'Onboarding' at Walgreens

It's a short walk to a long bus ride, and then a short walk to Walgreens. An easy commute, or it would be in they'd pave the streets downtown. There are ten thousand bouncy divets and bumps in every lane, but especially the bus lanes, all the way through the heart of the city. Mighty hard taking notes under such bouncy duress, but I was full of worries and messily scribbled and scribbled.

Having knocked around and done plenty in life, I'm pretty sure I can handle stocking deodorant and selling cigarettes at one of the world's largest drug store chains. Also, no worries that I might hate the job, since I already do, even before setting foot in the place.

My worries are more abstract and surreal, so as the bus rolled along, here's a list of things that could go disastrously on my first day.

What if I step into some homeless poop on the sidewalk, don't notice and leave poop footsteps all the way through the store and into the back office?

What if they fed me the wrong start date or time, and I'm actually three days early or three hours late? What if my boss or whoever's teaching the class is an ass? What if the training is in a classroom setting, but the chair I'm seated in breaks under my weight? Being a fat man, that's happened before. 

What if the boss or the teacher or everyone I meet has Hindu or Afrikan names that I can't remember or pronounce? What if the manager tells me to take off my COVID mask, because we're all friendly at Walgreens and customers need to see my smile?

What if they send me on a break, and someone in the break room won't shut up about how Donald Trump is being politically persecuted, and says to me, "Don't you agree?"

What if I fart during the class? What of it's a loud fart? What if it's a shart?

What if the teacher explains some ridiculous policy, something insulting or stupid that we have to say to every customer, and I snort or just shake my head no? What of I get bored, and say out loud, "My balls are a living thing," like I do a dozen times daily when I'm alone at home?

What if my schedule sucks, with not enough hours to make the rent, or it's always closing shifts and then an opening shift the next morning? What if my sternum starts exploding, like it did on Monday?

What if there's "getting to know you" chit-chat, but I forget about my 15 fictional years of retail experience that got me this job, and the manager calls me on it? What if a co-worker recognizes me from the wanted posters, as Dr Richard Kimble?

In the midst of these worries, eight Asian ladies climbed onto the bus together, and sat all around me, speaking Loud Mandarin for the last two miles of the bus ride. It's never enough to simply speak Mandarin on the bus, because the bus might be loud, so it's gotta be Loud Mandarin. It gave me a headache that grew worse as we rolled along, and nothing's better than a throbbing pain in your brain on the first day at a new job.

When I stepped off the bus for the short walk to Walgreens, the Asian ladies got off, too. Still speaking Mandarin at 90 decibels, they followed me to the entrance of the store, before they continued on toward Pike Place Market.

Me and my headache walked into the store, and seeing no sign telling new hires where to report, I stood in line like I was buying razor blades. When I'd worked my way to a cash register, I pointed at the oldest man in the building and said, "I'm a new hire, supposed to start at 12:30."

"Hey, Larry," said the cashier, presumably to Larry. "'Onboarding'. Take him to the office, please." And even not being Larry myself, I appreciated the please. Maybe this chain store wouldn't be like working on a chain gang?

Larry led the way and I followed briskly, cuz Larry moves lickety-split. As we walked past the freezers, he barely interrupted his stride to open a plexiglass door, grab a sandwich, then put it behind another door in a refrigerated cooler several steps away. "Nobody wants a frozen sandwich," he said.

So Larry had noticed product that should've been in a cooler was in a freezer instead, and resolved it while walking by.

When we'd walked past the potato, corn, and bagel chips, he punched a secret code to open an "employees only" door. "The code is 25789," he said over his shoulder, walking again.

I paused to write the numbers on my hand, and in standing still for a moment I'd lost Larry. "Keep up, man," he shouted, and I followed his voice past a loading dock, and down a long, steep, concrete stairway leading into the basement.

It was about 40 steps to get down, maybe two stories under the main floor, and I was praying for an elevator when it was time to come back up.

Larry was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and helpfully gestured toward the employee restrooms as we passed then. He informed me they're not for public access, though having been a customer here I already knew: Customers gotta pee and poo, but they gotta do it elsewhere. 

