Running the Gauntlet

I came across my old name tag from my days at The Shop while I was emptying one of my desk drawers the other day. My first thought was to throw the damn thing out but I decided to keep it. Why? To remind myself that no matter how bad things might get, they will never be as bad as when I wasted 6 months of my life as Front End Specialist at South Philly’s finest arts and crafts establishment.

I’m working on a new project.  It’s called “How to Avoid Customers While Walking to the Break Room” and before you ask, this is harder than it sounds.  Corporate conspires to make our lives as miserable as possible—in fact, they probably have strategic planning sessions and business development retreats for this very purpose— and they really outdid themselves with the layout of The Shop.

The bathrooms, the break room and the time clock, you see, are in three separate locations.  This means you have to go into the office, punch out on the time clock and re-enter the sales floor on your way to the restroom.  And if you manage to make it to bathroom without interruption (a feat in and off itself) you have to re-enter the sales floor again to get to the break room.  As much as I wish there was a secret underground tunnel connecting all of the Employees Only Zones, there isn’t.

For a while, I thought about digging the tunnel myself.  I figured I could enlist the help of the morning stocking crew, snag a couple of spades from the floral department and get to work, just like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.  I’ve seen The Great Escape about two hundred times, and I majored in history as an undergrad so if anyone is qualified to spearhead a tunnel-building effort at The Shop, it’s me.

Film "The Great Escape" 1963

Why do we need a tunnel at The Shop?  I’m so glad you asked.

It’s because The Shop sells things.  To people.  To really annoying people who save their really annoying questions for the precise moment that I’m released from my duties at Front End Specialist into the blissful half hour that is my lunch break.  Except it’s not blissful.  The path from Reggie #1 to the office is a minefield.

I try to slip away from the registers undetected but then—BAM!  “Miss!  Do you sell dirt?” (You mean potting soil?  No.  Try the Home Depot).

I round the corner—the path through the children’s craft section looks clear—but then POW!  “You work here?” (Yes).  “Ya’ll got ribbon?” (Yes.  Straight ahead, on the right).

Dodging a party of sorority girls, another party of bachelorettes and approximately two dozen bridesmaids, I make a run for it—but then KABOOM! (and it’s grapeshot this time).  “Excuse me!   Where’s your cake toppers?”

“We need pink garter belts!”

“Where are you Greek letters?”

“And pink feather boas!”

“You got any more of those wedding flip flops in stock?”

“And pink shot glasses.  And martini glasses.  Do you have pink martini glasses?

One aisle to your left, I shout back.  “No Greek letters.  Sold out.  Try Wal-mart.  No shot glasses.  Try Wal-mart.  No martini glasses.  Try—actually, no.  We don’t have pink martini glasses but we do have bachelorette party invitations with pink martini glasses on them.”

Before I can say, “Head past the floral counter and turn left,” they start foaming at the mouths, all thirty of them, and demand, in unison, “WHERE?  WHERE?  WHERE are the bachelorette party invitations with pink martini glasses on them?”  I consider sending them to the wood aisle, just for fun, but I can’t.  I wood feel too guilty (“wood” as opposed to “would,” get it?  Haha.  There’s a little arts and crafts humor for you).

I have never knowingly misdirected the customer.  I have developed selective hearing (lately, I find myself going deaf whenever I need to refill my water bottle) and I avoid smiling at all costs but I have never knowingly misdirected a customer because wild goose chases increase the amount of time that the customer spends  in The Shop.  And I really hate it when there are customers in The Shop.

Hence the need for the tunnel.

But the morning stocking crew hasn’t been much help.  I don’t know why I thought they would be— aside from the fact that they’re supposed to be strong and good at carrying things.  But they start work at 6:00am, while the crafters of So’ Philadelphia are still asleep.  When their water bottles need refilling, therefore, they don’t have to run the customer gauntlet.

Steve McQueen made it look so easy.  Granted (spoiler alert!) the Nazi’s shoot almost everyone by the end of the film, but at least Steve gets his tunnel.

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