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Highland Park Market is known for its cleanliness. It was this reputation that brought me to the store late May last year, looking to apply for a job at the bakery. As I waited in line to ask for an application, I was surprised at how pristine it was. The outside was immaculate, the bags of cookies in order, the counter smelled of Windex, and the floor was barren of the usual layer of crumbs found in bakeries. Patiently waiting on customers, the bakers themselves were very clean and polite. Dressed in ties and lab coats, those behind the counter waited on the customers courteously and promptly; no line was given a chance to develop as the bakers quickly served the customers and moved on. It seemed to me that this was an ideal place to work, and I put in my application at the front desk. A few days later, I was hired.
My first day on the job I came in early to try to impress the boss, but I could not find her. It turned out the boss was home sick and had forgotten to tell the other employees I was coming in to be trained. I had to fight my way into the back room, and I must have shown my work papers to everyone in the store before finally arriving at the bakery department. The manager who was sitting in for my boss had no idea I was coming in.
Eventually, they gave me my lab coat and showed me to the counter were the head baker, Whitney, was working. I was introduced, and things seemed to settle down. After a few quick instructions on how to run the counter, Whitney explained that she had to leave early but that another baker would show up to train me. Dismissing my pleas for mercy, she casually took off her lab coat and prepared to leave.
"You'll be fine. Besides, no one shows up to shop for another half an hour or so," said Whitney as she pranced gleefully out of the bakery, ready to begin her vacation. Wanting to scream, "I quit!" as loudly as I could, I threw my hands in the air in disgust. Alone in the store on my first day, I realized how frustrating it is when people dodge responsibility.
For a little while, I handled the situation fairly well. Exploring the bakery, I familiarized myself with the layout. But this brief interlude of peace was merely the calm before the storm. Inevitably, the mid-afternoon dinner rush was on its way, and Eric, the baker, was running late.
The first trickle of customers was relatively easy to handle. I explained that I was a new employee and that help was on the way. But my procrastinating ways added to the problem, as these customers kept returning to find Eric had not yet arrived. By temporizing early, I had increased my troubles later on.
The bakery was so full of customers, I could not see the clock on the wall on the other side of the counter. Angry, impatient customers who desperately needed their bread and cookies for dinner began to become hostile toward the lone bakery employee, me.
"Why can't you just print me up a label and price this so I can get the heck out of here?" whined one woman, who was apparently running late.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but it's my first day on the job, and I have no idea how to work the price machine. If you can just wait a few more minutes."
To try to pacify the angry mob, I began to try to figure how to use the price machine. Like frenzied wolves, the wild horde could smell the fear in my blood, and they moved in for the kill. For a brief moment, I thought I had the price machine figured out, but it would not print out the price labels. Just as it appeared I was going to break down and give out baked goods for free to avoid dealing with cranky, grumpy customers, Eric strolled in. Animal control had arrived to calm the wolves. Ignoring the customers' pleas for help, Eric introduced himself and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee and then promptly disappeared. He returned with two cups of steaming java and sat down to relax. Amazed at his indifference toward the customers, I asked him how to run the label machine.
After the crisis had passed and the customers dissipated, he showed me how to perform the basic bakery duties, like unloading the frozen dough and panning it out on baking sheets. I did most of the work while he provided instructions from behind a magazine. Crumbs piled up on my hair, and dough dried onto my fingers while Eric remained untainted. Taking frequent coffee breaks, Eric managed to be out of sight every time a customer showed up asking for help. I trained myself to use the label machine, because Eric did not have the time to teach me between making personal phone calls to his pals and flirting with the checkout girls.
I ended up staying late to finish the cleaning. Eric disappeared into the break room to have more coffee, and I was left to sweep, scrub, and wipe down the bakery. Barely able to stand, I stumbled to the back room and took off my lab coat. I punched out on the time clock, and as I walked out of the store, exhausted, I heard Eric say to the manager, "New guys. They always expect us to do all the work for them." 1