Then I followed him around a right turn and down a passageway, as he showed me the break room and the stock room, and finally the office, where he semi-introduced me to a young Asian woman. "New hire," he said, and then Larry was gone like a sandwich in the wrong cooler.

"You're Doug?" said the lady. I nodded, and she said, "I'm Mary." Then things started getting weird. 

♦ ♦ ♦

The office we were standing in had several modern-looking computers, and would've been a fine place for classroom learning, but instead she led me back to the hallway, where one computer that looked twenty years old was on a rickety table.

"This is where you'll be 'onboarding'," she said, and gestured that I should sit down. Just one table, just one computer, so I'm not part of a group of new hires. I'm the one and only. 

Then began the set-up and login procedures. The system wanted me to input my employee number (from a printout I'd been handed), pick a password, key it twice, and answer a 'security question', which was, "What was the first and last name of your best friend from elementary school."

I have worked with computers since computers were invented, so this should've been the easiest part of my day, but it was not. Despite keying my ID and password and an old buddy's name correctly, and correctly again, and again and again, every attempt to create my employee login failed. The system offered no explanation of what error I'd committed, and Mary started watching over my shoulder. We pressed the little 'eye' symbol that shows what I'd typed, and everything always appeared to be correct, but always errored out.

Finally, I stood up and let Mary have a go at it, telling her my super-secret password and watching her type it.

"Best friend from elementary school?" she asked me at the last question.

"Brian Cook," I said. But instead she typed BrianCook, and the entry took, and I became an employee. "No spaces are allowed," she explained.

The software hadn't said that. It had asked for the first and last name of a friend from grade school, but what it really wanted was afirstandlastname, and we'd wasted nearly half an hour.

Mary showed how to seek out and find the software's time clock, and with one click of the mouse I'd punched in, half an hour late. At some point in a distant future, I'd fight for that half hour's pay, but not first thing on my first day. 

She showed me how to navigate to 'Learning', and told me I'd be reading and watching videos all day, followed by tests. This is the way training works in any large company, so that's not surprising. What surprised me was, Mary then said goodbye, and left me on my own.

"I'll come into the office and ask, if I have any questions," I said, which felt like the right thing to say but wasn't. 

"Oh, I'll be upstairs on the sales floor, hard to find. Better to write any questions down."

"Uh, where's the elevator down here?"

"Opposite the office," she said, "but it's been out of order for months." So I'll be struggling up those stairs a lot.

Then Mary was gone, and I was already drenched with sweat, because there's no air circulation in the hallway. For eight hours between the employee bulletin board and a large plastic bin for documents to be shredded, sitting on that uncomfortable chair in a basement hallway, always I was drenched in sweat. Tomorrow I'm bringing wet wipes.

I read hundreds of pages of company policies, watched a few dozen videos, and took quizzes on the screen of an old computer with sticky keys and a missing comma.

The computer is between the break room and the stairs to the sales floor, so other employees walked behind me constantly, but nobody said anything all day except occasionally, "Excuse me," if my chair was too far into the hallway.

When I briefly worked at the Post Office, I'd felt abandoned because I never met my boss, never got a schedule, and there was almost no training, but USPS at least assigned a 'buddy' to show me what to do, for the first few hours on my first shift. At Walgreens, it's just me and the computer.

My training started with reading and videos about the ExtraCare, ExtraSavings, and ExtraBucks loyalty programs, which must be pushed at any and every customer who's not already a member. Took a quiz about this, and then watched several more videos drive home the same point, that the offer must be made to every customer, every time. It's gotta annoy the bejeebers outta customers like me, who don't want such 'loyalty' programs, and definitely don't want to hear about it every time they're a customer.

Walked to the men's room to wash my sweaty face, and when I came back I took another quiz, watched another video, again stressing that every customer gets the pitch for ExtraCare, ExtraSavings, and ExtraBucks, every time.

If there's a scraggly bum with week-old hair and needle-marks on his arm, standing at your register paying for a single beer with quarters, dimes, and nickles, it's 'discrimination' if you don't try to sign him up for the ExtraCare, ExtraSavings, and ExtraBucks program.

