Politics in the produce aisle


Last weekend I was pursuing Saturday afternoon-type pursuits. I landed at Lund’s and the Prairie Stone Pharmacy in St. Anthony, where I quickly sought out and inhabited one of the cushy leather chairs which I think are theoretically reserved for prescription waitees. There I discovered a long-time colleague with whom I had a grand conversation, interrupted by the entrance of a stranger who was breathless to know “what’s going on at Lund’s.” I knew nothing, of course, but her exuberant description of cameras, press crews and anticipation was enough to halt the conversation, catapult me out of complacence, and send me off to search out the story.

Come to find out, it was a press conference, replete with cameras, store security, hovering aides and, eventually, the star performer, Senator Al Franken. There he was midst the quinces the arugala and the raspberries (remember this was condo-city), launching a profound discourse on legislation passed recently by the US Senate. Actually, I think it was essential information about tracking sources of agricultural products as a way to stop the spread of disease. Unfortunately, the microphone wasn’t transmitting beyond the Senator’s nose, but that didn’t really matter much. I could learn the details later. What overwhelmed me was that there I was amongst the avocados and curious Minnesotans, right there in the produce section at Lund’s, on a nondescript Saturday afternoon, hearing from and having the open opportunity to talk with, reach out to, slap on the back, our senator — at the same time that the good people of Tucson were gathered to meet with their representative.

Though I never did follow up on the ag policy, I did think of the scene all week, a week during which we were mesmerized as a nation by the tragedy in Tucson. The Tucson scene must have been similar as Representative Giffords reached out to her constituents. Open, friendly, informative, an exchange of views and information. The parallel is disquieting.

President Obama reminds us in elegant words of the challenge to the nation to engage in civic discourse on issues that are no more remote from the Lund’s produce section than they are to the Safeway story in Tucson. My memory of a quiet experience cannot be separated from the tragedy. My hope is that I will always be able to run into my elected representatives in the quiet discourse I enjoyed on Saturday.