Where were you when the lights went out?
All the nice stories start out “Once upon a time”, but this story starts out a bit differently. This one starts out; I had been at work for a little over 90 minutes when suddenly everything went black, and there was this very loud BOOM outside. After that, everything was different. And more than a bit annoying.
Certainly, my day didn’t start out quite so dramatically. It was a fairly typical workday, a few days before a major holiday. The visit that I had told you about that was supposed to be on Friday had been pushed to Saturday, since the bigwig that was coming had been delayed for some reason or another. So people had come in earlier than usual, there was a lot of hustle and bustle and we all in my department were attempting to get everything filled to the brim and looking nice for the visit. Then disaster struck. Unbeknownst to us, about a quarter mile to the south, a transformer arced and shorted out in a rather spectacular fashion I learned later. That happened because of a lightning strike, which had culminated in the loud BOOM we all heard at the time the power went out. At my store, there is a backup generator, but it is a limited one. It doesn’t have the capacity to run the refrigeration systems, just emergency lighting, telephones and the computers in the store, so none of the sales information and other important information would be lost. Also, it would be possible to continue running the store for some time; since normally a power outage lasts a few minutes to at the most an hour. Luck, unfortunately, was not with us at this time.
For the first half hour or so, it wasn’t too bad. We’d heard that the local fire department had been dispatched across the street to the hotel, as people there had been stuck in the elevator. In the meat department, we were mostly just using flashlights to assist customers in finding what they needed, sure in the fact that the power was going to come back on momentarily. Since we need power to run the saws, grinders and pricing machines, nothing more was going to be coming out, so we were just holding our breath to a certain degree, and things continued to run quasi-normally.
After the first hour had gone by, we started to go into ‘protection mode’. The company’s policy in the event of a longer than expected power outage is to cover the refrigerated cases (meat, produce, dairy, deli) with plastic, to try to preserve the coldness as long as possible. It’s a similar concept to the one any sane person would use if they had a power outage in their house. Keep the refrigerator closed as much as possible, allowing the insulation of the unit to preserve what’s inside, and especially the cold. Unfortunately, in our case, the customers kept lifting up the plastic to get items that they wanted, thereby defeating this purpose little by little. Nothing we can do about it, the assistant store manager won’t close the store, and business continues.
By noon, the power has been out a little under 3 hours and we’re starting to get concerned about the healthiness of the product. The assistant store manager has a laser thermometer in his office, and we started to scan some of the product to determine temperatures, whether or not we should start pulling the product. In spite of the fact the power has been out so long, the plastic is still, for the most part, doing its job; the temps of most of the items are still within the safe range of selling. In the small open ‘coffin cases’ where we sell items, it’s a little worse, so I mark down things like chicken breasts in bulk packages, shish-kabobs and so on. Around this point, I go to lunch, and the first cutter goes home because there’s no need for him to continue to be there when there’s nothing for him to accomplish. The meat manager is going to be present until 6 pm that evening. So providing the power comes back on soon, we won’t have to replace all that much and we’ll be fine. Again, karma has a sense of humor.
By 1 pm the assistant store manager has gone to the local power company to get an idea of how long it’s going to be before the transformer is replaced. We’ve been getting conflicting reports from customers, (the ones who also don’t have power generally) that it might be 4 pm or tomorrow before the power comes back on. Tomorrow is a disaster, we’re likely to lose everything that’s supposed to be refrigerated. If the company were to send a refrigerated trailer or two, that would be great, but Buffalo (where the warehouses are) is 2 hours away, and even should it arrive within that window; moving everything into those trailers (the store only has 2 loading bays, and one is almost always occupied on any given day) takes a long time. The manager returns and says the utility is saying a firm 3 pm for being back with power. That’s 5 1/2 hours without power. The assistant store manager suggests that we start triaging the meat case, marking down what is saleable and beginning to strip the rest and put it somewhere. Can’t put it into the cooler, because we have to keep those doors closed. The meat manager doesn’t wish to do this, he would rather ‘wait and see’ so we wait some more.
Finally, at 3:30, the power comes on. I’ve triaged about a 1/3rd of the case by this time (around 2, the meat manager finally agreed it would be a good idea to do what the assistant manager said an hour previous) and customers are being asses about ripping the plastic to get at the reduced meat (I was doing probably 70% reduction on stuff, so they wanted to get at it as soon as possible..) Meat manager brings out the new product and we start to do the best we can to replenish when along comes one of the lower level managers screaming about having to do a temperature check and NO MORE product can be put into the case before she does her check. She checks a few items and based on that pronounces that the ENTIRE case has to be pulled. (Are you fucking kidding me? Do you have ANY idea how long that takes, and how long it’s going to take to replace?) This about 45 minutes after the bigwig that was supposed to be at the store hours ago, finally shows up, does a quick walk through and suggests that the meat case is a loss, and “We’ll have to get cutters in to cut all new meat and restock the case tonight.”
I wonder sometimes if these executives even think about the stuff that comes out of their mouths. There’s ONE meat cutter in the store at the moment, and it’s the meat manager. The first cutter has gone home for the day and he’s not coming back. He knows enough not to answer the phone, or return text messages or whatever. There’s no one else to call since it’s basically the end of the workday, everyone has either been at the store since 6-8 am. So if there’s someone coming, it’s more than likely they’re arriving from Fantasyland.
So now it’s going on 4, and I supposedly am done in a little over 45 minutes. I start to get carts to empty the case, and the meat manager and assistant store manager come up. Can I stay? is the question of the moment. I’ve been in this situation before. If I don’t stay, the meat manager is going to try to do it all himself, and he’s just 2 months removed from being off for 8 weeks with heart problems. There’s literally no one else…so I say “Sure, I’ll stay…long as you need me” and go back to work. I take a little break to call the wife and let her know what’s going on, but she can’t hear me, and her text phone isn’t working. I have to hang up on her and go to my locker to get my phone to text her (and shoot a text to Miss as well so she knows where I’m going to be, etc) and head back to the war. Of course, while I’m emptying the case, customers are coming up, wanting to know why I’m emptying the case, is there going to be new product coming out, which product is ok to take, or just taking whatever they want and not worrying about product viability, the whole nine yards. Some are being nice about it, others are complete assholes saying things like “damn, that’s a lot to throw out” or “damn shame, too bad you guys didn’t have a generator” and so on. Just makes more of an annoyance and naturally, you have to hold your tongue, you can’t say to them “hey buddy, walk in my shoes for a few minutes, and you might shut the fuck up about your stupid ass comments”.
Five full grocery carts later, the case is emptied and I return to the meat room, where the meat manager informs me that all of the stuff I just pulled has to be scanned out of the department before the end of the day; so it can be sent to corporate for a credit. Another 45 minutes of scanning an item, tossing it in another cart and wash, rinse, repeat. After that, all the product has to be removed from its packaging and tossed into what we call the ‘bone bucket’. It’s where the meat scraps, the old product goes and eventually is collected by the outfit called ‘The Renderer’. The old meat gets reprocessed into pet food generally. Not a very appetizing thought either if you’ve ever dealt with these companies. When you see ‘meat by-products’ on your pet food container, heads up, this is where it’s coming from.
It’s now almost 6, so I spend the next hour ripping open packages, dumping the contents into large 55-gallon barrels, tossing the packaging into another barrel, and repeating the process ad nauseum. After an hour I managed to fill almost three barrels, generate 5 bags of packaging waste and was thoroughly tired of the whole thing. When I left at 7, I still had three carts to go through.
Definitely not the best day.