I'd spent more than an hour learning the wonders and requirements of their loyalty program, without even a word about such basics as greeting the customer or working the register or what's the company uniform.

This had me baffled, but after a bit I realized that the 'onboarding' software is not set up to take newbies through the learning sequentially. There are five different 'start' pages, but it plunks you anywhere at random, and I'd started on the third 'start' page. 

Having figured that out, I explored a little and found my way to the first 'start' page, "Here's what your cash register looks like," and "Here's how we stock the shelves," and by the end of the sweaty day the wonderful world of Walgreens had started to make sense.

Never saw Mary again, never spoke to anyone else and nobody spoke to me, except exchanging 'good nights' with the security guard as I left the building. Nobody told me to take a break, so I didn't take breaks. Breaks are usually stupid anyway.

Lunch is stupid too, especially if you're not eating, and yesterday was a not-eating day. I'm on a diet, and having tummy issues. 

But I've been around and know, it's required by law, and management gets in trouble if employees don't take an unpaid lunch break, so I punched out at 5PM, and walked the neighborhood. 

There are lots and lots of bums downtown, but that's cool. I like bums. The store is close to Pike Place Market, which will be great some day when I have spending money. All the restaurants seem crazy overpriced, except for the world's worst McDonald's.

Then I came back, keyed '25789' off my hand, descended 40 steps to the basement, and sat and sweated at the rickety desk in the hallway again.

I'm about halfway through my Walgreens 'onboarding', but when I heard the announcement that, "The store is now closed, please bring your purchases to a cashier," it seemed like a signal for quitting time, so I punched out and came home. 

One surprising thing I'd learned on my first day is that you don't have to pay Washington sales tax, if you're from a state or province that has no sales tax, and you can prove it with a photo ID, and you tell the cashier that none of what you're buying will be consumed in the state of Washington.

Hot tip, everyone! If you have valid, unexpired ID from Alberta, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Guam, Montana, New Hampshire, the Northern Marianas Islands, Oregon, the Virgin Islands, or Yukon, and you're willing to lie, you can save a few dollars.

But the most important thing I learned is that I need to reprogram my brain for the acronyms. To me, POS means piece-of-shit, but in retail it means point-of-sale, so all the training's references to POS procedures kept striking me as funny.

Wish there'd been someone to share the giggles, but I'm in this alone, in a hallway in the basement of 'my' Walgreens.


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  1. You ever see that TV show *Severance?* I'd be signing up for the severance procedure after the 'briancook' and the training videos. I *worked* a half day at Target a few years ago. Walked out during the endless computer training/indoctrination for their G.U.E.S.T mantra (greet, understand, engage, solve, thank. . .that shit is still burned into my brain).

    1. I think I've vaguely heard of Severance, but I thought it was about the Civil War.

      The corporate acronyms and catchphrases are so tedious, dumb, and un-related to doing a job well, it's in my notebook as something to complain about. I kinda refuse to let it into my brain, which means taking the quiz again and again....

  2. Great start, ruminating on the bus to work, chuckled out loud a couple times with your droll observations, guess you needed to get out there on a bus to get back on your game...(read it my usual style for something that long: printed it off and read it at my leisure later...)...Eel

    1. Reading it must've been better than living it then... Honestly never occurred to me that someone might print my stuff from the site.

    2. I do that with any long article, would rather lounge on the couch with a paper then stare at the computer, and be inclined to skim...(Just printed off Maureen Dowd's article about Bill Maher and will read it with breakfast...)Now that the AVA is just digital I may do that a few more times, maybe for TWK's pieces...But really, all i do now is read Ed Notes...

    3. I've never had a printer at home, but if I did I'd probably print out the longer articles I read. Words on paper are inherently more interesting than words on a screen, at least if the words have been proofread.

      I'm reading the digital AVA daily, but every time I click it I wish it was on paper. Always will.

  3. Great story. This is all why I would 'offboard' from any corporate job.

  4. My brother, please take this as a statement of love and not of torment: You'll fight for a half hour of pay but won't fight for your Social Security.

