Bag lady of Bristol heads for Vegas

There’s been a lot of prideful chatter this fall that New England is the brightest star in the sports universe. Why? David Ortiz (the Red Sox), Tom Brady (the Patriots) and Kevin Garnett (the Celtics). All of that talk, however, misses the biggest reason why we’ve suddenly become the epicenter of high-pressure competition: Bristol’s Amanda Gebo, and her foray this autumn into the cutthroat world of competitive grocery bagging.
Gebo, 18, won the state bagging crown earlier this year at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, and is training now for the national competition this coming February at the National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas. Gebo is an 18-month veteran of the Shaw’s supermarket in Bristol.
For those of you who live in caves and thus haven’t followed the meteoric rise of the activity fans call simply “baggin,'” the sport is a series of speed matches between grocery store baggers. Gebo won in Essex Junction when she faced the sort of challenge that confronted the Red Sox when they were down three games to one to the Indians last month: light bulbs and eggs. That’s right, when Gebo marched to the table for the finals, there before were every bagger’s toughest opponents, the most breakable orbs in the supermarket. But (imagine some rousing NFL films music here) in 62.3 seconds, she bagged the breakables, as well as the cans and the glass jars and the Oreos and lots and lots of other staples.
Moreover, she didn’t just toss the items into the brown paper bags and get lucky that raw egg didn’t wind up on the cookies — and, yes, on her face. “The judges look at weight distribution as well as speed, and then they cut the bags open when you’re done to see if anything falls out,” the champion bagger explained. Nothing did. Her two bags were almost perfect squares and the weight was distributed evenly between the pair. “The judges said I bagged like I had three arms,” she added, which is the sort of compliment that sports pundits haven’t even bestowed upon quarterback Tom Brady this remarkable football season.
And now Las Vegas looms for Gebo. And while she thinks she might be nervous, she will approach that competition with the same confidence she brought to Essex Junction. “How hard can this be?” she recalled thinking. “Heavy things on the bottom, light things on top. It’s my job.”
Actually, it’s one of her two jobs. In addition to being a deli clerk at Shaw’s (she was recently promoted from bagger), she also works at the Bristol Family Center. Why two jobs? A graduate of Mount Abraham High School, Gebo is saving money for college. She hopes eventually to have a career in special education, preferably working with elementary school kids.
She also has a profound respect for the sport (though she does admit that baggin’ is “pretty quirky”). Consequently, although the national contest is held in a city known for late night revelry, she doesn’t plan to whoop it up there 24/7 — even though it will be her first visit to Vegas. “I’ll see some shows and I want to eat in the sort of fancy restaurant that expects me to use four different forks,” she said, but otherwise she will be focused on the meat and potatoes of baggin’. After all, if she wins the nationals, then she can start gearing up for the internationals — and she has discovered that she does indeed appreciate the thrill of victory: “Winning (in Vermont) was surreal. It was a jump-up-and-down, goody-goody kind of excitement.”
I will let you know what happens in Vegas in February. In the meantime, when we think of the pantheon of New England sports legends this autumn — when, in years to come, we see in our minds the names Ortiz and Brady and Garnett — let us be sure to add the name … Gebo.
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on November 11, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Bag lady of Bristol heads for Vegas

  1. Bagism says:

    This reminds me of my brief entry into the world of cashiers at an upscale supermarket. I would sometimes have a bagger help me (the women, with their huge, flashing diamonds, never lifted a finger to bag any of their own groceries, though). The bagger’s name was Amy and she’d be assigned to various checkout stations. I think she was developmentally disabled. I used to enjoy her company; she could whistle like a bird, and frequently did, which always added a nice touch. Amy had another, less whimsical skill: she would proceed to curse out any customer if he or she dared to issue a (perfectly reasonable) command such as requesting of Amy to please bag all the cold stuff together. Amy would start up a steady stream of extravagant cursing, under her breath, but: clearly audible. I did my best to ignore this cursing (as did the customers). It *was* pretty funny, though!

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