Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Excerpt from The Company Store

The Death of Customer Service ~ Part II

 This was night shift.  This is where the crazy people went because they had nowhere else to go.  I was then introduced to "Lil Bit", a short, Hispanic woman with a ferocious drive.  She was in charge in that way that is common within the Company Store.  You aren't paid any more, but you have far more responsibility, and in time you could maybe, possibly make it to be a manager.  Nobody ever really made it to manager as far as I can remember.  Let me explain how night stocking works.  First, you find your product in the back room; it generally arrives by truck in the afternoon and taken off the truck by a gang of insane people known as “Unloaders”.  Unloaders are driven to such a great speed in their work that they often overlook things such as personal safety or possible damage to what they are moving.  On walking in to work on the night shift, you can often see the Unloaders throwing boxes at each other from across the warehouse.  Sometimes these boxes strike a forehead, an eye, or a knee.  Sometimes they take a moment to hold their eye and stumble around in blind pain but this is rare.  They aren't allowed to stop so they just keep working.  Management tries their best not to get involved in the affairs of the Unloaders because they might accidentally be struck blind by a tossed box.  Or they might fall behind, which was unforgiveable and punished by summary termination.  The Unloaders were instructed to take the boxes from the trucks and build them into pallets of cargo that were safe, well organized, and promoted the integrity of the cargo itself.  Here is where you see the problem anyone encounters when they are instructed to work fast and work well.  Sometimes you must really make a choice of either/or.  We generally got pallets that were haphazardly stacked with crushed items quite common.  The pallets were moved to the floor by the crew, regardless of their weight, they were moved.  Ten to fifteen hundred pounds of cargo were pulled by hand, and as a result sore backs were quite common.  Then came the breaking down of pallets onto the floor for placement into the shelves.  In a smart world, this would be accomplished by forming a chain, handing items down the chain directly in front of where they were needed if they were needed.  This is not a smart world.  I was thrown a heavy box of canned coffee and before I could do anything with it, then came another box.  It hit me in the knee and I doubled over, because this box was heavy as well.  I was not asked if I was all right, instead Lil Bit cursed me out for being slow.  I said my knee hurt.  She told me to “step it up and stop complaining”.  I endeavored to do so.  A short time later I was hit in the face with a box, and was momentarily dazed.  My glasses were bent.  Once again I was yelled at, because it was my fault for not moving fast enough.  My glasses were not replaced or repaired at any expense.  It was deemed “my fault” for being hit by a thrown object.

Lil bit then had me learn how to stock the aisle with coffee on it.  I remember opening boxes and boxes of coffee, enjoying the smell, and generally losing myself in the job.  The smell of fresh coffee of course did not make up for the fact I really hated this job.  I cannot see why this was a reasonable career choice for anyone.  I was confused, I was afraid for my future, and my knee hurt.  My glasses were bent.  It was at this time I would meet Felix and the other people in charge of this insane operation.

Felix was in charge of Cola, and various Cola Products.  Felix was a short, stocky man with a nasty limp that constantly boasted on how many pallets of cargo he could throw in a single night.  I managed to move eight pallets of grocery cargo on my first night, so I asked him how many he could throw.  He responded as only a short man can when he feels threatened, he jerks a thumb to his chest and says “Fourteen, sixteen, tonight was slow, too many new people”.  I found out later he had moved four, but confronting him on this was not something I wanted to do.  Felix had three hobbies; one was sleeping his way around the store with various low level managers.  The second was bragging to everyone about it, and the third was telling stories about how easily he could beat up X or Y, or how he had in the past.  Felix could barely walk straight and he was threatening as a plate of scrambled eggs.  I let him enjoy his self-delusions as I met my other co-workers.

There was a former Canadian firefighter, so he informed me.  He kept pointing out that he was a firefighter in Canada, and also, that in Canada he was a firefighter.  Everything was about this subject.  Drop a quarter on the floor?  He would tell me how a Canadian firefighter would react to that.  Have a problem at home?  He would tell me how a Canadian firefighter would solve it.  When health matters came up, serious or not, he would tell us how his Canadian firefighter training would prevent further injury, and how we could cure ourselves by simply listening to him.  He was very slow; he was pretty mean, and all of his teeth were the color of carbon scoring on a truck's exhaust tips.  There were others too, there was Steve.  Steve was cool as hell.  Steve and I went through training together, where he introduced himself as the “Whitest Black Man in the world”.  I did not know what that meant at the time, and I still do not know what that means now.  What I did know is that he was a good coworker, and a funny guy.  He had two jobs to pay his rent, he did his best to keep the spirits up, and eventually he left to go onto bigger and better things.  It was something I should have done myself, but somehow I became stuck in this world of overnight mayhem.

One day I spoke to D-man, he asked how things were going and I admitted I was less than pleased concerning my employment.  He told me to take a walk with him and he pointed out how everyone else was just as miserable as I was, and that the only thing he could really do was try to find somewhere I would fit in where I could be moderately happier, and also make his management equally pleased in my placement.  He said he would “work on it”, and he was honest enough to tell me that I shouldn't hold my breath.  He did put forth the effort though; there was a man in Electronics that was very depressed with the work there.  He wasn't a man who considered himself technologically knowledgeable and he felt he would be happier with more “simple labor” as he put it.  I liked electronics plenty, I liked working around electronics, and I was a hard-core gamer.  This would work out best for both of us to switch places, as D-man thought.  And so, with little fanfare my life was changed.

The day was very ordinary for someone starting out, there was a new routine that had to be learned and D-man helped my transition easily.  I had to account for my freight, line-by-line, item-by-item.  I had to move my freight off the pallets and onto the floor by a certain time.  I had to then make sure my section was zoned off, and by zoned off I mean that it would have to look perfect, all boxes facing forward with no gaps.  I understood these requirements and made movements to accomplish them all the while keeping my eyes open for thieves.  It was during this first full day in the new department that I would meet Andy.  Andy is of moderate height, stocky, with a permanent goatee, and ever-present black hat.  I think that Andy has had that same black baseball cap for his entire life, as it never ages or changes.  It is always there.  Andy is shy at first with people, as much I am.  I recall shaking his hand and asking him if he was a gamer.  He mentioned KOTOR.  We have been friends ever since.  Elsewhere in the department was Janet, and as we had two Janets in the department this Janet was labeled “English Janet”.  English Janet had a wicked sense of humor and not much patience for stupidity.  She and I got along for as little as we worked together.  At this time I also met my new direct Boss, Janet-Janet.  Janet Prime was a middle aged woman with coke bottle glasses, a tremendously, ridiculously long ponytail.  Janet and I never did get along, as at first meeting she sized me up and rolled her eyes, snapping her gum while walking around, showing me trouble areas.  If ever you've had someone try to blame you for being you, this was she and this was that moment.  I stood there and let her tear into me, despite the fact she didn't have anything to criticize me about yet.  She would find something soon enough.  I told her that I was looking forward to working with her.  She said, “Yeah, I bet you do, we'll see”.  Interesting times were soon to follow.  

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