Welcome To The Jungle (I’ve got your fun and games right here)

June 18, 2011 at 9:56 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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[Spring 1997]

And so, I left Steak n Shake, and came back to Domino’s Pizza again.
Except I never really left; I had continued my employment there as a part time driver for Romona in Hazelwood. It was easy for me to jump right in again as an assistant manager and pick up the hours I needed between two stores: Hazelwood and Cross Keys, the store I most recently managed before being sentenced to the fourth level of Hell that was Blackjack.  (I don’t want to over-exaggerate; everyone always says “seventh level.”  However, with the experiences I’ve had, I had some perspective.)
Bunny was managing Cross Keys and she was my friend. Romona was my friend also, and gave me more hours. I was in the middle of an estrogen duel, two women vying to have me all to themselves. I wanted to say, “Ladies, please! There’s enough of me to go around!”
But it wasn’t about me. It was about power. Bunny was an aggressive upstart, and Romona was a battle-weary warhorse. Who would win this battle of wills?
Ultimately Romona did; she was promoted to supervisor.
Now that she was the new North County supervisor, she had–
Well, it depends on how you look at it. If I were an optimist, I would say she had pull. If I were a pessimist, I would say she had problems.
Since I’m a realist, I have to say she had…problems.
One of those problems was Store #1539, Berkeley. It was a problem store in a problem area. It was ghetto. It was hood. It was bad. How bad?
Unless you know the St Louis area, it’s hard to summarize. Part of Berkeley was a small village called Kinloch. Kinloch doesn’t exist anymore because there was a buyout by the airport for a politically-motivated expansion that was never necessary but proceeded anyway, despite the fact that Lambert lost a couple of major hubs and air traffic decreased significantly and an airport was also built in the Metro-East that stands basically deserted.
Kinloch became a synonym for crime,
The major economic factor in Berkeley is drugs. The local government is part nightmare and part comedy. Businesses shut down left and right. McDonald’s a few other chains closed their doors and tucked their tails between their legs, cutting their losses.
Just look up the Wikipedia article for Kinloch, Missouri. Kinloch is attached to Berkeley like a tumor.
Domino’s was desperate to have success at 1539, although the definition of success varies. They made a deal with a manager: she would take over the store, be given free reign, “support” from marketing, and half the profit of the store, instead of the usual 15-20%.
Again, class: What is 50% of zero?
Correct.
This project was touted as a bold initiative, a new direction to create a brighter future and be model for future–
Blah-blah-blah. She lasted less than two months.
It probably wasn’t fair to put a (more or less) innocent suburban white chick in a situation like that. Luckily she didn’t get killed or raped, she just locked the doors in the middle of the day and walked out.
I don’t know if I was necessarily in the right place at the right time, but here’s what happened:
Changes were made, as always. Note the passive voice, to release upper management of responsibility. Jay was the farm-boy supervisor for the area, living in Illinois. He was returned to the cornfields from whence he came.
Does that sound harsh? Jay was a good guy, a quiet, by-the-book, no-nonsense sort of bloke. Yeah, humorless as well–those types usually are. Here’s a story about him:
As a supervisor, he came by Berkeley during dinner rush to do whatever the Hell it is supervisors do. You know, watch other people work. Make suggestions based on hindsight, unrealistic expectations, and fairy tales.
It was dark, so the mag-lock was on. Don’t make explain a mag-lock again. Most stores didn’t turn it on until after 10pm. Berkeley did it as soon as it got dark. Drivers come up, we buzz them in. Customers of a superficially non-threatening nature would approach, and we would buzz them in.
So it’s about 6pm in the winter, and it’s dark. A Friday night, so there is some business going on. A customer approaches, and instinctively Jay reaches toward the button to buzz them in–
A driver slaps his hand away from the button.
The “customer” was a large black male with a ski mask over his face and a shotgun in his hand. He bounced off the door, shook the handle a few times, and disappeared.
It was for the best that Jay returned to the green, green grass of home.
Romona was made supervisor, and now it was her problem.
I can’t believe that I was actually allowed to interview for 1575. Hazelwood was a cherry, and everybody wanted it. I was the only MIT that interviewed; the others were seasoned managers. However, I was a seasoned manager also, who happened to be an assistant at the moment.
Well, of course I didn’t get Hazelwood. I forget which numbnut they gave it to, and it doesn’t matter. Fine, I’ll continue as an assistant–whatev.
Over the course of several days, Romona hounded me. Berkeley was still open, and she was getting desperate. The store needed a manager. Actually it needed a SWAT team. She made offers, she pleaded, she made promises–
I swear to God, if I had held out longer I would have gotten a blowjob. I still remember the day I walked in when she was a manager, and she was sitting at the desk taking a break. And eating a corn dog.
You don’t forget shit like that. She owes me.
However, it was my completely misguided sense of duty that won over, and I accepted the position. I would take Berkeley.  I never did get that blowjob.

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A Scanner Darkly

June 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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First came the mass email reminder to turn in our timesheets.
Then came the angst over filling out the time sheet.
The next day came the email reminder to our whole department from Bunny that timesheets need to be filled out accurately.  That was at 10:27.
At 10:28 I got an email that no one else got, also from Bunny:
“Please see me in my office at 10:30 about your timesheet.”
That’s essentially…right now.

She was waiting in her office, and so was Melissa, my immediate manager.  I’ve written about her before, but I’m not sure it was entirely accurate.  But then, I’ve never worked for her before.
Originally, I thought she reminded me of my ex, The Storm.  But that’s not her.  The Storm is an F-5.  Melissa is an F-2, tops.  But I don’t fuck her, so I can’t be sure.
But here’s what I do know, in all honesty:  I can read people.  Some people I can’t read well, while others wear it on the outside.  Her aura says “BITCH” in a  shiny, glittery, script font.
The thing is, she’s never done anything to me, but I can tell.  Among all the other little things, she has a…fake little laugh–this tittering that she does, a forced laugh to show that she’s easy-going.  Hell, maybe she’s in a 12-step program to overcome being a bitch for all I know.  And she just has the look on her face like she is disgusted all the time.  She has potential; I suppose she could go either way.
So I come in, and Bunny is professionally friendly, beckoning me to come in and sit.  I guess I paused–and she caught it.  Damn it, she can read me.  On to the meeting.
Melissa was mostly quiet.  I’ve been in these before; when I was written up, Erica had Carrie sit in on the meeting as a witness.  So I’m in trouble.
Bunny asks about the timesheet.  She’s not pointing to this week, she’s pointing to last week.  *This* week we had Memorial Day, and others my group reasoned that going “overtime” would be okay because it wasn’t overtime pay–we had only four days.  I had 8 holiday hours, but instead of 32 regular hours I had 36.
But she was pointing at last week, where I dutifully (I really don’t know how else to describe it–is “stupidly” a synonym for that?) wrote in 40 hours.  I arrive at 8am, take a half hour lunch, and leave at 430.  Eight hours a day, 40 for the week.
“Melissa said she knows that on more than one occasion last week, you were here at least until 515.  Were you just hanging around, doing some personal things–”
I can see she was trying to give me an out.  I didn’t want it.
“–Or were you working?”
Time for honesty.  Finally.  What had been brewing in me for weeks, I could finally express.  “Oh, I was working.”
I really don’t remember how she phrased the question, and the writer in me is struggling to create with fiction what she said in reality.  The gist of her question had to do with *why*?  Why was I doing this?  Why was I working for free when we just had a meeting expressly about this topic?  Why was I fudging my time?
The question was phrased perfectly so that this was the perfect answer:
“Because I–we–all of us in Shipping are scared to death that we’re going to lose our fucking jobs.”
I hope I kept my voice and tone under control.  I said it as calmly as I could manage.  Christ, I was close to crying, from the sheer emotional release because I could finally tell her.
She looked shocked, but not as shocked as she should have been if she didn’t know anything at all.  Bunny’s a smart girl.  She can put things together.  I continued, controlling the cracking in my voice.  “We are scared to death that if we don’t do everything that you want–all of this that you pushed on us–that you’ll fire us and replace us.”
She said a few soothing things, but I don’t remember what order they were in.  Things like:
She reminded me that she told us that it was going to be hell for us in shipping as they made these changes, and that eventually it would get easier.  I’m not buying that, but that comes later.
She also said that they–she–wasn’t looking to get rid of anyone in shipping.  She added that last as a caveat…was she looking to get rid of people elsewhere?  I guess they always were…
Also, doing this was not making it better.  If it took longer than they anticipated (which to me means they had pie in the sky dreams about this stuff being completely automatic and could be done in seconds but now the reality is starting to come home) then she needs to know to adjust her projections and expectations.  They need to know accurately how much can be done.
Melissa spoke up at this point, saying something about, oh, not being able to get the work done is not as serious as fudging your timesheet.  Well, okay.  In the cage match of the lesser of two evils, I bet on the wrong pony.
After that we talked about specifics.
Bunny admitted that she’s never really worked in shipping–but she’s done all the other jobs that lead to it.  She does know that Shipping has gotten shit on in the past, because anything the other departments couldn’t do or wouldn’t do correctly had to be fixed in shipping.  She wants to change that.
Starting with this stacking order project of hers.  How to gently burst this bubble?  We had 2 dozen stacking orders, one for each investor, because that’s how we did it five years ago.  Requirements have changed, and even the investors don’t necessarily need it that way.  So we were going to switch to a single stacking order that would start with the LOA, and stay with the file all the way through the process and everyone would be responsible for keeping it in that order so we wouldn’t have to stack the files any more.  It seems ridiculous to tear the file apart completely and put it back together–
Nonetheless, that’s what we do in shipping.  However, I had to tell her this point about three times before she heard me:
“Stacking the file is not the problem.  Stacking doesn’t take that much time.  Stacking is not the issue.”
“Huh?”
“Most files we can stack in less than ten minutes.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is all the other things that keep getting thrown onto us and added on to our work.  It turns a 15-minute project into a 35-minute ordeal.”
“Like what?”
Exactly.  She didn’t know.  “Everything else we have to do to the file, some of which is investor-specific, but it doesn’t matter.  We have to fill out forms, look things up, check numbers, and now fill out the insurance letter as well.  We have to make sure we have our lock and our appraisal early, so we have time to track them down.  We have to update Avista with the information.  Everything we do, in fact.”
I felt like I was pleading our case.  “Even after the file is stacked, it’s not the end of our day.  We have two hours or more of work *after* they are stacked.  They have to be scanned–it takes time, even if we’re doing something else, then it slows down the other things we are doing.  After it is scanned, they have to be imported–and these big files take time.  And then we have to convert them to PDF–and that takes time–much more time.  Just, please–understand–all of these things take time to do.  They really do.  We have been busting our ass over there–to please you.  All for you.  We have come up with every shortcut we can think of to make it quicker for us.  Every day we are fighting the clock.  Every day.”
Bunny had new information.  I could see she was processing it.  So now, the problem was out in the open.  Let’s talk solutions.  And we did, a variety of them.  I finally got out my idea about the tax sheet, which is brilliant and so I won’t get credit for it.  But it also led to the insurance letter discussion as well.  The bottom line is, these are both things we have to fill out manually but we have the software capability to have them generated and populated automatically, saving time and aggravation.
Judy, who is Bunny’s boss, poked her head in, apologized, and had to take Kim away for two minutes.  In the corporate world that is anywhere from 7 minutes to three weeks, but Bunny was back in ten.
While she was gone, Melissa and I shared some awkward silence.  Finally I had to tell her something that I couldn’t tell Bunny.  “You know, it wasn’t you, but when you were out for a few days and we had to go to Bunny to sign off on our files–”
“Sign off on them” is our office lingo for when they give us 12 gallons of shit to stuff into 2 5-gallon buckets and we know we can’t get it all done, but we give it our level best and then later in the day we return some of the unpacked shit so that it can be initialed and okayed by the manager to push off for the next day–they sign off on them.
“–she gave us all kinds of grief about it, not accepting any excuses for not getting the impossible done.  After that, it’s just been hard to bring them back because we don’t want to catch hell for it.”
We discussed that briefly.  Melissa conceded that as long as it was reasonable, go ahead and bring them back.  For instance, if you have 12 and can only do 10, that’s fine.  However, if you have ten and then only get 4 of them done, you have some explaining to do.  That’s logical, in theory.
I did ask for an allowance to make sure Serena and I can take care of the ordering, and she agreed.  Cool.
After Bunny came back, we discussed some particulars, and she said that they have been neglecting shipping, and now they need to get in there pay attention to it.  I’m honestly not sure if I want that.
But I feel better.  I feel I was finally able to tell her our side.  I went to bat for my team, and told her all of our concerns, and she listened, and even agreed to be reasonable.
Catharsis, like happiness, is relative.

