Friday, September 5, 2008

Flying Low

Driving in Southern California is an oxymoron. It's more like "get in your car and prey".

I moved to So Cal a little over a year and a half ago, and I have already started figuring out the "rules" of the road down here, which means they will change when I drive to work in the morning.

  1. There are only 3 speeds: Very Slow, Very Fast, and HOLY SHIT!
  2. Turn signals are for prey animals. It means you are vulnerable and scared shit less on the roads here.
  3. Don't bother checking your blind spot or mirrors. There is someone there driving a bigger car than you and carrying a weapon. Deal with it.
  4. Horns are for music.
  5. The Freeways are designed for you to get lost on. You came, you saw, now get the fuck outta here.
  6. Failure to obey these simple rules will make you a target for road rage and the next spotlighted actor on "America's Scariest Police Chases". NO WAIT-- you have to be in Georgia for that. Sorry.

I grew up with a Military Mom (she is a retired Marine... SEMPER FI!) so I got to learn the driving habits of a lot of this country. What I haven't lived in, I have probably visited at some point. One simple observation I have is that everyone thinks two very similar things.

First, California drivers suck.

Next, the drivers where they live are definitely the worst.

Doesn't matter where you live, these truths are absolute. I lived in the Midwest for several years and on the East Coast in the Washington, DC area for a few years, so I got a decent sampling. I have also driven over most of the East Coast, New England, the Plains, and the Southwest. California goes without saying as this is home.

  • Washington DC drivers just drive stressed. There IS someone there. They can't drive, so I had better drive like a Congressman late for a political payoff so I can get there first. Even better, they have these HOV lanes that are isolated from the rest of the freeway (a la the Shirley freeway express lanes on I-395). If you fuck up there, forget it. Nice people.
  • New York drivers... We suck, you gotta problem wit' dat?
  • Johnson County, KS... We don't have a problem driving. You have a problem staying off my roads. Just because my road is in your living room is nothing to bitch about. Now shut the fuck up and get out of my way.
  • St Louis, MO... We like to think we are better than Chicago, so get off my road, bitch.
  • Arkansas... 'nuff said. Don't mess with the gun rack or I'll have sis blow yer head off!
  • San Francisco... Get your over sized SUV off my bicycle, you rainbow colored bitch! And stay off my bridge.
  • Los Angeles... Yeah, we can't drive. But neither can you. At least we all know we can't drive. Besides, bitch enough, we will make a movie mocking your ass up one side of the moon and down the other and call it Titanic II. Now get off my freeway while I apply my makeup.
  • Orange County, CA... Maybe we can't drive, but we look sooooo much better and sooooo much more glamorous at it than you do, you pretentious redneck.

I admit I can't drive very well. BossLady constantly tells me how I scare the living shit out of her when I drive. But I have noticed that whenever we go somewhere, who drives.... that's right, I DO! But that's okay. She knows she scares me too.

The reason for this mini-rant was something that happened to me today driving home from my store. I was on the 55 heading north, and (amazing, I know, but true) no one was on the freeway save this one blue-haired-nearly-dead in this big white whale of a car (I mean, this thing makes a porn star jealous it's so big!). He was moving somewhere around the speed of a drunk snail, and driving like it. As I moved to get around him from the right lane to the left, he waited till I was just about to pass him and moved over in front of me (no signal; he is a local). Thinking this fossil didn't see me, I moved over another lane and attempted to pass him. Same result. Now I am thinking this fossil is getting his rocks off this way so I am getting pissed. So I fade to the right and sure enough, he moves. I jump to the left, gun the motor and fly by him, giving him a wave and a little sign language to tell him he's number 1. The bastard couldn't even see over his steering wheel, yet was driving on the freeway! And yes, he was speeding (So was I, but that's LA).

Fuck driving to work. I am getting a helicopter. Knowing my luck, that fruit will have one too and will be trying to take my airspace.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ghost Stories

I've never met a person in retail who doesn't claim their building is haunted. It's just a fact of the industry. What it proves is beyond me. Maybe we are all nuts, and working here just proves it.

Through my 20 years, I have encountered every kind of ghost story. Most of the time, I blew them off (the story, not the ghost). I don't really believe in that sort of thing. There may be things we can't explain, but give it time. I mean, the Greeks thought thunderstorms were the Gods fighting, after all. A little bit of time and we finally learned not to golf in an electrical storm.

Some of the stories were simple, like the building in San Jose haunted by the former employee that died in the restroom of natural causes (like what? gas?). Or the supposed construction worker that died on the new building in Fremont just before they opened the doors. Or a personal favorite from my days in Virginia, George Washington haunted the store (uh... yeah.... just because Mt. Vernon is 15 minutes up the road... dude, you are nuts!).

