Four police cruisers screamed down the lane with sirens and lights blazing.
Then there was Gary on his bike.
A black QFC apron hung from under his blue plaid jacket. He flashed his signature Gary grin and did a fist pump to the cheering bystanders.
What’s up with that?
About 25 people lined 53rd Avenue West for the block’s nightly salute to coronavirus heroes.
Gary Locke was the guest of honor and the police were his escort. They were in their rigs. He was on the trusty 21-speed he rides daily from his apartment in Everett to the Mukilteo Harbour Pointe QFC.
He’d come after his day shift as a checker.
“I have a good amount of energy for this,” said Locke, 30.
His wiry figure hunched forward, toting an orange Dragon Ball Z backpack as he pedaled with the same diligence as when ringing up groceries.
People held colorful “Gary” banners and shouted his name.
“I think everyone in Mukilteo knows Gary,” resident Jen Casto said. “He is always so friendly and kind and fun. He’s just such a hard worker.”
Since April 10, Casto and her neighbors have done a nightly “2 minutes of gratitude” on the long side street between 88th Street SW and 92nd Street SW.
Folks stand in front of their homes at 7 p.m. and clap for two minutes. They make signs to wave and decorate the vehicles of honorees, which have included first responders, doctors, a school cook and a food bank volunteer (the block collected $340 in donations that night). On Wednesday, a convoy of a dozen nurses from Mukilteo School District are expected to take part.
“The idea was to just come out of our caves every night and symbolically demonstrate our appreciation for those on the frontlines,” organizer Ron Heiman said. “We also wanted to have a way of checking in with each other.”
A neighbor told him, “You gotta get Gary. Is there any way you can get Gary to do this?”
Heiman told the QFC manager: “My neighbors want Gary.”
Four police cars came for Gary’s night.
“Gary has been selflessly serving our community at QFC throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” Mukilteo policeman Andy Jones said. “It is a testament to his character and a good reminder to each of us to always seek to find the positive in everything.”
That’s what Gary does. Anybody who goes to QFC can attest to that.
“During snowmageddon last year, I was still riding my bike there,” Locke said. “You can’t stop me, I’ll get there.”
The virus doesn’t stop him either.
What was once a safe job at a supermarket has become a risk. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, nationwide there have been at least 72 worker deaths and over 5,300 workers impacted by the coronavirus.
Locke doesn’t worry about getting sick.
“I’m doing my job, helping people be able to eat, be safe and keep going. I see it as that rather than coming in and being in danger,” he said.
Locke started at QFC in 2009 in a vocational program his senior year at Kamiak High School.
“I felt nice vibes from it. They made me feel welcome and I wanted to be part of the group,” he said.
So he stayed.
“Through the years I kind of moved up the ladder,” he said. “I was a bagger for three years, for three years after that I was customer service. And for the last couple of years I’ve been a checker.”
That’s fine, for now.
“I am looking to be a manager,” he said. “That’s my next step. I’m not sure how, but I’m going to work my way up.”
The boss won’t argue with that.
“It’s all his,” QFC manager John Hanson said. “He brightens people’s days. All the time I’m getting people asking for him if he’s not here, ‘Where’s Gary? Say hi to him for me.’ ”
Locke seems to remember everybody. “Even if they’re wearing a mask I can recognize them by their voice,” he said.
He can talk about anything. Food, books, gardening, gaming, you name it.
“I’m right now almost done with a 1,200 page book,” he said. “I’m at page 900-something. It’s called ‘The Sword of Shannara.’ It’s a sci-fi fantasy kind of thing with dragons.”
His favorite recipe: Doritos salad. “Crunch up cheese Doritos, put in ground beef, Thousand Island dressing and salad mix with carrots. I actually eat seconds.”
He stays fit to keep his diver’s physique. He did double-somersault dives in high school. He weighs “a buck 10” and does 25 pushups several times a week.
Locke has never left the state. Lake Chelan, 175 miles east, is the farthest he has been from Everett.
“Funny thing is, this summer I was planning to go to L.A. for a concert,” he said.
He saved a long time for his first plane trip to see German heavy metal band Rammstein, which was cancelled due to coronavirus.
So, too, was the Cher concert in Everett that he planned to take his mom, Joyce Locke, to for Mother’s Day. Last year for Mother’s Day, he bought her two weeks of groceries. Lamb, steak, salmon. Items she likes but generally doesn’t buy for herself, he said. And Hamburger Helper as a throwback for when he and his two siblings were young.
He lives with a cat named Katie.
Ladies, he’s single.
Does he get a lot of women flirting with him at QFC?
“I wouldn’t notice,” he said. “I don’t think of that at work.”
Washington’s other Gary Locke
Gary Locke, the QFC checker, shares the name with another famous Washingtonian, the state’s 21st governor from 1997 to 2005. Former Gov. Gary Locke later served in the Obama administration as United States Secretary of Commerce and was the 10th U.S. ambassador to China.
The checker Gary has a strong constituent base in Mukilteo.
The two Gary Lockes are not related.