Personal Thursday: Retail Horror

Oct 30

I asked on the Twitternets, as you do, what I should write about for this week’s Personal Thursday entry. And I got a request for retail horror stories. So here is an entry about that.

After I got that request, I started thinking about horror stories from my retail days, at Borders and then Starbucks. Let me tell you, I had many unpleasant interactions with customers, despite my efforts to give good or at least adequate customer service at all times. I’m too much of a Boy Scout to actually be a dick to a customer no matter how tired or angry I might be. I used to type up long, angry screeds full of expletives at whatever the lastest customer idiocy was.

But as I mentally chewed on those, trying to decide which ones to write about, I realized I’ve cooled off on them. I may retain some bitterness about some of the common threads of retail work, but the individual stories have faded enough that I can’t muster up the energy to fill them with “colorful metaphors”. Mostly they serve to remind me to be kind to the retail workers (and everyone else) I meet in my day to day existence.

Some people dismiss retail work as “trivial”, “not real work”, or — in the current debate on raising the minimum wage — “not worth real money”. In their minds the retail worker is a fumbling high school student, a college student in a “fluffy” major, or someone who has somehow failed at life and is therefore not worth the dignity of basic humanity. The numbers show of course that this is not true, and that for many retail workers it’s the one thing putting food in their, and their families’, mouths. But let’s put that aside for a second; let’s pretend that entry-level retail is all surly high schoolers too lazy to competently perform basic tasks. Even in that weird parallel universe, they are still worthy of compassion.

Many horror stories from retail workers have a common theme: a rude, oblivious, condescending or downright hostile customer. Why is this? Why do so many people feel the need to be jerks to someone who’s not only there to provide a service, but is literally forbidden to defend themself? It takes almost zero effort to be a little understanding, so why do so few people stop to do it?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s similar to bathrooms. No no, hear me out — just about everyone here in the US has a bathroom at home. And most of those people don’t pee on the walls, smear poo on the floor, or leave their vomit in the sink. Most people have a bathroom that, while probably not spotless, is safe for visitors to use without coming into contact with bodily fluids or trash. They don’t break the fixtures. They don’t put holes in the walls. They don’t scratch things up.

And yet … someone does all those things in public restrooms. Someone who wouldn’t dream of leaving an unflushed turd on the seat at home has no problem leaving that little landmine in a restroom that other people have to share with them. A restroom you share with roommates or family or pets gets a certain amount of respect as a shared space. But a public restroom shared with strangers, and cleaned by strangers? Some people just can’t be bothered not to shit the place up. It’s not their problem. They don’t need to clean it up. They’re not gonna sit down and find their ass suddenly wet. Unless of course the person before them thought the same way and the workers hadn’t had a chance to clean it up.

And it’s the same thing, it seems, with retail workers. You don’t know them, you don’t have to deal with any consequences for being a dick to them, so it’s not your problem. So hell, might as well be a dick, right? It’s your chance.

Not all customers think this way. Not even most customers, depending where you are. But you know what? It only takes one person. Or two, or five. Like a turd in the urinal*, even after they’ve left and the physical evidence of their assmillinery has been cleaned up, the stench lingers.

There’s a flaw in my analogy of course, and it’s this: people aren’t restrooms. They’re not made to be shat on even if you aim in the right spot. And I’ve found that 99% of the time it takes zero goddamn effort to treat them with kindness. The person behind the cash register may be performing an outwardly simple task, but even the simplest of tasks becomes harder when you have to balance rules, management, customer desires, the current status of the store, and the inevitable turd in the urinal.

So I guess what I’m trying to say with this rambly mess is — be kind. Have compassion. The sting of being poorly treated will eventually fade in a person’s memory, but being an asshole will stay with you for life.

*Turd in the Urinal is my Marcel Duchamp cover band.

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Personal Thursday Oops It’s Friday Edition: Things I Recommend

Oct 24

Okay, okay, so I missed a Personal Thursday. But it’s always Thursday somewhere, right?

Instead of some kind of long, well-composed entry on something personal today, you’re getting a bullet-pointed list of things that I’m really digging right now. If any of them seem like they’re up your alley, give em a try!

Book: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I read this book after a recommendation I read on a blog and man it was good. You can read the blurb on the cover or on the book-purchasing website of your choice, so I’ll skip that and instead tell you that it has some excellent SF world-building, well-executed use of flashbacks, linguistic details that warmed the cockles of my ex-ling-grad-student heart, and an interesting use of Ursula K. LeGuin-style gender ambiguity. The sequel, Ancillary Sword, just came out and I can’t wait till I have time to read it.

Music: Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1. Okay look, I haven’t seen this movie because I don’t go out to movies but I know the basic details behind this mix. It’s a fun listen, and great upbeat music to work to. Also, it has the Baby Seal of Approval (seriously, my fourteen-month-old loves it).

