Friday, March 31, 2006

Coworkers: Part 82 - Blood For Drugs

   The store was convinced Winston was stealing. Not piddly, random thefts, like nicking a bottle of water without paying, "borrowing" a used CD, then forgetting to return it. Boosting was happening on a major scale. Every week there was shrink of 20 - 40 units. New Release DVD's. Action or Comedy blockbusters. Managers could not pin down who took them, but we knew when they were snatched.
   Days when Winston worked.
   All Managers cast a reluctant eye on him. His hours had been trimmed to 8 per week. He worked second jobs, but two employers had fired him already. Drug buddies found him a job moving furniture; a future appearance in a COPS episode seemed inevitable. All the guys were serious users, Winston part and parcel.
   In my opinion most people messed with drugs, experimented with drugs, or had personal problems with drugs at one time or another. By most people, I mean 90% or higher. Controlled substances, alcohol, nicotine, reefer, prescription medication, pain killers, sleeping pills, happy pills, call 'em what you will. For some souls drugs lost their allure, while others sank deeper in their thrall.
   In-store stoners were generally male, while most boozers were female. The majority of girls could easily drink the gents under the table.
   Winston descended from weed to speed to ice. In a fabulous incident, he and friends were driving to the blood bank to sell plasma. Sticky red pints. Enroute, their car broke down on the highway. One of them got it running, then noticed a flat tire. Spare was pulled, flat removed, and then ... both tires rolled down the embankment and splashed into the river. A passenger who raced down hill in pursuit, fell and broke his wrist. Meanwhile, the tires floated downstream, soon to be claimed by gulls and turtles.
   The guys abandoned the car and hitch hiked towards town. Luck returned her fickle attentions, and a flatbed truck offered four dirty, homeless looking bums a ride. The broken wrist was mended in Emergency, courtesy the taxpayer's dime (in case you wondered where your tax dollars go, Pilgrim). Bum squad scurried to the blood bank, sold their polluted goo, bought meth, scrambled home.
   "Because I was dehydrated, because my bloodstream was low flow, I had the bestest high ever. I thought I was dead, it was wet dream awesome."
   None of those tweakers earned enough to maintain a habit. They couldn't peddle blood for drugs anytime soon. They were cash strapped.
   Furniture went missing when they worked their other job. DVD's went missing when Winston worked at ours.
   Whoever was boosting was notoriously lazy. And stupid.
   They stole primarily from the large end-caps and cardboard displayers. I hatched a plan with Mandy and Pat. Emptied out the cardboard displayers and taped huge red X's on the back interior. Reloaded the DVD's and angled them towards the Listening Center. I then climbed the ladder and began realigning a surveillance camera towards the traps. Pat and Mandy shouted directions until everything was just right. The trap was set. Once a box was emptied, those red X's would jump out. We could rewind security videos and make the bust.
   We did not want to do this. No one, from The Boss down, liked the situation. Yet store shrink in DVD's and games had drawn the eye of the Loss Prevention division.
   The plan never worked.
   Overnight, the stealing stopped. Radar, guardian angel, inheritance. Who knows?
   Winston's hours were cut to 4. Then to every other week. Finally, once a month. This was The Boss's usual method. Keep people on the payroll, but chop hours until they were forced to find work elsewhere.
   Winston gave notice.

   He cleaned up ... eventually ... dumped buddies and habits.
   A couple of times, he asked if the store was hiring.
   We never were.
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Friday, March 24, 2006

