Haven’t penned anything in a while, in part because A) sadly, no one is paying me to do so and B) because I’ve just been too darned busy.
And part of that busyness was my part-time seasonal job at Lowe’s. I spent parts of about four months there, and - maybe it’s just the pesticide exposure talkin’ - but I thought it’d be fun to share a few observations from inside the Big Box.
This was my first legit foray into the wide world of retail, unless my first job as a paper boy counts. However, apart from the common thread of working in the Great Outdoors, this was decades - and worlds - apart from that.
My baptism into the Cult of the Red Vest was by fire, or, more accurately, by rock, dirt and mulch. They started me as a “loader,” which, as the name implies, is mostly about loading numerous large heavy items into the back of Penelope’s Escalade whilst she sits comfortably ensconced inside, sipping her Starbucks Double Mocha Latte Praline Supreme. Now loading is a fine job, IF one happens to be A) young B) strong C) non-arthritic. Unfortunately, being D) none of the above, no one has been this mis-cast since John Wayne played Genghis Kahn.
First came the brief job interview, highlighted by a drug test whereby you stick into your mouth a swab that bears an unsettling resemblance to one of those in-home pregnancy tests, the idea being you have to slobber onto it sufficiently to turn the test strip a certain color. Well, salivate and drool as I might - and those are skills which it turns out are hard to summon on demand - I couldn’t get that strip to turn color for nothin’. I contemplated asking the HR guy to at least place a photo of steak, lobster tails or the SI Swimsuit Issue in front of me to jumpstart my snoozing salivary glands into action, but that seemed a bit much. I then briefly considered sneaking an appropriately-colored Sharpie from his desk when he wasn’t looking and coloring the strip myself, but who knows what sorts of things they would’ve decided I had in my system after analyzing that. So I sat there for an interminable 15 minutes or so until, mercifully, the dang thing gave just enough of a hint of tint to make him happy and allow me to yank that oversized Q-Tip out of my mouth, thank you very much.
Spit test passed, it was on to the ubiquitous corporate indoctrination proceedings, courtesy of a protracted session on a training room PC, featuring the company CEO, Marvin Ellison. I’m sure he’s a nice dude in person, but listening to him drone on ad nauseum in corporate speak was right up there with sweeping out the fertilizer aisle - two topics that actually have a disturbing amount in common. There are also plenty of marginally more useful videos to wade through, such as what to do if you see someone shoplifting (answer: pretty much nothing) or trying to shoot up the store (answer: pretty much RUN!)
When I finally started working there, the weather was still trending cool and wet, which gets mighty old, mighty fast, in the garden center. One learns quickly to not wear anything you care one whit about, so please have some empathy for the loaders of this world when it comes to their seeming lack of fashion sense. Trust me - It’s all about staying dry and warm or dry & cool, depending on the day.
As the weeks began to wear on, the heat & humidity ramped up and my 50-something body wilted like week-old lettuce under a heat lamp. I really worked hard to try to keep up with the young guys who more typically wind up in these jobs, but there comes a time - and they seem to come a lot more often to me these days - when you just have to admit to yourself that you can’t keep doing something just because you used to be able to do it.
Thus it was that I then became a “waterer.” Give Lowe’s credit for this much: Their job titles are easy to understand. Loaders load, waterers water.
Now watering plants sounds like a tolerable - even pleasant - activity, especially on a nice day. But this isn’t Aunt Bee out back by the picket fence with her trusty, rusty watering can, whispering sweet nothings to her hydrangeas as she showers them with love and liquid. At Lowe’s, watering is a structured industrial process bent on maintaining an inventory of literally thousands of pieces of living merchandise worth many more thousands of dollars.
While I was indeed thankful to be relieved from the mounting aches & pains of the loader life, Water World - The Lowe’s Edition comes with its own set of challenges, not the least of which is the mind-numbing boredom inherent in methodically watering row after row, table after table, rack after rack, day after day, of everything from packs or teeny ground cover plants to dozens of large, thirsty trees. Some folks are wired better than others for dealing with that level of monotony, and while I admittedly wasn’t built to be a middle-age beast of burden, the pain & suffering of loading made grappling with tedium seem almost pleasurable by comparison - kind of like being transferred from Attica to the Mayberry jail. (I will, however, hasten to add that holding a hose for literally hours at a time - often over your head to get all of those hanging plants - is pretty darned tiring, too.)
The repetitive nature of keeping nature hydrated demands coping mechanisms to keep from becoming a blooming idiot, as it were. From counting plants and people watching to sneaking a peek at my smartphone whenever the opportunity presented itself, you do whatever you have to do. I also learned more about plant varieties, hardiness, sunlight and watering requirements and other botanical trivia than I ever thought possible.
As I got more comfortable with all things lawn & garden, I also pleasantly surprised myself by gradually becoming quite comfortable with customer service. I’ve never been the most outgoing guy in the room, but it’s actually pretty fun to be able to help people out.
Apparently, somebody along the corporate ladder between me (lowest possible rung) and Marvin Ellison (highest, gold-plated rung) thought just enough of my efforts to finally award me my own Red Vest. One fine day, at the morning meeting in the kitchen & bath department, myself and my buddy and fellow waterer Glen, an affable 70-something multiple stroke survivor, were presented with our vests and feted with the requisite awkward five seconds of mandated group applause. Awkward for we recipients, too, but also a relief to have been officially welcomed, however perfunctorily, into the clan.
I guess this is true of all such groups, but Lowe’s had its interesting cast of characters. There was my direct supervisor, for example - a sweet gal who also drove a forklift like a Mad Max character. Of course, for everyone else, perhaps I was part of their cast of workplace characters - the quiet older guy with the floppy Tilley hat, I reckon.
The Outdoor Lawn And Garden crew was its own little group. The only time I really spent any time with non-OLAG co-workers was in the break room. During a full day, you got two 15-minute respites there, plus an hour lunch in the locale of your choosing. Pretty standard fare there - lockers, vending machines, one large table and - I spent a lot of break time here when I was a weary loader - one of those anti-gravity chairs. It took all of the personal responsibility I could muster to not fall asleep in that chair twice a day. There was also a TV which only seemed to receive A) crime shows and B) old westerns. I developed a bit of an affinity for classic cowboy movies in my time there - at least as much as you can when only catching 15-minute snippets of Grit TV reruns.
Alas, summer came to its inevitable end, and so did my part-time seasonal job at Lowe’s. Even though my trunk has a fair amount of rings at this point, I’d like to think that, like the plants I spent so much time watering, I managed to thrive and grow while I was there.