Short Story: IFR Conditions

“Crap,” Pete said as he checked the weather app on his phone. “Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.”

He knew it would be a bad day, or a slow day, at the very least. He trudged to the window. Gray. Everywhere he looked was gray. His shoulders slumped as he turned to resume dressing.

When he started this job three years ago, he had the impression that if you couldn’t do much flying on days like these, it only made sense to go buy things in preparation for when you could fly. Time showed him, however, that the opposite was more often the case than not.

Pete found rainy days generally enjoyable. He really couldn’t quite put his finger on why though. The sound was definitely nice. And so was the darkness. But rainy days in a shop were boring. They were slow. They were quiet. In a word, it was painful.

There are only so many things an employee can do to keep himself occupied before he runs out of tasks. He quickly ran through the to-do list in his head. If he drug his feet, he could probably stretch those tasks to about an hour. A sigh escaped his lips as he buttoned his pants and fastened his belt. Quietly, he poured hot coffee into his travel mug over two packets of sweetener and screwed on the lid. He then grabbed his keys and headed out the door.

In the parking lot, a fog had set in, blanketing the tops of the apartment buildings in the complex. Pete was overwhelmed by the grayness surrounding him. At least the roads were clear, not like that would make any difference. No one knew how to drive in any kind of weather anyway, so it would still be agonizingly slow and congested anyway.

All around the store was eerily quiet, with the exception of the jingling of his keys as he unlocked the various doors of the business. Normally, he enjoyed the quiet, but on days like today, it was more of a harbinger of doom than a fleeting joy. Lamentably, he flipped on the lights, then jiggled the mouse of a sleeping Dell.

“Ugh, morning, Pete,” he said amidst a prolonged yawn. “What’s happening?”

“Gonna be a long one today?”

“Why’s that?”

“IFR conditions.”

“Aw, crap! I hate IFR conditions!” His monitor flashed red and vibrated.

“I know, Dell. We all do.”

A shadow swooped quickly over Pete’s head. “What do we all hate?” Poe said, coming to a landing atop Dell’s monitor. “I mean, aside from customers, that is.”

“IFR conditions,” Pete said.

“Crap!”

“Yeah, pretty much. Looks like it’s going to be that way for most of the day, too. I better call Ash and let her know not to come in until this afternoon.” He pulled out his cellphone, scrolled through the contacts to Ash’s name, and called. “Hey, Ash. What’s going on?”

“Until five seconds ago, sleep. What’s up?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I was trying to catch you before you started heading this way. Don’t worry about coming in until after lunch.”

“Why?”

“IFR conditions.”

“Crap.” She paused for a moment. “Oh, well. Thanks for the heads up. Back to sleep. Later, Pete.”

He envied her, able to roll over, close her eyes, and find a few more hours of sleep. But then he remembered the schedule she usually kept, home by three, up again by eight or nine, and the jealousy quickly receded. If he kept that kind of a schedule, he couldn’t imagine how poorly he’d fare. Probably wind up curled into the fetal position, muttering nonsense. He slid his phone back in his pocket and sighed.

“Well, let’s get to it.”

“Must we?” Dell said, as he did most mornings.

“That’s what they pay us for, so yeah.”

“No, that’s what they pay you for. We don’t make squat.”

“That’s a problem? What the hell would you need money for?”

“Things.”

“What things?” Poe squawked.

“Ya know. Things.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “You don’t need anything! You’re a computer. As long as you have power, wi-fi, and anti-virus software, you’re fine.”

“Pfft, you’re no fun.”

Pete rounded the corner of the counter, turned the lock, and flipped the sign around to read, “Open”. “No, I’m not, and it’s an IFR day, which means it won’t be fun for anyone.” He then returned to his seat and wrote out the list he’d made in his head earlier that morning.

It was a short list, but he was determined to stretch it out as far as he could. Despite his best efforts, restocking took only a few minutes, and the cleaning lasted not much beyond a half an hour. As his list dwindled, and his boredom rose, he considered what items he could add to it. When he came up empty, he trudged back over to his chair behind the counter and slumped into it, heaving a sigh as he did so.

Throughout the morning, the store sat silently. The music, usually drowned out by the hum of customers, blared and echoed through the empty aisles. Pete sighed again, wondering if he’d hear from the owner, complaining about the lack of warm bodies through the door that day.

