One afternoon, not too long ago, I was attempting to do some writing when the electric power crashed. It wasn’t the first time I’d been left in the dark (figuratively speaking that is, as it was 4:45 p.m.), but it was the first time it had happened at my current address.
I could have kept on writing because the laptop, being a laptop, also runs off a battery. However, I decided I needed a break. So I temporarily abandoned my project and walked down to Walgreen’s to pick up the weekly sales flyer.
Well, Walgreens was literally in the dark.
I left the store and looked over at the café across the street. The window sign flashed OPEN, so I knew the café had power. I went over there, and the server made me a fresh pot of decaf. (One benefit of being a regular customer.)
I sipped coffee and watched as people tried to enter Walgreen’s and were turned away. Watching customers drive out of the parking lot triggered my memory of another blackout.
Many, many years ago, I was hired as a part-time associate at a brand new SmartMart located in a small New England city. I normally worked in a department, but I was also trained as a back-up cashier. However, I had yet to be called to the front to run a register, which was okay with me. My department provided customer service. As long as I worked alone, I was left alone. And I worked alone most of the time.
But that Friday night, there were two of us there. Being the only SmartMart in a fifty-mile radius, the store drew scads of customers from four states. When the assistant manager (AM) called for backup cashiers, my co-worker (CW) flat out refused to go up front. So, of course, I went.
I had been running the register for about twenty minutes when the lights went out, leaving the employees and what seemed like a half zillion customers wondering what the heck was going on. As it turned out, a wire-walking squirrel had been zapped. Sadly, that wrong move resulted in the demise of the squirrel and a temporary loss of electric power to homes and businesses in the surrounding area.
Fortunately, the store had a battery backup system that allowed cashiers in the first row of registers to continue ringing up sales. Unfortunately, the battery backup was good for only about thirty minutes. Cashiers in the second row of registers morphed into baggers for the frontline cashiers who were frantically trying to get the customers out of there.
So there we were, my bagger and I. I’ll call her “Mary,” but that’s not her real name. Within what seemed like seconds, our line snaked all the way back to the ladies department. And it kept snaking as more customers joined the line. I tried not to look at the line because I just knew that I would freak out and start making mistakes.
Fifteen minutes into the blackout, CW marched up to my register. She pushed her way through the customers, planted herself in front of me, and said, “You need to leave the register right now and come back to help me straighten up the department.”
Um, the lights were out. Yes, a generator was providing emergency lighting in the store, but only the main aisles were lit, and not very well. From my vantage point, the departments looked pitch black. I wondered how much straightening up she thought we could do.
Mary was a full-time cashier. CW ordered me to let Mary run the register, but I wasn’t about to do that. I didn’t have the authority to make that decision. And Mary wasn’t volunteering.
CW stood her ground and continued to demand that I leave the register. All the while, I was trying to get customers out of there before the battery backup died. And I was getting super annoyed with CW. The customers were giving both of us nasty looks. After putting up with her whining for a few more minutes, I asked Mary to find the AM, explain the problem, and ask him what he wanted me to do.
Mary returned a few minutes later and said, “The AM says to stay right where you are and keep running the register.” CW stomped off in defeat, presumably, to straighten up the department.
Good luck with that, I thought.
My thoughts drifted back to the present when I noticed people going into Walgreens. I figured the power must have been restored over there. I also figured that picking up a sales flyer wasn’t that important.
So I went home.