A long time ago in the late 1980s I stuffed groceries in paper bags in a small town that you most likely have not heard of, but if you are from a small town, its the same, its like your small town. For my services and skills with paper bags, the suits that ran the place from their far off ivory towered corner offices in a slightly larger mid-sized town, paid me and those like me next to nothing, somewhere near the minimum wage, which was then around $4 an hour.
For my younger readers, or for those that are reading this on my Ancestry.com family tree file in the next century, paper bags were just as they sounded, they were bags that held groceries that are made out of paper. This form of bag became extinct in 1994, never to be seen in grocery stores again.
Now, to be clear, I also sacked groceries in what was at the time just the latest grocery store fad, plastic bags. Plastic was cheaper, it didn’t kill innocent spruce trees, and relegated paper sacks to the ash heap of Piggly Wiggly history. Plastic bags have been filling up landfills ever since.
Talk about difficult: I had to sack in a bygone era in both paper and plastic sacks. Even more demanding, is with each and every customer that came through during my shift which sometimes stretched on for almost 3 whole hours, I had to ask them if they would like Paper or Plastic for their provisions, with a really disingenuous smile on my face, no less.
It took a special talent to sack both paper and plastic, but try telling that to those suits at the corporate office. They felt that my lack of job experience, my Stridex laced face and coke bottle glasses deemed me unworthy.
I showed them, though. I learned to sack extremely fast, always keeping the cold groceries like the sherbert bucket paired nicely in bags next to the frozen peas. The soaps, cleaners, and mouse poison always separate and quarantined from food items. For the elderly, I would keep their bags lighter than normal. Sometimes I would double bag a heavy item for them, like a melon for instance, so as not to make their walk in to their adult living center apartment similar to a Gallagher skit, only without the hijinks.
And finally one day, one of the suits came up to me, and said that I was really getting the hang of sacking, but they thought I might be able to handle even more responsibility. Some of the cute girl cashiers needed to take breaks periodically, so they asked me if I wanted to be a checker. You bet, I jumped at the chance, and after a half day of training and passing the arugula species quiz, I was soon a certified checker.
Bam! 50 more cents every single hour!
Suits like Ronald McDonald putting on a happy (or creepy) face despite a minimum wage rebellion
Now my checking career was less distinguished. I’d make mistakes, hand out the incorrect change periodically, hit the food stamp button when I should have hit the WIC button, and alas, there was also that one time which I have never before confessed to where I actually sold cigarettes to a 10 year old girl. Its not like I didn’t know she was 10, I was just completely spacing out as my shift stretched into its second than third hour, I just wanted to get home and watch Magnum PI. And to be fair, she did have an era of confidence far beyond her age – like maybe a 12 year old would have. But I did it. Fortunately, no one else would know, and my rocket ship career progression would be allowed to continue. Sadly, I eventually came to find out that the little girl is no longer with us, perishing with a rare form of childhood emphysema.
Sometime later on, one of the other suits came to me, and said we’d like to see if you would want to manage the Dairy section of the store. Who doesn’t like milk and cheese, and…
Bam! 50 more cents every single hour!
I was living the dream. Things were going so well, the suits would ask me to work the overnight shift for an extra dollar for every darkened hour. Sometimes, I’d get lucky and get a shift on a Holiday and they pay me time and a half.
But it all couldn’t last. I learned that while the grocery store business was extremely glamorous and all, and I was accumulating such wealth that I could afford many different colors of sock ties, I just didn’t care that much for people. Every time I would walk into the break room and see that sign on the wall that said, “The customer is always right”, I cringed and pondered: in which universe is the customer always right? The suit that came up with that slogan back at corporate clearly never met my customers.
So I gave up that promising career and decided to go to school. I would hone a vocational skill. In my case, my vocational skill turned out to be writing and broadcasting. However, still greedy like when I wanted to score the higher paying Sunday shift back at the Dairy counter, I learned that even though I had a promising start on the radio reading the news and weather while in college at an iconic Midwestern radio station where even Ronald Reagan once worked. Inserted caveat: Promising start, if you call working the grave yard shift where about five people were actually listening.
Radio just wasn’t going to have as big a payout as doing what I ultimately pursued after college. It wasn’t going to pay back those college loans at quite the same speedy seven year clip. And so I pivoted to Selling. And as a young seller I was trained early on a premise that I had heard somewhere before that the Customer is Always Right. So ironic that was, but sticking to that tenet and a modicum of success followed. Hopefully I’ll never see the minimum wage again.
Fast food workers at places like McDonalds want the minimum wage raised from $7.50 an hour to $15. Presumably the person or persons that came up with the harebrained idea that the suits were just going to double their pay like they just had a season with Robinson Cano’s slugging percentage we’re not people that were actually making minimum wage, but then again with that logic, maybe they were.
I never had the good fortune to work in the fast food industry, but I am a customer on occasion (occasion being this op-ed’s top understatement). A better case could be made to lower the minimum wage. It’s not like today’s McDonalds worker has to work as hard as they used too. Cashiers rarely even take peoples money anymore. They don’t count it, they don’t make change. Whenever the cashier tells me, “Go ahead and swipe your card” what I want to say is “Why don’t you swipe my card you overpaid &#^%%!” Yes, they can’t even swipe your card for you anymore.
And don’t get me started on those automated drink machines at the drive up window. It’s not like in my day when the fast food workers used to hold down the Grape Nehi button on the drink machine, let the fizz die down, push the button again, keeping a watchful eye out for spillage. The customer today does more work when they ordered the drink by telling the machine what drink to pour than the worker does.
So instead, let’s riot in the streets for lower minimum wages. Cut it in half. After all, if today’s grocery sacker (or shall I say, slacker) is only doing plastic, and not paper, they are only doing half the work.