Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My First Job

I know that everyone has a horror-story first job that they love to complain about (at least those who have worked a day in their lives). People who enjoy their work should consider themselves lucky, and those who have always enjoyed it, well, are probably just out of their minds.

Anyway, my first job was as a bag-boy at Safeway at the age of 16. We were referred to as "Courtesy Clerks", but we all knew we were bag-boys. I made 7.79 an hour, but that eventually went up to 8.39 with a couple "cost of living" pay raises (I guess they didn't know that my cost of living was ZERO).

My responsibilities were to bag groceries, sweep the floors, clean the bathrooms (sorta), and collect carts in the parking lot. Though the cart-collecting was the most physically demanding (especially during those hot summers), I eventually learned to look forward to the hours outside. Why? Because I didn't have to talk to people.

You see, those "courtesy clerks" are told to greet every customer as they bag your groceries. I don't want to point fingers, but this was often pretty difficult due to the fact that most of you don't even seem to notice that the bag-boy is there (I guess those groceries must have bagged themselves!). I basically coped by using the same canned greeting on every customer, like the street performer who only has 30 seconds worth of material (the amount of time it takes to walk past). There was one checker who liked to tease me by using the same greeting on a customer before I could, making me flustered while I try to come up with another greeting before the 2-second window has passed.

After bagging the groceries, I had to ask if the customer needed help out (always- even the body builders buying a loaf of bread). This was even more awkward from the fact that the checkers were also held to the same requirement- meaning, if you don't get offered help to your car TWICE on every trip to the grocery store, then someone isn't doing his job!

Then came the friendly canned "Have a nice day!", and in comes the next customer.

Sweeping was just as bad. Of course, having an hour when you're required to go around the store made it pretty easy to sneak off to the back room and snack on the damaged goods for ten minutes at a time. But then again, there were video cameras in the back room with feeds to the manager's office, so it was hard to get away with it (funny how the cameras are trained on the employees and not potential shoplifters).

And as you can guess, being the "sweeps" person meant you were on call for any spills that occur during your hour (anywhere- including the bathroom, which I won't get into).

But even worse was probably, again, having to talk to customers- saying hello to everyone, answering questions I didn't have answers to, and showing people where certain items were (though my guess was as good as theirs).

Here's my favorite request: "Sorry, there's no more of this item on the shelf. Can you go to the back room and see if there are any back there?"

This is what I'd do: I'd say, "Sure!", go to the back room, count to fifty, come back, shrug and say, "Sorry!".

Seriously- did you think there was another grocery store back there or something? The only products in the back room are produce and beer. Everything else comes in with the shipment late at night and pretty much goes straight to the shelf. The produce is back there because it is literally a full-time job just to wash all of it and keep it stocked in those nice little piles. I'm not sure what the beer is doing. Maybe they need a backup supply to replace all the individual bottles that mysteriously disappear from every other six-pack every Friday and Saturday night (once again- no cameras in the beer aisle as per company policy).

Oh, and for you Coors fans that insist that your beer is "as cold as the rockies" from the moment it's frost-brewed 'till the moment you drink it: The beer isn't refrigerated in the back room. It might be transported in refrigerated trucks, but I'm sure it'll warm up pretty quick sitting there. Don't worry- It'll get cold again once you put it in your fridge. The label will turn blue once its ready.

By the way, that invention is nothing short of pure, essential genius. I mean, how else would you be able to tell whether or not your beer is cold- short of, say, touching it?

Back to Safeway- Probably the worst part of the job was dealing with secret shoppers. Yes, there are people who shop at Safeway, rate the service, and report back to headquarters. The managers get pissed if we got low scores. I know what you're thinking, but no, I don't know where to go to get that job.

When I started at Safeway, the store was averaging about 9.5 out of 10 on every secret shop. Then came a 7. Then a 5. Then a 2. Then we got new managers.

Things never really improved by the time I quit.

I actually got secret-shopped on two occasions. The first time, I got a perfect score- on what's called a GAT. The acronym was used to remind employees to first GREET every customer (Hello!), ANTICIPATE their needs (Can I help you find anything?), and TAKE them to the needed item (Let me show you where it is!).

The managers loved me for about a day, but I had a sneaking suspicion. You see, I don't think I ever successfully pulled off a GAT in all of my time working there. The secret shopper must have misread someone else's nametag, or maybe some other guy named Matt worked there for a day and was transferred away or something.

The other time I was secret shopped, I got a zero. It said that I "walked passed without saying hello or making eye contact". That sounds about right.

Anyways, some good actually did come out of that job. I paid for (most of) my bassoon with that money, and had something to write about for one of my college entrance essays. I think I wrote about how it gave me a reason to go to college- so I wouldn't have to work at an unfulfilling job or some crap like that. I think I made it sound better than what I wrote here.

Maybe I actually did grow up a little there.


'Lost Wages'

Nothing serves as a reminder of the fact that you have grown older quite like when things don't look the same as when you first saw them. Maybe I'm a little young to be talking like this, but it is something that enters my head every time I end up in Las Vegas.

The first time I remember going to Vegas, I was young and on a family vacation visiting relatives, staying at Circus Circus. Maybe it's more my young age at the time than anything else, but I remember how the building seemed to tower above everything else around it. From the hotel room, there was a view of Las Vegas in its entirety- I felt like I was on top of the world.

Ever since then, it seems like there's been a newer, bigger hotel/casino coming up every time I'm back. The old casinos that used to dominate the skyline are diminutive compared to the new ones that sprout up like mushrooms.

The last time I was in Vegas, it was for only a day and hardly to have fun. I looked out the window in the top floor of Treasure Island onto a vastly different sight from that of my childhood. First of all, the view was completely dominated by one building- a gigantic gold-plated behemoth with the word "TRUMP" written in block letters on top. It was like a symbol of Las Vegas excess.

So, here's a question for you: Short men go to the gym to bulk up. Those less endowed in certain areas are apt to buy nice cars. So what sort of secret could possibly be so severe that Donald Trump would require that much compensation?

Anyways, after getting over the daze brought on by the Trump tower, I started to look for other landmarks. And there it was- Circus Circus. It was tiny- like the casino that dwarfs would call 'shrimp'. It could have been your friendly neighborhood mom 'n pop hotel- in a "Drive down main street and take a right after the hardware store" kind of neighborhood. That's how pathetic the building looked compared to the new shiny hotels that litter the skyline.

...Kinda like watching an old, washed-up ballplayer (*cough* Brett Favre).

But Circus Circus was never that great, anyway (threw too many interceptions).

Anyway, back to Vegas- I've seen several articles online within the past few months with titles that go something like, "5 Recession-proof Industries". They talk about industries like health-care which tend to do just as well, or even better when the economy takes a downturn. I wonder if we should add the gambling industry to that list.

Why? Well, maybe the growth of Las Vegas is proof enough. Of course, all those new shiny casinos probably had their finances in order since long before this downturn, but I still don't see how they can continue to fill those rooms. Why would people be so keen on throwing their money away when its already hard to come by? Do they actually expect to MAKE money this way?

Or maybe the casinos are being supported by laid-off wall-street traders who need other avenues to fulfill their gambling fix now that they can't do it at work anymore?

...Just a thought