Communication Is Over-rated

May 18, 2011 at 8:29 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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I just got a phone the other day–I’d been without one for almost a month.  I’m working only one job, and that is not enough to pay the bills, bro.  I need to be looking for a new part time job.
And ye cannah do that without a phone.  Because what if you successfully lie to someone enough that they’re willing to hire you?  They’ll want to call me.
That’s…really all I have on that.
Meanwhile, my day job has been a bit of a drag.  It’s complicated and I’m not sure wherein the blame lies; however, I do know that I am working more and making less money.
I’m making less in two ways:  first, my “bonus”–my incentive–is not what it was before.  I’ve tracked it for the last few years, and it’s been averaging between three and four hundred clams per month.  Since I’ve been doing actual shipping in the shipping department, my incentive be different and I’ve made a (very) little over a hundred.  That’s *one* hundred.
Not only that, but I’ve been working harder–I’ve been actually working, compared with what I had been doing the past six years.  Look, before, my job was essentially this:  I get stacks of paper, I put them in the scanner, I click a button.  I enter some data in the appropriate fields.  Repeat.
Endlessly repeat.
Now Bunny is my boss again, and she promised me–no, she told me…no, maybe she vaguely hinted at the possibility of more money doing this other thing.
Let me explain briefly (if I can do it briefly):
I work in the mortgage division.  There are distinct sections, departments, that handle various phases of the loan process that always go like clockwork.  Origination, underwriting, processing, and closing.  Then there is the post-closing area, of which I am a part.  After closing loans go to pre-shipping–I still don’t know what the hell that is–and then shipping.  Me.  Well, me and a few others.  We ship the loans.
Why?  And where?  Well, the way we make money is we originate the loans with the intention of selling them to other investors.  The big ones are Bank of America, Chase, Wells, and BB&T.  After the loan closes, the clock is ticking.  Hell, after the loan LOCKS, the clock is ticking.  After it is closed and funded and the deal is done and people have their keys and they are moving into their dream home–we have work to do.  We have to get the loan to the investor and we have a limited amount of time to do it.
First we take the loan apart, pretty much page by page, and re-assemble it in a more astheticallly pleasing manner, called the stacking order.  And each investor has their own particular stacking order.
And there are other things along the way–check things off, verify information, print out certain docs, fill out paperwork.  Then we send them to the investor.  For the smaller outlets, we re-stack it, scan it into our file system, re-hole punch it, and ship via overnight UPS the entire loan package.  The others–most of them–we scan in, convert to PDF, and send electronically.  Of course, we still physically ship the live note overnight to them.
By the way, the average size of a file is almost 400 pages.  Most are in the 300+ range, and some are 600 pages.
So how many can one person do in a day?  That’s the crux of the situation, the heart of the matter.  How many can I do in an 8-hour day?
How many can I do in an 8-hour day when I’m busting my ass, and taking care of my other side jobs, such as ordering supplies and maintaining equipment?
When people say they work in a fast-paced office environment, what they mean is what I do.  I am quite literally working at a dead run for most of the day.
And I’m new to this.  Not new here, but new in this job.  When I first started, I was lucky to finish four or five loans in a day.  I’ve gotten faster–I had to get faster–but yesterday, for instance, we three that do the regular loans had ten each.  Me, Blair, and Kimmy.  (Serena is now in shipping also, and she does complex packages like Rurals and MHDCs, so she can do no more than five a day because they take so long.)  So we each had ten.  We have to really hump.  Kimmy is faster than both Blair and I; she’s been doing this for five years, and Blair for one year.  Me, three months now.
Long about noon Melissa, our direct manager, comes by with some good news:  We are each getting two more loans.  As an added bonus, it’s going to be like this for the rest of the month–shipping as much as we can–and no, no overtime is allowed.  As a collective, the wind just came out of sails.
There is a certain time of day when you want to be done stacking, and hopefully be done scanning and on your way to importing and PDFing (yeah, we made up that word.  That time is about 3pm.  It takes time to import them, and it takes time to convert the docs to PDF, and it takes time to ship them electronically.  We have a hella fast internet connection, but uploading takes longer than downloading.  And these files are large.  Converting it to PDF takes the longest amount of time, because, again, these files are large.

I have already put in a lot of hours for free.  Overtime was cancelled because we are “slow.”  We don’t seem that slow to me.  Other departments are slow, but they haven’t really lost a lot of people.  Our department lost people–all of our temps–and they throw more work on us.
My good friend Bunny is the boss, but she has pressure from her BOSS.  We need to perform, and do it cheaply.  They have us do all these extra things as they change operations.  Each time they say, “Oh, well that doesn’t really add much time to what you’re doing.”
But it does.
And–they remember all the things they’ve done to make our job easier and quicker (and I have no idea what those things are), and they exaggerate their estimation of how much time that saves us.
No overtime.
Last night, we were all at work until after seven pm.  For Kimmy, a ten-hour day.  For Blair and Serena, 11 hours.  For me, 12 hours.  I came in at 7, knowing I had ten files and I wanted to get a jump on it.
If things go smoothly, you can stack and prep a file in…20 to 30 minutes.
It hardly ever goes smoothly.  If something is missing or wrong or odd, you have to find someone, contact someone, fix it, figure it out, make adjustments.  Contrary to what managers think, this shit takes time.
This stuff has to go by a certain date.  But also, each day the loan stays is worth money, depending on many variables and beyond my knowledge at this point.  Every day  a loan stays in our house means money, but sometimes it is for us rather than against us.  Still, they want them out as fast as they–we–can get them right now.  Bunny’s boss has put unrealistic expectations on her because–she says–he wants her to fail.
So she pushes those unrealistic expectations on us, with a no-excuses attitude.

