Ted’s wisdom from the self checkout aisle: We have two choices, negative or positive; he chooses positive
For 31 years, Ted Rausch has been spreading positive energy at the self checkout aisle at the Smith’s grocery store in the Avenues
He has two ex-wives, two heart surgeries, mild dyslexia, type I diabetes (the kind that’s not your fault), an insulin pump on his chest, walks on two prosthetic legs after both feet were amputated, thousands of dollars in medical bills, and lives with his 96-year-old father in the same bedroom where he was born 59 and a half years ago.
What doesn’t Ted Rausch have to complain about?
And yet, ask anyone who shops at the Smith’s grocery store in the Avenues and they’ll tell you the man everyone simply calls “Ted” just might be the most positive person they’ve ever met.
A reader alerted me to this phenom of positivity in a recent email. Included was a copy of a comment chain on the Nextdoor.com social media app. The chain began with this question:
“There’s a man who works the self-checkouts in the avenues Smiths and he is just the most delightful person. He wears a funky hat EVERY day. I’ve never seen him without one in all the years I’ve been coming here. He has the best energy and always makes me smile! Does anyone know his name?”
After that the comments flowed. Here’s a sampling:
“His name is Ted. He’s one of the reasons I shop there.”
“Really a terrific shout out for a great human. It’s a reminder that a positive attitude can help make the world a better place. Thanks Ted!”
“Ted is a gem, always so friendly and helpful.”
“He is AWESOME. Yes, the world needs more TEDs.”
“He is absolutely the nicest person and makes everyone happy.”
And so on and so on, including: “Have one of the stations do a human-interest story about Ted. It would be a lovely improvement over politics, shootings, road rage, disasters, misinformation and fear which seems to be the focus of many media stories.”
Well, OK …
* * *
I made my way to the Smith’s on 6th Avenue. At the self checkout aisle I saw a man smiling and chatting to everyone. He was wearing a huge spongy court jester hat.
My investigative journalist skills kicked in.
“Ted?” I ventured.
“How are you?” he ventured back.
I told him who I was and what I wanted. I’d like to hear the story about what made Ted Ted. We agreed to meet the next morning at his house.
Ted lives on the west side of the valley, just a couple of blocks from the freeway, in the very house where he was born. He lives with his father, George, who is still going strong and whose next birthday will be his 97th. Ted showed me his bedroom, slightly smaller than the size of the self checkout aisle. It’s where he grew up, and where he’s still growing up.
“I’ve led a very interesting life,” he said.
He’s been no stranger to peril. He’s walked on the dark side. He talked about being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a boy and being so depressed he tried to end it all by not taking his insulin. He wound up in the hospital but didn’t die.
He talked about the two heart attacks, one a triple bypass; about the amputations of both his feet — first the left, two years later the right; about the dissolving of two marriages (and his “two beautiful daughters”); about the hospital bills that keep him residing in the bedroom he grew up in.
Then he said this: “Everything that’s happened to me in my life I wouldn’t change, even the amputations, because each thing has taught me and made me the way I am today.
“People say to me, ‘You should be the negative guy.’ But here’s the thing, I literally have nothing to complain about. I’ve found if you’re constantly looking for positivity you’re going to find it.”
His job at Smith’s allows him to practice what he preaches. He’s been employed by the grocery chain since he was 22. He started out as a donut fryer. He’s worked in every department in the store except upper management. He came to the Avenues store 31 years ago and settled into the self checkout manager position in 2001, the year self checkout came to be.
He’s been in constant contact with the public ever since, wearing a smile and the craziest hats he can find.
His friendliness — what some might call goofiness — hasn’t always been well received. Several years ago management asked him to stop wearing his crazy hats. They felt they were distracting and undignified. He stopped for two weeks, during which time an outpouring of support — not unlike the nextdoor.com comments mentioned above — bombarded the corporate offices. Kay Malone, Karl’s wife, was one of them. Why would anyone want to stop Ted from wearing his hats!
He’s in the possession of more than 300 hats, including many given to him by his fans. Every day he wears a different one.
The hats are his way of saying he’s approachable, he’s disarming, he’s ready to give you a friendly wave and impart to you some of his energy.
What’s the secret to his friendliness? That’s just it, he doesn’t really have one. He offers no grand philosophy, other than saying that there are two choices in life: negative or positive. And he chooses positive.
“Honestly, I love people, I always have,” he said. “That goes back to my grandfather, who lived by the philosophy, ‘A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.’ In my life I want to inspire people to be positive, toward themselves, toward their family, toward others. Shouldn’t we all be like that? I think that’s the way it should be.”