The owner never seemed to understand why these kinds of days went the way they did. No amount of explanation could enlighten him either. He just held firm to the belief that if you build it, they will come. That’s true of some places, like McDonald’s, but pilot supplies were not on the same level of excitement as a thousand calorie cheeseburger, especially when the weather was a drab and foreboding as it was.

So much of flight is contingent on the weather, and for a man who had his many fingers in a number of areas of aviation, Pete thought that was self-explanatory. I mean, bad conditions, while promising for instrument-rated pilots, were bad for private pilots, which included the majority of the pilot population.

Still, Pete saw some kind of point in his logic. If the weather was bad to fly, it was probably good to shop and prepare to fly later. Unfortunately, experience had taught him that this was far from the case. The more apt axiom was something along the lines of “when the weather’s bad to fly, it’s good to stay home.” Pete couldn’t disagree much with that, as he didn’t want to be there either.

After an hour of staring at nothing but his phone, he sighed heavily.

“Ugh, what?” Dell said.

“Nothing. This whole day just sucks, and it’s just going to keep on sucking.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to remind me.”

“We could do inventory.”

“Oh, god, why in the hell would you ever suggest that?!”

“I don’t know! I’m bored!”

“Ugh!”

Silence resumed. There was still another hour or so before he could break for lunch, and then four more hours to kill after that. He could’ve kicked himself for having left his book at home. Why the hell did he have to finish that chapter last night? Why didn’t he just leave it in his bag like he had every other day.

He checked his email, in the hopes that someone had sent in some kind of question or request. Luckily, there was one unread message in the inbox, a submission from the store website. His eyes read slowly.

Do you sell airplane seats? If so, could ship to Philippines?

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. What the hell kind of request is that? I mean, seriously, who the hell looks through our website, sees nothing even remotely close to airplane seats, and wonders if we’re just hiding them?”

“Oh, what are you on about now?” Dell said.

“Morons. And if you had gone through the website and seen the message that says we don’t offer international shipping, what makes you think that we’ll make an exception for you on an item we can’t get? It’s fucking stupid.”

“Preaching to the choir, buddy.”

Pete penned as polite of a response as he could muster and then fired it off across the sea. He then leaned back and stared at the ceiling. At least Ash would be in here after lunch so at least he’d have someone to talk to. He kept that thought bottled up because Dell would surely take offense, and Pete really wasn’t looking to pick a fight, especially this early in the morning.  There was also Poe there, and while he wasn’t nearly as sensitive as Dell, Pete really didn’t feel like chit-chatting with a raven then.

Finally, after an entire morning of nothingness, the phone rang, causing all three of them to jump with mild surprise. Pete snatched the phone off the base and answered.

“Aviation Supply Company. This is Peter speaking. How may I help you?”

“Hey, Pete!” Ash said. “How’s the store?”

“Dead. Deader than dead, actually.”

“Ah. Figured as much. You want lunch?”

“Yes, love some. Club sandwich?”

“You got it. See you in twenty.”

Pete hung up the phone and stared at the silent, deserted shop. Over the speakers, Cat Stevens opined that it was a wild world, to which Pete scoffed. He scowled as he stared down at his phone. He didn’t really want to spend the next six hours aimlessly cruising the internet, but if that was what got him through the rest of the day, then he was more than prepared to do it.

Soon, Ash arrived triumphantly with their sandwiches. As they unwrapped them and ate, they made small talk, while trying to avoid the touchy subject of weather. When it finally rolled around to that, Ash adopted the positive side of the fence.

“Well, maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe the skies will clear and we’ll get a late rush,” she said as she pinched off a piece of the end of her sandwich bun and tossed it to Poe. “Maybe it’ll all be okay.”

They looked between one another and tried to smile. Maybe, just maybe, it would find up okay. Maybe it would actually work out the way Ash hoped it would.

“Let’s get a positive attitude and make the best of this day!”

They then proceeded to do nothing but stare at an empty shop for the rest of the afternoon.

-The Retail Explorer

 

Top Ten Annoying Things; or, Stop Doing This in My Store Or I’ll Run Screaming Into the Night

Phone Call #1 (Completed)

Usually, like 99.99% of the time, if we answer the phone, it means we’re open. Don’t ask the dumb question.

