The Wild Kingdom of Harris Teeter
My supermarket has an ecosystem all its own: rainstorms inside and stubborn crows outside
I was in the produce aisle, feeling up the broccoli to find some that wasn’t too limp, when the storm hit. There was a crack of lightning, loud enough to make me flinch. Then the rumble of rolling thunder. And then a fine spray of rain misted my glasses. Damn, I thought, they really need to build the stores a little stronger if they expect folks to shop in bad weather. Then I realized it was all customer engineering, a little Storm Mountain experience for the produce consumer. Harris Teeter must have spent hundreds—maybe thousands—of man-hours designing and constructing the whole deal. They could have sounded a little bell or something to give folks who didn’t care to get misted a few seconds to take cover. But they’d gone whole hog. Once you knew the deal, the lightning was your warning. And the point of the whole thing was to spray water to keep the produce fresh. And—quite incidentally, of course—to make everything as heavy as possible by the time you’d bagged it up to be weighed on the cashier’s scale.
There were other shoppers in the section. None even looked up at the mini thunderstorm. How quickly we become accustomed to having the natural world brought indoors and shrink-wrapped for our consumption.
I was still marveling at the ingenuity of it all when I left the store, whereupon an outdoor loud speaker system began broadcasting a range of alarmed, threatening, and really upset bird calls. I’m not great at identifying bird calls, but it went through at least six different kinds of calls. Many sounded like raptors, but others sounded like more common birds having limbs amputated without anesthetic or maybe watching their young devoured whole. It was hard on the ears.
I flagged down a cart wrangler walking behind one of those little engines that herds 20 or 30 shopping carts back towards the store. “What’s the deal with that?” I asked, sweeping my arm to indicate the maelstrom of sound. He had earbuds in, so I repeated my question when he took them out. “Oh, that,” he said. “Can’t stand it, myself. I think it’s all just to keep those guys away,” he said, pointing to a large nest lodged inside the “H” of the Harris Teeter sign above the door. In the nest was a single crow, completely unperturbed.
I raised a fist of solidarity and saluted the bird. You can’t help but admire crows. They can get used to anything.
I’ve since found out that the soundtrack is a “bird-control device” that HT considers more humane than trapping the birds to keep them from entering the store. A manager once explained to a local blogger that the soundtrack “cycles on and off, emitting sounds of predatory birds, and ‘mixes it up’ to keep the birds confused.”
I think it’s the manager who is confused. He obviously knows nothing about crows.