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: 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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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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Personal Thursday: Why I Can’t Write About Me

Sep 25

I’ve kept an online blog since 2002. When I was younger I’d occasionally try keeping a diary, but I’d always forget about it after a page or two. Something was missing. Then, as an overcaffeinated undergrad in my early 20s, I discovered that LiveJournal had the missing element: an audience.

LJ has the setup that most social networks have now. You have a place to post your own updates and a feed of updates from people you’re following. So even my most boring, inane blog posts — and there were many — were still read by my friends. I had an audience, and it was easy for them to comment on my posts to give me feedback. I had someone to aim my words at.

Today LJ is a quiet place. I haven’t posted there since November 2013. Instead of my LiveJournal I now have this blog, hosted on my own domain and prettied up with WordPress. When I first set it up I made a few posts about mundane personal things like my Thanksgiving preparations. But since then it’s been strictly “business” — and by business* I mean coffee.

Why is that? Several times I’ve decided to go back to posting personal stuff, but each time I’ve run into a wall made up of two questions:

  • What should I write about?
  • Why should anyone care?

The answer, of course, is that it’s my blog. I can write about whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter if anyone cares.

But even after telling myself that, I hesitate. And I think it’s because I’m back to that missing element: audience. Without the social networking of a service like LiveJournal, and with RSS feeds apparently going the way of the dodo, I can’t shake the feeling that anything I write is just vanishing into the void.

It’s not so much a need for validation (though of course I crave that like anyone else), it’s that without an audience I have trouble finding a voice. I don’t need to write for myself, I know all my mundane personal crap.

That’s why I’ve been able to keep doing coffee posts. There’s a clear goal, obvious content, and I can just look at my Google hits to see what works and what doesn’t. The trick is getting the same sort of feel for my non-coffee stuff.

Well, I won’t learn that trick if I don’t write. I’ve been doing okay for the most part managing a coffee post at least once a week, usually on Fridays. So my goal is to do the same for non-coffee, on what I’m gonna call Personal Thursdays because I like the internal rhyme. Keep an eye on my Twitter for links to new posts, and hopefully I’ll find my voice.

 

*I use the term business loosely, since I make zero money off it.

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Still here!

May 22

Jeez, five months since my last post. How’d that happen?

Have patience folks, this blog isn’t dead. It’s just … uh … resting? It’s been a busy year at my day job, and I’m dealing with the medical issues associated with incubating a new human being in my torso, so I haven’t been able to update as much as I should have. Plus, well, the aforementioned human being seems to be draining all my writing mojo.

But the best way to regain writing mojo is just to write, right? I will be attempting to do that by hook or by crook.

I have a few coffee-related posts planned — e.g. a mini-review of the Verismo espresso machine Starbucks is selling right now, and a review of their new bottled iced coffee. Plus maybe reviews of some other random coffee/tea drinks I get around town.

I’ll also be trying to use this for more actual bloggy stuff, by which I mean blathering about things in my life that pretty much nobody else gives a crap about. It lets me look back over my old words nostalgically, and gives this site some signs of life.

Hopefully by forcing more words out of my fingertips, I’ll regain some of that vanished writing mojo and I’ll be able to write more betterful, like I usedta. And if you miss me, you can always check out my Twitter feed for whatever random thoughts and/or cat pictures I’ve come up with lately.

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