MACLEAN’S REPORTS

What it takes to be a top banana doctor

EARL MCRAE February 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

What it takes to be a top banana doctor

EARL MCRAE February 1 1967

What it takes to be a top banana doctor

EARL MCRAE

JOHN GERALD BENSON drives a taxicab. He’s also a top-flight banana doctor — in fact the only fully qualified banana doctor in Toronto. Because of Benson’s ministrations banana - eaters all over Ontario enjoy fresh, fruity and robust bananas.

Every now and then Benson receives an emergency 3 a.m. phone call from a Standard Fruit Company agent in Buffalo telling him that a shipment of climatically fussy bananas from Ecuador will soon arrive by train. Benson packs his brown leather bag with a flashlight, notebook and two silver thermometers. He then rushes over to the CN freight yards, jumps into a boxcar and sticks a thermometer into a banana.

The bananas are either Golden Beauties or Ecuadors. Golden Beauties must be kept between 55 and 60 degrees; Ecuadors like it a little cooler. Benson never bothers to strip his patients. He just grabs a banana from the bottom of the pile, sticks the thermometer clean through, waits 15 seconds and then notes its temperature. He repeats the performance with a banana from the top of the pile. Then he prescribes.

If the bananas are too hot, he suggests ice packs. If they’re too cold, alcohol heaters are brought in to kill the chill.

“The temperature has to be just right,” says 36-year-old Benson. “These bananas might have to wait two or three days for unloading."

Benson likes to carry bunches of bananas around in his cab and pass them out to customers. Sometimes he gets an emergency call over the cab’s radio: “Car 431 — bananas.” Friends kid him and his girl friend Marie Smith complains that everything Benson cooks these days has bananas in it.

But Benson figures the kidding and the long, irregular hours are worth it. He is paid $300 a month for as little as four hours of thermometer-thrusting. Together with the $400 a month he earns driving a cab, Benson can easily afford the broadloomed twentieth-floor luxury apartment he rents in downtown Toronto.