March 13th, 2009

TIME:  In Rod We Trust

Writer's Block: What a Way to Make a Living

What's the worst job you've ever had?
I worked at a Computer Renaissance for about 10 months.  That was the worst job I've ever had.

Computer Renaissance was a very large franchise, that is, people would pay the parent company to license the Computer Renaissance name and logo.  They're still around, but they're nowhere as big as they used to be.

The particular store I worked for was one of three owned by the same person, one store in San Diego, one in Albuquerque, and my store in Encinitas, CA.  I started out working as a tech at the San Diego store, which was the headquarters for this franchise.  I proved to be as good a salesman as I was a tech, and since Encinitas was a shorter drive for me and the tech at that store (who was a poor salesman) wanted to return to the San Diego store, I was transferred up there.

At first things went smoothly, one of the managers from the San Diego store was there to handle the sales and I did the tech work and jumped on the sales floor when there were more customers.  But then the manager started coming in late, leaving me to open the store.  Then he started leaving early, so I had to close up.  Eventually he just stopped showing up at all, leaving me to open the store, do the sales, tech work and answer phones by myself, and then close.  Since the store was open from 10 until 9, this meant an 11 hour day, at a minimum.  Since I also had to clean the store before it opened and do administrative work like closing the register and tabulating the day's reciepts, it usually came to 12 or more hours.  On the weekend there were two people who came in, but the tech usually just made a bigger mess for me to fix the following Monday.  Eventually they stopped showing up and I had to work 6 and then 7 days a week (at least it was only 9 to 10 hours a day on the weekends).  Since I was the only person in the store, I couldn't take a break for lunch without closing the store.

The store was on the corner of the two busiest streets in the area, but the way it was situated it was almost invisible from the road.  The owner also never invested in any advertising, so store traffic was pretty abysmal.  Most of the customers who came in were either shopping at one of the adjacent stores, learned of the place through word-of-mouth (I was a very good salesman), or pulled into the parking lot by mistake (the Gateway store was just up the road).  Pretty soon the home store stopped sending merchandise, so even when I did have customers, I had nothing to sell.  At the worst point, I had just two computers for sale, a $4000 dual-Pentium Pro IBM workstation and an ancient B&W Mac PowerBook Duo!

It was the customers, though, that really made the place hell.  There was this one woman who would keep bringing her computer in with the most trivial of problems, and she would talk nonstop the entire time she was there.  Imagine listening to the MicroMachines guy for half an hour, that's how she talked.  Then there was the teenager who kept coming in and talking at me about computers and how he was going to build a computer for his girlfriend and then never actually bought anything.  And then there was this creepy old guy who'd come in just before closing.  He was insanely paranoid, tinfoil hat-kind of crazy.  He always paid cash, because credit cards have a computer chip that the government uses to track people.  Yeah....

Did I mention I was only being paid minimum wage, plus "commission"?  (Though with all the overtime and double-overtime, I made almost as much as I did at my next job, which was 40 hours a week and $15 an hour.)

I finally couldn't take any more and quit.  I applied for unemployment, claiming I quit because of unreasonable working conditions (pay below average for what I was doing, excessive hours, no lunch breaks), and not only did the state turn me down, they penalized me 2 weeks UI the next time I applied.  WTF?