Shoplifting: Case #08 - The Plate

   Impulse theft. He'd parked a muddy red Toyota outside the main windows. Male, early 20's, chunky and pasty. Looked like the Pillsbury doughboy's crime prone, dumb cousin. When the alarm rang out he froze, brows furrowed. Thinking.
   Ahh, the criminal mind. Then he bolted -- must've remembered lunch.
   Dropped his keys once on the sidewalk and accidentally kicked them. Then he dropped them again as he fumbled with his locked car door. As heists go, this was terribly lame.
   Derek and Professor charged out the door as if the perp had nicked their cigarettes. I walked to the cube and nonchalantly wrote down his license plate number. Phoned the police while Mandy told me the car make, model, color, number of doors, etc. ... We had plenty of time. The red rocket wouldn't start.
   Rrrr rrrr rrr oooohhmmm. Rrrr rrrr rrr ooohhmmm.
   Professor pounded on the hapless car hood. "Surrender! Confess! We caught you on video!"
   Worse, Derek had disappeared near the car's radiator.
   Mandy and I argued whether God's will or fate had cursed this hombre with the terrible misfortune to be so utterly stupid.
   With the sixth crank, the reluctant roadster wheezed into life. Jesse James punched it in reverse, then dropped his jaw onto the floor.
   Derek had succeeded in unscrewing and removing the front license plate, which he raised high like a championship belt.
   Cool trophy.
   Police nailed him two blocks west. Car ran out of gasoline at the intersection.
   Girlfriend's car.
   Actually, it was her daddy's car and he already had opinions about this rebel Romeo.
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Friday, March 17, 2006

Coworkers: Part 83 - Hit And Run

   Stacey was holding court.
   "I was telling everyone. I was late back from break because of a hit and run."
   "Are you hurt?"
Sonya asked.
   "I'm fine, my car is fine," Stacey reassured. "I wasn't involved. But I was a witness."
   "Someone jump the light?" I guessed.
   "No, this was at Jack In The Box. The drive through line."
   "Hell, rear ended?"
   "Yeah. Guy in front of me, a crappy yellow Fiesta, bumped into a silver Honda waiting for his order. So the Honda guy gets out, looks at the scratch, starts yelling. The Fiesta guys starts laying on his horn."
   "Worried his milkshake was going to melt,"
Mandy joked.
   "The Honda guy ain't moving. He's on his cell phone, probably calling the cops."
   "During lunch hour? Dream on."
   "Next moment, the driver of the Fiesta hops out of his car and takes off."
   "What? Fistfight?"
   "No! Down the street. Running, like a rabbit,"
Stacey continued.
   "He left his car behind? What an idiot."
   "Complete idiot. His car, his license plate, his registration, his insurance card. Cops showed up ... and ... muffin head left his wallet on passenger seat with driver's license inside."

   "This is great!" I laughed.
   "If the guy had just stayed it was nothing. I couldn't even see a mark on the Honda."
   "He wasn't thinking. Fool,"
Sonya walked off.
   "Anyway, that's where I was. Filling out a police accident report."
   "Hit-n-run has a new definition,"
Mandy grinned.
   "You said it."
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Friday, March 10, 2006

Coworkers: Part 84 - Turn The Page‏

   The announcement was long overdue.
   Mighty Blockbuster had fallen.
   News swept like prairie fire across the chain, across music retail.
   Rich, powerful, unbeatable Blockbuster had thrown in the towel of defeat. They were quitting the music business.
   Blockbuster Music would be no more. To use Lonestar slang, our besieged owners had cut & run.
   Running for their financial lives.
   The demise had begun, auspiciously enough, five years earlier. With a flourish, Blockbuster initiated sweeping acquisitions into a realm they ill understood. For when the far reaching overlords launched themselves into music retail, they were at their peak. Their peak of power, of influence, of arrogance.
   Within five years, Blockbuster would be swallowed whole by Viacom. Next, it would be grabbed and shaken by its ankles, lucrative cash flow diverted to purchase Paramount Pictures. Finally, the entire music division would be sold off to bankruptcy refugees at a bargain basement price.
   Blockbuster Music's sorry history was one of decline and fall.

