Being in New Orleans around Christmas and not being in the wine business has left me disconcerted. I miss being involved with education and leading tastings but am thrilled to not be driving all over town keeping retailers' shelves full of my products. However, the aggravation of wholesale has nothing on the twisted world of retail where my career began.
I was reminded of the unpleasantness today while I ran a few errands...yes, errands, not last minute present stressing but run of the mill errands. It was so far removed from my nearly two decade long December routine of little sleep, few, if any days off, and the inability to make my brain function properly, that I found myself having retail flashbacks all day long. Muzac versions of Christmas classics should be banned.
The best year was the first one, as a stockman, because I got overtime. The end of the day was the end of the day, no work followed me home. As manager, opening and closing the store guaranteed brutal hours. Receiving a salary meant I actually made less per hour than stockmen and cashiers I managed. I actually did the math one night...and almost didn't bother coming in the next day.
As a customer service rep, long hours continued while I put in order after order. We had a system in place for multiple gifts to be passed along to some entry clerks but since they were part-time my decision was to input my own orders. Mistakes would come back to me no matter what so I did my best to limit them.
The store operated from nine to seven and that's a reasonable amount of time to be on duty during the busy months. However, opening, closing and typing orders took another two hours on a good day. Basically we moved in for the month of December.
Outside the store, dinner became the most important priority since lunch rarely happened. The constant flow of people made breaks nearly impossible. I thought about taking up smoking because, somehow, not matter how busy we were, the smokers regularly enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet.
Quiet was the best, no droning hum of mingled conversations, no store pages calling you in two directions (if you were lucky, instead of three or more) and most of all, no freaking Christmas music!
During my younger years the tradition for Christmas Eve involved Santa coming to visit the house before his night of work began. One present, just a taste of the magic to follow the next morning, was allowed. Later years brought church and some fancy dinners but my years in retail always meant closing down some bars.
Since days off rarely happened and everyone had off on the 25th, since the store was closed, a groups of us went out and thoroughly polluted ourselves. Despite the soreness of feet and complete exhaustion, enough energy returned that wrestling became an unscheduled part of a few very early Christmas mornings.
Being thrown out of a bar on the 25th was a badge of honor for a bit. Less so another year when we realized that we were so boisterous and, I guess, frightening that a homeless man actually left his warm spot near the dart boards of a favorite 24 hour watering hole in favor of safer, if much colder, environs.
I grew to hate Christmas (no doubt the vicious hangovers that followed the eve's debauchery played a part). Now we're back on speaking terms. Guess I'm glad I didn't open that retail wine shop after all...