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Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market

by Max Lent. 

It's 2:00 a.m. and I'm about to do something naughty.  While all of my friends and associates are sleeping, We sneaking out of my house to do something strange.  We are going shopping for produce and maybe some flowers.  Los Angeles is often chilly in the middle of the night.  Disrupting my circadian rhythm makes me feel even more chilled.  We are supposed to be curled up under our blankets resting for tomorrow's work, but We are not.  My mind is foggy.  Surroundings that would seem normal even after staying up late take look bizarre now.  The freeways are still busy even now.  New York City is known as the city that never sleeps.  Don't believe it.  I've been in Manhattan in the middle of the night and it is dead compared to the activity in Los Angeles.

We've made this trip many times before and brought back fantastic stories to friends, relatives, and colleagues.  They listened to us with wide-eyed disbelief and curiosity.  Our conversations always end with our audience requesting to accompany us on our next journey into the night.  We smile and agree knowing that when we offer invitations, almost no one will come with us.  Over the years we developed an extensive list of names and numbers.  Just for fun, I call them all, just to hear the excuses.  Almost no one makes the obvious excuse.  They don't say that getting up in the middle of the night to go produce shopping is just plain crazy.  After all, the next day is totally wasted, there is an element of danger, it's weird, and produce can be purchased during the day at lots of wonderful markets.  In fact, most of the produce we are going to see will end up in markets and restaurants later in the day.  If you haven't experienced, it is difficult to imagine any reason why one should.

Where we are going is the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market in the heart of Los Angeles.  We are going to where all freeways meet near the civic center.  The streets near the market are nearly empty.  The neighborhood is an industrial area where you see more tractor trailer trucks than cars.  It's dark ominous looking.  Even in the safety of the car we feel apprehensive and slightly threatened.  The thought of getting out of our car and walking around is scary.  This is the time when we question the rationality of our journey.  Finding parking near the market becomes an imperative as we view the desolation.

On one trip to the old market, we parked on a dark street, got out of our car and walked along the sidewalk for half a block looking for a way into the market.  The old market occupied a city block.  From the outside, it looks closed.  All of the activity occurs in an inner courtyard.  We were searching for a wholesaler with a door open our side of the world.  We saw the glow of light coming from a partially open door and walked toward it.  As we approached the doorway we smelled something sweet and fragrant.  At the door we felt warmth flowing out of the storeroom and recognized the fragrance as strawberries.  Seeing no barriers to our entry, we walked into the storeroom where we were immersed in bright fluorescent light and a warm slightly humid vapor being exuded by hundreds of large wooden shipping boxes of fresh  perfectly strawberries stacked from floor to ceiling.  The berries had been picked the afternoon before and still held the heat of the Imperial Valley.  We were now basking in that heat and nearly swooning from the delightful aroma of the ripe strawberries.

We paused to accustom ourselves to the bright lights of the storeroom, which seemed even brighter from coming in from a nearly lightless street.  A Latino worker discovered us and motioned for us to leave in the direction of the inner courtyard.  Our entry to the market was a progression from the hostile neither world of darkness and danger into a lighted garden of fruit, followed by entry into a busy hive of activity.

A man wearing a designer silk suit writes on a brown paper bag clipped to a clipboard as he places orders.  An elderly Asian couple haggles over price.  Chefs partially dressed as though they were on the way to work view, touch, and handle produce with care and respect.  Market owners sweep through placing orders.  Sellers, dressed as warehouse workers, sometimes hawk their produce.  Others, don't bother.  They know they have what buyers want. 

Visually the market looks like a cornucopia.  Produce is displayed to look appealing and bountiful.  Crates and boxes are tilted upward and forward for maximum effect.  No bad produce is displayed.  Dozens of sellers sell the same product from different sources.  The result is a test of memory as to who was selling the best of whatever you were interested in buying.  Who could think of buying anything without seeing everything first.

Buying rules are significant.  You have to buy a case.  There are no scales, you can't buy just one, and there is no negotiation on this point.  Depending on the product and the in-store price, it is sometimes possible to buy a case of something for tiny fraction of the retail price.  The problem is that you then own a case of something that has to be eaten, sold, given away, or processed. 

 


 
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