Here’s my problem:  She’s my friend.
I feel that they–management–have created an adversarial relationship between us and them.  They feel that we aren’t working hard enough, we are slacking, and every one us is a lazy pathetic slug looking to rip the company off.  Therefore they have to retaliate and defend themselves and make us work harder to offset the ridiculous amounts of money they pay us just to break even.
They haven’t–they won’t listen to us about what we are dealing with.  No excuses, get it done.  What if we can’t get it done without going into overtime?  Work faster.
But what if we already are?  What then?  No answer.
I’m going to work 50 hours this week, and get paid for 40.  And get ripped off on my incentive, because it is also tied to mistakes.  If we work faster, we’ll make mistakes.  What is the point of working harder?  And right now especially, I could use the money overtime would bring.  I’m dying over here.
I’d like to know that they at least appreciate what we’re doing–but I don’t see that happening.
Bunny is my friend.  I love her dearly.  But right now I don’t like her very much.  I wish I could tell her.

Out With The Old

March 30, 2011 at 10:15 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I haven’t been writing as much about Pizzarama, where I’ve been working lately.  Maybe I’m jaded?
Twenty-five years, dozens of stores, hundreds of employees, and thousands upon thousands of deliveries is bound to do that to a person.  I remember a time when I was innocent, fresh, and naive…
I don’t think I can relate to that guy anymore.

And I’ll go ahead and say it, because I don’t care anymore:  The place I work at is Pizza Hut.  When I worked at Domino’s, I named it.  When I worked at Scooter’s, I named it.  When I worked at Domino’s again, I named it–
Which caused some problems because I was doing things that weren’t exactly Cricket.  Thusly burned, I called Jimmy John’s “The Three Jakes.”  But Imo’s was Imo’s, and Steak n Shake was Steak n Shake–and they well still be.  I thought I might want an alias to protect me on this internet thing.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so cavalier, but I’m not doing anything wrong.
How about, “I’m not doing anything illegal, and most of what I do that is morally questionable is not a threat to the job”?  Better?
In the meantime, I subconsciously didn’t want to get too attached to anyone here, because Things Always Change.  However, I didn’t have much of a choice–some of them drew me in.
Of course, there’s The Dude, an ever-present fixture in my life and the reason I took the job at this particular location.  Meet our management team:
Tom is a young guy, quiet and stoic.  He seems to be laid back–like a hippie dressed as a businessman.  That’s the vibe I get.
Ryan is the other assistant.  Slightly older than Tom, but still so young.  And yet he has thinning hair.  He cares more about the job than Tom does.  Frequently they are both shocked at the ridiculous things that come out of my mouth.  Then again, that describes most people, I guess.
Rob is the manager.  Whoops.  Rob was the manager.  Rob got fired a couple of weeks ago, a victim of arbitrary grading or his own ineffectiveness, your choice.
I liked Rob–hell, I like all of them–but they way they manage stirs a deep primal desire in me.  A heat, a wrath, a bent to knock everyone over and take charge and show them how it’s supposed to be done.
But then my shift ends and I get over it.
So now we have a new manager, an older woman–older than me, even–named Julie.  I’ve met her exactly once, when I was coming in early (to make a good impression) and she was leaving early (even though it was a Saturday night and snowing in late March.
“Hi.  Who are you?” she says, looking at my chest where my nametag should be.
I put out my hand.  “Hi.  I’m Bryan.  Who are you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.  I looked at her chest, too, to let her know I knew what she was doing.  Not a sexual thing.  Not yet, anyway–but it is a weapon in my arsenal, if need be.
“Do you have a nametag?”  Before I could answer, she said, “And tuck your shirt in.”
I’ve been working there since June of last year, and I’ve never tucked my shirt in.  The cynical among you or those who have met me might think it’s because my belly prohibits it.  But actually, I have a long torso, and the shirts are always too short.  Really.  I could show you–
Never mind.
While I tucked in my shirt, she made me a new nametag with rainbow colored letters.  I guess we are inclusive now.  Then she left.  I untucked my shirt.
It’s what the store needs, and what these people need.  Someone to lead.  Rob–again, a nice guy–would rarely tell or ask someone to do something.  Jesus, you have to take charge.  Don’t be afraid to tell me to do something.
Don’t be afraid to tell the young punks working here to do something, either.  Because if you don’t, they won’t do a damn thing.  Us older folks–the drivers–we know our jobs and we get on it and we are proactive.  The kids need to be directed constantly, at least until they get the idea.
So hopefully Jules will be a good manager for the store and the crew.  It’s what they need.  Because these guys–

Temelko is our token Old Belgian guy.  He works the most hours of any driver.  He speaks the broken English very brokenly.  I’m starting to be able to make out some words.  We had a five minute conversation about a month ago of which I did not understand a single thing he said.  I sure hope I didn’t agree to something I’ll regret later.
John is a mid-twenties guy with a ponytail.  He’s quiet and good-looking.  I mean, good-looking enough to be gay.  He’s also an artist; we’ve had a few conversations about his interests, and that’s when he wouldn’t shut up.  He does computer animation, something I wish I had the patience for.
Nick is this guy–man, I don’t like him.  I mean, he’s okay.  He tries to be a smart-ass, but he’s not clever enough.  He runs shifts on occasion so he’s technically a member of management, which he uses as an excuse to fuck with people.  You know the kind of guy that’s only average in intelligence, but thinks he’s much smarter?  That’s him.
Don is the old guy.  He’s a carpenter by trade, and in this economy, delivering pizza.  He helped me tear the wall out in my kitchen and put a back door in.  Recently, he and his wife split up and he moved back in with his dad.  Yeah, he’s old.  And his dad is quite a bit older, I imagine.
When I say old, I mean he’s in his mid-fifties.  What the hell does that make me?
Don, The Dude and I are the Three Amigos, complete with pelvic thrust.  Because we are so…hip.
There are some other drivers in and out, part timers that I never quite caught the name of.  We also have Sean–Blond Sean from Scooter’s and Angelina’s fame.  He is also Rob’s ex-brother-in-law, but they are still friends.  (That’s why Rob hired him.)  Sean is an odd duck.  I thought he was a geeky, nerdy guy.  And I think he is.  He’s a nerdy guy trying desperately to hide it and be cool.  Or maybe he just turned over a new leave after he got divorced, which I can relate to.
Amber is our star pizza maker, and the hardest working person in the store.  She is about 20, a tall, gangly, clumsy looking girl.  She is just so quiet–until you engage her.  Then she won’t shut up.  I know way too much about her dysfunctional family.  She’s like the Marilyn in The Munsters, if the Munsters were all white-trash co-dependent addicts with poor decision-making skills.
Jarvis is this teenage slick dude.  He is cool, cocky, and confident.  I’m sure he gets laid way more than a teenage boy should.  He comes from money, and it shows–not just in the car he drives.  He has a sense of entitlement, and it shows in the way that he things the minimum effort he puts forth is a tremendous inconvenience to him and we should all be more appreciative.
[We’re busy.  People hustling everywhere, doing things.  The phone is ringing and ringing.  Again, we’re all busy.  He announces sarcastically to everyone, “Don’t worry about the phone.  I’ll get the phone.  I got it.”  Whatever he had been doing before was not time-critical to the rush.  Maybe he was folding a box or something.  “I’ll get the phone.”  I said, “Thanks for letting us know you’re finally going to do your job.”  That jibe cut him a little deep; he didn;t talk to me for about a week after that.]
And we have this other inside boy named Shane.  I–
Ugh.  I swear, some teen boys should be raised in a pasture with a high fence.  Electrified.  He’s a punk, through and through.  Sense of entitlement?  Check.  Doesn’t understand dick about anything?  Check?  Overly preoccupied with trying to look cool?  Check?  Unable to learn anything because he already knows it?  Double-check.
He has this car–I’m sure it’s a parent’s or something like that.  I hope, anyway.  Any adult who would give this retard a car should be locked up.  He’s always bragging about his car and how fast it is and how he can outrace anyone.  I don’t want to be that young and stupid again, if I ever was.
I’m leaving on a run about the time he got off work one night.  He hops in his car, revs it up, and keeps revving it up.  If it’s a stick, he’s using up the clutch.  If it’s an automatic, he’s even stupider.  I pull out, and I head down the line.  He pulls out real fast in front of me, causing me to brake.  Then he revs it some more and squeals the tires as he takes off.
I get to the light, and then he appears again.  Where did he come from?  Where did he go?  Who gives a shit?  He’s sitting at the light revving the engine.  He’s in the left turn lane, and I’m in the lane to go straight.  His light goes green, and he revs it and takes off, squealing the tires some more.
I know this is the old man in me, but he’s a fucking dumb ass.  Tires costs money.  A clutch costs money.  Gas costs money.  If he was paying for it, he wouldn’t be doing that to “his” car.
Honestly, I don’t even want to get to know him, because I don’t want to feel bad when he rolls his car and wraps it around a pole and dies.  He’ll do it all with a dumb expression on his face, the expression people have when they don’t understand the correlation between their actions and the consequences thereof.
We have Kelli, this girl.  This 20 year-old (“I’ll be 21 in two months!”) chick who started as a server during the day and then started to drive.  She’s short, she’s fat, and she loud and in everybody’s business.  She is so concerned that people are talking about her that she inserts herself into every conversation, and eavesdrops on everyone.  Christ, she bugs me.  Part of it, I can tell, is that if she gets a little attention she craves more.  She desperately wants to get laid.  I told Don that he’s going to end up fucking her.
“Christ!  Say it ain’t so!  Do I have to?”
Then, of course, we have my sweetheart, Courtney.  Courtney just had a birthday.  She just turned…17.  Wow.  She says I remind her of her dad.  So I have a year to turn that daddy complex into something viable.
Juuuuust kidding.  She’s a sweet girl, and one of my favorites there.  We talk, I gave her a ride home once (perfectly innocent!), and we have fun at work.

