Every Season Starts at Dick’s
“No, I’m telling you, Greg, this cashier is incompetent. I have been standing in line forever.” The woman in front of me in line at Target tapped her foot and craned her neck towards the front of the line. “She takes ten minutes on each transaction. How can her job be that hard?”
The cashier who was at the front of the line wore a face that screamed overwhelmed and was all too familiar. Her fair was frizzing slightly around her ears, her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes wide. I smiled at her sadly as I moved up to the counter and the woman next to me on the phone went one lane over.
“Hey. Crazy day, huh?” I handed her my receipt and started to take my return out of the bag.
The cashier shook her head slightly. “You have no idea. It’s been like this all day.”
I think of my own job as a cashier at Dick’s Sporting Goods and laugh a little. I want to tell her I know exactly what it is like. I want to pat her hand and comfort her, tell her to ignore all the angry customers and that her shift will be over soon. But that would seem delusional, so instead I settle for a smile and try to be the one nice customer she will receive all day.
My feet hurt, I couldn’t feel my hands, and I had only been at work for two hours. Only seven more to go, I thought as I continued to mindlessly ring up items. It was the day after Christmas, and I had walked into work completely unprepared for the chaos awaiting me. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew there would be long lines and a decent amount of returns. After all, I had been to the mall on December 26th in past years; I was not totally new to the retail scene. I laughed at my naïve thoughts as I looked up from my register to peer at my line. It stretched halfway down the power aisle, the main aisle of our store, and the end was hidden beyond a fixture of women’s Nike sweatshirts.
Other cashiers’ lines were spilling out at the bottom of the registers and intertwining, making a mass that resembled a mosh pit rather than a civilized retail store. The televisions overhead blasted SportsCenter in a fruitless attempt to distract the customers from the long lines and make them forget that they hated their Christmas presents. Our store manager was under the impression that there was a direct correlation between television volume and customer patient. How endless predications of Sunday’s football game were supposed to do this was beyond me. The piercing screech of the door alarm added to the din as people tried to leave with forgotten sensors on their clothing. Everywhere I looked, my coworkers’ hands were a blur, scanning items and handing over bags as people tapped their feet, wanting to get out of the store as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Andy’s neon shoes sprinting after a customer who forgot to sign for their purchase.
I should have taken the hint of impending doom when my manager, RJ, gave me my till back in the cash office. He looked flustered with his button down shirt tucked roughly beneath his belt and his glasses sitting slightly crooked on his face. Usually when I arrive at work my till is already made and shoved into my hands before I am quickly herded to the front of the store.
Today, RJ flew into the cash office, ten minutes after I punched in, and gruffly told me to sit down while he made my till. I didn’t think anything of it because that’s just RJ. He likes to pretend he is mad at the world, when really he is our most lenient manager. Whenever a customer requests to talk to the manager on duty because of a price discrepancy and RJ is working, he gets a thrill out of it. He’ll laugh to us and say “Oh, we’ll see about that.” only to give the customer exactly what they want five minutes later. We let him get away with the tough guy routine because we like him. RJ was done with the till by the time I signed out my radio and placed it on my ear.
“We’re starting at $400 today, Bud,” he said as I took the green bag out of his hands.
That should have been my second sign. Normally, our tills start with $200 worth of change in the drawer for returns or to break bills if someone is annoying enough to give us a one hundred dollar bill at ten in the morning. I didn’t think anything of it though. I just nodded then headed towards the registers up front. I was pointed to the front register facing the entrance doors that really wasn’t a register. We never use it any other time of the year because you have to type your employee numbers into the computer after every transaction and the open light doesn’t work. Not to mention that during the winter you get blasted with a face full of biting cold wind every time someone walks into the store. During the holiday season, we have no other choice but to use it.
I quickly found out why the starting amount was $400 instead of $200. In the two hours I had been there, all of my transactions had been returns except maybe five. Customers seemed to think because I was the front register, I was the customer service desk and therefore the only place that they could take their returns. My hanger box was overflowing and returned items were starting to fall into the register line behind me. We are supposed to take our own returns over to the bins on the other side of the front end, and then other associates pick them up and bring them back to their respective departments. However, I was afraid if I left my register the customers might start a riot. The women next in line with the stroller and a fistful of receipts looked particularly vicious.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I imagined her muttering in exasperation to the women behind her in line. The other customer would agree and together they would laugh bitterly as I struggled through the crowd with a handful of returns.
