Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Coworkers: Part 45 - Not Fade Away

   The change seemed to happen overnight.
   The change was the culmination of departures and transfers. The change was the end of one era, the onset of another. Goodbyes, disappearances, new faces. Coincidences simply fell into place. Life may have been temporary, but change was, more often than not, permanent.
   Sound Warehouse began slipping away.
   The chain had been snatched up by video behemoth, and arch rival, Blockbuster, on a music store buying binge, diversifying their retail outlet line.
   We had heard rumors for months. The facts still seemed inconceivable.
   Long timers departed. Diana, Matt, and family packed off for the Northwest. Layla moved away to college or simply another city. Not really sure. Justin, the Orb, followed the Dead for two months, returned for a bit, disappeared for good. Pepe had been working one afternoon, laughing at the top of her lungs, gone a week later.
   Other employees were conflicted all to hell. Then, by sheer chance (or Fate), an alternative surfaced.
   A chain bookseller was opening a branch in Cowtown.
   James gave notice immediately, citing for "exit" reasons: Blockbuster. He was one of the bookstore's first hires.
   Larry, who had been Pat's right hand in Video, gave notice as well, and transferred loyalties.
   The bookstore seemed to target employees from our chain. Hulen and Berry likewise suffered losses.
   Rob went next. He was assigned his own store. Berry Street, the notorious disaster. Very difficult, very troubled store. High shrink, most of the employees were terrible, neighborhood in decline. Rob said goodbye to Todd and me in the Backroom, during shipment. Rob said he planned to phone us often with shipment, receiving, or paperwork questions. We reassured him he could call anytime. Todd advised him to, "Fire the Berry crew, all of them." We laughed, it was a quality moment.
   Finally, Todd gave notice. The big contract hit. This is what he and the Toadies struggled for. The label deal, the tour, the road. Fame beckoned, and the wonderful feeling of sharing their music. The band packed into a white van and pushed off on the quest.
   The change seemed to happen overnight.
   It had been months in the making.
   Familiar faces you had worked with for years. Daily presences became ghosts.
   James, Larry, Diana, Matt, Layla, Justin, Rob, Todd, Pepe.
   Leaves falling with the Autumn frost.
   Almost overnight, over a third of the crew was gone.

   Contractors became steady visitors. The store, which had been one of the lingering Peaches holdovers, was to be gutted. That whole natural wood motif, ripped down and replaced with soothing Blockbuster blue paint. Blue carpet, dozens of listening stations, a massive influx of product. Improvements had their price. Retirement plan and health insurance came with a dress code.
   And drug tests.
   The iconic Sound Warehouse question - - Has alcohol use or substance use ever interfered with your employment performance? - - was swept away with the destroyed wood paneling and lingering 70's aura.
   Current employees would not be drug tested, which was for the best. Most of us would fail a drug or alcohol test utterly.
   The Boss, Beserkeley survivor, became in-house drug administrator. The irony escaped no one. For a decade, since the Peaches era, The Boss had operated the store as his private fiefdom. Now he might have to conform into the Blockbuster empire. Truth was, none of us knew anything for sure.
   Our years of service would be grandfathered into Blockbuster, which was a decent gesture on their part.
   Friends who'd jumped to the chain bookstore urged us to follow, the grass was much greener over there.
   The book place was merely another national chain. Plus, this was only a book store, it damn sure wasn't a record store. Their prime customers were upper middle class Boomers. White bread white folks with a taste for oldies, aging artists, pleasant music. Soccer moms. Our friends were happy with their new home, but they were in wheelchairs and walkers. Overnight, they'd gotten old.
   The rest of us stayed behind. Braced ourselves, shrugged, worried, waited. Dan, Missy, João, Greg, Trina, Derek, Pat, John, Kathy, Stacey, and a stack of fresh replacements.
   Then ... Sound Warehouse was gone.

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