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What You Didn't See In Sydney

October 22, 2000|LESLEE KOMAIKO

When Joshua Sage clocked in at 28 seconds during a recent morning session at Ralphs in Santa Monica, his personal trainer, Gwenn Lucas, went wild. "28, 28, 28," she shouted, jumping up and down. Customers smiled. Sage beamed, then walked casually to the nearby water fountain. Before he could take a drink, Lucas thrust a Hunt's Tomato Ketchup bottle toward his face, microphone-style.

"So how does it feel, Josh?" she asked, playing the eager reporter.

"It feels great. I'm going to Disneyland."

Sage, a 20-year-old grocery bagger at a Ralphs in Reseda, has been training for six weeks for tomorrow's California Grocers Assn. 15th Annual Bag-Off Championship, taking place in Las Vegas. The two-year veteran is representing the entire Ralphs chain, having beaten out about 6,000 other baggers from 326 stores for the honor. Regular training has dropped his bagging time from his original 51 seconds, and he'll compete against about a dozen others for a prize package that includes $1,000 cash, a $500 scholarship, the prestigious California Top-Bagger trophy and a trip to the national best-bagger competition in Dallas.

Lucas, 42, won the championship two years ago, then went on to win the nationals. Now a cashier at the Marina Pacifica Ralphs store in Long Beach, she thinks Sage has the right stuff.

His training has been rigorous, intended to mimic the event. This means both paper and plastic sessions, during which Sage must bag about 30 items in less than 35 seconds. Not only must the bags stand upright and weigh the same, they also should be visually pleasing. (At past events, judges have sliced open fronts of paper bags to get a clear look at a bagger's results.) While the judges alone know the exact items that will be used in tomorrow's competition, one is sure to appear--eggs. A single broken egg means points will be deducted.

But Sage isn't nervous. "I don't want to say I'm cocky. But I'm confident."



1. Always ask, "Paper or plastic?"

2. Place cans on bottom to create a good base.

3. Set up boxes around sides of bag.

4. Bread and eggs should go on top, along with any smashable produce.

5. Keep glass items separate.

6. Bag cold items together. They keep each other cold.

7. Don't put soap in with any food item.

8. Check caps on bleach and laundry detergent so they don't leak.

9. Remember the small items, such as LifeSavers.

10. Ask everyone if they need help carrying the groceries to their car, even guys.

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