For the record, I’m not much the traveller. If I were any shorter and hairier, I’d be a hobbit. Happy kicking my feet up, at home.
So when I got the phone call one Thursday afternoon that I was needed in Oakville later that same afternoon, my heart just sank. I’d already pulled shifts at numerous stores. Because I was the most experienced person in the whole organization, I was the trainer. I also covered asses when people didn’t show up and got sick. I’d worked in at least 11 different stores by the end of it all. But this Oakville stint was different, in that in was both sudden and indefinite.
There was some sort of staffing issue where they lost the main guy and needed someone in right away. I didn’t want to do it and said so, but I did it anyway. Thus began what was easily the worst month or two of my entire life.
Commuting on highway 8 to the 401. 401 to the 6 South. 6 South to the 403. 403 to the QE. Do it twice a day nearly every day, many of those days being a full 12 hours long. Leave for work at 8 am to get through the traffic, which was always uncertain. Traffic jams were the only guaranteed thing, and a daily occurance on the 403 on QEW. Close up shop at 9:30 usually, do the drive home, usually around 10:30 if there’s no traffic on the way back. Your social life is on hold, your leisure time nearly nonexistent. My boss noticed I was miserable and took me aside.
He said he noticed I hadn’t “been doing well with the whole Oakville thing.” Now, the whole time I was responsible for Oakville, I was also responsible for my home store. This meant keeping the books for both, doing inventory at both (a year-end inventory for both!), and doing the monthly sales books too. Considering I was literally going insane, I was pissed off that he actually said anything to me about it.
“No, you’re right,” I answered. “I hate doing that drive every day. You know I hate driving, everybody knows I hate driving. I’m not seeing my family, I don’t have time to do anything, all my time is plugged into the store. And on top of that I still have the other store. And you’ve got me working full days with no relief on some of these days.”
He pondered that a moment, and then asked, “Does your car have a tape deck?”
He then retorted, “Why don’t you bring some of your old tapes with you, and listen to music in the car. That’ll be a lot of fun for you.”
I’d been doing this and in fact doing it with a theme. I’d been playing my oldest, most seldom played cassettes from back in the 80’s. Stuff I hadn’t heard in years, like Winger. One thing I learned from this commute is; when you’re stuck in traffic on the 403, in a torrential downpour, listening to Winger, it still sucks pretty much as bad as it would if you weren’t listening to Winger.
He didn’t get that, so he reminded me of all that nice mileage money I was making. I hadn’t been paid any of it yet, but I was looking forward to one day maybe being lucky enough to have a cheque show up. I was gassing up every day on my Visa card and I didn’t have enough money to cover it.
So off I went to Oakville again, listening to Helix this time, because Helix reminded me of Kitchener. The next day it was something else, and the next day something else, but the days just blurred together. Did I mention I was working weekends?
By the time December hit I was running on energy drinks and pepperoni for a diet. By first snow, my dad was starting to get worried. He knew my car (a 1998 Dodge Neon) had a history of malfunctions and the tires were getting old. But there was no time to have a service done, since I was always on the road.
There were still other aggravating factors. The stay in Oakville was indefinite. Nobody had any idea when their continued staffing issues would end. I didn’t even know if I’d be working there on Christmas Eve, doing the commute home. Everything was up in the air so in a sense there really was no light at the end of the tunnel.
The very worst thing about Oakville was this one small minority of customers that had a habit of ruining your day. Sme of them seemed quite well off. They drove fancy SUV’s and Hummers, and parked them in the fire lane, too.
Many SUV curb parkers were really nice, chatty, funny. Others were indifferent. Another kind completely was the Busy, Very Important Business Man. Their shoes were very shiny. Their coats looked expensive and warm. Their gloves looked like they were made of soft leather. They were on their lunch.
Now, I need to back up a moment here so you understand the scenario about to unfold. In Ontario, a used CD store operates like a pawn shop. There are procedures and laws to be followed. Anyone selling used goods must be 18 years old or older. They must present, and I must record, the proper identification. There were several items on the “good ID” list and many more on the “bad”.
- Driver’s license.
- BYID (identification to buy liquor)
- Up to date passport, as in, you’re not 5 in the picture.
- Health card. Yeah I know the government puts it out, laws are laws and we were told by the cops, don’t take these.
- Library card. I know that seems obvious.
- School ID cards.
- Business cards.
- A note from your mom. I didn’t make that one up, some kid tried that and the stupid person working that night actually took it as ID.