So that’s the people I work with.  And the people make all the difference.  Pizza is pizza.  Hell, pizza is as pizza does.  Pizza is the same, or different, or both, anywhere you go.  But the people are what make it interesting, and determine whether or not you want to go to work each day.
Although something else may be a determining factor as well:  Gas prices.  I swear to God, lately I feel like I’m losing money going to work.  I’m going to need to find another part time job, just because I can’t afford to work at this one.
Maybe the next job will be something not driving.

Jacob’s Ladder

March 20, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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April 2009

It was like some kind of horrible Vietnam flashback—
But I didn’t have to go.  I had immunity.  I had…a day job.
Still, I felt compelled to attend this “mandatory” manager’s meeting, for three reasons.  I’ll start with number two if that’s okay with you.
2.  Curiosity.  It had been a while since I had been to one, and never had I been to one with this company.  I wanted to see if they were everything I remembered.
1.  The bosses knew I had a day job and I was excused—and I was the only assistant with this affliction.  They didn’t like it; they wanted me to have “both feet in or both feet out.”  Logical, from their vantage point:  how can they control me and inflict harm and punishment upon me if I can just bow out, like the second string at a gangbang?  How could they squeeze all of my hopes and dreams and aspirations from me?
Too bad I had none left at this point.  Sucks to be them, doesn’t it?  Still, I didn’t want to throw it in their faces.  Absence may be the better part of valor, but it would actually be easier for me to be invisible if I showed up.  That’s irony right there, I don’t care who you are.
3.  I had loyalty to my team—the management at the specific store I worked at.  It would be a show of solidarity as well as—perversely—a bit of spying on the enemy.  And by enemy I meant upper management.  If you don’t understand that calculating mindset or the skewed reality behind it, you’ve never been in management.
At my day job, I made arrangements to be off for the meeting.  Actually, all I did was take some time out of my day, as for a doctor’s appointment.  The meeting was at 9am, so I went to work at my usual 7, left about 830, and got back around 11 because it was over at 1030—everyone had to get to their stores to open them.
Subdued surprise that I showed up—
Shaved, clean, dressed well, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  For most of them, this was too early in the morning, and on average they had been awake for 43 minutes.  I had been up almost three hours and had had two cups of coffee by this time.
There in the big conference room of the home office, the tables were set at the perimeter and we took seats like it was a UN function.  Coffee and donuts were had, and handouts and booklets were passed out.  In the middle of the room, center stage, Supervisor Tom and Director of Operations John tag-teamed us on the important items.  That is, they read the pamphlet to us.
It wasn’t a meeting in the sense that you might think there is a give-and-take and an even exchange of ideas and balance.  No, this was more of the Moses-hands-down-the-new-commandments-of-pizza-making type of meeting.
I wanted to remain low-key; I am not always the seeker of attention that many of you may believe.  However, once the floor was open, if someone among our ranks spoke and I had something to add, I would.  Overall, I was fairly quiet.
Except for this one time that makes me sound like an arrogant ass.  In other words, I showed my true colors.
Tom was speaking, and talking about product quality and consistency.  I sat with Dina and Stan, my people.  Tom said something about the irregular pie quality he has seen in the stores.  “I should be able to look at a pizza and not be able to tell the difference.  I should not be able to tell who made it.  Everyone should be making pizzas the exact same way.”
I snorted quietly to myself, and whispered something to Stan.  He let out a chuckle.  Tom heard.  “What?  What is it?  Is there something you’d like to share?”  Seriously, what was this, sixth grade?
“Well?”  I guess it was sixth grade.
Stan was still laughing.  “Tell him.”
I said to the whole group, “I’m not going to lower my standards.”
There was a mixed reaction from the crowd.  Some laughed, some oohed and aahed at the perceived challenge.  Who was this guy, anyway?  They didn’t know me.  They had no idea that I had made more pizzas than probably all two dozen of them combined, or that I had been doing this for as long as the average age in the room.
Tom said, “Really?”
I shrugged.  “You’ve seen my pies.  I’m just sayin.”
So much for invisibility.

Adventures In Babysitting

December 13, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I wrote this about two weeks ago.  It’s not as rambling as it seems–in other words, there’s a point to it.  I swear to God there is.

This was my night Sunday at Pizzarama.
When the manager is working, the place is a barely contained disaster.  When he’s not working–like Sunday night–it’s a clown car with no wheels.
I was scheduled for six instead of five as usual, so when I got there I was thrown right into the middle of the rush.  Nick is a driver/shift runner, or a shift runner that drives, or a wanna-be assistant manager–I’m not sure which.  He sets me up with a triple.
One of the runs is missing.
It’s not on the rack, and the slip is not on the cut table or the makeline.  Did someone take it already?  It seems that their system of creating busy work for the manager didn’t stop this one from slipping through the cracks.
You see, the way Pizzarama operates–and I don’t know if it’s a conscious desire to do things in the most inefficient way possible, or merely a stubborn refusal to adapt to new ways of doing things when those new ways are discovered and developed by competitors–but some of the things they do there are just downright stupid.
Say what you will about Domino’s Pizza, but many of their processes are damn efficient.
They even have a name for it that I’m wondering if Pizzarama even understands:  operations.  Operational excellence.  Operational efficiency.  Domino’s is one of the best at it, and I improved some of the processes when I managed there.  It’s a philosophy–
–that Pizzarama doesn’t buy into.
But what Domino’s has done–what they are the industry leaders in as far as pizza goes–is speed and efficiency in the area of operations.  Hell, I’m not even sure Pizzarama uses the word “operations” to describe the day-to-day work and processes that get the food to the customer, from prep to makeline to oven tending to delivery.  If they have a word for it at all it might as well be “sheep-herding” for all the good it does them in their thumb-fingered effort to get the pizza out the goddamn door.
Now Domino’s isn’t perfect, of course, and your mileage may vary, but here are some of the key differences between Domino’s Pizza (especially the ones I ran) and Pizzarama):
Pizza makers at Domino’s are trained for speed, first and foremost.  Of course they have to be accurate, but that comes with time.  At Pizzarama (and Papa John’s was like this as well) they use measuring cups on all the toppings on every pizza.  There is a complicated chart and a dozen color-coded cups for use with the toppings and they are used consistently, even during the rush.
Oh, the rush.  That’s the big difference.  At Pizzarama, it’s the rush.  At Domino’s, it is THE RUSH.  I’ll get to that.
At Domino’s, we were trained for speed.  I’ve talked about this before.  How fast can you make a large pie?  How fast can you slap out the dough?  How fast are the pies rolling out of the oven?
We didn’t weigh every pizza, not by a long shot.  And we sure as shit didn’t use a cup on every pizza.  Grab the cup, fill it with the topping up to the appropriate line, maybe shake it to level it off.  Then look at it.  Okay, good.  Now take it and dump the topping into your other hand and unevenly spread it around.  Drop the cup in the bin so you can use both hands to move the toppings around, because they are lumped up in one spot when you pour them from the measuring cup.  No, it does take as long as I am describing it.
At Domino’s, we would weigh toppings on occasion, when we were slow, and match them up with the pictures on the wall.  If you weighed a few and had a good idea of what it was supposed to look like, you would then be able to “eye-ball” them, estimate them, and then once in a while (as in every few weeks or months) weigh them to recalibrate your internal scale, as well as feedback from your manager–that would be me.
And proportion and distribution were important as well.  “Itemization” is a Domino’s word, which means the toppings are well-distributed across the body of the pie, as well as being the correct amount.  And you always made sure you had toppings out to the edge of the sauce-cheese border of the crust.
Because of the emphasis on speed, sometimes things got messy.  When you made pizzas on the makeline, you scooted them along the grates, which covered the catch trays.  With catch trays, accuracy didn’t matter–although precision still did.  Whatever didn’t land on the pizza fell through the grates and went in the catch trays.  Cheese especially–
And even our cheese was designed for speed and efficiency.  Our cheese was diced–individual pieces were cubes.  Perfect cubes.  Places like Imo’s used a shred.  It was fine, small pieces, but still–a shred is inefficient.  It would clump, and you would get more in some areas and less in others.  At Pizzarama, they used a dice, but the pieces were elongated.  They were rectangular-shaped boxes.  That leads to inefficiency and over-lap.
At Domino’s, you would reach into the cheese bin, grab two handfuls of cheese, raise your hands up about a cubit above the pie (what’s a cubit?) and sprinkle the cheese.  Maybe “sprinkle” is too delicate of a word.  Starting with your palms up, you shake your hands with fingers open, causing the cheese to rain down on the pizza, casually turning your hands over in the process.  You get a fairly even distribution of cheese, and what doesn’t go on the pie goes in the pit–the catch tray.  You generally get a pretty even spread.  To make it more even and to shake off any excess, pick it up and give it a quick spin-and-drop.  Excess flies off, into the catch tray.
Too much detail?  It’s an artistic technique, similar to making pottery.  Except the art we are making here you can eat.
The cheese catch tray is dumped back up into the cheese bin fairly often; it doesn’t sit.  All of this is perfectly acceptable and food safe, and passes health department code.  You slide the pie down to put the toppings on, so it’s over another catch tray.  After the rush, some lucky soul gets to “pick the pit”–piece by piece pull the shit out of it and toss it back in the right bin.  Mostly just the meats and large pieces of veggie, unless you work for an anal-retentive manager that wants it all picked clean.  But it is done this way so you can make pies fast, and then clean it up later.
At Pizzarama, the makeline is a flat table.  No grates, no pits.  Of course, there is no flour or dough table, either.  The dough is prepped into the pan already, from frozen.  It thaws, and is just adjusted to fit the edge and is used.  So you take a pan with a dumb ol piece of dough in it, stretch it a little and place it out to the edge, and you’re ready to make a pizza.  Sauce it?
First, you grab the right-sized plastic ring (think Frisbee golf) and place it over the pie.  This is your “template.”  Obviously, idiots, morons, and piemakers can’t sauce a pizza and stay inside an imaginary line without a plastic guide–Yet I’ve been doing it for years, and have personally trained several dozen people to do the same.
Leave that ring on; you’re making the rest of the pizza with it in place.  I know there is some system with the cups, but so far I haven’t bothered to learn it.  The piemaker takes a cup of cheese and tries to run it through their fingers in a futile effort to spread it evenly.  Not only is it not even, but it is definitely not covering the edge where the sauce is.  That is a big no-no at Domino’s:  cover the red edge.
The toppings are going to be like that as well, and it is completely antithetical to all my previous training.  Distribute the toppings evenly, for God’s sake.  And get them out to the edge, or the edge of the sauce.  Drop and scatter.  spread it out.  Doesn’t matter if some falls off the edge.  Get it made, and get it made *fast*.
Pizzarama has this new pizza now, some gimmicky thing.  Amber, our main pizza maker, made one for me a few weeks ago, and I saw what was involved.  Christ, it takes like five minutes or more to make this ridiculous thing.  They really don’t care about time.  And I can tell, too, in their whole attitude about service.  At Domino’s Pizza, when we got busy, we worked harder and faster, faster.
At Pizzarama, they simply tell people it will take longer.  The other night I happened to look at the ticket while I’m waiting for the customer to open the door.  The promise time was 7:09, and I was there before 7.  Cool, I’m early.  Above that was the order time:  5:39.  I can’t believe the customer said, “Sure, no problem.  I’ll wait an hour and half for a pizza.  I have brain damage.”
At Domino’s I used to say that as a manager I was just a glorified pizza maker.  Well, is there any other option?  Yes.  You can do things the Pizzarama way, which is to create inefficiency that makes busy work for manager.
At Domino’s, when a driver comes back from a run, the first thing he does is make a drop:  whatever excess cash you have goes into an individual drop box for safe keeping.  Make sure you hang onto enough to make change.  Then you go to the rack and see what’s up.  If it’s obvious, you assign them on the computer and go.  If you have a question, you ask it.  The manager is on the line making pizzas, but knows what is going on and can answer a question.
So you take your run, with minimal-to-no manager interaction unless necessary; it doesn’t disrupt the flow.
At Pizzarama, when you come back from a run, the first thing you do is wait for a manager.  They may be cashing out a carryout customer or a driver, or they may be on the phone.  Hopefully you are no more than fifth or sixth on their list of things to do at the moment.  While you’re waiting, you can run any checks through the check verifier.
So the manager is ready for you.  After every delivery–every time you come back to the store–you cash in from that run.  Instead of waiting until the end of the shift, you do it every time you come back.  He checks you in, you deal with the exchange of money and so forth, and then he personally checks you out on your next runs.
There is a bit of logic to this, I admit–but the control is unnecessary and too much.  When I was a manager, I would control what the drivers took, especially when we were busy.  And the experienced ones could make their case if they didn’t like my routing, and I could change it up.  But I didn’t have to physically take them by the hand and punch it up on the touch screen for them.
And cashing out after every delivery is a ridiculous waste of time.
And time is what it’s all about, especially in the pizza business.  A good 50 to 60% of any given day’s business is going to come in a 2-hour window–5 to 7 pm.  That’s dinner time.  That’s THE RUSH.  And often, 50 to 60% of a store’s business for the entire week is going to come between 5 and and 7 on Friday and Saturday night.  That is THE RUSH.
Your business can pretty much break down into three parts:  prepping for the rush, handling the rush, and cleaning up after the rush.  Those are the basics of the restaurant business.
The basic premise of prep is this:  What can we do to help speed things along?  This lays the framework for everything we do.  One of the basics is folding boxes, of course.  Drivers can do it in between deliveries, phone people can do it between taking orders.  During a slow day shift, the driver can get a lot of boxes folded.  In a Domino’s you’ll see a corner filled with several stacks from floor to ceiling with boxes.  This makes it much easier, and it’s a fairly logical conclusion–fold boxes in advance, so they are ready when the pies come out of the oven.
Unless you’re at a fucking Pizzarama.