   Blockbuster, no matter how earnest or sincere their intentions might have been, made blunder after blunder with their shiny musical box.
   First, they alienated current employees and threatened potential ones. Employee turnover increased because of, or during, the Blockbuster reign. As new owners, they had entered with a conservative, fundamentalist agenda. They began drug testing all new applicants, then instituted the hated dress code. Any potential employee in this country who was as smart as Fifi the Poodle could scam the drug test. Kits and cheats were readily available.
   The dress code was far more insidious and destructive.
   Other than Lisa, we hired no "club rats." And Lisa was hired because Stacey and I lobbied for her. The store lost her, and she became Rob's right hand. Still, most people who went to clubs weekly or who were into the underground balked at the dress code.
   Understand, Blockbuster analysts assumed customers had become blind goobers. Shoppers couldn't recognize the hired help, even after help asked, "Finding everything alright?" A chest high name tag alone no longer sufficed. Field employees had to wear uniforms, a khaki and blue costume. Blockbuster honchos did not follow their own dress code, but they were masters. Employees were servants, treated accordingly. We remained a record store, but instead of being a cool chain, we were a shackled chain.
   Blockbuster's street cachet sucked with anyone under age 50.

   Years earlier, with the passing of Sound Warehouse, many employees bolted for the quieter world of a national book chain. For the later Blockbuster crew, that opportunity had passed into lore. Oh, the book chain still existed. Old colleagues, Dan, Trina, and Larry still toiled in the sleepy realm. Yet, the golden period had given way to harsher economics. Workers were no longer valued assets. Like employees across Retail Nation, they were servants. And treated accordingly.
   As months rolled into years, employees with less and less interest filled the ranks of Blockbuster. Employees who had no passion for music, groups, even movies. A third of the crew answered questions with a shrug. Blockbuster had that effect on people. We couldn't chase deadbeats out the store fast enough.

   Blockbuster's patronizing attitude towards customers cost them dearly. Our video rental section had been a solid earner. Prices were quadrupled, then the section swept away. Rental clients were permanently lost. Blockbuster had deceived themselves that music retail, (and then book selling!) would be conquered easily. They barreled into the fray on top of the world. In the video realm, they had been omnipotent. Competitors had been smashed, film studios harkened to their decrees, customers had few choices other than to pay non competitive rental prices.
   Electronic superstores entered the arena and low balled CD prices as loss leaders. Customers walked through those doors for cut price music, then purchased headphones or speakers and extended warranties. Blockbuster did not react. Market share was surrendered. Week by week, more and more.
   To attract customers, stores offered candy. Corporate brains told managers to hand out pieces of hard candy to entering customers. Dentists across the land applauded.
   Then came the book section, launched without any fanfare, any strategy, any support. Six months later, book sections were slashed and burned. If customers thought corporate management had lost their bearings, they were devastatingly accurate.
   File sharing and down loading emerged, and Blockbuster froze like a bewildered ostrich. They recovered their game plan quickly, however, and raised prices.
   Customer reaction was not reassuring.

   Camp Bowie employees either recalled better, pre-Blockbuster days, or they were later hires, accustomed to sorry stewards. We worked for the corporate equivalent of the spoiled, opinionated child. Common enough. Look hard enough and you'll see talentless blowhards singing, acting, running a business into the dirt, leading a nation to the brink. Happened every week, you just hated it when you became collateral damage.
   Stacey quit at one point, came back. Sharon had been released, came back. Angela left, Derek moved, Sarah climbed away. Pat found a second job, in time, the music store became her secondary job. I interviewed with corporate headhunters, while The Boss trawled his network. Blockbuster.poisoned morale.
   Consequently, one would think we would be thrilled, relieved to hear our incompetent bosses were sinking into the sunset.
   Not so.
   Because we had been sold by the misguided, overconfident palisade to the struggling trailer park. To a chain that had mismanaged itself into bankruptcy.
   Sound Warehouse had been purchased five years earlier for $185 million dollars. Super Club purchased for $150 M. Blockbuster purchased others. Six chains had been acquired to create Blockbuster Music.
   Viacom dumped the division for $115 million.
   We were a fire sale, a cheap commodity. We understood we would be valued as bargain goods.
   Discards.
   No one felt eager. Optimistic. Jackals were on the way.
   We tidied the store and awaited the buzzards.
   Bye bye, Blockbuster.
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