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Friday, August 24, 2012

Working Hard for a Dollar!

Greetings to my loyal following of readers,

We have been out of town, traveling to the northern California coast and the giant redwoods to photograph and to enjoy the much milder weather there. The locations were truly nice and comfortable, but what a roller coaster ride to get there and back.

California highways 20 and 36 have to be the most convoluted pieces of public road in existence. Most of it carved out of mountainsides with sheer drops and no guard rails. I had to laugh as I fought to maintain the roadway and saw the speed limits posted on my GPS which showed 55 mph. My laughter turned to concern quite frequently as I experienced people actually attempting to reach and exceed those limits in areas where 20 mph made us feel like we would break traction and launch into the abyss.

It is a true statement that no matter where you are in California; no matter what road, what speed limit, or how fast you are driving, there will be someone riding your rear bumper wanting to go faster. It is true at 25 mph or 75mph. Interstate or city street. I pulled over more than once to get a car off my bumper that was so close that I could not see the headlights.

The other unwritten rule, or maybe it is a California Sin... is that you must never, at any speed, allow more than a car length of space to appear between you and the car ahead of you. Not at 85 mph on I-5 or 35 mph  twisting through curving two lane mountain roads. It is practically impossible to maintain a safety zone in front of your car.

The mass of humanity on our roadways is hurtling towards record pile ups and body counts as fast as they can push their luck. It used to be better to take the back roads and avoid the traffic, but the population has increased to where the back roads are full too.

We have been busy since our return taking care of Mr S and his medical and shopping needs. His shopping is simple and really consists of wants, rather than needs. Stocking his little refrigerator with treats is the majority of it.

His medical problems can be a lot more complex as we try to keep him balanced and reasonably comfortable. Low blood pressure is our current issue as we work with doctors and nurses to find just the right combination of meds to give pain relief without causing a BP crash. Low BP will make you tired, confused, lethargic, and dizzy. It also makes getting enough oxygen to the brain a real concern as the flow drops off.

I just experienced the same issue due to a prescription for Tramadol for pain which after 3 doses (6 hours apart) caused my own BP to drop to 92/64. All I could manage to do was sit in my chair and try to breathe. Fortunately I still had enough mental acuity to realize what was wrong and stop the medication. Our older folks may not be able to defend themselves so we must be vigilant for changes.

I have been asked several times recently if I am going to Burning Man this year and the answer is no. I am not physically up to the requirements of the playa and to go anyway would be to invite trouble and be a burden on others. Such is not the way of the responsible burner. I do want to go again, but only when I can participate fully and safely.

The story for today was selected due to recent conversations about jobs for teens and pay scales. This was not my first job, nor was it the lowest paying job that I have held. It was the first one where deductions were withheld and actual time clock punching happened. I would have to say that it was also the biggest team effort outside of school sports and the most interaction that I had with adult coworkers up to this point.

The year was 1969 and you must remember that both a gallon of gas and a pack of cigarettes cost less than a quarter at the time. It took you nearly 15 minutes to earn a quarter. If you don't think that 15 minutes is a long time to work, try running in place or treading water for 15 minutes. I won't even suggest holding your breath for that long. I learned an appreciation for earning my pay, and for doing things right the first time working at this job. Read and enjoy!

Working Hard for a Dollar 

A lot of teenagers work at grocery stores and always have; it is an "entry into the workforce" kind of job and I did so back in 1969 in Hollywood, Florida. Publix Market's are the big time in Florida; like Raley's out west, or Safeway, a "Super Grocery Store" kind of establishment, that was big on selection and service. This was, of course, before the debut of Wal-Mart and their Chinese import business. In those days quality still reigned supreme.

The Publix store that I worked at had twelve check out aisles and kept them all open, all the time. I hired in at the glorious pay scale of $1.10 per hour, plus tips if you earned any (it was NOT guaranteed) and was worked like an indentured servant the entire time I worked there. My attitude was that I was working and earning money of my own and no one made me do it, so there was no reason to whine to anyone else about having to work hard.

You hire in at the "bagboy" or "bagger" position, however you want to say it, and if you stay with the company, you progress from there to stocking shelves and if you are quick fingered and nimble minded, you could end up being a checker, (the person who runs the register). If your karma is just right, or you are related to the boss, you might become an assistant manager some day. It may sound funny to some, that anyone would think to pursue a career in the grocery store business, but having a steady job (with excellent benefits for full-time employees) was not something that was sneered at in those days.

I was a bagboy, who stocked shelves or whatever else was necessary. I was taught how to bag groceries by the other more experienced baggers: don't put cans and glass together, don't put fresh hamburger packs in with flour, always pack the bag squarely with the heavy items on the bottom, double bag the ice cream. And always look your customer over to estimate how heavy that you can pack their bags. Elderly folks can handle more bags of lighter weight, much easier than packing them full in fewer bags.