It’s a Sunday night, and it’s a busy Sunday.  Late November is football season.  The Rams won, and with a 5-6 record they stand as much chance of making the playoffs as anyone right now.
I came in at six, the height of the rush.  Nick gave me a triple, but the first one is gone.  They don’t know where, it’s just gone.  He said, “Don’t worry; we’ll find another one and still make it a triple.”
Fine.  He sets me up, but the the third one isn’t ready yet.  Okay–
Taking it all in, I see that the oven needs tending…
Almost 30 minutes later, I take my runs.
I was stuck there; my sense of duty and realization that things would come to a grinding halt if I left kept me chained to the cut table.  Amber and Ryan were on the makeline.  It must have been busy for a manager to be there.  Tom was the other manager, and he and Jorvice played tag with the phones, the carryouts, and the wings, and Tom was cashing drivers in and out.
Fuck.
I couldn’t go anywhere.  I kept pulling pizzas, throwing them on the paddle, cutting them, and then–oh, yeah–
FOLDING A GODDAMN BOX AS I WENT FOR THE FUCKING PIZZAS!
How can you not have boxes folded for a dinner rush?  Just–how does that shit happen?
Part of it is the poor design and layout of the store.  There is simply no room to put a stack of folded boxes.  It’s not normally my problem, but right now it is.  However, if I was the manager–
I’d find a goddamn place for folded boxes.
I tried to get Jorvice’s attention a couple of times, because he would have had time to help, but he was busy fucking around in between jobs.  I like the kid, but–
Hell, I like most of them but they’re just kids.  Including the manager.  I mean, he’s in his mid to late 20s…
And I know I was a child then as well.
I know he means well and he tries.  I wonder if I was like him when I was a young manager.  Part of me wants to be a manager again, to show them how it should be done.  Luckily, the larger part of me doesn’t want the hassle at all.  Of course, I know if something happens to my day job, I’m very likely to end up there.  Again.
The other two assistants, Ryan and Tom, are really young.  Ryan is in his 20s, and Tom is 19, I think.  Ryan has a sense of responsibility, I think.  To Tom, this is just a job, and a shitty one at that.  I won’t disagree with him.
It pisses me off though, that as jaded and bitter as I am, they are forcing me to care more about the job than I want to simply because they don’t.  Dammit!
The Dude was working that night also.  He came back from a run in his usual laid back style.  He came over to say hi, and I handed him a stack of boxes.  “Can you take these carryouts to the warmer?”
He protested.  “Well, man–Dude–my–I have a run up.”
“Dude, I have three runs up.  And I can’t get off the oven.  Suck it up.”
Finally, my third run of three is up.  Actually, it had been up, I had just missed seeing it.  Finally, though, Tom checked on it, and then took over the ovens for me.

I took that triple and did okay on it, but I was livid from the time I wasted on the ovens.  I felt like I had a clock nipping at my heels, and I was in a hurry after that.  I was in so much of a hurry that on my next run–a double–I forgot a pizza on one order.
Well, fuck me.  I was at the customer’s door and I had already knocked when I figured it out.  I looked at the ticket and the price was kind of high for one pizza.  I could tell by the weight that there was just one in the bag.  Instead of listing each pie individuall, there was a “2” next to it because they were the same.  Shit-crap. I need to suck it up.  The guy answered the door.
“How ya doin?  Listen, I’m sorry about this.  I just realized I had only one pizza here.  You ordered two.”
He seemed confused.  “One pizza?
“Yeah.  I don’t have it.  Sorry about that.  Let me give you this one, and I’ll be right back with the other one.  You aren’t too far away, so it won’t take long at all–”
He finally catches up, as I give him the pie.  “Okay.  I’ll pay you when you come back.”
On the way back to the store, I call the store and explain what happened.  I did that to stall any confusion and keep the pie I need from getting eaten or given to another customer, but I wasn’t hopeful.  However, when I got back the pizza I needed–
–was coming out of the oven.  That’s a bit odd.  There are a variety of reasons that could have happened, but I don’t stop to ponder the beauty and synchronicity of it all.  I cut the pie and go.
Back at the guy’s door, I knock and he answers.  Again I apologize.  “Sorry about that, man.  But this pizza is hot and fresh; it just came out of the oven for whatever reason–”
He gives me a “Hm-hmmf,” in an unconvinced tone.
“No, really,” I said, and I open the box to show it to him.  I never do that.  Never.
Maybe not physically, but metaphorically, his hands were on his hips.  He said, “That’s not what I ordered.”
Uh…  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “I just–”
“–And you forget my red sauce,” he said, as he backed into the house.  I was still holding the pizza; he didn’t take it.  He said, “You know what?  Don’t worry about it.”  He closed the door.
It was about then that I realized what was going on.  Son of a bitchin fuck.  Shit.  I walked back to the van, cursing him.
Back at the store, I had to wait for TOm to cash me in.  I didn’t say anything, however, until he got to the screen and started to punch it in.
“Wait a minute.”  His fingers stopped.  “That guy–the one that I forgot the pizza to–he didn’t pay.”
“What?”
“He didn’t take the second pizza, either.  But he kept the first pizza and he didn’t pay.  He just refused the second one and closed the door on me.”
Tom just looked at me.  “Okay…”
“And I stil have the other pizza, and I’m keeping it.”
I’m keeping it out of spite.
We asked Jorvice if he remembered taking the order, because his name was on it.  Yes, he did order two of the same pizzas, which is not what he claimed.  And no, he didn’t order any red sauce, either.  So he’s a fucking liar, and a thief.
I guess because he had time to think about it, which is never a good thing to do to customers.  Him and his buddy sat there, watching the game, and big ol’ fluerescent bulb slowly lights up over his head.  “Hey, you know what?”
“What?”
“We done ate one pizza.  Are you full?”
“I reckon so.”
“So am I.  I don’t think we need that other pizza.  I know how we can get this one we just ate for free–!”
Bastards.  You shouldn’t piss of the pizza guy, because he knows where you live…

