Jul 25, 2013

The Summer Job

Ready for work!

When I walked out of the Albertsons Food & Drug Store at the corner of State Road 434 and Wekiva Rd in Longwood, FL at the end of August 1995, I never imagined I'd return someday.  I figured the days of working the summer job were just about over for good.

And yet, here I am in the summer of 2013, a family man pushing forty and I'm back.  Not at Albertsons, but back in the grocery store, a Kroger right around the corner from home, working the summer job.

Ever since we moved to Columbus, I'd entertained the thought of earning a little extra money during the summer.  But I hadn't really needed to--with Babs working at the daycare center straight through the summer and my checks spread out over 12 months, the income had remained steady throughout the year.  I had pursued a little tutoring as an added buffer but beyond that there'd been no need.

Well, times have changed.  With two little mouths to feed and Babs now unemployed during the summer months, extra income is no longer a nice plus but a necessity.  And while tutoring pays very well, when it pays, I needed some regular income to help us make it through the lean summer season.  So in May of this year I put in my application at Kroger for a job as a night cashier.  It was the perfect fit, working from 5:15 P.M. to 1:15 A.M., thus keeping my days free to spend with my family and to keep up with the small string of tutoring gigs I'd lined up.  I was hired in due course, and in mid-June my summer job began.

By the time I completed my training and really started working regular hours, I only had four weeks left until we departed for our annual trip to Florida to see my family, so I tried to maximize my availability as much as possible during that time.  We adjusted our plans for the fourth of July so that I'd be available to work, and indeed I spent Independence Day working a 3 to 11 shift.

My view of the fireworks on July 4, 2013

So how did it feel to go back to the summer job at the grocery store?  It was a little odd at first.  I felt a little as if I was going backwards--working for the hourly wage, struggling to learn the produce codes and the secrets of the U-Scan (before I started working at Kroger, I thought the U-Scan attendents had the easiest job in the world.  To my untrained eye they seemed to be just loitering around to make sure nobody stole anything  while we customers scanned and bagged our own groceries.  Now I no better.  Toughest job on the front end, in my opinion).  And the music didn't help.  I was astounded to discover that the same tunes that filtered through the sound system between 1989 and 1995 were still softly playing in 2013.  "If You Asked Me To" and "Here and Now" and "Nothing Compares 2 U".  It was surreal.  Still, it wasn't bad at all and it got better quickly.  The produce codes started coming--bananas once again was the first code I learned.  I got a handle on the U-Scan quickly and while I still tend to have more questions than the veterans I have patient front end managers who are more than willing to help me learn.  And it felt good to walk out of the store at the end of the night knowing I'd logged some hours that would help my family meet the bottom line.

I enjoyed getting to know my co-workers.  The three closers responsible for training me, N. the aspiring science teacher and committed Christian, J., the cleaning ninja (closing cashiers are responsible for cleaning the front end) and substitute teacher with a passion for Brit Lit, and J.H., the amiable master of the U-Scan  and soon-to-be accountant, were outstanding teachers, each in their own way.  I learned so much from each of them and deeply admired their passion for doing their work well.  The other cashiers, the courtesy clerks, the friendly but professional management team are great to work with.  It really is an enjoyable place to work and I always look forward to my hours at the store.  The only hard part is when it's slow and the time seems to drag.  I much prefer a busy day where customers come through one after the other and the time flies.  It's helpful that closing the store is actually a lot of work.  During my last week before we left for Florida I started closing on my own without a trainer and I was racing to get everything done--the cleaning of the registers, the restocking of the bags, the U-Scan audit, plus helping any customers that came through as I was the only cashier in the store.  Even with few customers late at night, it kept the time moving quickly.

A few things have changed some in the 18 years since I last worked in the grocery business.  Obviously there is the aforementioned U-Scan which didn't exist.  Probably the biggest change is that virtually everyone pays with plastic now.  Cash customers are occasional and people paying with checks are rarer still.  That's the reverse of what it was when I was last a cashier.  The registers are "smarter" than they were.  But beyond that the job is basically the same:  Provide, quick, friendly service to each person who walks in the door.

I'm in Florida now on vacation with my family and school starts in exactly three weeks, so my time at Kroger is about to severely curtailed. Still I hope to snag a few more hours late next week, and I'll stay on for awhile working on Sundays and on the holidays when they'll have me.  And for the next few summers at least while the kids are young and Babs is at home, I hope, I'll continue on at Kroger bringing in some extra cash for the family and striving to do what I do in my regular job:  bring my very best.


LOQuent said...

Great post and I was really moved by it, as a father in lean times myself and this is the definition of a man in my book.

Anonymous said...

So proud of you Sean! You are such an amazing human being.