Economy, Money

The Penny Pincher


mr-krabs-tips-9First, I’m pleased to say that I’m once again taking a break from that time pit called Facebook. I do that occasionally in order to clear my head from everything that Facebook has crammed into it.

And honestly, with the way things are going right now, I sort of want to escape from the bad news which seems to be unfolding at an exponential rate. I keep away in order to plant some peace deep in my soul – what little soul there is in me.

At any rate, here’s an interesting little story. Or strange or ridiculously stupid depending on how you see it.

Anthony and I headed out to the Grocery Outlet with a very short list of things to buy. I had a $3 off coupon and wanted to buy myself another Bubba tumbler, quite possible the best freaking thing I’ve bought since I started drinking more water. Seriously, ice does not melt in this thing. It’s pretty incredible.

But because of their low, low prices, Grocery Outlet is one of those places where it’s impossible to stick to a short list.

Four bags of marshmallows for 50 cents? I’M STOCKING UP RIGHT NOW. That’s until you realize that you’ve never eaten close to four bags of marshmallows in your entire life and chances are they’ll get stale before you open the second bag. It’s like that.

Thankfully, I didn’t see the need to do that but along with my tumbler I did end up with some other bargain I couldn’t pass up and we made our way to checkout.

The total for my transaction with the coupon was $9.22 and since this was one of those rare occasions when I had cash on me (read: my leftover Las Vegas winnings), I happily handed over $10. The cashier then asked if I had the 22 cents. It’s usually what they do when they are low on coin so they can give back dollars for change. I’ve been there, trust me.

I checked my pockets and came up empty. I then asked Anthony if he had any change – yes, I felt bad about it – so that we could help the cashier with her predicament. He dug deep in his wallet and came up a penny short at 21 cents.

No biggie. Pennies are a dime a dozen (if that makes sense) and no doubt the cashier would end up finding one somewhere in the store, on the parking lot, in the breakroom, etc. And if she was a penny short at the end of the day, seriously, nobody would freaking care.

It was just a penny. A single, solitary penny.

So I handed our $10.21 over to her and she placed it on the register. This is where it gets weird.

Now remember, we gave her the 21 cents to not only get a dollar back but help her out a bit if she was short on change. But it was obvious she wasn’t.

She then put the paper and coin in the register, sorting it all out by denomination. Thinking she was going to give me a $1 bill and my receipt, she then starts to crack open the roll of quarters and nickels.

I gave Anthony a strange look. He returned it.

She then began scooping change out of the drawer, counted out 99 cents and along with the receipt, handed it all over to me. Essentially, she gave back the 21 cents we had given her plus more.

As I grabbed my bag and walked away, I was trying to figure out exactly what just happened by mumbling to myself, throwing up hand gestures and drawing air numbers ala Vera from Alice complete with the confused look.

I just couldn’t figure out why she didn’t give me that $1 in change. It would have been that much easier for everybody. As a way of  thanking Anthony for helping me out (or at least trying to), I handed over the 99 cents to him. He was happy with that.

So if you ever go to Grocery Outlet, don’t be swayed by their great sales on marshmallows. And for God’s sake, have the correct change.

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Commentary/Opinion, Complaint

California’s Plastic Bag Ban


plastic-bag-be-green-1Today in California, our former-turned-reelected governor Jerry Brown signed a law that will ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores next year, with convenience stores and pharmacies following suit in 2016. The idea behind the ban seems to be twofold: reducing litter and saving the environment.

That’s fine and well even though I’m not a tree-hugging hippie.

But what I am is someone who works in a grocery store who has a few stories to tell and some points to consider, so let me go ahead and break stuff down for you.

Nobody Can Remember The Ban
My fair city has had the plastic bag ban in effect for at least three years. That said, you would think that consumers would have already gotten used to bringing their own reusable bags into the store with them.