How upset should I have been about all of that?  What is the right level of irritation?  Not only did he not pay, but he didn’t even tip me.  The thing is, I have a new, higher dose of my ADD medication.  One of the side effects is irritibility.  But is irritability really a side effect?  I think that before, I was just happily oblivious to everything.  Now I’m just more aware of how things are.  Irritation is a natural reaction to the world around me.  What part of how I feel is drug reaction and what part is a natural reaction to the fucked up world around me?
Little things have been bothering me at Pizzarama over the last few weeks as well.  Mostly little things, like a lack of leadership and an overall sense of impending disaster that is the signature for most shifts.  Most people just fuck around and do what they want, and eventually get around to doing their job at the bare minimum level.  That’s why I couldn’t get any help from anyone when I was stuck on the ovens:  they were too busy doing as little as possible to avoid working hard.
Except Amber, the piemaker.  She is an unassuming, cute but slightly spread in the ass young girl about 19 years old.  Mostly she is quiet, but if you ask her a question or talk to her about something, she starts to gush and open up.  She’s a nice, sweet girl.
Before I left the other night, I went over to talk to her quietly.  I didn’t want anyone else working to hear it, because it certainly wasn’t meant for them.  I came up to her and said, “I want to tell you something.”
She looked at me, then turned back to her work, cleaning the makeline.  But I had her attention.  I said, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years.  I’ve been a manager for a good 16 or more or those.”  I put my hand on her shoulder.  “You are the hardest working person here.”
She smiled.  “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
I said, “I don’t know what they would do here without you.  You keep everything rolling when everyone else is dicking around.  Without you, I wouldn’t have deliveries to take.  And I appreciate that.”
And I meant it.

Golden

July 8, 2010 at 10:43 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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Well, I thought things were going well at Pizzarama.
However, I got a call from The Dude, and he rehashed the scoop for me.  It seems that they (the bosses, the outgoing manager Alex and the incoming manager Rob) had a problem with me taking off because I hurt my knee.
Well, I can see that–I started pretty recently, and then this happens.  But shit–what could I do?
But the other thing is, Rob is still holding a grudge over the…altercation?  That’s a pretty strong word.  I got a little upset, and by the time I got back I apologized.  The story that The Dude heard corroborated all of that–
Except the apology.
And dammit, I apologize so seldom–I’m often sorry and usually feel remorse–that when I give one I mean it.  I had hoped it would stick.
I don’t apologize unless I mean it.  “Say you’re sorry” we teach our kids.  I’m not going to say it unless I feel it; anything else is dishonest.
I’m not saying I am honest, but I am saying that I do try to be.  Interface in the real world is hard.
Right before I talked to The Dude, I called the store and talked to Rob, and let him know I was ready to come back to work.  He said I wasn’t on this week’s schedule at all, and all he had me on for next week was Friday.  But the schedule wasn’t finished.
That’s a long time to go with no money, and that’s a problem right now.
The Dude also said other things that makes me think they don’t like me so much.  I’d say that would hurt my feelings if I had any, but that’s not true.  Honesty, remember?  I always thought of myself as a likable guy.  People generally like me.  Don’t they?
According to his report, I am standoffish, aloof, and a know-it-all.
Man.  That hurts.
I don’t think the word “aloof” has ever been used to describe me.  I’m fairly gregarious, although with age has come experience, if not a little wisdom.  In new situations I kind of hold back, fade into the background, and try to assess the place, the flow, and the people.  And Alec, the manager who hired me, repeated often that he expects people to always be working.  I made sure I did that.  But I interacted with people, I chatted, I showed interest and tried to learn about everyone, as well as learning about the job.
If anything, I thought they were being cliquish and snubbing me, but I put that down to the age difference, and I was generally in back trying to do my prep.  I was working, dammit.  Fucking Three Jakes got me into the habit of not standing still.  I did have a long conversation with Amanda, one of the pizza makers.  I thought we got along well.  Am I wrong?
But the know-it-all thing–maybe they have me there.  I don’t want to be like that, but I can’t help it since I really *do* know everything.  No, seriously, the only time I can remember is when I told Rob that these two weeks around the Fourth are typically the slowest of the year.  But I was self-deprecating when I said it–“I sound like an old guy when I when I say this…”
Dammit.  One guy that I did seem to get along with–Micah–The Dude tells me is not well liked there by everyone else.  Great.  I befriended the asshole.  How was I supposed to know?
I still think Rob had a bit of a hard-on for me because before I got there The Dude told him about me and all of my experience, and he thought I might have been gunning for his job.  But he’s manager now, so what does it matter?  So help me, what does it truly matter that I never wanted his fucking job to begin with?
I need to go and talk to him, in person, have a sit-down.  Have a chat, clear the air.  Hopefully let him know that I’m not the asshole he thinks I am.
Because I am a different asshole entirely.

Balance

July 6, 2010 at 10:44 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I’d like to know where people in this fairly rich neighborhood I deliver in get off tipping the way they do.  I’m not complaining.  Okay…maybe I am.  But some of this shit is ridiculous.
That was my thought process the first two days I worked.  The fucking people–it doesn’t matter how big their house is or how big their order is–they tip two dollars.
I delivered 60 dollars worth of pizza to a half a million dollar house (And by the way, this is half a mil in the real world, not Califuckinfornia, where 600k gets you a 1200 square feet on an eighth of an acre.  Here in the Midwest–aka the real world–600k will get you half an acre and 4000 square feet in a great school district.) and got a two dollar tip from the mature executive with bright teeth in his pricey coif and pressed shorts dressed for leisure/action, and matching Lexi in the driveway.
If I have to refresh your memory, the minimum acceptable on 60 bones is six clams, which is only ten percent.  Nine bills would have been fifteen percent.  Then round it out to ten to show the world you’re not an asshole, asshole.
But the money is decent overall, even though it’s slow in coming.  Rob is the new manager, and he’s a young guy.  I would put him about mid-20s.  On the last night I worked before I hurt my knee, he remarked that it was a bit slow.
I said, “Look, I sound like an old asshole whenever I say this.  But I’ve been doing this for about 24 years.  The weeks right around the Fourth of July are historically the slowest of the year.  Always.  Maybe it’d be different if we were a resort town.”
“Yeah, everybody goes to the Lake.”
“I just wish I knew what the hell Lake ‘they’ are talking about.”
Rob and I had made amends, after I made the mistake of presumption.  A few days earlier, I was on a delivery.      The customer answers the door, and he’s holding a credit card.  That’s going to be a problem.  The order said cash.
The family communicates randomly, and I’m there to pick up the pieces.  The oldest daughter ordered online, but she didn’t specify a card and she says the order screen didn’t ask.  Possible, even likely.  No, I don’t have a machine to put the card, slide it (Ca-chink!) and give them a carbon, because this isn’t the 70s, or a third world country.
The family is running around back forth, collectively a group of chickens-sans-cranium, trying to come up with a solution before the buzzer goes off and they lose a turn on this game show.  I manage to get someone’s attention.
“Hey, here’s what we can do–”
I had call the store and run the card right then.  I said, “As long as you don’t need me to bring back a receipt, we’re good.”  They agreed.
I listened to the young lady’s end of the conversation, trying to pick up a hint about what was going on.  The card went through, and everything was fine.  Well, hey, Lama–How about a little something, you know, for the driver?”
But I’m not going to *ask*.  In addition to probably being against some ridiculous company policy (which wouldn’t stop me), I feel that it is just plain rude.  I didn’t ask, and they didn’t offer.  I left empty-handed.  Back in the car, I called the store and talked to Rob.
I had to fill him in on what happened–he wasn’t actually a part of it.  Oh.  I explained, and in a hurt tone, I said, “Why didn’t whoever took the card ask the customer if they wanted to tip the driver, since there was no coming back with a receipt and all?”
Well, the thought never occurred to him.  No one had ever ever done it for him, it’s not how things are done here.  He may have almost said policy, but I know that rules aren’t that specific, no matter how anal a company is.  But he didn’t quite get it.  I was mad, then I cooled down when I realized I was fighting a losing battle here.  It is only two bucks (if I’m lucky), and I’ll get over it.  I’m not going to start a fight about it.
You see–when I was a manager, and this situation occurred (customer at the door with credit card that hasn’t been run for whatever reason), when I take the call at the store, the driver is standing there.  He can’t ask for a tip, but as the nameless, faceless person in the store, I can ask for one on his behalf.  More often than not, they will say to add a few bucks, or tip in cash.  All they need is a reminder.
But it’s not done that way at Pizzarama.  The culture there I’ve experienced is that they use the facade of professionalism to cover for the fact that they are rude and a little selfish, and don’t give a shit about people.
Maybe I’m saying wrong, because I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  You KNOW how I feel about the customer.
However, in this situation, it bit me in the ass.  I had time on the long ride back to the store to think about it, and I apologized to Rob when I came back.  He may have almost said he was sorry as well, sort of a generic sorry-for-the-inconvenience-that-your-misinterpretation-caused-you kind of apology.  Still, he did say, in future scenarios he would keep that in mind.
We have achieved pizza detente.

