I always say after nearly three decades of working in retail, I am going to write a book about my adventures serving the public.
But, on the other hand, nobody would believe some of the stories I have to tell.
Working in a home center might seem mundane to people who have never done it -- certainly, nobody would consider it as exciting as my other career as a writer if they have never lived through a day at the store. Well, let me tell you, there are people who are ALIVE today because I happened to wait on them, and, most often, talk them OUT of doing the dangerous and potentially deadly projects they thought they had the know-how to do for themselves.
Take the person who came in for stove pipe the other day (OK, it was a woman, but whether a man or a woman doesn't necessarily mean the client knows what they are doing. I think the husbands send their wives in not so much because they are too busy at home working on the projects but because they have no idea what they are looking for themselves and don't want us to know). We sell stove pipe ranging in diameter from four to 12 inches and in both black and galvanized metal. I showed her to our display and figured it would be an easy sale, until I asked what she was using it for and she said to run natural gas to the stove.
Not what stove pipe is for, ma'am.
So I am preparing to hook her up with the right piping for natural gas over in the plumbing department with all of the proper accouterments, but when I ask what size fittings she needs she has no idea. A voice inside tells me this person is now heading for the award for being the most likely to meet her maker in a blazing fire ball. I recommend she finds out what fittings it'll take from the person doing the job, so she goes home to do more research.
But to prove I'm not being sexist and dogging women -- we certainly do welcome women to the store and will help as much as possible -- we'll take a look at the guy who was trying to find a circuit breaker the other day. He doesn't have an old one to match up (that would make it too easy) so I ask what amp size he is looking for, but he doesn't know that either. Than he asks what size he needs when the house wiring he installed is 22 gauge.
For the non-electricians out there, 22 gauge is so thin you could pretty much bite it apart. There hasn't been a home since Edison that was wired with 22 gauge wire. I ask if he's sure, he says yes, and I ask if maybe it might be the more popular, and a heck of a lot safer, 12 gauge wire, figuring the confusion stems from the fact that they both have a "2" in them. He said that might be what he used; he wasn't sure. I'm thinking here's another jack of all trades heading for a shocking experience.
Hey, I'm not about to stop helping the people out when it is a reasonable project for a reasonable person. But when someone is wiring their house with dental floss or running gas through anything other than factory approved piping, I figure the best way to do the job safely is to hire it out. That expense is a small price to pay compared to the price of a new home, or paying for that hospital stay. And just because someone saw the project done on TV doesn't make him or her an expert.
I can't tell you how many times someone has held up the line at the register because he or she left the money in the car. Or the people who ask me to mix the same color paint they got three years ago, and then get mad when I don't remember what it was. Or the times people come in to have something cut to size without bringing along their measurements.
Then there was the guy who cashed out, went into the parking lot, and came rushing back in to say someone stole his car while he was in the store. Luckily, the customer in line behind him was an off duty State Trooper, so he quickly radioed in the description of the vehicle and put out an all points bulletin. The local Thruway exit was the likeliest destination for a car thief, so he notified the Troopers there to keep an eye out for it. We were kind of excited in the store because it was like watching a cop show come to life.
Suddenly the guy peaked out the door, and sheepishly said, "Oh, I forgot; I parked on the other side of the lot this time."
Our Trooper buddy was really glad he stopped to shop that day.
To be fair, I'm sure there are plenty of places I shop where they look at me with bewilderment when I ask dumb questions. I have left my shopping list at home, and gone to stores without the proper measurements figuring I can eyeball things. Wrong! So out of my element I am just as clueless as anyone else. It certainly takes the pressure off having to know what I'm doing all of the time ... and I know I'm in good company thanks to my own experiences in customer service.
I even imagine some people leave the store after a discourse with me and say, "Boy, that guy was an idiot!"
To prove the point, and to show that just as I bust chops of others I can take the heat as well, here's a favorite moment that the rest of the crew likes to bask in every now and then. Some years back, my co-worker Pat was out of work for awhile so I decided to give her a call to cheer her up and let her know how much she was missed. I checked our master employee telephone list for her number, dialed, and when that computerized generic answering voice finished, left a flowery message to the extent of "Pat, we miss you and can't get along without you," or some such.
The next day I'm figuring this is likely good medicine for her, so I call again. This time, I say, "Pat, the place is falling apart without you -- get back here ASAP!" As the week went on, the messages got sillier, until the last one where I said, "Pat, we miss you and love you! We can't survive without you!"
I hadn't heard anything back during the week I made the series of calls, but I just figured she was busy. Then, as I was ringing up a sale on the cash register, the phone rings and a guy asks for me. Since we were short-handed, I attempted to complete the sale while talking to the guy. But I lost my concentration on the sale at hand when he suddenly asks why I've been calling his son all week, why I keep asking the kid to come back when we fired him, and especially why I said I loved him.
It turned out the "Pat" on the phone list wasn't "Patricia," but "Patrick" -- a teen who we had recently let go because he was a slacker.
Try explaining that to an irate dad on the phone! Needless to say, there and then I decided anytime I get an answering machine that doesn't confirm it belongs to the person I'm calling, I don't leave a message...