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Retail Life

I’ve worked three retail jobs in my career: Blockbuster Video, GameStop, and a Regal movie theater. Depending on your definition of retail, the movie theater may not count, but for this discussion we are grouping it in.

Retail jobs can be terrible. The customers are awful. The management is usually incompetent and corporate could care less about you. It’s a strange place to work, because you know that you are not valued nor respected by anyone except maybe your co-workers and the occasional decent manager. You are truly alone, only with those other overworked and underpaid employees to get through each day and keep things moving.

I won’t go into the trials and tribulations of a retail worker, I’m sure you are all aware of it. Being cussed at, spit at, screamed at, can be daily occurrence. Cleaning up all sorts of bodily fluids is a regular thing. Learning how to smile when all you want to do is reach across a counter and strangle someone is a skill every veteran retail work possesses. And opening up a miserable paycheck to see the fruits of your labor and wondering how you are going to make it another two weeks is just part of the gig, while billionaire CEOs say things like synergy, automation, and you need to push the credit or rewards card more.

Looking back on my time in retail, I don’t have a lot of fond memories. I mean, I complained a lot about the jobs while I worked them. I had many horrible nights and mornings, and have called 911 more times than any human should in one lifetime. But there was something worthwhile about those days, something that made me who I am today and now that I’ve been out of the retail game for ten years, it’s almost nostalgic for me.

I work an office job these days. My days are all pretty much the same. I have a busy period, but it’s nothing like say, Black Friday or a big movie release. But as the holiday season approaches I can’t help but feel a little yearning for those days when the air was filled with tension and you wondered how you’d make it through the shift.

I always enjoyed the challenge of trying to organize something and make it better. I spent alot of my retail career designing spreadsheets and figured out proper staffing levels to ensure a successful and profitable day. I liked getting my hands dirty and feeling exhausted by the end of the day, and if it wasn’t for the ridiculous customers (which I don’t miss) it really wasn’t so bad.

But I think what I’m most nostalgic for is the camaraderie that existed amongst co-workers, even the ones that weren’t so great.

When you fighting to get a line down or struggling to keep the bathrooms clean, the only people you have to lean on are your co-workers. You always have the ones with quirks (too much perfume, takes too much, doesn’t talk at all), the ones who think they are better than the job (they like to boss people around), the overachievers (the Dean’s list type whose parents beat perfection into them), the retail veteran (someone whose been fired a handful of times and just bounces from job to job), and the ones who have it figured out (they don’t care, and do the bare minimum). These people are your lifeline in this midst of chaos and it’s funny how many bonds can be made while you are cleaning up vomit or needing someone to vent to after being screamed at.

I’ve had dozens of co-workers over the years, and the bonds made in retail were always the strongest. I think it’s because you go through the worse together and it lets you know what the other person is truly made of. You know that you can trust them in a crisis and that’s a great feeling.

Recently, I began watching Superstore on Peacock. The sitcom takes place in a big box retail store akin to Walmart. There’s a lot the show gets wrong about retail life, but there is also a lot it gets right. The short cuts to insane customers doing insane things (pulled out all the milks to find one with the oldest date and then leaving the the milks on the ground or listening to music with headphones and breaking stuff as you walk down the aisle unintentionally) are hysterical and on point. I also enjoy how the show does a great job at defining the various levels of management and the corporate structure. The annoying, badly acted training videos are pulled out for everything. Corporate spins every letter and announcement as a gift to the employee, when in actuality its just to protect them from lawsuits or to push their agenda.

SuperStore exceeds at showing just how much companies do not care for the employees, despite calling them “family.” It also shows how scared they are by the word union and what a terrible situation they all co-exist in. But it’s in that muck of despair that we see the bonds and relationships form between the employees. It’s not always positive, but they develop a repertoire with each other that makes the day go by. And that is the magic of SuperStore. It channels that experience so well onto the screen.

The more I watch the show, the more I miss those times. I may have even lost my mind because I’m somewhat wanting to work a busy Black Friday or something just to experience it all again. Then again, maybe it’s just working a boring office job makes me miss those exciting times with the revolving door of co-workers just trying to get to the end of our shifts.

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