“I’ve been here for forty-five minutes,” the women would say, shaking her head, “Do they think I have nothing better to do then wait in line all day?”
I shook my head at the thought; someone was bound to defend me if that were to happen, right? I looked up at my line again. It was still twisting down the power aisle and the air was so thick with impatience, I could taste it. They would eat me alive, I thought as I looked back down to the register.
“Miss, miss, excuse me? Excuse me!”
I looked up from the computer to find an older man trying to fight for my attention through a family returning a lacrosse net. I had stopped listening and started to tune everyone out about an hour ago. You can only listen to employees bicker on the radio in one ear and customers complain about long lines in the other for so long before you start to go completely insane.
“Yes, can I help you?” I asked while trying to figure out where exactly I was going to fit the lacrosse net in my heaping pile of returns. Maybe if I moved the boot dryer underneath the pile of clothes, I could fit it next to the plastic bags.
“I have a return,” the man said holding up a plastic bag, “but I want to do an exchange. Should I carry the bag through the store with me or –”
Yeah, that was going to have to work. I scooped the pile of clothes off the ground and pushed the boot dryer over with my toe.
“You can just leave the bag up here on the counter, and then come back when you find what you want to exchange and I can do that for you.”
The response came automatically. I don’t know how many times I had said it before. We have a problem with theft, so our store manager does not want people carrying bags through the store even if they have a receipt. The standard procedure is to have them leave their bags on the front register which is usually unoccupied. It didn’t cross my mind that I was working at that register today and having bags on the counter might be inconvenient. I pushed the bag as far to the right as possible and continued to check people out. Normally, I enjoy the chaos of work. It keeps me entertained during nine hour shifts and helps the time go by faster. But I wouldn’t even classify what I was witnessing as chaos anymore. It was like the apocalypse had been predicted for tomorrow and you would only be safe if you got exactly what you wanted from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
A half hour later – or was it an hour, maybe two – the older man showed back up in my line with his exchange. He stood at the counter staring at me and waiting for the recognition to hit. It didn’t. I’ve always been bad with faces, especially at work. I see so many people a day and half the time I’m not looking at their face. I concentrate on things like the register, their receipt, and trying to fit their items into a bag.
“I had the bag with the exchange,” the man finally said when I started to ring him out and it was clear I was not putting together the pieces. “I left my bag right here on the counter.”
I looked to where he was pointing, the counter was clear. I didn’t panic yet. I figured I had accidently put the bag with the rest of the returns in my hanger box or someone had moved it to the bins in the corner. At this point, I honestly did not even remember having a conversation with the man. I thought he had interacted with Drew, our customer engagement specialist. As CES, Drew’s job was to greet people as they enter the store, direct them, and take care of their bags when they have a return.
“What item are you returning?” I asked.
“A pair of spandex leggings for running. They’re black.”
I could tell the man was getting agitated, but that didn’t faze me. I had just gotten yelled at by another customer who had been waiting to talk to a manager for fifteen minutes. They seemed to think that I had control over my manager’s actions and that he had nothing better to do than talk to them. I started to rummage through my hanger bin looking for a pair of black spandex. They were nowhere to be found.
“Hold on just a moment while I go and see where Drew placed your bag.”
“I didn’t talk to Drew,” the man sneered, “I talked to you.”
I froze while reaching down into the hanger box and looked at the man in confusion. My mind reeled backwards trying to remember talking to the man, or even taking his bag. It didn’t sound slightly familiar.
“Drew!” I yelled calling him over, “This customer says he left a bag up here on my register for an exchange, do you remember seeing anything like that?”
Before Drew could answer, the customer started to raise his voice, “Oh, he ‘says’ that he did this, huh?”
I turned to the customer and, remembering that I was at work and for some unknown reason the customer is always right, I bit back a retort. “Sir, I’m not implying that you are lying. I’m sure that you did hand me the bag. I just don’t remember this, so I am trying to figure out what happened.”