Workwith Blog – Ride One

21 11 2008
When my boss asked me when I would be ready to get on a truck, I said anytime. I had actually tried to get a previous supervisor to go for the idea, but had been shot down anytime we actually tried to plan it out. I had settled for doing market tours a couple times and just learning about the wonderful world of DSD and Lance through writing and researching for our zone newsletter. I enjoyed getting the inside scoop from how things were made, how marketing did their research and more. So, the opportunity to hop on a truck and see the final chapter of the book of Lance products was a pretty nifty proposition for me. And my boss had some objectives for me as well. The goal, I was told, was to better understand what our delivery reps go through when they service our customers, but all I could think of as I stood outside the receiving door of the store jumping up and down to get the numbing chill out of my bones was how I was never going to shop at this store again – damn receiver. I blacklisted the store before the sun had even rose-for the sake of not offending anyone, I won’t name the store directly. But I was excited for this opportunity and am glad that I was able to take it. See, about ten years ago, when I left my husband, I took on a job running a vending route and it was a lot of fun and great for my body. The cases for the machines were pre-packed, all I had to do was drive to a stop, fill the holes, roll the change and move on with my day. Now I knew that running a DSD route would be more difficult than that, but I didn’t really think it would be how it was. The competing vendors were more like old pals; friends even – that I had not anticipated. I was geared up for a sneering showdown between us and the Frito drivers, but they greeted us with ‘hey you ready for the holidays’ and ‘how’d you get the helping hand today’ type remarks. I had presumed, wrongly, that the chain store receivers would be bubbly and kind, I mean they are our customers after all. That brings us back to me trying not to freeze my ass off at 4 am at the back door of the store that begins with a W and ends with an alMart.

I had gotten out of bed at 1:30 am, showered, put on my pressed slacks and an itchy new Lance logo’d polo, curled the hair, put on the long-wear makeup, guzzled down 4 cans of iced coffee and set out for my morning. I was to meet the rep at his stockroom at 3 am, but after sitting around in the chilly darkness for about thirty minutes, I began to wonder if I had misunderstood. You get a totally different feel for the city when you see it at this hour. It’s not dead, but rather bustling, in a different way than the Friday night hustle of blaring horns and pumping music. My rep showed up at 3:30, evidently I had written the time down wrong – and we set to the first act of the day. Receiving his load. He had received his load of product sometime the night before and in the stockroom that had more creepy crawlies than it did light fixtures, we wielded our flashlights and started counting boxes. We finally found a rhythm and managed to finish counting all 400 some boxes within a bit more than thirty minutes. We loaded the truck with a rather good deal of speed and I grabbed a quick smoke before we hit the road.

Florida, especially south Florida, is usually about 60 when I get out the door at 6 am. But with a cold snap that had pushed through, this morning was a bitter 45. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I had a light leather jacket with me, but I was already well heated with the excitement of the day, so I draped it over the back of the seat (I’ll tell you more about that pain in my ass in a few).

We got to our first stop, that damned store that I have not named, and went to the back door to mark our place in line. Frito was already in, and only Nabisco was ahead of us in line. So we took the opportunity to run around to the front of the store and get inside to count the holes. I’ve never seen such a clean mart with walls, but then again I don’t shop at this hour usually. There were no blue haired folks standing about catching up on the day’s gossip, or lost shoppers blocking aisles while chatting on their cell phones to the obviously deaf person on the other end. It had a wonderful fresh baking bread smell and the floors were shining like mirrored windows in the sunlight. We re-aligned the crackers, checked the sell by dates and shelf tags, and then ran seven aisles down to do the same with the chips. The chips were a bit more time consuming because they don’t have a set shape per se. The crackers come in solid boxes, but the bags I found could be squeezed and ‘popped’ to fit more on the shelf or give the appearance of fullness – depending on what you preferred. I was already mentally singing the praises of my anti-perspirant at this point and we ran back outside to resume our spot in line. The rep loaded up the cart with what was needed and the receiver began her bitchy session.

