Bad Time Cartoon Posted March 16, 2021

Working at a convenience store is not a career path most follow willingly.

I was no exception. I narcissistically assumed my job would tide me over until I found a better one. Little did I know how badly I would be trapped in a hotbed of bad customers and decisions. I ended up being completely drained of my ability to care for myself or anyone else. It took me nearly ten years to really understand who I am, what I am worth, and where I should be casting my pearls. I have many horror stories to share, as well as a list of horrible things I had learned from working at a convenience store.

That's not to say good people do not exist at these places, but the typical retail work environment is so toxic that becoming bitter and uninspired is inevitable. As the Bible says, bad company corrupts good morals. Nobody you meet there is going to cure cancer, or stop wars, or save the planet. With any luck, they will stumble upon a $2 coupon for Honey Nut Cheerios. That will be about it. I usually worked third shift just to avoid the backstabbing competition to see who can work harder under the same slave wages.

"Of course, SHE was able to notice that coupon floating around while I was actually doing things. That WITCH!!"

Customers typically are not much friendlier. In fact, late-night is when the worst often come out.

I was so glad that my store cut off lottery sales after a certain time, because there was literally nothing better to do within a ten-mile radius of the place. My shift was handled solo... so if I ever encountered a lottery-addict, my production would have been irreparably shot.

But that did not stop people from trying in other creative ways. I had people take up half an hour to decide what they wanted. I had people pay hundreds of dollars... ALL in coins. I had people recite their multi-page essay from memory on why I should serve them alcohol past when I legally could. I had people call the police on me, hold up the line, and make a big scene because I dared to charge them fifteen cents more for a larger fountain drink. All that happened while I was safely locked inside. But nothing would hold these people back once I opened those doors.

After a whole night of hard work, I would have one moment to enjoy my nice-looking, nice-smelling store before watching it get destroyed all over again. Napkins, cups, lids, straws, and any sort of snack food debris you can think of would be scattered everywhere again. Pints of ice cream and other cold/frozen stuff would be left to thaw out on the store shelves.

The public bathrooms, especially, often became a hilarious display of mannerisms. I was convinced they were constructed on top of cursed ground, as though everyone who entered them would magically forget where to properly unload their bodily fluids and excrement. And that was assuming people were using them for what they were intended for. It was not terribly uncommon to fish people out who were getting high or overdosing on drugs, either.

On the rare occasion the bathrooms looked decent, I assumed other corners were cut at work that day – particularly anything food related. There are rules out the wazoo over following proper food handling procedures such as washing hands, wearing gloves, checking temperatures, and so on. But I can guarantee you half of them got ignored on any given day. I can guarantee you that these ovens and warmers got a spotty cleaning at best. After all, it is what everyone really wants. The customer typically cannot be bothered to wait one extra second, the manager typically wants to save money by keeping their store ultra-understaffed, and those in charge are typically all about record sales and profits. Being a means to an end is pretty much what these companies are all about. And because of that...

I always had at least one person who genuinely cared for me and my mental health. In fact, right before I left, I was surrounded by the most competent team I ever had. It appeared that my place was finally going to be the exception to the rule.

Then my manager got fired for the most asinine reasons, leaving a power vacuum that to this day has not been satisfactorily filled. I might not know anything about running things on a corporate level... but if you are going to shake up an establishment in a fit of rage, you better have a plan. You better come back to everyone with a reasonable replacement. You cannot trot out someone who does not even know how to print something and tell people it is an improvement. The only thing left of the original team is the shadow it cast on the wall just before the nuclear bomb went off.

This marked the ignominious end of my career in retail. I broke the news to the new assistant manager, who was already was in tears at that point. I told them that I could not, in good conscience, continue on with the company. I felt bad for them of course, but nothing you do for someone else will mean as much to you as something you do for yourself. Going forward, it's better jobs or nothing for me. If you're one of those poor souls behind the counter, get out while you still can. Take that leap of faith. You might struggle for a while, but you will be free. Free to meet new people, learn skills, and see cool stuff. Free to do all the things that bring you closer to becoming a fully formed person – with a distinctive outlook, voice, and stories to tell.

Someone like that will always be of service to the universe.