I did have some things happen to me in San Francisco that defy my explanation. I told others about them, and someone finally did some research and found out the building we worked in was used as a hospital/morgue/crematorium after the 1906 Earthquake/fire. After finding that out, PB refused to go into certain parts of the building...

My three encounters got everyone laughing at me, but on two of the occasions, there were other witnesses, so they decided I wasn't crazy. (Well, not THAT kind of crazy. You have to be crazy in SF. It's in the rules.)

During my first week of training with this company, I was closing with an assistant manager who was to show me the operational aspects of closing that store. J and I had some problems balancing the store (we later found our error to be something really idiotic, but common). We were off quite a significant amount, so we let the rest of the crew go home and retreated to the office to find our mistakes. We finally gave up after an hour (the openers the next day found the error) and went into the office to call LP to report it. I sat in the chair next to the LP cameras while J stood there facing me on the phone. After a few minutes, I heard footsteps in the building, which was odd since we were the only ones there. I kept trying to get J's attention, and she kept telling me to shut up (something BossLady is enjoying doing these days). I started scouting the store on camera trying to see if we had an intruder. I then tried one last time to get J to listen to me. She just sighed and turned around to face out the office. Just then, we both saw someone walk by and slam the hallway doors. J came UNGLUED! She slammed the office door and refused to go out. I finally went out, and the hallway door was wide open, and there was no one there.


The next day, people got the story from CD (another assistant that was good friends with J) and J, and it was the running joke. PB started looking into what I was encountering, but couldn't find anything then. After a week or so, it died down.

About six months later, I was relating this story to my team in Fremont (which happened to include BossLady) as we were waiting for one of their rides to come pick them up. As I got to the end of the tale, the alarm at the Circuit City across the lot went off. A couple of weeks later, the closing crew got locked into the store. They blamed me for telling the ghost story.

Later that winter, I had been transferred back to SF and was working an over-nighter as they cleaned the carpets and repaired the stairwell in our store. The cleaning crew finished early, so I had about 3 hours till the stair crew arrived. I took my lunch around 130 in the morning. All the lights in the building save for 2 are on timers and overrides. Those two lights, the office and the break room, were by traditional light switch. The two rooms are right next to each other. I sat down to eat my soup, while talking to BossLady on the phone (who I had started dating a couple of weeks earlier and was off to college). As I was eating, she says I came completely unglued and freaked out. She couldn't figure it out. What had happened was that as I was eating, I looked up to see a hand (I was in the building alone at this point) reach into the room and turn the switch off. I lost it. I ran upstairs, overrode every light in the building and sat on the Mezzanine stairs facing Powell in full view of the windows and people on the street. BossLady stayed on the phone with me for another hour at least.

That story got a ton of laughs from everyone except my resident ghost buster, PB. He started researching it again, and started getting some results, discovering other haunted buildings in and around Union Square. He promised to attack the leads to see what it netted him. He finally discovered the link to the '06 Earthquake. Good times.

A couple of months later, I was leaving with my team after a rough closing shift, when I realized that I had left the Muzak on. The Team Leader (JC) and I went downstairs into that office (again) to turn it off, but not without some teasing from the crew. We came back upstairs at a dead run and JC so white-faced that he glowed under black light. (I personally spent the BART ride home checking my shorts.)

What happened was this. We unlocked the office, and rather than turn the light on, we just walked in to where the Muzak player was. Now above the office door is a vent. As we reached the Muzak, we turned to leave just in time to see a disembodied hand reach at us through the vent.

The jokes about me being nuts stopped that night.

I left that company soon after that, but friends still working there tell me they have had encounters too.

Do I believe in ghosts? I don't know. I do know I saw something three different times beyond my explanation.

This is a site that PB said got him on the right track to finding the history of that building. Check it out as it lists ghost stories by building in each US city. Neat stuff. (Please note, the store I worked in is NOT listed on this site. It's where PB got some pointers on where and how to look. It is very cool to see what is haunted in your area, though!)

Happy hunting.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Some Things Are Better Left to the Imagination

Working retail, I see a lot of things during the course of a day, week, month or even a year. Some of them are quite cool, others are quite forgettable. Others just make you sick. Others, well, let's just say you see them.

These are just a few of the things I have encountered in the last 20 years of doing this. Not all have happened recently, but they have stuck in my mind.

Kids are probably the funniest part of my job (when I am not wanting to fricassee them or their parents).

We had the boy out front of our store recently, ahem, ah... "watering" the plants. Yup, this boy about 6 or so dropped the pants and did what nature told him to on the plants out front. The problem? He missed the plants and "washed" the front bumper of the Mercedes parked next to it. Good job of getting the entire bumper, though.