Nope. I’d say that around nearly half of our customers can’t seem to remember that the law was passed back in 2011 and therefore, have no reusable bags to put their groceries in. At that point, we have to ask if they would like to purchase paper bags (10 cents each), a reusable plastic bag (16 cents each), or even one of our reusable bags that sell anywhere from 99 cents to $4 depending on the material they are made from. They also have the option of using free boxes ala Costco should we have any on hand but those can be clumsy and not easy to carry.

Unless they are using the free boxes, their total goes up by however many bags they purchase and believe me, I hear about it. I know of one customer in particular who is absolutely adamant about not buying any kind of bag and when you ask him if he would like to, he goes on a diatribe that runs the gamut: unions, local government, Illuminati, you name it. He would rather die than spend pocket change for one bag – his exact words, not mine. I’ve since remembered his face and know not to ask him anymore but this is just one of the many negative responses we get.

Some Simply Don’t Know
There are cities surrounding the one I call home that have not yet banned plastic bags and on occasion, we get customers from those cities (or out of state, for that matter) shopping at my store. When asked if they need bags, the response is usually the same.

“Oh shit, that’s right. I’m in Long Beach.”

That quote implies that even those out of the city know about the ban yet most within the city don’t. Go figure.

Then there are those visiting or on vacation from other states or countries who look at you with strange eyes if you ask them if they would like bags. The expressions on their faces could be easily translated into, “Well duh, I want bags. This is a grocery store, isn’t it?” Then when we give the spiel about our city not using plastic bags, the reaction is almost always the same: “Well, that’s stupid.”

Sorry, not my idea. Write a letter to City Hall.

A Bacterial Hotbed
As I said, some customers remember to bring their reusable bags which is fine and well. (An aside: if you have reusable bags, put them on the conveyor belt before your groceries so that we have something to put them in. Otherwise, I will start bagging your stuff in paper or plastic bags that we will charge you for, or just let your items pile up until I get your bags. Thanks.) But just because they’ve brought in reusable bags doesn’t mean that they are being exclusively for groceries – or clean for that matter.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff inside bags while filling them with groceries: dirty clothing, used paper towels or facial tissues, receipts, toys, foodstuffs, etc. But the fun is only beginning.

I’ve also put groceries in bags that were moldy, dirty, smelly, covered with blood stains from leaking packages of meat, and, perhaps the worst of all, one that smelled like the customer’s cat urinated inside of it. Granted, we’re not there to pass judgment or give opinions but after bagging the items in this particular bag I had to walk away to get some fresh air and wash my hands. It was utterly disgusting. The customer didn’t seem to mind the smell at all as they grabbed their stuff and left, all smiles.

And just think: grocery store baggers are sticking their hands into these bacteria-infested bags for the sake of a few measly bucks, exposing themselves to who knows what the hell is inside those bags. Yes, it’s a minimum-wage job. Only those who have dedicated their lives to working in such an environment are making what one would consider good money. I fall into the former category, not the latter.

So yeah, most customers don’t wash their bags which is disgusting considering that food is going into them. They just let the funk of 40,000 years continue to fester inside them.

Shoplifting Is Harder to Determine
If a customer doesn’t want to pay for a bag or use a box, then chances are they will walk out of the store either carrying their items or rolling them out in a shopping cart. It’s an everyday occurrence, especially for the people who work in the offices behind the store. The problem here is that a customer who is carrying their items or is rolling them out of the store in a cart looks exactly the same as a thief who just picked up an item off the shelf or filled their cart with things and is leaving the store. It’s become so common to see it happening that it’s harder to determine who’s a shoplifter and who isn’t, and we can’t accuse anyone of anything unless we know for sure. In short, stuff can just walk out the door and we’d have no clue if it was paid for or not.

And you know what happens when stuff starts getting stolen from stores, don’t you? That’s right: prices go up and everybody pays for it.

The plastic bag ban may solve a few issues but knowing what I know, it opens up a gigantic, smelly can of worms at the same time.

(By the way, I never voted for Jerry Brown. I was too young the first time and wiser the second time.)