The Belly Of The Beast

February 18, 2010 at 2:52 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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Mardis Gras did indeed suck, as foretold in the prophecy.  However, it sucked in ways I had not foreseen–life is full of surprises.
On a side note–and something I’ll explore in more detail later–the radio show has yet to materialize.  Saturday I should have gone to the studio to work on the show, but my laptop stopped.  Stopped what, you ask?  Stopped everything.  No power to the machine at all.  It is now a large, unergonomic paperweight.
I need the laptop to access the deep fried gold that is my material for the show.  Without it, I’m shooting from the hip, unedited and unprepared.  No one wants that.  So we postponed the show for the week.  We’re still waiting on a theme song anyway.  More–much more on all this–later. 

I had been looking for a way to get out of going in to The Three Jakes on Saturday, the night of the Mardis Gras celebration.  Mardis Gras is a BFD here in St Louis.  But, since I had telegraphed these moves earlier in the week, I couldn’t legitimately beg off work without attention being called.  So, I went in.
On the drive in, several things weighed on my mind, the most pressing of which was my lapsed car insurance.  This is supposed to be crowded as Hell, with drunks all over the place, and I really did not want to be driving around in this.  I just know I’m going to hit some pedestrians, and I simply don’t have *time* to dispose of all those bodies.
As soon as I got off the highway, right at the edge of the neighborhood, there were crowds of people in the street.  The parade started about one pm I guess, and it was over about 3 or 4.  Now it was five, and people were beginning to leave.  It was a nice day for February in St Louis–clear and cool, almost 40 degrees.
Many of the streets were blocked off.  The main drag, Broadway, was one of  them.  The Three Jakes sits right on Broadway, in the middle of the closed off section.  Other side streets in the neighborhood had concrete barriers in place.  The streets were lined with large industrial dumpsters and portable toilets.
I had hoped to get out of delivering in this mess, and I got my wish.  I followed the re-directed traffic around the block and back behind the street the store sits on.  I couldn’t get in the parking lot–but not because it was full.  We had cars of employees parked strategically to block all entrances.  I called the store from where I sat in the street, and Brian came out and moved so I could get in.  Thereafter, I blocked the way, and whenever someone wanted to leave or get in, they came and got me.  This was better than the manager moving every time–he needed to be in there.
Inside the store was much like outside, except louder.  The Three Jakes always has music playing, and today it was loud, and we had a store full of people.  We were having our own fucking after-party here.  Once in, I saw we had several people from other stores there, but not all of our people there.  What the hell?
We had both lines going, which is something I don’t see at night but is common during the day.  We had a person on each register, and each one covered a make line.  Then there was two and sometimes three people on each line.  There’s really no room for any more than that, and all the third person can do is make unhelpful comments and wrap sammiches.  Then there is a runner–the person between the register and the line who calls out to the line what they need, and gives it to the valued drunken-ass customer.
All positions are taken.  Brian had put me on a register, but then I had to go back and forth and move my car, so he gave it to someone else.  I hope there’s no cash shortage that comes back on me–
I told Steve and Jared–and Will–to go ahead and deliver around me.  Those guys were all on bikes.  Jared also had his SUV for longer runs that he could get to by driving.  I stayed inside.  I grabbed a position as a runner, but Matt–the fucking district manager or supervisor, or whatever the fuck you want to call him–kept coming in, doing my job, then walking away and taking care of something else.  Then he would come back, and jump in my way again.  What the fuck, mother-fucker?
But they needed someone like me, who can back and fill and anticipate what’s going to happen.  I could roll into place, and back out quickly and go do something else.  When a driver hit the road, I grabbed that spot on the line, and then moved back to running when they came back.
Brian sent me up to the downtown store for bread.  We bake our own, fresh daily–and we had bread proofing in racks all over the place.  Someone moves into my spot to block it as I leave.  When I get there, I see that the store is closed.  The downtown store only opened during the week, and it closes early–before 8 pm I think.  The director of operations for the franchise is there, alone, baking bread and slicing meat for us.  I load up what he has and head back.
The lobby–the customer area–is just constantly full of drunk people.  Lots of hot chicks, too, so that’s nice.  I leaned over to Cameron, a young black dude on the line, and said, “What would it take to get one of these chicks to lift her shirt?  If we got one to do it, it would be like a wave, and they all would.”  He agreed–but we never got it started.
When I first got there, various employees were “guarding” the hallway to the bathrooms–no entry.  I thought it was just because of all the drunken ass-clowns, but we actually had a plumbing problem.  In a little while, a hired security guard showed up, and his only job was to keep people away from the plumbing.  All manner of drunks tried various drunken logic to gain access to the bathrooms.  They wanted to complain to the manager.  They wanted to call the police.  They thought we were being unfair.  Can’t you just make an exception for my girlfriend?
One self-important asshole–after he had talked to Brian and lodged his complaint, talked to me because Brian walked away.  He said, “I’m an architect with the city planning office in Chicago.  Just tell your manager that I called the zoning commission and lodged a complaint because you’re supposed to have working restrooms.”
I shrugged.  At this point, I had been dealing with drunks for about 3 hours non-stop.  “Whatever, Paco.  This is St Louis.”
“Well I have friends and connections here.”
“Go use their bathroom, then.”  I turned and walked away from him.
Whenever I went out to move my car for an employee (or a couple of times, for random people that had somehow gotten past the barricades and into our lot) I would pull my car out of half of the driveway, and the other half was blocked by a big red pickup that was backed sideways into the spot, backed almost against the building in the lot next to us.  Every time I went out there, there was always several people squeezed between the truck and the building.  Peeing.
Terrific.  I’m glad I didn’t have my car there.  It looked like no one peed on my Mercedes–yet another reason I didn’t want to take any deliveries.  We did let employees go to the bathroom, which was nice.  About 9 or so I finally went.  The place was trashed.  The mirror was missing–a preemptive measure to keep it from being broken.  One of our cutesy little signs in the bathroom was broken off and stolen.
Long about 1030, I decided it would be safe to hit the road.  The streets were starting to clear.  City ordinance states that–on this day–all businesses that serve alcohol must close by 8 or 9 pm, or something like that.  Most restaurants would as well.  We were the last hold out, it seemed.  But we were getting delivery orders, and the boys on bikes were doing them.  Really, we were just blocks away from most of them.  I started taking deliveries, and the ones I took were far from the party zone.  I had to go way down and around, or way up and through and around to get through the closed off streets.
The streets.  Have you ever lived in a two-bedroom apartment and had a small dinner party, and then 150 people showed up?  Imagine that multiplied by several square miles.  The streets looked like the apocalypse, and as proof you could still see the occasional walking dead.  Work crews were busy moving barricades and stacking fence pieces in the aftermath.   The street cleaners were out in force, dodging the drunks.  Cabs prowled the streets looking for blood, and showed me places that I didn’t realize I could go yet.  More than once, I had to turn around and backtrack, finding the way at the end of a maze blocked by porta-potties and barricades.
Originally, was scheduled until midnight, like most of us.  I think it was because they thought we were going to have to close early, like everyone else.  As it turned out, we didn’t have to, so we could stay open till 4 am.  Yay.  But wait–“Bryan with your nose so bright, won’t you stay and close tonight?”
Well, fuck me.  Both Brian and Matt asked me to close–“we don’t have anyone else.”  What about Steve, who always does?  Or Jared?  Where was Darnell, the fucker?  But this was my chance.  I said, “Listen, on my day job this is a three-day weekend, and you have me scheduled ALL THREE DAYS.  If you can get me off either Sunday or Monday, I’m in.  I’ll close.”
Matt the supervisor, showing supervisorial-take-charge initiative, said, “Done!”  Okay.  We had a deal.
Except, we really didn’t have a deal.
I accepted the deal with good faith, thinking that I can still make some money tonight and then have one day off.  I had started driving about 1030.  About 1130 I came back from a run and noticed some water on the floor by the ice machine.  I said, “Hey, what’s up with the water?”  No answer.  I leave on another run and come back, and there is more water there.  I’m not asking again.  The Three Jakes has a shown me a track record of lapsed communication: It’s just not important to them.  Whatever.  I take another run.
By the time I come back, it’s 1230.  The doors are locked, the customers are gone from the lobby.  One more delivery–but no drive-thru.  The delivery is a time order for 130 am.  Now, they are forced to communicate with me, and explain what the fuck.  What, exactly, *is* the fuck?
“Bryan, can you call these people and ask them if we can deliver that now instead of 130?  Thanks.”
“Okay.  What should I tell them?”  No answer.  Fuck this is frustrating.  Am I supposed to assume something?  Under normal circumstances I suppose I could, but since nobody does anything here in a reasonable, logical manner, there is nothing upon which to base a supposition.  Finally, out of someone–not a manager–I find out that because of the plumbing issue–the sewer is backing up and coming up through the drain in the floor–we are closing early.  Well, thank you very much.  Would it kill you to explain yourself for fucking once?
I delivered the one last sammich, and whoever was left worked on closing.  I’ve never closed here, and even though I am a veteran of thousands of closes at other places, I had no idea where to start or what to expect.  I asked Brian, “Well, what should I start on first?”
“Just go by the bitch list.”  Fine, you want the bitch list?  I’ll give you the fucking bitch list.  There’s water all over the goddamn floor that we have to work around, you’re wandering around in a fucking daze because The Three Jakes thinks sleep is optional for its managers, there’s five or six of us here to close and only two of them have done it.  Some things need to be done a certain way, or in a certain order.  Some things can be done efficiently…or not.  There’s shit that needs to be directed, action that needs to be taken, and orders that need to be given.  Someone needs to MOTHER FUCKING TAKE GODDAMN CHARGE OF THIS RIDICULOUS SHIT AND ACT LIKE A GODDAMN FUCKING SHIT MANAGER FOR FUCK’S SAKE.  *Tell us what to do!*–It’s on the bitch list.
Fuck it.  I grabbed the sink, started doing the dishes.
Finally, we get out of there about a quarter till 2, and we didn’t touch the floor.  Shitto-Rooter is coming, so why bother–they can clean that up in the morning.
We were busy that night.  So busy that of course no one got their mandatory break.  After 4 and half hours, you HAVE to take a break.  And you get a free sammich, chips, and a pop.  Personally, I prefer a soda, but that’s what we have–pop.  I got White Castle on the way home.  Let’s see–home at 230, in bed before 330 after eating and having some wind-down time.
I set my alarm for 11 am, but woke up before that.  But I began to wonder–am I getting off one of these days, or not?  I know we had a deal…but deals were made to be broken.  I didn’t stay till 4, even though I was prepared to.  I wonder who would be in today?  Chances are, not Brian.  Chances are, not Matt.  Chances are, whomever I had a deal with would not answer the phone.
Oh, and today is Valentine’s Day.  Of course.  Luckily, Detroit got her flowers Friday, so I didn’t have to do anything.  She gave me a crappy little variety box of chocolates probably filled with mayonnaise, hot dog water and saur kraut for all I know.  I’m not trying them.  I’m not a hero.  Maybe I’m just having a bad day, and this isn’t helping.  She mentioned something about pizza–and it never happened.  I had to get something to eat on the way to work, otherwise I wouldn’t have eaten all day.  Am I bitching?  Yes I am.
I got ready to leave for work Sunday.  Earlier, I went to the store and bought some mac and cheese to cook for my lunch, since no one else is interested in lunch at all.  Then I took a nap, got up, and got ready.  I opened the door to leave–
It’s snowing.  My shoulders slumped, much like my soul did at that point.  What else?  What else are you gonna do to me?  Fuck.  I drove to work.  The highway was backed up in various places from accidents in this freshly-fallen and soft downey blanket of fluffy white crap.
Behinder and behinder I’m getting, and it looks like I’m going to be late.  I have two conflicting yet related thoughts.  The first was should I have called to see if a miracle happened and my replacement was found?  Should I call to let them know I’m going to be late?  The second thought was a passive-aggressive stubbornness:  The Three Jakes has laid the framework for being poor communicators.  They are teaching me by example.  I’m not calling.  Let them call me.
By now I’m close to 20 minutes late, and still no call.  This makes me wonder if I’m working after all…
No, I’m working.  I almost thought I was going home.  But Jared had been there all day (six hours?) and was mistakenly scheduled to close.  Meanwhile I’m scheduled 5 to 9, and Steve is 9 to close.  Two drivers?  Sure.  It’s Valentine’s Day.  They let Jared go home.  At least Steve showed at 9 instead of 11–it’s going to be one of those two, always.  He gets out of his other job late when he works it.  I remember when I started, Brian asked if I was cool with that, and I am.  First of all, it’s a few more hours and generally more money, but also, as I told him, “I’m good with it, because I’m going to need the same consideration.”  For being late or whatever.
Brian was there, briefly, on Sunday, then he left.  I should have brought it up to him then, but he left quickly.  Monday, I thought to be more proactive.  I called about four pm, and Brian answered.  How about that?  “I just wanted to make sure I was working,” I said.  “I know we had a deal for me to be off either yesterday or today, but I didn’t think you did anything about it.”
He hemmed and backtracked and rationalized for me, telling me that since I didn’t stay until four, he didn’t see the need to do it.  And besides, now, at this point, he’d have to try to find somebody.
“That’s what I figured.”
I just went in to work.  I knew I was working late tonight–Steve was in about 1130.  As long as I don’t do it every night.  Nine pm some nights, and eleven on others.  Oh, crap.  I just remembered that I agreed to work on Wednesday in exchange for getting Saturday off for my birthday.  So I’m on every night this week until Friday.
Brian didn’t say anything when I first got there, but he did say something eventually.  “Can you stay until 10 tomorrow night?  Darnell’s going to be late?”  I agreed without thinking about it.