I was recently inspired by a post I shared on the Facebook page about things that really annoy retail employees, and it’s pretty spot-on. But it got me thinking: What are my biggest Shopper pet peeves? I have never actually listed them out before, so this was really interesting. Let’s start from the bottom, shall we?

10. MONEY HANDLING

In general, currency is interesting but ridiculously disgusting. If you don’t believe so, think about how many people touch a coin in the course of its life. Yeah, all those germs just hang around on there.

Yeah. Nasty.

So, we’re not starting from a great point. Throw in some summer heat and humidity and you might as well be wearing a hazmat suit.

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Beyond that, there’s customers just being mindless asses in regard to paying. From just setting it all down on the counter, as opposed to actually handing it to you, like a normal, considerate person, to flinging it at you, my personal favorite, Shoppers are fucking horrendous when it comes to money handling. As with all things the Shopper does, it’s truly remarkable.

9. DISCOUNTS

Shoppers beg for discounts so often, you’d believe they were destitute. In my industry, it’s understandable, as aviation is incredibly expensive across the board, but it’s still vexing to hear them ask for discounts constantly. No, you don’t get a student discount here. Our own students don’t get a student discount here. You know who does? Military and staff. That’s it. And do you know how much military gets? 10%. Let me spell that out for you, Shopper. That’s sales tax plus a little extra. I know, every little bit counts, but it makes you into a little beggar, and we hate listening to it, especially when we’re bound by this little thing called “Store Policy”.

8. GROUPS

I’ll admit that this is a slightly specific thing, but I always find it weird when a small herd of Shoppers comes into the shop and only one of them buys something. It’s nothing bad; it’s just…weird.

7. BACKORDER/OUT OF STOCK

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C’mon, Pete. You know they don’t read things.

This is something that will always amaze me. It’s one of the simplest concepts in the service industry, and it’s basic economics: Supply and demand. Especially in a small business setting, supply and demand is carefully watched and regularly adjusted. So, when demand suddenly takes an unexpected upswing, supply depletes. It happens from time to time; demand for certain items comes in irregular waves.

The bottom line here is: Things sometimes run out of stock, and then it takes a while to get them back in stock. Sometimes, demand rises and stays steady that it takes a while for stock levels to adjust to them fully.

We had an issue along those lines with a brand of headsets. They introduced a new line of headsets to compete with one of the best selling headsets on the market but at a much lower price. They were an instant success. So much so that every time I went to order more, I had at least a three week backorder from the manufacturer, which never went over well with Shoppers seeking out these hot headsets. There was always a groan and then the begging began, in the hope that I’d know who might have one in stock. Here’s the answer I always give to that one: I don’t know. I’m not going to tell you to go to a competitor, especially when that’s not my job and you’re perfectly capable of seeking it out yourself. Beyond that, I don’t know which stores have what stock on which item. You want it bad enough? Call around. It’s not hard.

That brings me to another thing: Backorder. I know there are some people in the world who don’t know what “backordered” means, so I explain it to them by telling them, “I’m not sure when I’ll get it.” The funny thing is the follow-up question I always get: “Will it be in tomorrow?” Seriously, what part of what I just said made any indication that I would be getting it in tomorrow? Yes, there’s a possibility, but that possibility is so minuscule, it’s not even worth entertaining. If it’s on backorder, it’s probably going to be a while, i.e. weeks. Usually, when an order ships, I receive a confirmation telling me when I can expect delivery. If I don’t have that, it’s not going to be in tomorrow. Otherwise, I’d have said so.

This is getting into one of my bigger pet peeves, though, so I’m going to end this topic here and move on.

6. PRICE

“Wow! This is pretty expensive!” Lemme tell you how much I love hearing this one. I don’t. It’s hot garbage, and I’ll tell you why: This is aviation. Everything is expensive, from training to supplies to maintenance. It’s all expensive. Please, the sooner you learn this and process this, the sooner we can all move on and cease this vexing line of discussion.

Here’s the other kicker: We’re not expensive. In fact, most of our pricing is set at the MSRP. You wanna complain about it? Go to the manufacturer and let your whining fall on their deaf ears. And actually, a few of our distributors force us to sign agreements to sell their products at a price no lower than the price they have set. That’s where we price our items, so don’t complain to me about it.