Video Game: Elder Scrolls Online. This is an MMORPG entry in the Elder Scrolls series (of which Skyrim of “arrow in the knee” fame was the previous installment) and it’s my current game obsession. On my therapist’s advice I’m making sure to include some video game time in my schedule almost every day, and this is what I’m spending it on. The graphics are fittingly pretty for a Skyrim followup, the voice acting is great, you don’t have to interact with other players if you don’t need to, and best of all it’s better than any other MMO I’ve played at actually, you know, telling a story. With other games I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because I wanted the reward for finishing it or whatever — with ESO I’ve stayed up late to finish a quest because dammit I want to find out what happens! Also notable is the inclusion of LGBT characters in the game. Not just in the “you can marry characters regardless of gender” sense but in the “my female character got asked if she was trying to marry the countess”, “lizard lady asked me to look for her injured girlfriend,” “helped a man rescue his husband” sense. There are actual, canonical gay/bi NPCs in this game and it makes me happy. See game companies? Diversity is not fucking hard. Also, John Cleese is in it. This game could be an blog entry of its own but as you might imagine I don’t want to write too much about games right now.

Coffee: Sun-Dried Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (Starbucks). That’s what I’m drinking right now as I write this — brewed on the Clover machine, two pumps of classic syrup, and some half-and-half. It’s got a very interesting and complex flavor. It’ll set you back some extra cashmonies, being a Reserve coffee, but it’s very tasty.

Hobby: Learning to Sew. I’m still doing this and guys, it’s fun. Even IKEA sells an inexpensive sewing machine and fabric by the yard! Even if all you end up sewing is rectangly things (that’s pretty much all I do with crochet), who doesn’t need more pillowcases and napkins? I even have a pretty good pattern for a reusable grocery bag, and since I live in a plastic-bag-ban area that’s always a bonus. It’s a lot easier for me to fit in some sewing here and there than knitting, which is more time-consuming.

TV show: Sleepy Hollow. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch this season but I watched last season (mostly late at night while sitting up with the baby) and it’s fun. It has the kind of story you come up with late at night when you’re hanging out with your buddies and hyper as hell. Every time you think it’s getting a little over the top, it gets even crazier. The leads have a nice Scully/Mulder vibe (and one of the leads is a black woman — ridiculously rare on US TV!) and it balances well between humor and drama. When I first started watching, I felt like they spilled too many beans in the pilot. Beans that should have been trickled out over the course of the first season. But as time went on I discovered that they spilled all those beans right away because they had a HUGE stock of beans still left to go! Good lord. It does suffer from lazy writing here and there (Lt. Mills: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” VERY NEXT SCENE: Lt. Mills: [talks about it in great detail, with flashbacks]) so if failures in writing quality make you itch it might not be the show for you. Elsewise, give it a try — and start from the beginning.

 

So there you go. My unsolicited and possibly dubious opinions on things that I like, right at this moment. They’re not my favorites of all time … who can really pick a single favorite book ever? … but if you wanna try something new and you think like me, give ’em a shot.

 

What about you guys? What’s your favorite things right now?

 

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Personal Thursday: Chromebook Blather

Oct 16

Since it’s come up a few times on Twitter and people ask: Yep, I have a Chromebook. A bright teal HP Chromebook with a 16GB SSD and a Rapunzel sticker covering up the HP logo. In fact, my first non-rectangular sewing project was to make a nice slim bag to put it in.

It’s not my primary machine. As a lifelong computer addict who lives with a professional programmer/sysadmin, I have a tendency to collect and hoard electronics. My main machine is still my trusty Macbook Pro, followed by my homebuilt Windows 7 gaming box and my Windows 7 work laptop.

So with all that stuff lying around, why did I get the Chromebook? Well, my other machines were bought for power. But sometimes, you don’t want power. Sometimes you just want something to eff around on the internet with and maybe get some simple writing done. Sometimes you want a laptop where, if you break it or lose it or it gets stolen, you just go “damn” and deactivate it from accessing your Google account, instead of having a Very Bad Day. I snagged it for about two hundred on a Woot deal, and (like all HP Chromebooks) it comes with a moderate amount of free T-Mobile internets for life. I spend most of my laptop time in places with wifi, but knowing I have backup internets in case that doesn’t work out is nice.

What the hell is a Chromebook, you may be asking. Well, think of it like this — it’s a laptop that runs a web browser, and that’s all. Oh, there’s some apps and such, and they’re working on getting Android apps to run on it, but everything is based around the Chrome browser. The thing is, you can do a lot with just a web browser these days. Games, streaming video, writing, spreadsheets, etc etc etc blah blah blah. I have a ton of stuff open on my Macbook but what gets 75% of my time? Chrome. What gets the rest? Mostly my IM client and iTunes. And if I’m sitting at Starbucks, with an iPod for my music and Trillian for Web handling my IMs … yeah, I pretty much just need the browser. So the Chromebook works great for that.

