Aug 31, 2008

Labor Day Blues

Last Monday my boss’s boss was at our work site. She was there in an act of solidarity and support. And she looked rather sad when she said “Ruth, you’re a tough cookie.” I wonder how many people who know me would ever use that as part of their definition of me.

This blog is an entertainment for the folks who know Jon and myself or Crimespree and normally dedicated to the world of fictional crime. Today though, I’m posting about the real deal and asking all of you who read this blog to take a moment reflecting on the consequences of real crime.

A week ago Friday, I left Baltimore with an impressive but cohesive list of things I wanted to accomplish before Bouchercon. Judy, Jon, Sarah, Mike and Penny also had a list of things to accomplish and all was moving well. The weather had been brilliant in Baltimore, the company great and our surroundings almost a second home to me at this point.

On Saturday, after 9 days off I returned to my day job. I work as a merchandiser/pharmacy tech at a cute little neighborhood geared corner store. A store that’s been buzz-in only for a year and a half because of back to back robberies that were solved. The gun then was fake. Last Saturday, it was a real one.

Details, at 2:35 p.m a young Caucasian man , in long sleeve black crew neck tee, dark jeans, slightly baggy, standing 5’11” weighing in at approximately 160, with a leather modified pork-pie hat and van-dyke styled facial scruff, brown and brown hair was buzzed in. Well groomed if a little overly dressed for the day, I welcomed him into the store after seeing both co-workers were even busier than myself. He asked me where the cards were and I pointed them out. I then returned to what I was doing. At 2:47 p.m. I looked up from my computer terminal to answer the intake question and was greeted by a gun. “give me all of your oxy-contin”

Not very sexy as the crimes I like to read about go. In most of the books I read this would be a throw away paragraph, I’d be dead and the hero would using the crime to uncover a bigger plot. In the case of an Ed McBain novel it would be a toss away scene for Fat Ollie, where he gets to make a few cracks about the stupidity of criminals and the people who work in high risk jobs. In real life, due to a sticky locked cabinet the villain left before getting what he came for, thinking we had tripped a panic button. I’m very much alive and I don’t believe there is a bigger plot. The guy wanted a saleable product and had a plan to get it. He was organized enough for me to believe he wasn’t a user at all, just a business man. With a gun.

Cut to yesterday, the second Saturday in a row I worked the day job. We have a huge event going on in Milwaukee. Police are watching the crowds. I was on high alert. Someone drove the car for my villain last Saturday. Would the knowledge of our cameras, lock down and perceived panic button give them the idea to reverse roles? Without incident, I’m happy to report.

What does this have to do with Labor Day pains. My job shouldn’t be high risk. I receive a middle class paycheck for a job where I’m moderately paid and have great benefits. The people I work with and for up the ladder are mainly great and we work with a high standard to make every aspect of health care better for the people receiving the care. We offer home delivery, our pharmacists insist upon patient consultation and we try to know every customer by name. To perform my job I need to be proficient with a computer, have knowledge of over 300 insurance plans, know some pharmacy law, be aware of all store inventory, maintain over 200 pages of corporate standards and be fully compliant in four different job descriptions. All this while “counting the pills and putting them in little bottles”. The second part of my job requires a full retail background, from window dressing to inventory control. Not the most complicated job in America, but not a cake walk either. Perfect for me, someone with outside interests looking for a day job with good benefits that can be “left at the office”.

In America today prescription drugs have become a bigger currency than cash and despite the best efforts of local, state and federal agencies the problem doesn’t seem to be going away. So ten years after I decided this was a job I wanted to do, I find myself working in a job that’s comparable to working third shift at a convenience store in a bad neighborhood. I’m good at my job. I don’t want to start over at something else. The parameters of the job and the support of human resources have allowed me adventure and the leeway to pursue other avenues of life far more important to me than the paycheck job. But the gun? The risk?

So I have some serious thinking to do on a personal level and a favor to ask of all of you who read this blog. Treat the people you come upon in your everyday errands with a modicum of respect. What you perceive as a clerk position where you are being delayed for having to wait your turn in line… might indeed be more than throw away line in a book. In the case of last Saturday, how you interacted with me at the pharmacy’s register may have been the last human contact I ever knew.
Remember that the next time you’re in line while the customer in front of you takes more time with the clerk than you’d like.

Labor is, after all, work.



Unknown said...

Great post, Ruth. Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Glad you're okay! And thanks for a Labor Day story to remember.

Sandra Ruttan said...

When I think about the value of a human life I find it hard to think of a salary that is worth risk. Police officers are underpaid, as are firefighters.

You're right that your job shouldn't be high risk. In the current economic environment, I think more people are at risk than ever before. When I used to live in the Greater Vancouver Area, there was a 7-11 just a block away. We lost count of the number of times we'd go in early in the morning, only to find out they were cleaning up from the latest robbery. In Calgary they started putting pressure on the government to make small business owners keep a second staff person on site at nights after store clerks were murdered in robberies.

It is, at the end of the day, why I write about this stuff. It's about how it really affects real people, as we are all touched by crime - even if it's just paying higher insurance premiums because of the theft of other people's belongings.

And to me, the fact that there is no bigger plot is what makes it more bleak.

I'm sorry you experienced this, and I'm glad you're okay. Maybe your employers could throw in a kevlar as a benefit...

Kim Smith said...

Wow. I have a similar story to relate but haven't for some reason. I suppose it is because to give it words is to give the gunmen publicity in my muddled mind.

Glad your story turned out with a happy ending.

Unknown said...

I am really sorry to hear that this happened to you Ruth. It's a shame that these things happen. But unfortunately it is not a one off incident when it takes place. I am glad that nothing bad happened to you or any of the other people that you work with. That would have been terrible.