Note: This is a snippet from my current work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo. (If you don’t know what that is, just assume that it’s a writing project of some kind that means nothing to you but you might get a good read out of it anyway.) Enjoy.
1986, just a few days into the year. Most people were still hung over, and society in general was moving very slowly in that lethargic, oh my GOD, we have another year to deal with kind of way.
Tina Turner was coming to town, and I desperately wanted to see her in concert. She was still riding high from the “Private Dancer” album that had snatched her from relative obscurity and threw her back to the top of the charts where she rightfully belonged. The gal was blazing hot and everybody wanted a piece of that.
Well, not everybody.
Trouble is, I was scheduled to work the night of the concert, and I was having an irritatingly difficult time getting anyone to trade shifts with me. No one was interested in my dilemma. (I perhaps should have kept my mouth shut about the actual reason for the trade. Attending a concert is not quite the same as, say, a medical condition requiring surgery or a sudden urgent need to come up with a fake identity for tax purposes.)
I couldn’t even get a polite “maybe” out of any of my co-workers. Looking back, this should not have surprised me one bit. After all, I was working with a bunch of redneck guys that had probably never even heard any music that did not involve banjos and farming vehicles of some kind. In addition, all of these guys were bitter, vindictive men who hated where they worked and, by association, hated everyone who worked there with them.
You see, at the time, I was employed by the illustrious firm of Quik Trip, Inc. This was (and still is) a chain of convenience stores based in Tulsa. And actually, as far as convenience stores go, we were at the top of the food chain. Quik Trip was known for the cleanliness of the stores and the quality of the service. We actually received considerable training beyond someone simply asking “Do you speak English?”. And our outfits were cuter than anybody else.
But still. It was a convenience store. There was only so much glamour and excitement to go around.
And even when you work for a high-end and fancy chain like that, there are going to be some pitfalls. Not all employees got the opportunity to experience the tragic side of the corporation. In fact, most of the employees were unaware of such a thing as the “high-risk” store.
Sounds intriguing, yes? It’s not. This just means that a particular store has been constructed in a part of town that has seen far better days. That there might be some unsavory characters comprising part of your clientele. In fact, because it’s a “high-risk” store, one of your customers might even kill you and take all the Fritos and bean dip. But hey, we had a great benefits package.
I don’t know why the company had these high-risk stores. Most of the Quik Trip locations were in really nice, or at least decent, parts of town. All of the customers were yuppies and everyone said “Thank you.” But for whatever reason, the corporation insisted on this handful of stores in some really dumb-ass places.
I didn’t start out in a risky store. My initial assignments were way in the south of Tulsa, which was at that time a booming place of exploding growth. Buildings were going up so fast that the concrete was still wet and they hadn’t even named some of the streets yet. I liked working in those stores. People were thoughtful and kind, full of grace and humanity. Probably because they weren’t running for their lives to avoid being gunned down by the local crack dealer.
In fact, there was one holiday when I had to pull a triple, working from 3pm on Christmas Eve to 3pm on Christmas day. (I was the only single person on staff at that store, I have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to Christmas and family, and I could use the premium pay.) I expected the customer flow to be light. What I didn’t expect was what those few customers would do when they walked in the door.
They brought me food. Christmas dinner. When you work in a particular location, you get to know the regulars, and they get to know you. You see the same people every day, and you develop mini-friendships. But still, it didn’t prepare me for the neighborhood reaction when word got out that I was pulling a triple on Christmas.
Next thing I know, there’s a parade of people lugging in all kinds of stuff to eat. Before long, there was enough food stacked in the walk-in cooler that I could have lived in there for weeks. It completely moved me, decent people doing a decent thing, that they didn’t have to do. (Yes, I cried a little bit when no one was in the store.) One of those moments when your belief in the basic goodness of humanity is affirmed.
I smiled a lot when I worked in the south Tulsa stores.
Then the day came when I smiled no more.
The area manager called me up one day, when I was singing and twirling in one of the pretty stores, and he advised me that he had a GREAT opportunity. One of his other stores had a staff that was a little unfocused, and they needed some help getting things in order. My performance appraisals showed that I was doing a humdinger of a job, and they sure could use me up in the north part of town.
Stupidly, I let myself be flattered. (They liked me! They really liked me!) Whatever I can do, Mr. Area Manager Man, to help this company be a shining beacon to the nation. Just tell me where to go and I’ll go there at once.
“There” turned out to be the intersection of Lewis and Admiral. Uh oh. I didn’t know much about the exact location, but I knew enough about the general vicinity that my heart skipped a beat. It was an incredibly crappy and sordid area of town. What was this man doing to me? I thought we were friends.
He kept chattering away on the phone, really trying to talk up this new assignment. Now that I had been apprised of an actual address, I suddenly noticed the desperation he was cleverly trying to hide in his voice. This was not his first phone call of the day. I was no longer a humdinger. I was merely the next in line on what was apparently a long list.
I slightly hinted that perhaps I would like to stay where I was. He hinted back a little more strongly that if I wanted to move up at all in the company, that I would be doing this, and doing it with great enthusiasm. And there would be a slight bump in pay if I played nice and said yes.
Oh. Well, that did it right there. More money? At a time when the only furniture in my tiny apartment was strategically-placed record albums and I had to buy food on the installment plan? Hell, yeah. What’s the address again?
Little did I know that employees in these high-risk stores referred to the salary “bump” as combat pay. It would not take me long to understand this terminology. In fact, it would not take me long to consider using my bump to purchase protective weapons from some of my new customers. The kind of customers that did not bring you food. And nobody sang happy songs, ever.
Click here to read the next bit in this series…
Originally published in a different form in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” in 2010. Modified considerably as I work my way through NaNoWriMo. Current word count for those who relish statistics: 17,957 out of 50K.
Categories: My Life