COVID Confessions: Be kind and considerate — musings from a former retail worker

Holidays are typically seen as a festive and joyous time of year where families can get together to eat plentiful, open presents, watch the game and bond with each other. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but there’s a large group of the working class who don’t get to have that experience. In fact, many of them absolutely dread the holidays.

Xavier Alvarez

Deemed essential during a global pandemic, where perpetually receiving the unfavorable end of the metaphorical stick is just part of the job, this group of people are known as your local retail workers.

Before working at The Monitor, I was a retail worker for over 10 years. It was an endless triathlon of customer service, babying rude adults, incompetent management, questionable work environments and manipulating customers to buy something they didn’t need. It was draining to say the least.

The journey throughout my retail career had a recurring theme: “Find something better.” As someone who had been so enthralled by videogames since diapers and desperate to find work relating to my passion, GameStop was my goal. After years of struggling, I was finally given the opportunity and found myself working at La Plaza Mall.

As a college student, I thought working at the mall would be awesome. You had a variety of people to meet and you got to socialize with employees from other stores. We would do each other favors such as holding a specific item for free food. We even had a few famous faces pop in like hypnotist John Milton, who was a regular and is the biggest Marvel fan I know, but the cons quickly proved to outweigh the pros.

Working holidays at La Plaza Mall was more than enough to crush my excitement.

With the current pandemic, I can’t help but wonder how horrifying it would be to be swarmed by people who would crowd our store again.

I’m reminded of the many times I clocked in late due to the congestion inside and outside of the mall.

Finding parking was like a nightmarish version of Where’s Waldo and you hoped it wouldn’t turn into a genuine match of Street Fighter when two people finally spotted a space.

Traversing the parking lot was a real-life game of Frogger whether you were one of the vehicles or the titular frog.

The trashcans were always overflowing and the remainder scattered all over the sidewalks and streets.

People leaving their used tissues, empty bottles, discarded food on shelves, shirt cubbies or just on the floor in our store was a regular occurrence.

Often times, dealing with customers was difficult.

I’ve had co-workers put up with verbal abuse, sexual harassment, threats of physical violence and the like. Some lived in broken homes with unstable living situations. Some had kids and would do anything to work extra hours just so they could buy their children a present for Christmas.

There was a year where mall employees had to start parking across the expressway and take a shuttle to work. If we didn’t abide, security would either fine us or had our vehicles towed. How we were treated versus customers made it clear that one group was valued over the other.

The stars aligned for me earlier this year and I feel beyond blessed to have finally escaped that line of work. I leave behind the days where I would lose myself behind a cash register fantasizing about a better life, getting paid to have anxiety attacks among a sea of strangers as another kid screeched at their parents about Fortnite, days when every drive to work consisted of deep contemplations of quitting only to be reminded that I simply couldn’t afford it.

Most retail workers have more than one job because making ends meet is almost impossible with one bi-weekly paycheck at minimum wage.

It’s a shame that these essential citizens in one of the most powerful countries in the world are one bad day away from poverty and far from prosperity.

The working class continues working, putting their lives on the line in order to keep the country moving and all for a check that barely keeps them afloat.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll regift you this rule of thumb: Be kind, be courteous and be considerate. You don’t know the struggles other people are currently going through, especially during this depressing holiday pandemic.