If you’re wondering whether to get one, my advice is this — think very carefully about what you need it for and how you would use it. Try running your regular computer with nothing open but Chrome, and get everything done that you need to. Think about how often you are around wifi, and how much mobile data you might need. Figure out how much you would want to actually keep locally on the machine, instead of grabbing it from the internet. These things have very limited storage; you can get some extra with an SD card, but if you need to keep a ton of stuff handy for instant access it may not be enough.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, but a two hundred dollar laptop is only worth two hundred dollars if it does what you need it to. I could never use this as my main computer — no Skype, limited multi-client IM options, limited desktop-like apps, no Scrivener (what I wouldn’t give for cloud-based Scrivener!), none of the big video games I like to play, cheap-feeling keyboard, no place to put the tons of TV shows I’ve gotten from iTunes or the digital copies that came with some of my Blu-rays.

But when I just want to, oh let’s just say, sit at Starbucks typing up a quick Personal Thursday blog post with minimal distractions … it fits the bill pretty well.

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Review: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Oct 10

When I spotted Pumpkin Spice coffee at Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to give it a try. The ingredients included orange peel, and orange is a big favorite of mine, so I had high hopes.

Now, a warning about flavored coffee beans: adding flavor to ground beans is often a way to try to mask substandard coffee. And coffee that’s sold pre-ground, as this is, may not be at the peak of its freshness. I don’t grind my beans fresh at home like I should, but at least I have an idea how long ago they were ground. When you buy a canister of ground beans, all bets are off.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

When I opened the canister, the smell was quite striking. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way. I expected to smell pumpkin pie spices, or possibly orange peel. What I actually smelled was … honestly, I don’t know. It seemed almost chemical. It certainly didn’t smell like any ingredient I would expect in pumpkin spice coffee.

I brewed this coffee the same way I brew my regular morning coffee — as a cold brew. It’s too fine a grind for a French press filter, so I had to strain the grounds out manually, but that’s no big deal. I tried brewing it with and without the brown sugar included in my usual cold brew, so I’d have a good basis for comparison.

This coffee is definitely flavored. But the flavor doesn’t seem like any other pumpkin spice product I’ve tried. If you’re brewing this hoping to get something similar to a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, you will be disappointed. I couldn’t really identify any of the traditional spices, nor anything in the ingredients list. It just has a vague “some kind of spices” flavor.

As for the coffee beans themselves, I’m not impressed. But then, I have never been a fan of Trader Joe’s coffee. It may be a quality thing or it may be a personal preference. I have tried some coffees of theirs that were pretty decent (the Breakfast Blend comes to mind). But compared to the cold-brewed Verona I have every morning, this stuff was just not as good. A little bitter, a little burnt — and yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say in comparison to a Starbucks dark roast! — and just underwhelming.

If you like Trader Joe’s coffee, you may enjoy this more than I did. But don’t expect it to have a classic pumpkin spice flavor.

 

  • What: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Where: Trader Joe’s grocery stores
  • Verdict: Underwhelming coffee, with a not-very-pumpkin-spice-like flavor. But it may be a decent brew for fans of other coffees from Trader Joe’s.

 

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Personal Thursday: Personal Coffee

Oct 09

I feel like it’s cheating, doing my Personal Thursday entry on something coffee-related this week. But here I go anyway.

There’s a reason my website is mostly about coffee, and it’s not just for Google clicks. It’s because, as weird as it sounds, cofee and tea occupy a important spot in my life. Before I got a job wearing a green apron, that wasn’t the case. My caffeination needs (and voracious non-alcoholic drinking habits) were fulfilled by soda, in mass quantities when possible. But as I began to pick up a coffee habit, and a decade later, a tea habit, I realized just how useful it was to me.

It means I can make myself comfortable almost anywhere with a nice warm drink. I’m a habitually early person, so I often find myself with some time to fill in a random location. All I have to do is locate the nearest coffee/tea joint — not always a Starbucks — order myself a drink, and sit there sipping it for a while. Usually while checking Twitter or writing. Wherever I go, there’s always a drink somewhere, even if it’s mediocre coffee in a lobby.

It also gives me something to help focus while I work on things. Not just because of the caffeine, but because the act of stopping to take a sip helps regulate my thought process and give my hands a break. When I worked in an office, I always had a mug on my desk. At home, I have a coaster that hosts a wide array of beverages throughout the week. Seriously, even if all you have to drink is water, give this a try. You’ll pee more but you might just find yourself getting a better rhythm going.

Thirdly, coffee and tea occupy the place in my life that a lot of people fill with alcohol. No, seriously — if I have a rough day, I crave a hot drink to help me unwind. If I want to be less inhibited, a boost of caffeine is the way I go. I drink it in social situations, I treat myself to it when I need a pick-me-up, and best of all it’s not illegal for me to drink too much or drive a car afterward.

Everybody has their vices. Smoking, shopping, beer, movies, games … everybody has something they spend some spare money and time on to get a little more enjoyment out of life. I spend a fair amount on my habit, and I’ve suffered through some pretty nasty withdrawal, but this is one habit I don’t see myself ever giving up.

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