An Outwardly Misguided Trip to a New Jersey Garden Center

It was Friday and the sun was out. I’d had what I considered to be a wasted Thursday and in my brain, wasted days weigh on the psyche. So today had to have an adventure.

A thought rang in the kitchen- “I could use three baby succulents for my window container,” I thought. And so I began to research the local garden centers. I found one in the nearby city of Orange (I now live among/amidst “The Oranges” as I’ve learned they are so named). I called a Lyft.

A man named “Herman” picked me up. We made the usual light conversation and I noticed he had a well-known pizza chain’s shirt and hat on. I asked how his day was going, and he said “fine”.

Then we paused just long enough for trust and truth to creep into the car.

“You know, I also work at _______. But they suspended me for a month. Today is my first day back.”
“Oh really? Well I hope it went ok.”
“Yeah. It’s not for anything bad though, like one of the workers she said ‘That manager he doesn’t do anything when he comes in. He just tells us what to do, he doesn’t make any of the pizzas. But I do so much. I order the food, I come in and I’m the one who has to call all the customers who were upset because their delivery took too long. I do so much.”
“So why did they suspend you?”
“So, the owner, he’s been calling me since it happened. He says ‘Herman, come back.’ And that day, the day they said they were gonna suspend me I actually quit. I said ‘I make the schedule, I know how much dough to order, I handle complaints… you do it. You see how you do if I’m not here.'”
“And today you went back?”
“Well the owner said, ‘See how they do for a bit without you, and then please think of coming back.’ So today I went back in. But actually, I really like this job.”
“Doing the Lyft?”
“Yeah. I like it because if I need a break, I just pull over and take a break and turn the app off. At work, I come in and I just call people cause they were upset. And this girl who complained, like I make the schedule and I say come in 12-7. And she shows up at 2 or 3.”
“Oh geez, that’s no good.”
“Yeah, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about that, and I say ‘If you can’t be here at 12 come in 5-11’ but she says there’s not transportation home at 11.”
“So you may continue with doing Lyft then?”
“I just like this better, my customers are nicer. I don’t have to worry about the schedule. I like this.”

We pull up to the garden center’s entrance.

“Well, Herman thanks a bunch, I hope your day stays good and things go well.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
“If you’re around this area in an hour maybe I’ll see you with a bunch of plants!”
“Sounds good.”

I approach the center whose name I will omit due to what I’m about to reveal. But oh gosh, a bummer. I did 2 initial loops, each with less enthusiasm. And a third probably just to look like I was engaged with the material. How did this get such good online reviews? Then a woman found me.

“Can I help you with anything?”
“Do you have any small succulents I may have just missed?”
“We’ve got some huge ones, on sale for $10. That’s a deal.”

She was partially correct. In some arenas, succulents the size of your head for $10 are basically botanical unicorns. However, where I come from, $10 for a plant you don’t want is a double negative- you lose $10 and now are saddled with a plant you don’t want.

“Thanks for your help, I appreciate it.”

For once, of only a handful of times ever, I left a garden center with nothing to show. I called a Lyft. “Eddie” was on his way.

He pulled up in a red four seater and we were off to where I had started from. With not one plant.

“Eddie, I gotta be real with you. And I’m caffeinated, so very real. I just came from a really big let down of a garden center.”
“Really? What made it a let down?”
“Well, I shouldn’t say that. They seem to be prepared for a lot of outdoor gardens but not an indoor plant situation.”
“Have you tried ______ farms yet? They’re huge and not that far.”
“What? No! Alright. Next adventure day, that’s where I’m going. I just moved here so each week I’m trying to explore a different area.”
“Yeah, Jersey is pretty interesting. The Shore is really nice if you have a chance to go there. Well, parts of it are dirty but parts are really nice.”
“Oh good. I’m slowly getting used to some of the areas around here, and what’s happening. I haven’t quite adjusted yet to the New Jersey Driver though.”
“Oh they’re terrible. Like this lady- what is she doing? She’s gonna hit that tree.”
“That would stink. I’m coming from Boston so you’d think I’d be mentally prepped. But it’s interesting, I don’t fear the New York drivers. They’ll dance with you but it’s not going to hurt you. Boston drivers will kill you but it’s an accident, they just think they can always beat you through the crosswalk. New Jersey drivers… like I think they don’t even care that I’m in the crosswalk.”
“No, they’re really bad.”
“I’m actually looking forward to the New Jersey accent. I’ve mastered Pittsburgh’s and Boston’s, but I haven’t heard what I’d call a real Jersey twang yet.”

