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Story ID:10143
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Oneonta New York USA
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By Fred Wickert

Yesterday was my weekly supply trip to Oneonta, N.Y. It is my normal routine to make WallMart my last stop before going home. I usually arrive there a little after 10:00 P.M. At that time there is a light crew on duty with the merchandise and a restocking crew is just beginning to do their work for the night. Yesterday I wanted to have a new battery installed in a watch and I knew there was no one in the jewelry section to do it for me after 10:00 P.M. Consequently, I chose to go to WallMart first.

I am old and have a medical problem with my legs so I got one of those electric carts to navigate with. I went to the jewelry counter right away. There was no one there so I waited a few minutes thinking the clerk should show up in a minute or two. I was wrong. A woman showed up around the same time I did. She too, wanted to get a battery replaced in a watch.

After about a ten minute wait, I went toward the front of the store. It was in my mind to find a clerk somewhere and ask them to call customer service to have someone come to the jewelry section. I found a clerk working in the ladies clothing section near the front of the store. I told her what I wanted and she told me okay and she headed straight for Customer Service. I turned around and returned to the jewelry section. I told the lady waiting there what had happened and suggested someone should be coming shortly. I looked at my watch and it was 5:20 P.M.

We both waited another ten minutes and no one came. The lady saw a clerk in another section and she went towards her and called out to her. The clerk assured her they were coming. We waited some more. The clerk the lady had asked was gone, nowhere to be seen. The lady decided she had had enough and she left, saying she could come back another time. In a few minutes I had to go to the bath room.

I left the jewelry counter and proceeded to the front of the store where the rest rooms were located. I decided that when I was finished in the rest room, I could go next door to the customer service desk and try again. I parked the electric cart, using my cane to assist me, went in the rest room and took care of my business. When I came out of the rest room, I must have been gone about three minutes, got on the electric cart and went next door to the customer service desk. Normally there are at least three people at the customer service desk and many times at least twice that many, but not this time. This time no one was at the desk.

I went back to the jewelry counter and looked around. There was still no one around. I went from there to get a couple of items at the pharmacy, then to the sports counter to inquire for some .22 magnum ammunition, which they have not had in over two years. This time was no different. They didn’t have any so I went back to the jewelry counter. There was no clerk in the area.

Near the jewelry counter there is a bra section. I noticed a clerk on the far end of the section and I went to speak to her. She asked me what I wanted and she replied she was going to try to help me. She came to the jewelry section, went behind the counter and asked to see the watch. I handed it to her and she looked at it. Soon she had the back off of it. The phone rang and she went to answer it. I noticed she answered as if answering for the store rather than for the jewelry section. Whoever the caller was, asked for a different section. She pressed some keys on a key board and hung the phone in a different place. She returned to the business of my watch and apologized for the interruption. I asked her about answering the phone as though she were answering for the store. She smiled and said yes, that she was the store phone operator.

The girl was examining the tiny battery she had removed from my watch with a jeweler’s loupe when the phone started ringing in the bra section. She ran to answer that and returned in a minute or two apologizing again. That happened three or four times. She explained to me that she was the phone operator and was covering for both the jewelry counter clerk and the bra section clerk while they were on their lunch break. She said they were so short handed that there was more area she was covering too, because the girl in the bra section was covering another section in addition to that one.

I had also noticed that there were only four cash registers open with long lines at the registers. They had twenty two registers in the store in addition to a number of self service registers. They were very short handed. The girl kept apologizing that I had to wait so long. She also confided in me that it was her first time changing a battery in a watch. As she rang it up on the cash register she made a mistake and had to do it over again too. There was a sign prominently posted that advertised watch batteries changed for $5.98 and of course there was the inevitable 8% sales tax. When all was finished she apologized once more as she dashed off to answer the phone in the bra section. As I left the jewelry counter with my new battery installed in my watch I glanced at the watch I was wearing. It was 6:53 P.M. It had taken one hour and thirty three minutes to get a battery replaced in a watch.

One wonders why something like this could happen? This is a far cry from the way things used to be, and it is going to take some getting used to. The costs to employers since Obama Care came in to being has resulted in drastic cuts in the number of personnel a business can afford to have, and even more drastic cuts in full time employees. They have to go to part time. In the past a telephone operator was never going to be the operator and clerking and handling customers at the same time. In the past, a department clerk could go to lunch with another clerk taking over her department. Having someone cover two or three departments, while two people are on their lunch break, and doing their regular job at the same time was unheard of. I am guessing we had better get used to it because this looks like the new norm, and we can all thank Obama Care for it.

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