5. RETURNS

This is not to say that all returns are bad and annoying. I get it; sometimes, a purchase just doesn’t work out. My problem rests with the Shoppers who feel that any return is an acceptable return. It’s not. On the bottom of every receipt is printed our return guidelines, which must be made within thirty days of purchase and must be accompanied by the original receipt, original, undamaged packaging, and if it was a credit card, the original card used to make the purchase. These are basic, simple guidelines. So, why is this so hard?

Too often, it’s either damaged packaging or outside of the return window or without the receipt or without the credit card. Something is always wrong. Item-for-item swaps are different and simple when their prices are the same. Sure, you can swap out a chart for another one. I’m still going to think you’re an idiot because you don’t know where the hell you’re flying, but it’s a harmless and easily corrected mistake.

But if you want your money back and expect me to make an exception for you? Nah, piss off. Store Policy is the law around here, and I’m not going to risk my boss coming in and holding me responsible for something that I did that was against that policy. I may not like my job, but I do like the income it provides. So, read the receipt and don’t expect me to bend the rules for you.

4. CLEANLINESS

This is a big, overarching one. When I say “cleanliness”, I mean everything along those lines: Personal hygiene, misplaced items, leaving trash in the store, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through the shop and found an item placed literally one hook away from its rightful spot. What. The fuck. Even. Is. That?! How do you do that? Honestly, someone tell me how that’s possible. It’s one hook away. It does not take that much brainpower to look at the item, look at the wall, and place it on the correct hook. Nor is it so hard to replace a hook in the wall that you moronically pulled out of the wall because you have the motor skills of a five year-old. (Sorry. That was a big insult to five year-olds, who are not that bad in eye-hand coordination. My apologies.)

Beyond that, how do you not smell your own stench when you just reek? I know I do, and you know what it does? It embarrasses the hell out of me to the point that I just want to get home and shower as soon as possible. Also, don’t wipe your nose and then hand me something. Or leave your fucking latte cup sitting around. Or track mud into the store. Or let your little spawn wreck my shop.

All of these things are just examples of the larger issue of Shoppers being so inconsiderate of other people, so uncouth, that you wonder how they’ve survived this long in the world without incident.

3. BAD JOKES

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Yeah, smile. That’ll help…

“Doesn’t scan? Must be free!”

“I printed them this morning!”

“Working hard or hardly working?”

“You look like you need something to do!”

If you’ve ever thought any of these were funny, or have ever said them to a retail worker, please, never do it again. None of these jokes are original or funny or good. We HATE them so much that we might put our heads through the front window out of pure insanity.

You know what we do enjoy? Actual, pleasant, genuine conversation. Don’t lead with the “I’m sorry you have to work today” or anything like that. Just a “How’s your day been?” and go from there. How easy is that? Just act like you give a crap and acknowledge us as human fucking beings for a hot minute. We’re not automatons installed to serve your every whim and take all your abuse with gentle grace. We’re living beings with feelings. Just act like that’s a thing that matters to you, and go from there.

Just, please, no tired old jokes. They’re worse than dad jokes.

2. READING

The top two slots on this list were neck-and-neck, really, but this one is slightly less annoying than #1.

We are taught from an early age of the importance of reading. If there is a skill you use literally every single day, it’s reading. You read signs on the roadway; you read instructions on food packets; you read articles on your phone; you read everywhere. When you come into my shop, you’re bombarded by reading opportunities. I’ll list them in order of appearance: Hours of operation, Open/Closed, “Please, Use Other Door”, item names, item descriptions, prices, sale racks, total due, receipt, return policy. How much of that do my Shoppers read? I’d say around 20%. I’m not kidding. It’s that low.

I constantly get questions, from Shoppers in the store, about our hours, our return policy, how much this item costs, or where they can find that item. It’s maddening because it’s all so simple. You use your eyes to take in the information and then your brain makes sense of it and moves your muscles accordingly. So, if you have a wall of charts, which are alphabetized, figuring out where St. Louis is should not be difficult. Neither should the price tag. There’s one on literally every single product.

Signage is the biggest issue. I honestly don’t know why I waste my time sometimes. I could have the largest “Closed” sign up in the universe, and I would still have Shoppers yank on the locked door. It’s remarkable.

I once had a Shopper, a particularly aloof one, walk up before I had even gotten there (I actually watched him walk into the main building as I parked) and complain to me about his wait:

“Oh, there you are!” he said. “I’ve been waiting for you.” (Suuuuuuure you have.)

“Well, we don’t open until ten, so, I just got here.”

