Bryant Metz is one of the best when push comes to shove.
The 59-year-old collects discarded Cub Foods shopping carts from the grocery chain’s parking lot in Brainerd and returns them to the store by pushing them — rain or shine, sun or snow.
“The only job I’ve ever had my whole life is just this one job, working in the grocery business,” Metz said of corralling carts as his lifelong profession. “But I’ve made so many friends over the years in the grocery business. I still contact them today, and they ask me how I’m doing.”
It can be monotonous work for a lesser man, but the single-digit temperatures or below-freezing wind chills coupled with snow keeps the outdoor work challenging if not particularly enjoyable.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of weather it is because I’m out there in the cold and when it’s a hundred degrees. … I like seeing people, I like meeting people and helping people,” Metz said as to what keeps him going all these years.
Metz was born in St. Paul and attended Harding Senior High School. He said he later relocated from the Twin Cities to the Brainerd lakes area to get away from the crime.
"It doesn't matter what kind of weather it is because I'm out there in the cold and when it's a hundred degrees. … I like seeing people, I like meeting people and helping people."
— Bryant Metz
“The counselor at then Harding High School in St. Paul told me to come and do him a favor because there was another kid who’s out at work — he’s in the hospital. ‘We just want you to work for him at this grocery store,’ and I said OK,” Metz said of his inauspicious start in 1976.
"When you’re nice to them, they’re nice to you back. … When you talk to them nicely and treat ‘em with respect, they come back and talk to you with respect."
— Bryant Metz
Metz said he has been corralling grocery shopping carts of one kind or another ever since for one employer or another, and the Brainerd resident said it is the only job he has ever known.
“I was a helpful, you know, cheerful guy and ever since then I’ve been doing carts — working in the grocery business — since 1976,” Metz said. “To me, it was kind of easy work at the time growing up, and I was just helping my parents pay their bills.”
Metz said he went to Cub three years ago to apply for a job and the manager interviewed him right on the spot. The next thing he knew was he was hired.
“When we used to bag up the groceries for customers … we’d wheel it right out to the car for them, and now that’s changed. Now, they do it themselves,” Metz said as a Brainerd Cub Foods “clean team” member.
Metz’s hobbies outside of work include fishing, camping and barbecuing, not unlike a lot of other people in the Brainerd lakes area, but he also enjoys looking for items with a metal detector.
“Going around to all these little areas and finding things on the ground with a metal detector is, I think, a fun hobby to do. It’s not hurtin’ nobody, just mindin’ your own business, but I found some rare coins and things like that,” Metz said.
Grocery workers like Metz were hailed as the often-unsung heroes of the pandemic during the national health crisis. But Metz has been helping people ever since he began collecting and pushing shopping carts.
“We help out by bringing some of the groceries out for the customers, but some of the customers refuse to receive help, and some of the elderly people do like to have help,” Metz said.
If Metz has any concerns about being on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, the plain-speaking, fast-talking, affable man doesn’t seem to be dissuaded from his work.
“My parents said this was the job for me because I liked meeting new people and seeing how people act,” Metz said.
As for what Metz has learned in his four decades of interacting with grocery shoppers is that getting along — especially in these politically divided, polarized times — is really not that complicated.
“When you’re nice to them, they’re nice to you back. … When you talk to them nicely and treat ‘em with respect, they come back and talk to you with respect,” Metz said.