? A pumpkin that grew lopsided? A squash that suffered a moral lapse and committed a little cross-pollination with the pumpkin next door? Or a  trespassing gourd, perhaps, snaking its way into the corn patch, the corn filing a formal complaint? I guess I’ll have to read the police reports for the particulars.

This time of the year it’s switch out the summer begonia pots in the entryway for  fall chrysanthemums. Add A few corn stalks from the garden. Tangle in a few strands of faux leaves from Ben Franklin’s crafts department. Select a nice garden pumpkin, a squash or two—different colors and varieties for contrast. Round off the display with a few strange and exotic gourds. And for the gourds I always head for Kurt’s stand.

Gourd season pretty much marks the tail end of  local produce sales. As Halloween approaches and folks have rounded up their pumpkins, Kurt’s customers dwindle and there’s no need for the staff to man the scales, take the money, return the change. All the years I’ve sought gourds at Kurt’s, I’ve been able to select a variety from a vegetable bin right out there in the open. Usually there’s nobody around to take my cash, so I slip a fiver in the iron pipe Kurt has customized for payment by the honor system. I always try to leave more than I think my produce is worth just as I do when I pay Kurt’s employees. “Keep the change,” I say. Or I’ll  pay a couple dollars more for whatever produce (usually garlic or dill) I select. It’s not that I’m particularly generous; when I hand over the cash at Freddies or Safeway, I pay my bill and not one penny more. Kurt’s Vegetable Stand is a Valley institution in my opinion and there’s nothing like being able to select produce from the Valley, fresh, usually picked that morning. Anyone who knows Kurt understands  he and his staff work very hard for their money, and it’s worth it to me to pay a little extra just to keep an institution that provides a Valley service up and running. “You work hard for your money,” I tell them when I part with a little extra cash.

The last couple of weeks it seems every time I drove by, Kurt’s was abandoned, the customer separated by lock and key and strong wire.  As usual when our fall display went up, I made a trip to Kurt’s for our gourd complements. The gourds were there, an entire bin of them, held prisoner along with their squash and pumpkin cousins. I waited a while, looked around for the prison guards, but the only sign of life was a motion sensor spotlight that winked on and off whenever I shifted position. I returned home ten minutes later empty handed and a little glum. We finished out the display with a few winter squash in various stages of maturity from our own garden.seasonal display

On the way home from town the very next day I passed the vegetable stand. Parked in the driveway was Kurt’s Valley brown Ford Taurus (with its distinct red side mirror, passenger side). The wire webbed entry gate, I noticed, was swung wide open. “Wonder what Kurt has to say about all the new security?” I thought, quickly unloaded the groceries and headed back down to hear his side of the story.

No Kurt when I returned, but the stand was open—or so the sign read; however, not a soul in sight, except the gourds, pumpkins, and squash and they looked nervous. Just as I was about to take my leave, Rosario, Kurt’s second in command, appeared from the jumble of the place. I greeted her and gestured to the wire enclosure. “You no like?” she asked. I shook my head. Rosario and the English Language are still becoming acquainted, so I’ll pass along what I gleaned from our conversation. The sum of the situation is this: the cash receipts lately don’t seem to match the inventory leaving the stand. More the issue: after years—decades, even—it seems the honor system has been dishonored and is honored no longer at Kurt’s. Nightly Rosario had to haul the produce into the stand’s office which had a locked door. Locking up the vegetables before closing the stand every day was a tiresome inconvenience. Besides the little office couldn’t accommodate all the inventory. In her halting English Rosario lamented that certain caches of vegetables just seemed to disappear. Some of her beautiful hanging baskets vanished, too. Last Christmas, she told me, a large wreath went missing—all unpaid for. Thus the wire citadel now surrounding the stand.secured

Doing business with the little fortress was just an inconvenience for me, but the stand is Rosario’s livelihood, and to think that there are thieves taking advantage of Kurt’s time honored honor system is downright disheartening. Thievery itself is bad enough because of the theft, but when it affects the honest customers who have patronized Kurt’s stand for years and makes doing business there an inconvenience, the thieves have won a double victory. And there’s the uneasiness of doing business with a merchant whose trust has been somehow compromised; you yourself feel under suspicion when you’re on the premises. Yet again the honest are victimized. 

Whenever I pass by the hodge-podge that is Kurt’s Vegetable Stand these days, it’s with a tinge of sadness. Sadness because of change. Sadness because with a little bit of wire fencing, the Valley seems to have shifted a bit. Sadness because just one more thing has been locked up, lost its freedom. And mild irritation that no one has yet thought to post visiting hours. wired in

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  1. Man! I wonder, is it related to all the yuppies moving out your way?

  2. Dunno, CF, do yuppies live under the Lewis Street Bridge?