As you gain experience you quickly learn who tips better: guys on their own, no question about it! Don't expect young women with little kids hanging all over them, to try and find any change, even if they could afford it, (which they generally can't), it is beyond physical expectations and not worth the time.

Older women will expect you to work like a rented mule and make stuff fit into places not designed to haul loads, and then give you a dime and then expect you to gush all over in gratitude. Many would spend the entire trip out to their car telling you stories of bad bagging experiences and tales of woe which had you sweating about how you had placed everything in her bags. I think it was some kind of sport to see just how rattled they could get the new bagboys. It worked on me the first couple of times, but I progressed rapidly in my speed and bagging skills to where I knew that what I packed would travel safely.

I have to give an awful lot of the credit to the ladies who worked as checkers. I was always nice and polite to them and did anything that they asked without hesitation, and in return they would give me tips on how to avoid errors. The very best ones would warn me about quirks of customers; like double bagging meat or ice cream, or not putting certain foods together in the same bag. A couple of the older folks rode the bus to the store and I had to pack their bags carefully to stand the trip without breaking anything thing. They couldn't afford to tip me anything but I didn't care, it was the right thing to do and it didn't cost me anything to be nice to them.

The older guys just loved it when new baggers hired on, it gave them new victims for old jokes. Like sending you from department to department for a "bag stretcher", because we are out of big bags. And when you get to the last department in the store, those guys would say, "No, we don't have the "bag stretcher", but could you go back through the departments, in the opposite order that you came to us and ask around for our "skyhook", we need to change the light bulbs on the ceiling.

Even the assistant manager got in on these gags and would tell you that he needed a specific bulb for his bagger attention board, (I never saw or heard of such a thing, but hey, he's the A.M., not me!) and have you going from department to department, all over the store asking for an I.D.10 Tango light... (think about it... IDIOT light).

These gags only happened when the Manager was gone from the store, because he would not approve of paying employees to play games and would chew the A.M. a new rear if he ever caught him participating in such frivolity. I knew that it was BS from the start, but just played along. It made for a quicker, easier acceptance if you were a good sport and let them have some fun at your expense and it didn't hurt anything. The simple fact was, you were still being paid while you wandered about the store so it was a good deal! 

Saturday's were Hell Day for me; I had to report for duty at 7:00 AM and went at it hard until we finished doing the weekly major cleaning sometime around Midnight. Seventeen hours with a half hour for lunch, and that was whenever they said to take it and be glad to get that much.

We were standing around in the cold before 7:00 a.m. one Saturday morning, waiting for the Assistant Manager to open the store, (you did not dare to be late.) The company policy was for every ten minutes past your scheduled starting time, you were docked an hour's pay. So I was always early, and most of the others were too. Nobody wanted to give up any pay if they could help it. And there was no appeal process, if you weren't clocked in you weren't there. Only the manager could write on or alter time cards and he did not have a sympathetic nature.

This particular Saturday morning, the baggers were  all on hand and ready, the stock clerks came in after us and then the checkers and the meat and produce guys came in on their own schedule and don't even say Pharmacy (they wouldn't have anything to do with us peasant grocery types).

It got to be 7:05 and no A.M. so we joked about it and nervously fidgeted around. At 7:10 still nobody. When 7:15 rolled up we were concerned and starting to worry about getting our prep work done for opening time. At 7:20 the senior bagboy went to a phone and called the secret number which must have gone directly to the Bat Cave, because by 7:25 both the Manager, (who was really not happy) and the A.M. who looked like he had been drug through a knothole were there.

As soon as the doors opened we took off through the store on the run, trying to catch up with our tasks and to be ready to open in spite of the delays; that's just the way you did things back then. It was unthinkable to even the lowliest employee (that would be me) to be late opening the doors to the customers. It just wasn't done.

The Assistant Manager went for the circuit breakers to power up everything that wasn't already running 24 hours and the Manager opened the big safe where the cash register drawers were kept and just in time because the checkers were arriving and they fussed if they had to wait. Of course with the Manager himself doing the honors, they didn't whine about anything... they just smiled and went out on the check out line and set up.

The girls who ran the registers would not go into the office with the Manager alone; there was always two or more at a time. It seems he had a "hands" problem (as one girl put it) and alone it was The Boss's word against the employee. A tough one to win in 1969.

It was to be the ugliest day of work that I had ever experienced, working for Publix Markets anyway. All morning long I was running from bagging to clean up, to taking groceries out for someone, to hauling boxes back to the crushing room, and back again. I didn't even have a chance to hit the bathroom, but the way I was sweating it didn't seem to matter.

