Thursday, December 23, 2021

Red Owl Courtesy Clerks

 (Photo courtesy of the googles of The Country Store on York Ave in Edina, MN)

I walked into my manager’s office at the Burger King I worked at on 90th and Penn in Bloomington.  I was feeling good about my first annual review.  I had worked extra hours when they were shorthanded and came in on my days off to help close the store for the night.  I was sitting there listening to the glowing remarks with a big smile contemplating my raise amount for my whopper grilling job.  Then I heard it; five cents.  My efforts paid off increasing my minimum wage part time job from $3.35 to $3.40 per hour.  Three days later I put in my two weeks notice without really complying to those two weeks.  I was a teenager afterall.

A good friend of mine helped me get a job to work with him at Red Owl Country Store on York Ave in Edina.  Starting pay was $4.00 per hour!  Sometimes quitting a job pays off.  And I would no longer come home smelling like a whopper with cheese and fries.  We were hired as Courtesy Clerks; you know, the underlings who run around doing price checks for cashiers, keeping the store in general cleanliness, sorting and stacking returnable glass bottles, corralling carts from the lot and other managerial specified tasks.  

The group of us Courtesy Clerks were of similar age, a few went to the same school as my friend and I.  I’m not sure this was entirely a good idea as we all bonded and had a great time working there.  Three of us were on staggered shifts overlapping by an hour and a half.  Each shift had a particular duty.  The morning Courtesy Clerks were older than us.  They ranked higher than us for obvious reasons.  Our shifts only overlapped a few hours.  I discovered a good napping area looking for the floor buffing discs.  I found an older Courtesy Clerk was napping behind the shelf.  I promptly warned him of Mr. Polson was in the building.  This for the rest of my Country Store career put me on his good side.

I found the most fun shift to be corralling shopping carts from the lot. In summer, anyway.  Back in those days, there were no motorized cart to help.  It was all done by pure brute force.  What a great time to roam around outside especially in the evenings around 10 pm.  I remember many beautiful evenings slowly meandering under the illumination of overhead parking lot lights searching for wayward carts.  Key Cadillac was 100 yards away.  My buddy said he once found a cart there.  So obviously, a nice summer evening stroll over to Key Cadillac to find no Red Owl shopping cart.  But darned if I didn’t look every time.  Loafing outside became a fun working activity.  Though Corralling carts was sometimes harrowing.  Pushing a long train of carts that would not curve properly going down an incline proved nearly disastrous.  The front of the cart train got away from me and was speeding toward a 1973 corvette.  Leaping into action, I put myself in front and took the hit, diverting the errant train back on course down the lot. 

Newbie Courtesy Clerks learned the hard way of our Mr. Polson keep away games.  Mr. Polson, a manager, always had some extra busywork that usually took entirely too long to accomplish.  This resulted in less screwing around in the store with fellow Courtesy clerk friends.  He would approach one of us and begin to say, “I have a special task that needs to be…”  seasoned Courtesy Clerks who knew the Keep Away From Polson Game would frantically say, “um, sorry Mr. Polson, I’m price checking right now.  I saw Alan over in aisle 2.”  We’d make look good by grabbing something off the shelf and run toward the cashiers.  Mr. Polson would make his way toward Alan in aisle 2 where he had heard our conversation and darted the other way to aisle 8.  All night we’d play this cat and mouse game with Mr. Polson running around the store trying to chase down three wily Courtesy Clerks.  It was usually the unwary newbies who would get stuck doing Mr. Polson’s dumbass tasks.  That’s when they quickly learned our game.  The trick was to look as busy as possible with doing as little as possible. 

Sorting and stacking the glass returnable bottles was a fun task.  We had to separate the Coke products from the Pepsi and 7-Up products in the back bailer room behind the grocery warehouse.  It was the morning Courtesy Clerks who tended the beginning stages of the stacks.  After about a week, we evening shift Courtesy Clerks realized what the morning Courtesy Clerks were up too.  On the back corner wall in the bailer room where we stacked the bottles, they made a tight gap from wall to stack.  It was a tight squeeze, but once through, there was a small sitting area in the center of the stack complete with folding chair.  A perfect get away to hide from all managers.  You could not see through the bottles but you certainly could hear when fellow co-workers or managers came into the aera.  This glass fort was a guarded secret between just a few of us Courtesy Clerks.  We all took turns using this glass menagerie to hide form Mr. Polson.  Countless times we heard his voice in the room asking about our whereabouts.  Nobody fessed up.  To do so would foil our glass fort.  The beauty of it was there was a door leading outside near the narrow passageway.  One could feign coming in through the door to divert being caught mysteriously appearing in the bailer room.  The Coke driver was really cool about our glass fort.  He laughed and thought it ingenious.  It was a Pepsi driver collecting the bottles that gave it away to management.  The bastard. 

Emptying trash and collecting cardboard was fun as this allowed us to play with the bailer machines.  We’d make our rounds to collect the various garbage bins.  A few were in the break room.  We never really took breaks; our entire shift was more or less a break.  Though visiting with the pretty high school/college cashiers on break was always the added bonus.  Heck, some cashiers were in on our Keep Away from Mr. Polson games.  He caught me in the break room with the cashiers.  I thought I was doomed for one of his dumbass tasks.  But an older cashier announced I needed to hurry up and mop up under register 3 where she spilled a leaking milk carton.  A quick wink from her and I was off to fake mop register 3 as Mr. Polson left to find Alan.

Sadly, I later learned my working career was nothing like Red Owl Country Store.  Its more -  less fun work pushing a mouse around while staring at two monitors in a cube farm.  There’s no screwing around outside, no glass forts, no bailers, and no Mr. Polson to hide from.  I guess fun is reserved for our youth.


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