Outside, petitioners seeking signatures for ballot measures have come to blows with opinionated residents. In the tiny parking lot, nicknamed the Berkeley Brawl, frustrated motorists have been known to ram one another's cars. At the checkout, people have thrown punches and unripened avocados at suspected line-cutters.
When one shopper was told she couldn't return a bag of granola, she showily dumped its contents on the floor. Culyon Garrison, who works at the customer-service desk, recently had a loaf of bread thrown at him.
The produce emporium -- one of the nation's most renowned retailers of exotic fruits and vegetables -- creates its own bad behavior. Kamikaze shoppers crash down crowded aisles without eye contact or apology for fender-benders. So many customers weren't waiting to pay before digging in that management imposed the ultimate deterrent: Those caught sampling without buying will be banned for life -- no reprieves, no excuses. (Not even "I forgot to take my medication.")
There's a sense of entitlement to this town," [store manager] Evans said. "People think, 'If I want to do it, I'll do it, just try and stop me.' "
Seven years on the job, he said, has given him insight into the city's sometimes sharp social elbows.
"Berkeley residents are angry -- they're mad at the president, the economy, all kinds of stuff. And this is the place where it seems to get released, the local supermarket."
It's funny because it's sad. It's sad because it's true.
Also in the article: Michael Pollan shops for Fruity Pebbles.