Music, Work

Let the Music Play


First off, a quick word about my last post which is now residing in oblivion.

It was dumb, pointless, idiotic, and more to the point, completely uncharacteristic of the person I’ve been aiming to be as of late. Somewhere along the line and up to the time I wrote that post, it seems I lost sight of a lot of things. All of that said, I think it’s time I hit the giant Reset button and let my mind get frazzled for a microsecond as it starts anew.

I’ve got my incense burning. I’m surrounded by the things that bring me comfort. I will meditate after this post. I’m moving on, so let’s get to the topic of tonight’s post.

Asia_-_Asia_(1982)_front_cover

Whitney Houston. Debbie Gibson. Dionne Warwick. Throw in some Richard Marx, Gordon Lightfoot and a ton of unknown artists into the mix and voila! you have a pretty good idea of the music playlist that we  must endure while at work. It’s piped in throughout the entire store including the warehouse, so trying to escape it is nearly impossible.

After a while the music just becomes background noise; a practically nonexistent drone that get you through the day as opposed to listening to the sound of shopping carts rattle down aisles of groceries. That’s not to say, however, that we don’t take notice of it.

It’s quite the contrary. In fact, it’s very noticeable when it’s not busy or near closing when the store is practically empty. That’s when you’re likely to hear Jeffrey Osborne sing about woo woo wooing or something like that.

That’s the way it was a few nights ago when I was closing down the store. Right up until midnight, it was just another day filled with soft adult contemporary hits that no broadcast radio station plays anymore.

And that’s when it happened.

Right after the hourly tone, clearly heard some relatively heavy guitar chords that seemed familiar. I stopped dead in my tracks and listened again to make sure I was hearing the right song.

Still not convinced, still standing and listening intently, I waited for the lyrics to start.

I never meant to be so bad to you
One thing I said that I would never do

Oh wow. It was like someone decided, on our behalf, that we needed a change and it had to be a change worth noting. And let me tell you, going from “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” to “Heat of the Moment” will definitely do it.

Since then, it’s been a nonstop barrage of songs I never thought I’d hear while pushing a broom around the store or bagging groceries. And frankly, it’s a change that’s been long overdue even in my short time working there.

While different, I would hesitate to call it crazy. Here’s just a sampling of the songs on the new playlist, most of which I’ve only heard once.

The new playlist also includes “I Can’t Hold Back” by Survivor. I mention this one in particular because Vital Signs is, without a doubt, my top guilty pleasure album. Seriously, it is…even if that song get picked on.

When compared to some of the stuff we used to have playing in the background, this new selection makes the day go by much faster, even if there are still some soft hits in the mix. It’s also worth noting that during our current Mexican food promotion, we’ve also been getting a mix of Latin music thrown in there so the variety of music is vast.

Change is definitely good, but deep down inside I’m wondering how long it will be before our senior clientele have a word with management about it.

Unless, of course, they are Franz Ferdinand fans.

UPDATE: A few days later, the standard music playlist returned. Booo!

Commentary/Opinion, Work

It’s None Of Your Business


0001820053030_500X500Sometimes it’s just better to keep your mouth shut.

It was a busy, long night at work and our lead cashier – she’s been on the job almost as long as I’ve been alive – was working the long shift with myself and the manager. It was late, we were counting down the minutes until it was time to go home…a long night.

She bought us packs of Mike & Ikes and Hot Tamales just to keep us going.

Later, she made the “store closed” announcement and a few people rolled up to her register to pay for their goods. The first gentleman had filled his cart with liquids: lots of individual bottles of water and a ton of Gatorade. I mean his cart was full of Gatorade bottles in every flavor (or as most people choose Gatorade, color). But hey, it’s on sale and there was a minimum purchase (88 cents with a minimum of 8 bottles) so he stocked up. I’m sure I would have done the same if I needed that many bottles.

The guy was waiting for his significant other – wife or girlfriend, I dunno – to return with a few items she was still looking for. That’s when the customer behind him looked inside his cart with amazement and spoke up.