Right after lunch the Manager returned and called the Assistant Manager into his office to deal with the lateness issue of this morning. The word had gotten around that the young fellow with management aspirations had tied one on last night and had only just got home when the panic call came. The news flash to his brain: "OH DAMN, I'M SUPPOSED TO BE AT WORK NOW!" Did not arrive in time to save his bacon. The unanswered call lead to the call to the Manager.

When the A.M. came out of the Managers office, he wasn't smiling. He no longer had a tie on and his sleeves were rolled up. Closer inspection showed that he was no longer wearing the A.M. ID badge. He had been given the choice of; No Job or returning to stocking shelves. He needed the money, so the choice was already made for him. He soon reappeared with an apron and pricing gun and went to work without so much as a whisper.

It was well known that our Manager was a religious man and a non-drinker with very little (if any) sense of humor. Errors in judgment as he saw them, were dealt with swiftly by him. I had to wonder why his chronic attempted groping of the checkout girls didn't fall into the same category. But at sixteen years old and as the most junior staff member, I kept my thoughts and opinions to myself. It was much safer that way. I did decide that I did not like the religious hypocrisy I was seeing and stayed as far away from the man as possible.

I generally steered clear of the meat department, unless I was sent there directly on a mission. Those guys were kind of secretive and definitely standoffish to put it nicely, and you didn't want to see what they were doing in their room... icky! I had grown up with a Grandfather and Uncles butchering meat in the family store, so I was not squeamish about seeing things cut up. It is what they were doing to the meat that bothered me.

Later on that same Saturday, the entire meat department was looking for employment. 

The Publix home office in Lakeland, Florida had received a signed complaint regarding improprieties in the quality of meat coming from the very store we were working at, and they took it seriously. An undercover agent was sent in without any one's knowledge, (including the Manager) and had seen with his own eyes, the date switching on out-of-date packages, the flipping of beef and repackaging, to hide freezer burn, and one of my absolute favorites; Cloroxing chicken to remove the smell of it going bad.

Why would a professional meat cutter do something like this? It's called skimming to run your own business. They were given an allowance of time for the different meats and then they replaced them as per Publix policy and Health codes. These guys found if they just re-used the old stuff, they could then take the new meat for their own business and it was all profit. It's called GREED kids.

Publix had a reputation to uphold and the Manager was raked over the coals for allowing this to go on in his store. The entire Meat Department staff was fired and told to either change professions, or states. They were not allowed to work for Publix, in any capacity or fashion and were in fact; Persona Non Grata in all of the stores forever.

That day I tore cardboard boxes apart until my hands were raw and then put them into the monster that crushed and baled them into giant, extremely heavy bales, which we then had to roll out the back door and up onto the pile that sat until the paper guy came around with his forklift and loaded them onto a big flatbed truck and hauled them away. It was kind of fun to crush the cardboard, but it was so incredibly hot in the unventilated room that I had to take my shirt and tie off and every person that came through reminded me that I must not leave the room without putting them back on. I certainly didn't have any intentions of "streaking" the store! We were recycling cardboard way before it was popular, because it saved money on disposal. Progressive company!

The afternoon was every bit as much fun; some little monster had tried to climb a shelf unit and managed to pull down a whole shelf full of mayonnaise, mustard and barbecue sauce jars. Glass jars, which shattered and splattered all over the floor and up onto the items on both sides of the aisle. It actually took shovels and trash cans to get the main part up and then hours of wiping down each item in the affected area and we found glass every day for the rest of the time that I worked there. The woman responsible for the child was speechless with embarrassment and her husband came in a few minutes later from his job to offer to pay for the damages. Today she would probably sue because the shelf wasn't strong enough to support her child or some such nonsense.

When the store finally closed for the night, the mop and bucket brigade rolled into action and the big floor scrubber (it looked like a small Zamboni) was brought out. Up and down the aisles it went, always with a crew putting down hot soapy water in front of it and cold water rinsing behind it. It had big rotating brushes similar to a buffer and would scrub the wax right off of the floor and was really good at getting into corners and up under things. It was quite the status job to be the one who operated the scrubber and it was considered off limits to junior bagboys like me. I just had to keep putting down the water and moving ahead as fast as I could to keep from getting run over.

Once the scrubber had been run on all the floor area, it was clean mopped again and another, smaller machine that looked like a buffer was used to put down a coat of liquid wax to try and protect the floor for another week. By this time I could hardly pick up my arms... I was exhausted!  

The store was checked for customers and the place pronounced clean, and we punched out at 12:00 am or there about. All of this for $1.10 per hour.

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