This is chronicling the jobs that I acquired growing up and stories about them from my perspective. In each chapter there is a brief synopsis of what the job entailed and what was expected. The stories following the synopsis are just some stories of what happened while I was employed there, good, bad, and ugly. Some are funny and some are just plain “what the hell”.
Keep in mind while reading through these stories that thousands of people have these jobs and they put up with plenty of abuse and praise. If you are one of the people that work at these establishments then have a drink and reflect on the shit you go through every day and tell yourself, “Someone gets it.”
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, I lived in a decent lower middle class household on the South side of town. Some may call it a bad neighborhood but I called it home. During the summer I would cut grass and do odd jobs around the neighborhood to make some money. As I got older the need to get a steady paycheck was there. My brother helped me to get a job here he worked; he gave me the application and put in a good word for me. Even with a good word from family you still have to prove that you want the job, so I interviewed at the main headquarters of the grocery store.
I had never had to do an interview before and you would think that someone would have warned me about what to expect. My brother had 2 or three jobs prior to this one and I think not telling me was his way of throwing me to the wolves. The questions that the interviewer asked kinda blew my mind.
"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" This is considered a standard question for interviews; which is funny because I never thought about it before hearing it that day. It was such a great question that even after the interview I still thought about it. Where do I see myself?
"If confronted with a problem customer how would you handle the situation?" Again, I never considered that I would need to handle a problem customer. What kind of problem could a person at a grocery store have? I had never run into a "problem customer" at a grocery store so I was confused. I gave a vague answer but tried to sound convincing like I knew what the hell I was talking about.
"Can you sell items using only words?" This was going to be a tough one because although I did well with fundraisers in elementary school, I wouldn't know the people that I would be selling to in the store and I was a cute kid so getting people to buy stuff from me was not that hard. Also, I wasn't much of a talker at the time so with only my words would be a bit of a problem.
There I am, nervous as hell looking this guy in the eyes trying my best not to look nervous…and failing. I answered all of his questions and tried my best to sell him my wallet as an example of my selling ability. Mentioning how, "...it was a trifold to hold many credit cards and id's. It also had a protected hole to allow for a chain and snaps for ensuring a secure closure which can prevent easy theft." After the interview my dad picked me up. He asked, "How do you think you did?" I just kind of gave him the thumbs up saying that I nailed it. Later that week I got a call saying that I got the job. Now, the fun begins.
Chapter 1: HEB - Groceries, Pharmacy, and More
In 1998 my professional employment path began. My job was simple, bag groceries, take said groceries out to the customers’ car, bring cart back to the front of the store and repeat. This job was cake. The pay was $4.35/hr and no I am not kidding, minimum wage was a bitch in 98'.
Day to day operations is the same as any other grocery store in the world with the exception that our store had people that took your bags to you vehicle so you can get home, unpack, and relax. Also, it insured that the carts would not be just out in the parking lot fucking up parked cars. The job of bagging was so important to HEB that you actually had to attend a bagger course at their headquarters.
Now I know that training is a huge part of learning a new job but going to school to learn the art of bagging groceries seems ridiculous. This course is a two day affair. Yes, two days to understand the well-kept secret of putting items inside a bag, followed by putting them inside a cart, followed by putting them inside a vehicle.
The Training Story
Apparently, what I thought was going to be two days of putting items in bags was also a crash course in talking to customers, using proper greetings, minding manners, and basically learning how to not get charged with sexual harassment.
Day 1: This was the bagging part of the course. We learned the basics. Always load bags heavy to light. Put cold items with cold items. Hot items with hot items. No chemicals with food. Use boxes to build walls then fill the center. It was a lot to remember and I have to admit that, even now, when I see someone doing it wrong at other stores I call them out on their “bad” technique. I am that guy. We also had to take tests and do practical evaluations where the instructor put items on a conveyor belt and had us bag them to test our skills, making sure that we were using proper bagging etiquette. Not to toot my own horn but I passed the practical with flying colors. Thank you very much.
Day 2: Customer service training was the on the menu for the second day of training. For the first half of the day the instructor touched on the do's and don'ts of customer service. The instructor wanted us to know that we are the last impression of the store that the customer will have before heading home so it would be in our best interest to make sure that it is an enjoyable experience. Also, it is okay to have a conversation with the customer but some topics are taboo, such as, politics and religion. It is okay to talk about current events but do not pick a side. Do not, under any circumstance, get into an altercation with a customer.
The second half of the day was reserved for going through scenarios in which one person would play as the customer while the other would be the Customer Service Representative (CSA). One scenario was about finding a lost child, another about expired milk, and another about a stolen purse. The scenario I received was in regards to a person laid out, unconscious on the floor, in the middle of an aisle. The correct answer to the scenario is to contact a manager and await further instructions. What I did was nowhere near that answer. Here is the result of my stupidity.
I picked up the card and my partner proceeded to lie down on the floor to take up the role of the unconscious man, I, in turn, took the role of CSA. Once we started the scenario I shook the man on the floor to make sure he was out. He was. At this point I started to do CPR on the man, pantomime of course. The problem with this is that I did not know CPR at the time so I looked ridiculous. Then as it turns out when you are doing CPR on someone you are supposed to ask someone to call 911 and get more help. Again, did not do that either. So I was doing mock CPR on a guy and none of my "supervisors" were aware of what I was doing. Before the story could unfold anymore I was told to stop what I was doing immediately and listen to what I was actually supposed to do. Apparently I am not an EMT so needless to say, I failed that part of the test.
I got another shot at it later and passed but that was a very embarrassing moment in my early employment career, one that I look back on and laugh at.