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
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.