I’ve always been a bit of an ‘oh-yeah-bring-it’ type of person when faced with a less than favourable personality, but at 4 am, I found that attitude is amplified by about 80%. But, she was our customer, so instead I wore thin a good chunk of my inner lip with my teeth, biting back a few choice sneers and words. The receiver opened the door at about 4:45 am to suggest I put on a coat. I politely told her I was fine and she tsk’d me before shutting the door with a loud bang. Now for those who don’t know, I was borne in Kansas, lived in Sicily for about 5 years, moved to Virginia for about ten years, back to Kansas for about five years, then bounced around thanks to the Navy, then lived in Chicago for almost four years, North Carolina for another three years before moving to eternally warm Florida. Cold is defined by me as below freezing. Prior to that magical 32, it is just chilly. But, here in Florida, natives believe cold is anything below 65. Freezing starts around 55. So the 40s of that morning must have bordered on deathly cold for them. But I was actually quite comfortable. At first.

The rep joins me in line and at 5:00 the receiver cranks open the door once more to let the Nabisco man in and the Frito man out. At this store, I was told, the receiver only allows one vendor in at a time. Before shutting the door, she once more suggested I find a coat. I tossed her a smile and said I was fine. SLAM! So the rep and I watched as the Burger King store began coming to life, watched the red ants scuttle down the freeway, and made small talk about kids and local schools and the impending holiday plans. 5:15 am the receiver peeks out once more, “You better go get your coat.” Her command made me suddenly realize that yes, it was getting a little nippy, but no way was I going to get a leather coat for nippy. I gave her a tight-lipped smile and sent her door slamming again with my failure to comply.

By 5:30, the Nabisco rep is on his merry way and we should be entering. But we’re not. She doesn’t say a word and slams the door instead. So the rep and I make conversation now with the Coca-Cola rep and the transplanted New Yo’ker Entenmanns driver. They begin saying precisely what I was thinking about the receiver, complete with graphic emotes in her general direction. I held back the laughter as hard as I could and found myself rubbing my bare arms with my hands a bit. It was kind of getting chilly with this wind whipping down between the buildings. But, we were next in line and the store was certainly warm, so no worries. But by 5:45 still no invitation in to the grand hallowed halls of this store’s inner sanctum, but she did open the door once more to remind me about my damned coat. And finally at 5:50 I gave in. Tired of bouncing about and giving the onlookers a show of sorts, I ran back to our truck and grabbed my jacket. I returned to the line with our rep at 5:53 and at 5:54 the bitch opened the door and said “I see you finally got your coat. Ya’ll can come in now.” Yeah, your store is blacklisted, bitch.

It didn’t stop there though, oh no. The boxes must be on the cart in the order of the receipt, which was a bit cumbersome. While she exhibited her anal retentive tendencies, I scoped out her work space – a cushiony bench with a podium style desk, complete with radio and yes, a monitor to view the hidden camera watching her lovely peons outside the receiving door. Bitch. I was kicking myself at this point for not just complying and grabbing my coat sooner, but how I was I to know she was simply flexing her muscles? Definitely blacklisted.

When I started with Lance, I had the opportunity to travel around our entire zone and view various market conditions in every nook and cranny; from the ‘hood to the golf course communities and I was fortunate to have two managers train me on proper methods for displaying product on the shelves – two managers who had worked in the business each almost as many years as I am old. So I drew on the memory from this while working with our rep, but quickly found that protocol and best business plans aren’t always what one utilizes when stocking a shelf at six in the morning. I spent about ten minutes sorting the cracker packages by date, moving them this way and that, only to discover we had much more than necessary of some flavours and not enough of others. We would need to go back to the truck and bring in more, said I. Oh no, not so said the rep. He quickly showed me that by moving a couple packages of crackers into place vertically, you could make them have the appearance of being full, but, he cautioned, make certain to use two packages or else if someone pushes on them to test if they are being ‘fronted’ they’ll notice because the crackers will lean this way or that. Silly me, I thought the objective was to sell things.

Our next stop was a grocery store with a friendly receiver who for some reason felt duty bound to compliment my lovely blouse – it was a scratchy red polo – and I wasn’t certain if I should reciprocate by complimenting her mold green smock, but I decided to just offer a smile and a thank you. The smell of a bakery just before 7 had my senses in a whirl; it was heavenly. It’s comical almost, I abhor walking through the bakery section of a store most generally, the smell of the breads reminds me of the smell of beer and turns my stomach over; but breads in the baking process have such a different smell that just makes you feel wrapped up into some warm fleece blanket in front of a fire on a cold morning. We quickly ran from the chips to the registers to the crackers; we had to make up for the lost time at the back door of the now blacklisted store. I decided to observe at this stop instead of getting in the way and I was surprised as I listened to our rep chat with the Frito rep in a friendly fashion. “Your boy coming back home for Thanksgiving?” “No, he’s going to try to make it back for Christmas, but we’ll see. How’d you wind up getting a helper today?” “Oh she’s my secretary, here to observe.” I decided to avoid correcting him.