“You know, I have to ask you. Why so many bottles of Gatorade? I mean, that’s a LOT of bottles of the stuff.” The guy just kept on rambling on about the quantity of the man’s purchase and really wouldn’t shut up about it. I was called away to do other tasks as he continued to probe the guy about his purchase.

I later came to find out that our cashier, tired of his incredulous and downright stupid remarks, sternly looked at him and offered this gem.

“So? You’re buying 30 cans of beer.”

Touche, my friend. Touche. I was almost in tears laughing when she told us this.

And you know what? She’s absolutely right and I know why she said that.

So what if the guy is buying 32 bottles of Gatorade. What’s the big deal? Maybe he likes it. Maybe he’s the coach of a team. Maybe his body requires more electrolytes than the average person.

The other guy was buying a Bud Light case comprised of 30 cans of beer. At least there are benefits to drinking the Gatorade.

Mr. Beer Can had no room to speak up, and the cashier later told us she didn’t think he even heard her comment because he just couldn’t shut up about someone else’s purchase.

Honestly, dude. It’s none of your business. He could have been buying cases of Fleet enemas and it still would be nothing for you to be concerned about. Now can we make all sorts of assumptions about you being in the store after midnight, by yourself and buying 30 cans of beer?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Because that would be rude.

Life, Work

Perspective


I’ve only worked two days at my new job and I can honestly say that it beats anything I’ve done in recent years (mainly proofreading and writing).

The major difference is that I am now dealing with the public, something I haven’t done since the last time I worked retail way back in…I can’t even remember. Oh wait, I think it was 2010. Anyway, dealing with people is a nice change after suffering under a fluorescent tube at a desk, proofreading piles and piles of paperwork that after a while made you wonder if any languages, including English, made any sense.

Some customers love to talk, some don’t. Some don’t care if you “stuff all the shit in the same bag*” while others are extremely particular about item placement. You can make connections with people you would have never otherwise thought, and it’s a beautiful thing.

For all intents and purposes I am a Courtesy Clerk (aka boxboy) at a local grocery store. It’s not a glamorous position nor is it a full-time gig but I am finding so many positive things in my being there.

The perks are many. This store in particular uses Rewards cards and one of our perks is that we are issued an upgraded card that gives us points (cash back) on purchases, and 10 times the points on private-label brands. The amount is distributed four times a year and can really add up. There’s also discounts on cell phones, auto purchases, etc.

I’m also working with a fun bunch of people, most of whom I already know after shopping at this store for nearly 10 years. A lot of people we knew, however, have moved on to other stores or left the company but the current staff is about as happy as I am to be there and is comprised mostly of younger people. I’ve already told them that I can keep up with them so don’t worry about it.

Then there’s my commute. It takes me literally 10 minutes to walk to the place, or 5 minutes on a bike or 2 minutes by car. I haven’t had such an easy time getting to a job since…ever.

There’s more good than bad at this point and I’m happy to be a part of it. The pay is minimal but the perks, environment, people, and commute definitely make up for everything else.

Some may see this as a step down when compared to what I used to do or what I could be doing.

In my case, it’s exactly what I needed in order to break the rut I had been swirling in since 2003. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*My city has recently banned plastic bags, so a lot of customers are not prepared for their haul if they find more than their bags can hold – if they remembered to bring their bags in the first place.
Commentary/Opinion, Complaint, Holidays, Shopping

The Fresh and (Not So) Easy Free Turkey


UPDATE 11/21/12: I have since received a very kind email from a Social Media representative from Fresh & Easy who assured me that the matter, although resolved, and the way in which it was handled will be investigated.

UPDATE 11/27/12: I have been in contact with said Social Media representative and I’m happy to say that the matter has been resolved professionally and tactfully. I have also been offered a gift card as a way to earn back my loyalty. This is customer satisfaction that went well beyond what I was expecting when I initially wrote about my experience and I thank them for taking the time to go the extra mile.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the supermarkets are getting a bit more hectic with people running around preparing for their Thanksgiving feast. Fortunately, we have had most of our shopping done well ahead of time but only needed the main ingredient: the turkey.