    I hate bullshit, but I hate being hungry. The latter overcame the former when I applied, and I even went to the SS office and applied in person. And it IS money I paid in and my employer paid in on my behalf. If you don't get it, some republican probably will.

    End of torment, with affection,


    1. You'll be pleased to know I'm in the midst of relenting. I started the process of applying for SS a month or so ago, and am presently lost in the bureaucracy, but I intend to keep trying.

    2. Great. That's your money and you should get it. I wish you good luck working your way through the system. I stumbled across a nice lady at SS who was really helpful, so such people do exist.



    3. It shouldn't have to be a battle. I abhor the concept, that yes it's your money and you've earned it, but you can't have it without running the gauntlet and hoping to find an employee who cares.

    4. I got lucky and called and made an appointment with a Social Security Enrollee Service Analyst. She turned out to be a gem. She even called to help me celebrate actually getting my money. She wasn't a big smiler, but she knew how to get shit done.


    5. Do you have her number? By coinkydink I am on hold with SS right now, and have been for almost three hours, just trying to make an appointment since the ssa.gov website won't let me have access to anything. And every sixty seconds, the awful hold music is interrupted by a voice telling me I can get much quicker service from the website ...

    6. Sorry, this was a dozen years ago, and she said she was just a couple years from retirement. She told me there were good people hiding out in every geographical area, but I have a feeling that SS has automated quite a bit since my experience. Sorry. I assume some of the good people are still left, but I don't know how you find them. I kept calling people and when I found her, I hung on for dear life.


    7. After yesterday's long hold, the person I got hold of was very competent and kind. The website wouldn't let me do anything, so I was calling to schedule an in-person appointment, but she answered several of my questions and explained a few things I hadn't thought to ask about.

      She was unable to schedule an appointment for me, though. She says instead that someone from SS will call *me*, within 7-10 days.

      The entire system is designed to keep people from being paid.

  5. I had this week's music list put together and one lousy keystroke made the whole thing disappear. I know the Googs are the only game in town, but sometimes when we touch, the banditry's too much. I'm going to go make a peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner and watch something on the Web.

    John 732-49-6324

  6. What the fuck. The Googs just ate my last three comments. And one of them bordered on clever. Again I say, What the fuck?


    1. Three times in a row, three different comments? Wow, we all know the commenting system has bugs, but that's a lousy losing streak.

      All I can suggest is my guide to squishing the bugs, or of course, you can always email me the text instead.

    2. What happened to two of them is that, instead of getting the message *(fake quote mark for fake quote) Your message was successfully posted*, I got the message *Your message couldn't be posted because we didn't feel like it* again and again and again. I knew if I left everything would be gone, but when a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go. So I let them drift away after about 17 tries.

      L. Frank Baum wrote a series on the people of OZ that I read pretty much in its entirety when I was quite young. I swear upon Mr Baum's grave that I'm one day going to write a book about the Googs. And get my ass sued off.


    3. Just this morning, I got that same "Your message couldn't be posted because we didn't feel like it" message (actually, there's no reason given, just basically, tough). Usually, and again this morning, it let me post what I wanted to post without changing a word, simply by switching browsers.

  7. OK, the one I thought was borderline clever came back unaccountably. Upon rereading it, I was wrong, but that's not the point. I lost the point. Long ago.


    1. A kind word if I may, John. *All* your comments are borderline clever! :)

  8. But since you're home, here's a free one . . . The Sonics - Psycho


    I've loved their music for sixty years, and I love it still.


    1. Pleasant and appreciated, but I wonder at the music in the full-length post you couldn't post...

    2. I stored the songs in my bookmarks, but I'll have to put the whole thing back together again later tonight. It's not just the songs, but the small commentaries that I lost. Shit. Later.


    3. Yeah, that's the aggravation. A couple of times (not because of Google, but because I'm an idiot) I've lost batches of movie reviews, and it sucks to start over again with something you've already written and were satisfied with. Every time it's happened, the second try has been lots lots lots less fun writing, and certainly reading.


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