“Oh, well, how was I supposed to know that?”

As we approached the front doors of the shop, I pointed out the “hours of operation” sign and informed him that our hours are clearly posted right there and I would be with him in a few minutes to open the shop. When I went to unlock the front doors a few minutes later, he was nowhere to be seen. I’m sure it was embarrassment, but you know what? I really didn’t give a shit at that point. I still stick to the mantra of “I shouldn’t have to hold your hand like you’re a kindergartner.”

1. LISTENING

There is nothing that pisses me off more in the universe than having to repeat myself to a Shopper. I know I’m going to have to, but dammit if it doesn’t just piss me right off when it happens. It’s exacerbated by the fact that it’s usually a response to a question posed to me. How the hell can you ask me a question and then not pay attention to the answer? What the hell is wrong with some people?

I have some customers who make me repeat things THREE TIMES or more. And I know as soon as they walk through the door I’m going to have to do that. And the worst part is it’s usually in concert with #2 on my list, which means they’ve come into my store, turned their brain off, and just decided to let me do everything for them. Not. Fun.

I shouldn’t have to tell you twice the basic specs of a headset if you ask me about them. I shouldn’t have to tell you twice about your total. I shouldn’t have to tell you twice about anything really, especially if you’ve asked me about it.

So, there you have it, my top ten list of infuriating Shopper tendencies. Now, I’m going to go have a burger and a beer and a shower.

-The Retail Explorer

Receipts; or, Don’t Be a Nimrod, Nimrod

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Sign my copy, not your copy.

I’ve noticed a curious trend recently revolving around the credit card machine, and honestly, I don’t know why it keeps happening. Okay, that’s a lie; I know exactly why it keeps happening. (Customers are idiots and are constantly rushing for some reason.)

It’s just weird when it does happen, and I know the explanation for that as well; somehow, deep down inside me, there’s some hope that I’m dealing with an intelligent, observant person. Yeah, I don’t know why that little sliver of hope continues to exist either, and yet, there it is, twinkling like the dim, distant start that it is.

So, here’s how it goes: I write up their purchases, total them, and take payment. When it’s a card, you plug it into the machine, insert the card, and wait for it to spit out the receipt. Pretty basic stuff. Now comes the weirdness. You have the customer sign the receipt, then staple their copy (the second receipt printed) to the itemized receipt, and hand it to them to keep.

That’s how it should go. Today, this was how it went: I handed them the copy to sign, the customer signed it, pocketed the receipt, and turned to leave. I stopped them, explaining to them that they currently had my copy of the receipt crumpled up in their pocket. As the sudden realization of their mistake collided with their embarrassment, the fumbled with, well, everything.

“Oh. Sorry.”

Here’s the simple thing about it all: Turn. On. Your. Brains. Or, rather, stop turning them off when you enter a store. You know why I tend to not want to ask an employee for help finding something? I like doing it myself. Then, after I’ve searched as well as I could and come up empty, I’ll ask for guidance. There’s a tiny bit of self satisfaction when I’m able to successfully navigate a store on my own. For many Shoppers, however, that’s simply not the case.

Many are perfectly content coasting as far as their brute senses can take them, which is, often, not very far at all. By allowing their brains a break while they shop, they become babbling idiots. Harsh? Yes. Incorrect? No. I’ve seen far too many intelligent people stare at a wall of alphabetized charts forget how to figure out if the letter “N” comes before or after “M”, or some similar such nonsense. I give no slack for such a lackadaisical approach to living.

This receipt issue is along the same lines. The receipts are marked clearly as either “MERCHANT COPY” or “CUSTOMER COPY”. Aside from that, when was the last time a store, or any business for that matter, asked you to sign the copy of the receipt that you take with you? (And don’t offer forth any receipt made with carbon paper. The receipt that you sign in that case is still the one that stays with the business. Yours is always one of the copies.)

There’s often an anxiety issue, and I get that. Often, Shoppers want to get in and get out of a store as quickly as they can. I totally get that. But there is a decided difference between haste and carelessness. One does tend to breed the other, but this borders on stupidity. Regardless, there’s no defense for this. This is a process so ingrained into our consumerist society that such lapses, while comical, is absolutely ridiculous.

I’m at the point of rambling, so I’ll end with this: Be better when you shop. Challenge yourself, just a little bit. You’re better than that.

-The Retail Explorer