We loaded back into the truck and began our jaunt to the next account. Now let me take a brief moment to explain the trucks. They were obviously designed to have only one occupant and as some last minute fleeting thought crossed the designer’s mind, they added in a passenger seat. To call it a seat is a gross exaggeration. It consists of basically an ironing board drilled into the flat panel of the wall with a spring-loaded metal slab that can be pulled down to hold one’s butt. It has what was obviously intended to look like a cushion, but don’t let it fool you like it did me. The padding is the equivalent of sleeping on an air mattress with a hole in it. For every bump, pothole or pebble in the road, you feel the jolt quake through your spine. It reminded me of this ride at Disney World called the Twilight Zone, where the passengers are loaded into a service elevator of sorts and jolted down and up through various ‘floors’. I can’t imagine that riding an electric bull at the bar would be any less comfortable. And while there is a seat belt provided, it works more like a straight-jacket, keeping you firmly bound in place and god forbid you should take a deep breath because then it only tightens more. I learned quickly how to operate the crank window with my right foot and how to maneuver for my bag that held my bottled water with my left.
Our next stop was a high dollar grocery store. Let me define what I mean by ‘high dollar’. The floors of this store were polished wood, not some linoleum to look like wood. The walkways were littered with champagne displays and fine foods. The deli case held prosciutto and Lancashire type cheeses. I was half expecting a customer to round the corner in a tuxedo and top hat. This was certainly not a hot fries market. In fact, only Cape Cod was on these shelves. I cannot picture shopping in this store with kids unless I had a budget to cover every potential bump and broken bottle. A single fallen display would probably cost a good five hundred dollars to replace. I let our rep push the hand truck in this account – I don’t earn enough money in a year to risk clumsiness here.

Our route was run in a bit of an odd format. We drove south for five miles to hit one grocery store that only received until ten, then back north for four miles to hit another store than received ’til eleven. Now back south five miles to hit another store that receives ’til noon but is on their lunch break from nine to ten – hence why we couldn’t service them after the other grocery store. Obviously this rep knows that drill, but I thought perhaps the message should have at some point been passed on to the folks who designed the route – just a thought. Today though, we would not be in the city for long, we were going to the beach. I was really hyped over this as I have gotten to know a few of the customers down there by name when they call and there were a couple I couldn’t wait to meet.

One in particular I have commonly referred to as Mrs. Doubtfire for the past few years. Her name is actually Cecelia, but the phony British accent with the masculine overtones has always sent visions of Robin Williams rocking out to Dude Looks Like a Lady through my mind. Mrs. Doubtfire is an extremely sweet customer that initially came across as quite a bitch, but you would have to understand who her rep was. He no longer works for us so I can say this with less delicacy, but he was an absolute numbskull. If and when he showed up to work, he made sure to hit the chain accounts, but little stores like her restaurant were an afterthought, if thought of at all. His first excuse for not stopping was that he had to get off of the beach before her restaurant opened. No problem, she gave him and I her home phone number and said to call her there and she would come over to open the doors. She only lived a block away. Then it was he couldn’t find her place – no matter that he had been there before – I guess it vanished or something. But through it all, she was always super sweet, too nice really. I was really anxious to meet her finally and kill the Mrs. Doubtfire mental image. But, the rep explained, she had closed down her little café due to the economy so that meeting was shot.

We visited several stores that day, each were unique on their own. There was the grocery store built on stilts to avoid storm surge and the shanty on the beach that looked like a breeze might topple it; the country club where the guards charged us two bags of chips for admission and the seafood restaurant where I almost lost my lunch at the sight of the beheaded fish and entrails. Though my back will never be the same, I gained a new admiration for our rep and his daily routine during my ride along. With the exception of the blacklisted store, we never did really find any coarse customers like I had anticipated, and I ended my day anxious for my next workwith.
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