If it gets any worse, I can always look into the possibility of becoming a Wal-Mart greeter.
Retirement seemed like a good idea when I cut my goodbye cake earlier this year in The Bakersfield Californian's newsroom. But then came reports of 401(k) losses and gloomy warnings: Boomers, postpone your retirement. (Oops, too late. I retired in February as The Californian’s editorial page editor.) The greeter gig started looking good.
That is, until more gloomy stories surfaced about greeters in other cities being roughed up by cranky customers. One was trampled to death by Long Island shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.
I needed to give my greeter plan more thought.
Have you seen the "Maxine" cartoon floating around the Internet? The cranky old lady (she could be me) explains how she was bounced from her greeter job: "About two hours into my first day on the job, a very loud, unattractive, mean-acting woman walked into the store with her two kids, yelling obscenities at them all the way through the entrance. As I had been instructed, I said pleasantly, 'Good morning and welcome to Wal-Mart. Nice children you have there. Are they twins?'
"The ugly woman stopped yelling long enough to say, 'Heck no, they ain't twins. The oldest one's 9, the other one's 7. Why the heck would you think they're twins? Are you blind, or just stupid?'
"So I replied, 'I'm neither blind nor stupid, Ma'am, I just couldn't believe someone slept with you twice. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart.'"
Maxine's lip got her bounced. I shudder to think what my lip would do.
To check out this greeter gig, I drove over to the Wal-Mart in northwest Bakersfield, where I found Jeanne Bowen and Pat Frye standing sentry.
After receiving a big Wal-Mart welcome, I introduced myself and explained I was writing about their jobs. Frye had worked for Wal-Mart for nine years, Bowen for four. Before that, Frye had been a cook, a waitress and a worker in a pre-sort center. Bowen had been a bottling plant manager's secretary. The plant shut down in 1999. Both needed to supplement their social security checks.
"I love this job," said Frye. "I'm a people person. I'm 71 years old and I like to stay active. And I can't live on Social Security."
Bowen said for her, the job "boils down to liking people."
Frye says one customer calls her "Sunshine," because she is always smiling. She sees some people so often that they become friends. One customer, a disabled elderly man she often helped with his electric cart, instructed his wife to return to the store after he died and tell Frye how much he appreciated her.
Even when alarms go off and she has to check a receipt before allowing a customer out the door, Frye said her exchanges are pleasant. "You learn to be polite."
I could be "polite" if I really tried. But then I asked an impolite question: "So, how much do you get paid?"
Frye said she wasn't allowed to tell anyone. I impolitely pestered. Finally she said her wages were "decent."
So, basically, all you have to do is greet people, retrieve a cart occasionally, give directions, check receipts, watch for shoplifters and be nice?
That nice thing might be a problem, too. After all, I retired as this newspaper's editorial page editor. Sometimes I ticked people off. Having strong opinions wouldn't be a plus, either. (Hey, lady, start buying diet drinks. Fella, pull up your sagging pants.) And how can I help people find stuff in a store when I can't even find my glasses at home?
Maxine lasted two hours. Maybe I could make to one. I need another backup plan.
This column written by Dianne Hardisty appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Aug. 9, 2009.