Hats Off to YOU, Black Friday Cashiers

24 Nov

I have been working in some form of a retail job since I was 14-years-old. In fact, this season marks the first holiday in eight years in which I will not be working an hourly rate, wearing a name tag or dealing with extreme-coupon-ing moms.

The (legally insane) crowd outside of Toys R Us on Thanksgiving night (wrapped around the building into the parking lot)... circa 2009

In my near-decade of retail experience, I have somehow managed to continuously get out of the Black Friday rush. Whether it be through school or some other stupid excuse ( I once had my Dad call up my job at the AMC theatres on Thanksgiving to yell at my boss about worker abuse… true story) I have gotten very, very lucky. Honestly, I have spent all day thinking about how I managed to fool almost 8 different companies- yes I jumped around jobs that often. I even had an over-drawn conversation with a Target cashier tonight, questioning how any job could let me get away with this for so long.

That same Target cashier, a lovely middle-aged woman with a name tag that read “Donna,” told me that this was her first year in retail, as she had spent the last 20 years in education. She laughed it off, as if getting fired from a life-long career was funny, but in our eye contact we both felt the pain in this realization.

The bottom line is that the world sucks right now. In the last four years I have watched people change, crumble into  sadder version of the person they once were. It seems like no one has anything anymore. Four years ago, when I stood looking towards my future, I saw so much potential and opportunity. When I first heard the word “recession” a few years back I brushed it off as an interesting story I could tell my kids (father: Brad Pitt… hey, this is my fantasy) from my Victorian mansion’s wrap-around porch one day. Now I spend my free time with my calculator open, re-figuring out how long it will take to fix my car, my computer, my future. Life isn’t fair.

What is even less fair is that these giant companies are taking their cashiers and forcing them into overnight employment on a holiday that should be reserved for family and rest. These megastores have ignored their hard working employees in exchange for Rock and Roll Elmos and UGGs. These employees don’t see the benefits, and they still have to work their butts off at a very mentally and physically trying job. You think your job is hard? Try spending 8 hours on your feet getting yelled at by soccer moms because a product adversided as $2.50 is ringing up as $2.52- and no I’m not being dramatic. That has actually happened to me.

These retail employees deserve trophies for working on Black Friday and Thanksgiving night. No, they deserve an additional bonus. Who wants a trophy anyway? They spend hours dealing with the craziest of the crazies, the ultimate shoppers looking for the ultimate sale willing to take down anyone that crosses their path. In the process the cashiers get hassled, talked down to and deprived of the social relaxation that should come with any national holiday designed for families. Yet they are still placed on the bottom rung of the business totem pole, treated like lower-class and second rate citizens. I would like these crazy people that wait in line for 24 hours for a video game to spend an hour working the job of a cashier: maybe then they will decide to spend Thanksgiving at home with their families, where they belong.

Listen, this was my life. I feel somewhat guilty not being there on the frontline this year, ready to take the hit and help my fellow warriors. And I will tell you honestly- because a Target commercial does a good job at hiding it- a retail position can be the complete and total definition of dehumanizing. When I worked for Whole Foods, I stood there every day wearing an apron, with my “New Team Member” button stuck to my chest, trying to push away the fact that I was just another road block for these customers. Then I saw my old internship boss. He turned the corner, in his dress shirt and tie, with a lunch that I could sell him, but never afford myself, and in that minute I have never felt so ashamed.  I  was humiliated. I wanted to rip my apron off, burn my name tag and scream “I’M MORE THAN THIS!” But a retail job often prevents you from doing that, because in a retail job you are just another barrier to break to get to the parking lot.

So this Friday, if you feel the desperate need to be out at unbelievable times in the morning, do me this favor: thank your cashier. Genuinely thank the college kid who left Thanksgiving festivities early to get some sleep before the early start, the parent who’s down on their luck trying to get some holiday cash for their kids, the graduate that just can’t get a break. Please remember that these are people, with lives to live and stories to tell and hearts to hurt, and every time you snap at them or ignore them for a more-important phone call you are making the conscious choice to make the world a slightly dimmer place. If you feel your ego getting the best of you, just stop, look at your cashier, and say thank you like you mean it.

We live in a world now where there is no shortage of need. Because of that we all have to be able to care just a little bit more for each other, and reach out in ways that we thought were once insignificant. This Black Friday, I am making an effort to be remembered, not as a pain but as a person that sincerely helped make someone else’s day just a little bit better.

What will you do?

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