Psycho Driver

October 4, 2005 at 10:15 AM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | 1 Comment
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I have been in food service for twenty years, basically.  I just recently took a new position not in food, but those years, those experiences, are a part of me.  I feel the need to share.
I worked for Domino’s Pizza from 1986 to 1989, and again from 1990 to 1999. and then from 2001 to 2004.  I also worked for Steak n Shake briefly, Papa John’s even more briefly, and also for a friend of mine who owns a restaurant, I have worked there since 1999 through the present, although now I am just part time.
I have worked in over 2 dozen locations, for dozens of managers, and a mixed handful of supervisors.  I have worked with thousands of people, and I have had hundreds work for me when I was a manager.  I have hired hundreds, and I have fired or caused to quit several dozen.  In terms of food service, anything you have done or could think of, I have done twice.
So I believe I will start with this little story. 
 
I had just become manager of the Cross Keys Dominos. Probably about 94.  The previous manager had left the store a disaster in terms of sales, operations, inventory, and—crew.
He hired someone right before he left, knowing he was going to leave, the bastard.
THe person he hired was named Jim, but we all knew him as "Psycho-driver."  When most drivers were in their twenties or thirties, this guy was 44.  And he was short, and he had a complex about it.  He drove a beat up old van that he had to continually add radiator fluid to.
He always thought everyone was out to get him, screw him over, everything was unfair.  He claimed I treated him differently from the other drivers, denying him driving opportunity and runs.  I had brought him into the office several times to try to straighten him out, reason with him, get him to get over it, or whatever it took. 
Case in point about the typical problem we had was the one I fired him for.  You have dinner rush, lots of orders, lots of runs for the drivers.  They come in, grab, and go.  You give them as much as you can, going in a similar direction, because there are lots there.  Towards the end of the rush, the pies arent stacked up, you may just get one.  Slow but steady.  Then it tapers off. 
At the end of the rush, he is up, he has two that go together, and they are the only pies up.  I have six drivers standing there, soon to be just three, because you send some home after the rush.  As he is bagging his runs up, another call comes in, and he sees that it is in the general directioin he is going.  NOrth.  Well, half of our runs go north.  The two he is already taking are over twenty minutes, and I have standards.  He wants to wait for that run.
I said, no, of course not.  He wants to argue, he wants to know why.  He says I always let other drivers do it.  Which I did not, that is one of the things I changed when I took over, I improved service by not letting drivers take stupid runs, and it increased sales.
So we go in the office.  He was very manipulative, very conniving.  He could twist anything you said.  But he wasnt sublte about it.  You could see what he was doing.  It was obviously all my fault.  I had started to come around to his way of thinking and had been working hard on getting along with him, and getting over my obvious prejudices, but now it was apparant that I had backslid, and he wasnt sure if there was hope for me.  This is what he said to me.
I said, "Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.  But since this is my store and I’m in charge and I make the rules, and I am the one YOU have to get along with, you are going to have to leave.  I can’t have you working for me anymore.  You are a disruptive negative influence.  I shouldnt have to make special cases for someones personality, and I’ve done it for you long enough.  Get your shit and clock out.  You dont work here anymore."
You’d think that would be the end of it, in fact it was only the beginning.  It ended when I called the police and they came to the store to forcibly make him leave.
He called two weeks later about his check.  I said I had had it mailed to his house.  HE then, in the same breath, managed to have the balls to ask me for a good reference, tell me that I owed it to him, and blamed me for firing him.
I stared at the phone with my mouth open.  Unfuckingbelievable.
He did tell me one time, on one of the days we were getting along, that he had played saxaphone for the Ike and Tina Turna revue.  He was about the right age for that, but I wasnt buying it.  But he showed me proof.  He had photos with him and Ike.  Playing, and also backstage photos and the like.  A short, chubby white guy in the middle of all the tall skinny black guys.  Maybe they just looked tall compared to him.  Hell, maybe they just looked black, too.
He said to me, "You know, Ike Turner was the only person I ever let call me "Shorty.’"
"Really?" I asked.  "What did you call him?"
"Oh.  Mr. Turner."

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