This is where Fresh & Easy would save the day – or so we thought.

You see, F&E was having a special promotion: if you spent $30 or more, you would get a free Jennie-O turkey (click to enlarge and see the details).

turkey

Knowing this, Ann went shopping on the 15th and ended up spending well over $50, a purchase which no doubt qualified her for the free bird. But when she queried an employee about the promotion, she hit a roadblock.

“No, we’re all out of them,” said one employee. Another one, rather snottily, told her that the promotion was for one day. This, despite the ad you see above clearly stating that it was for one week and while supplies last. This, also, despite the fact that there was a freezer full of Jennie-O turkeys clearly marked as being the promotional turkeys.

Ann’s not one for confrontations so she chose to send an email explaining her situation. The unedited reply is below:

Hi Ann,

I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get the turkey for free like you had expectd. I know that they told you at the store that it was not free, but in order to get any compensation, all that is taken care of through the store manager. Thank you for choosing fresh&easy!

– Joe Blow

fresh&easy listening team

That’s it. And after reading it a few times I’m not even sure if this reply makes any sense – and it also reads like an eight-grade love letter. There’s no mention of bringing it to the manager’s attention, no apology (“I’m sorry to hear…” takes on an insincere tone and seems akin to “I really don’t care…”), or no offer to make things better and ensure that we will remain customers. Just a big F-U and on to the next one.

I even tweeted my annoyance with them:

Their reply:

By the way, I’m @aeromat not @aeromet. I have no idea why that extra one was thrown in there.

Now Ann may not be one for confrontations but they don’t bother me in the least so with receipt in hand, I drove down to Fresh&Easy last Saturday to take care of the matter myself.

As I was walking in the store, there were still ads outside showcasing the free turkey so it seemed obvious that they had some in stock. I made my way to the self-checkout lanes (they don’t have cashiers) and looked around for someone I thought would be able to help me.

At F&E, that’s asking a lot. One girl was making her way down the aisle to the checkout lanes so I thought I’d stop her and ask.

“Excuse me, I…” was about all I could get out as she continued to walk past me, not even acknowledging the fact I was speaking to her. Now it was on.

As she finished whatever was more important than answering my question, she walked in my direction and that’s when it occurred to her that someone standing there looking dumbfounded with receipt in hand just might need her help.

I explained what Ann had gone through and what she was told. She pretty much told me that it was a “while supplies last” deal and that when they were gone, they were gone. She also said that if I wanted to get the free one, I would have to spend another $30 to get it.

That was it. I spoke sternly.

“Okay. So my wife was told that it was a one-day promotion when it wasn’t, she was told that you were out when you weren’t, and now you’re telling me that I need to spend another $30 when we clearly did that already?”

I folded my arms.

“So…now what?”

You know, I try my hardest to not be a jerk in certain situations but when my buttons get pressed over and over and I’m given some kind of story AND have my wife lied to, that line gets crossed.

“What are we going to do about this?” I said. I didn’t bother asking for the manager because I figured that the store’s incompetent employees were probably a direct reflection of their poor training standards to begin with. Hell, for all I know, this girl I was talking to could have been the manager of the place.

But I wasn’t budging. She hesitated, looked around, checked my receipt, then finally agreed to let me take advantage of what was rightfully ours to begin with. She led me to the last aisle of the store and to the freezer which – get ready for this – was FULL of Jennie-O turkeys.

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This will be the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving feast and a trophy of sorts in the little war that was waged between F&E and two of its customers.

And I will enjoy it.

So thank you, Fresh&Easy for the free turkey and making us jump through hoops of fire to get it. It’s situations like these that will drive customers to take their money elsewhere and which we are more likely to do after dealing with something that should have been so easy to resolve.