One Steak at a Time
(Originally published in the San Diego Reader, March 13, 2013.)
Angie Elsbury wears a blood-smeared apron and, in her words, “like, five layers of clothes” underneath. She laughs with her mouth wide open, lifting the apron to prove she’s not exaggerating.
“I have knee-highs, two pairs of cotton [long johns], and these jeans.” She leans over to show me the various waistbands. Then there’s the black-and-gray striped sweatshirt, the long-sleeved white button-down (with polka-dot tie), a T-shirt, and an undershirt.
It’s a Monday afternoon, and we’re standing in front of the meat case at Vons on Regents Road. Elsbury has finished showing me the territories for which she is responsible as the meat-department manager. The job has her in and out of “the cooler,” a cold room kept at a temperature just above freezing, as well as the seafood and meat cases, parts of the frozen-food aisle, and the bulk of aisle five, the refrigerated section where lunch meats and hot dogs are kept. In other words, Elsbury claims responsibility for “pretty much the whole back part of the store.”
“Hi, you finding everything all right?” she says as people pass by or browse the meat case.
“Yeah, thanks for asking!” a young man responds, mirroring her cheerful tone.
A college-age woman in Ugg boots, leggings, and a flannel shirt approaches gingerly and asks what would be a good substitute for beef brisket. Elsbury walks the woman closer to the meat case and asks what she’s trying to make. The woman’s voice is so small I can’t hear her answer, but Elsbury suggests the beef chuck pot roast. She recommends adding carrots and potatoes to the slow-cooker.
She pulls two plastic-wrapped packages of meat from the refrigerated case. Either one, she says, would be about right.
“And they’re on sale,” she adds.
“Does it, like, shred?” the woman asks.
When Elsbury answers in the affirmative, the woman thanks her and drops one of the two packages into her basket.
“The second part of this job,” Elsbury tells me as the woman walks away, “is knowing how to cook.”
Again, there’s that wide-open-mouthed laugh. Elsbury crinkles her eyes and nose. The face she makes reminds me of Joan Cusack, though Elsbury has less meat on her bones than the actress. A lanky five feet, ten-and-a-half inches, her frame appears slight — even with all the clothing she wears to keep warm.
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