When a rich Oakvillian came into the store with a box of CDs to sell, it was always the worst day of the week. Sometimes I’d bring a sandwich instead of pepperoni, and they’d always come in while I was eating. Guaranteed.
This one guy, on this one particular day, was ornery. I mean he was just not having a good day and you could tell. He was still on his cell when he walked in. He comes up to the counter, ear still to phone. He drops the box on the counter. He’s not even making eye contact with me. He’s nodding his head and talking. I stand there looking at him. He hasn’t even made eye contact with me let alone speak to me.
Finally, the guy motioned to me to start looking through his CDs. This was not a good start because I wasn’t able to briefly explain our buying policy with him, e.g. what to expect. I had no idea what his assumptions were, but by experience I concluded he’d think his discs were worth a lot more than I was going to be able to give him. They were good, classical, jazz and blues. This stuff sold well in Oakville, and over the internet, but just because it’s jazz and classical doesn’t make it expensive. A lot of factors played in. Record labels, remastered, non remastered, retail price, supply and demand. This guy, you’d think, would understand these business principles. Turns out he didn’t understand this. It also turns out he doesn’t like to bargain with the serving class. Nor does he like to be asked for ID by the serving class, but more on that later.
One drawback to classical and jazz was that they were sometimes more complicated to look up and price. I mean, Rachmaninov is a lot to type in on the best of days, let along ones where you feel asleep and caffeine buzzed all at once. I had to take my time. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I had to get it right, so I could say to him confidently that I was doing the very best I could for him. If he wanted to bargain up ten or twenty bucks, for this many discs, I could have done that, I was able to value the discs higher if I needed to.
He didn’t like the way I priced his discs, and he really didn’t like it when I told him that some, a small number, were scratched. He got visibly upset about the ones that were scratched a bit too badly for me to take.
“These play fine. Try them.”
I explained, “There’s more to it than that. We have extremely high standards to the visual look of a disc. We have several locations and I have to remain consistent with our other stores, which all are held to a very high standard. I’m sure the disc plays fine, I really don’t doubt it. I’ll just never get this disc to look completely new, and that’s what we’re trying to go for. I’m sorry about that but I really can’t buy that disc.”
“You don’t play a CD by looking at it, do you? It plays fine, this is absolutely ridiculous.”
He was really pissed off now.
I went through the values I was offering for the discs. Knowing this was not going to go well, I started with the high ones and worked down to the lower valued ones. He wasn’t happy right from the start. Things that I was offering $6 for, which was high, he wanted $10. I couldn’t do it. Multiplied across so many discs, I couldn’t bury the cost elsewhere.
I played my $10 bargaining chip and upped my offer. It just seemed to make him more angry. I went up $15. $20. I started to wonder if his skin would turn green. I saw it unfold in my head. It starts at the eyes, they glow green, then his skin, then the muscles burst through the shirt.
“Who do you think you are?” he asked me incredulously.
Who do I think I am? Who the fuck do you think you are?
“I’m sorry sir, but this truly is the best I can do.”
“This is highway fucking robbery. I’ll take the money,” said the man in the expensive jacket.
Steeling myself against the barrage I expected, I dropped one final bomb.
“I’ll just need to get some government issued ID from you.”
A pause. “Who the fuck do you think you are? I am not giving you my ID. You legally can’t even ask me for my ID.”
Again, consistency. If I let this slide and he comes again when someone else is working, they’d get the inevitable “Well, the other guy said I didn’t need ID!”
“I actually have to sir, that’s actually the law. In Ontario, that’s the law. The police do come in here to collect our books regularly.” Which was true. And I’ve been yelled at and threatened by cops for not following procedure. It’s less fun than being yelled at by rich guys, truthfully.
He reached into his wallet. “That’s bullshit. I’m a lawyer. I’m not showing you my ID.” He pulled out a business card. He was indeed a lawyer.
“Sir, I can’t use this. I need government issued photo ID, like a driver’s license. This all goes into my computer, I can’t do the transaction without the proper ID. If I used that, I couldn’t even complete the screen to do the transaction. None of the information I need is on here.”
He looked even more exasperated. He’s not the only customer in the store. Some glance over, some studiously avoid glancing over. One’s just completely disinterested.
“What information do you need?!” he bellowed.
Inhaling deep, I answered. “I can’t do this without your date of birth and address, bare minimum. I’m sorry sir. That’s all I can do for you.”
He started stuffing the CDs back into the box. He stormed to the door. He turned.
“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
And that was the last thing he said to me. I never saw him again.