I walked around a corner in my store and found a young boy, probably 9 or 10, discovering his "Boy Toys". Pants around the ankles, going to town with Rosy Palms. THAT was a fun one, having to explain to his parents that they needed to collect their boy and leave since he was playing with himself to the disgust of other parents. I don't know who was more embarrassed, me, the parents, or the boy. I will bet that boy had a REAL fun ride home that night.

We had a boy walk up to his sister and ask if he could have a sip of her drink. She said no. He turned to her, without missing a beat, and said, "Fuck you, bitch." I think he was 5.

We had a couple of boys running through the store. I repeatedly asked the boys to stop running, getting sterner and sterner each lap. I even challenged the parents to get the boys to behave (a last resort). I took the eldest aside (he was maybe 4) and showed him a scar on my arm from a surgery I had and told him I got it from hitting a shelf in the store he was running in. He said he wouldn't run, and took off at mach 5. He came around again, looked at me and said "walk please", passed me at a walk and tore off running again. 3 or 4 laps later, he did this and took off running looking over his shoulder at me. He promptly ran into a bench and face-planted himself on the carpet.

Adults do stupid things, too. It's not that the actions are stupid. It's that they aren't thought out very well, or are just in the wrong spot/time.

We had a lady in a sun dress there with her 4 kids. Without thinking, she hiked up her skirt and scratched her back. I know now what she was not wearing. And I SERIOUSLY wish she had left it all to my imagination. I get sick just thinking about it.

I caught a couple at the back of an aisle thinking they were in a motel. Her skirt around her stomach, his jeans at his ankle.

I was watching the LP cameras one day at an old job and we saw this one woman come into the store. LP told me to just follow her on camera. I asked why, and said she wasn't a shoplifter, but that she had a strong aversion to fitting rooms. So I followed her on camera. Sure enough, she selected a few jeans and a bra, and proceeded to try them on not more than 15 feet from the front registers, in full view of everyone.

I was working an overnight one time, and having a terrible night. I was pissed at my crew for not getting things done, and LP had asked me to keep an eye on a couple of the crew for suspicious behavior. He then told me what cameras were set to record overnight and where they were focused. When we finally broke for lunch/breakfast at 3am, I was walking back to the break room and heard "Hey, RED!". I looked up in time to see 3 of the girls, all very good friends (and apparently much better friends than I had thought) lift their shirts up and flash me. Instantly my bad mood left and I keeled over laughing. I was standing under the main camera, and they all happened to be standing where the camera was focused. I KNEW it was going to be a good morning for LP.

While working for a department store in Kansas City, a friend and I came up through the ranks together. M was put in charge of Men's, while I got Shoes. M and I were close, but despite the rumours, we never dated. When the company decided to stop selling Rollerblades, I had a few set aside for employees to buy at good prices. I saw M on a slow day, pointed to her, and said, "you, me, stockroom, NOW!" and took her to where the stash was. My boss, BM, saw this, said "I don't wanna know" and took off. M and I knew he was off to his favorite hangout, the camera room for LP. We cooked up a plan to play on this. We came out of the stockroom 15 minutes later (after M picked her blades). M made it a point to be adjusting her skirt while I was tucking in my shirt. We discovered rumours are the one thing faster than the speed of light that day...

In San Francisco, the store I was in had a lot of transients since we were in the tourist area of the city. We had nicknames for all of them based on their behavior or dress (or lack thereof). We had the Scotsman (who liked to sit on the ground by the trashcan outside, wearing a kilt in traditional fashion). There was the Running Man (who looked like he was running up Nob Hill but would lose a race to a snail). We had the Blue Turban Towel Lady (who literally wore a towel on her head and would circle the center of the doors about 100 times before leaving), and the Spaniard (who would speak perfect English with you until you busted him for shoplifting, which it was always "no habla Inglis). And, of course, in SF, you had the local flavor, the Shims (IE transvestites) with one who had a crush on our security guard.

While in college, I worked for JC Penney's. I was covering a break in Lingerie, and had this teenybopper come in with his girlfriend. He started drawing on her how he wanted her teddy to fit. I told him to grow up and that I would not help him. He was maybe 15. She looked about 12. Sexual predator in the making, and I wanted no part of it.

I had a bit of a reputation as a harmless flirt in that store. So a co-worker was introducing me to another new hire, and I introduced myself and told her to have fun, and that I would embarrass her at some point. She said she would get me first. She did.

I had another co-worker tell me one day during my finals week my senior year that I needed to get laid. The gal saying this was about as Mary Poppins as you could get. Very religious, always dressed ultra-conservatively, and very proper with her language (how T and I ever managed to work together is beyond me, but we were friends). Imagine her horror when the aforementioned new hire walked in and said discretely, "T, you remember what you told Red? Took care of that for you." T never could look either of us in the eye again.

There are a lot more, but it's a holiday weekend and the beer is cold....

Hope you all have a safe weekend.