I revealed to Eddie my story of using the phrase “Where is a grocery store” in a local Dunkin Donuts only to receive the response “We don’t talk about that here.”

“Hmm… Well, to tell the truth there’s a lot of really different groups in Jersey. And all packed into a tiny area. But like, nobody wants to mix so it’s all really segregated. Just a lot of little pockets and like, villages kind of thing. So there’s a lot of misunderstandings.”
“Yeah. Pittsburgh was pretty separated. Boston definitely was, though it’s interesting because it announces its liberalism.”
“But with Boston, that’s black and white, I feel. Here, it’s literally almost anybody you can think of. There’s so many different groups of people. But everybody doesn’t ask anybody anything. Like not for directions or anything.”
“I get asked all the time for directions and I don’t even know where the hell I am half the time. I think it’s because my face is round.”
“It’s not crazy round.”
“It’s definitely not angular. I think people say ‘Oh, she seems nice ask her.'”
“That’s how we know people aren’t from here.”
“I did notice it is a bit, we call it a checkerboard city where I’m from. Where the neighborhoods shift very rapidly, a lot of times regarding wealth.”
“Yeah. What do you think about that?”
“I don’t feel positive, it’s just something I saw. You know it is what it is but the disparity of wealth in cities and how they develop like they do is always an interesting thing. A sad thing, too.”
“I think so, too.”

We drove on in silence for a moment. I can only speak for my own continual surprise at the level of honesty and revelations that come from Lyft experiences.

“What are your tattoos?”
“One’s just birds, the other one’s a paraphrase of Whitman, who’s may favorite.”
“Yeah, he’s great.”
“I can pop out here, this is super close. Thanks Eddie!”
“No problem.”

I left the car and didn’t want to go home yet. I felt like there should have been another vehicle to hop into to search some element of humanity left undiscovered in what had turned into a beautiful September afternoon. I walked into the small town I live by and went into my favorite bagel shop I’d been to just the day prior. I’d inhaled that bagel, and the ladies in there are so nice.

“It’s me again!”
“You made it back!”
“I did! I’m gonna get the same thing as yesterday, I think I set a record eating it. What did I do, I think a toasted everything bagel with the scallions cream cheese?”
“Alright. How is the day going?”
“Can I tell you the truth? I’m caffeinated so it may just come out anyways. I’m having one of those days where you have a number of problems but they’re all stupid and first world problems. Literally none of them matter at all. This morning, the grocery store didn’t have my soda. Then, I got the wrong coffee and it was pretty yucko. Then I went to a garden center and it was kind of a bust. So if you know any good ones, just let me know! But… in terms of actual life problems I’m having a nice day.”
“Good! Oh, I’ll ask Jeff about your plants, he’s lived here for like 17 years. He’d know.”
“Oh good, thanks.”
“Anything with the bagel?”
“I snagged this, it’s just a soda water.”

She rang out my order and showed me where to find the napkins.

“Alright dear. We’ll see you soon.”
“Yes, I’ll come by and we’ll talk garden stores.”

I left and waited to cross the street back towards my home. A red car drove by and gave a honk. I looked up to find Eddie waving goodbye and driving back down South Orange Avenue. As my stoplight suddenly turned green, I waved goodbye to Eddie and looked to check for any of those Jersey Drivers we’d just talked about.

Then I stepped out into the ends of the afternoon.

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