In Vegas? Sure. Not even remotely close to what I saw in my first job in video lottery.
Long before I graduated college, I was working at a local casino–specifically, the exact same casino we all said we would never work for when we were still in high school nearby. Then some of…
Source: Slots of Fun: The Beginning
After a few months of being in the cashier cage, I started to grow restless. First, the cashier cages in which I worked were nothing like the one pictured above. There is far too much light. There seems to be a general cleanliness. The brunette may be smiling.
A real cashier’s cage has an oppressive feeling clouding it. It may actually be hard to see the cashiers inside, as they are pretty unhappy and can only float from one transaction to the next on the quickly-fading dopamine boost just acquired from the previous patron’s tip. A strange by-product of being a cashier is how quickly one can count money. Provided there isn’t some sort of physical handicap or mental deterioration, a medium-speed cashier’s fingers fly through money. Two swipes of Sortkwik, elbows bent at an odd angle to provide the best view by surveillance cameras, and the cashier can count out several thousand dollars effectively in under a minute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever seen someone holding five grand in his or her hand who has never done so before, there is a strange discomfort as those bills are gently tugged in slow-motion.
Don’t get me started on counting calculators. One of the cashier supervisors used to add up her tickets so quickly, she sent the machine into error mode. A few cashiers beamed with pride over that supervisor’s mutant-like speed. Those cashiers also struggled to graduate high school and thought that “The Government” had live access to video lottery surveillance systems, so take that how you will. Any cashier worth a damn looked like a deranged pianist when adding up tickets.
The only wildcard when it came to the practical functionality of a cage cashier was the coin-counting machine. Now, here was a technology doomed to fail. The coins accepted included nickles, quarters, and the casino’s own-manufactured dollar tokens. We didn’t have dime machines, and penny machines were best-suited to ticket-only pay systems, which came later. Here was the typical coin-customer sequence: a patron shuffles up to the cashier counter with too many cups overflowing with coins, grinning like the village idiot as he or she attempts to balance the cups and set them down on the counter without spilling the coins, which usually never happened. Depending on the cashier’s angle on customer service, sometimes the coin-counter was already hungrily digesting the coins while the guest was still stacking his or her cups. There was always an uneasy delay while the machine chugged and belched coin dust into hanging plastic bags–kind of like the short elevator ride during which someone notices that he or she could have just as quickly arrived at Point B by walking. Once the coins quit swirling, the cashier stopped the hopper, and gestured or mentioned to the customer the total counted by the machine, which was often contested and led to the cashier asking for assistance from a floor attendant, to ensure that the guest’s machine did not “malfunction” or that someone did not “steal” all of the “extra money” from the guest. Most of the time, the guest was A) lying to get more money, if possible; B) drunk, elderly, or drunk/elderly; or C) all of the above. A simple transaction was a pain in the ass. Add to that the cashier’s constant dopamine depletion & refill cycle, and you can see why cashier shifts were difficult to endure.
Three simple functions of the cashier’s job: count and bag coin, count tickets, distribute money to patron to encourage another cycle. You’d think it would be easy, but you’d be forgetting how difficult it is to work with people.
Name the last time you worked in an environment in which people weren’t out for themselves. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Most of you can’t think of one. Do you know why? It’s awfully hard for human beings to not naturally gravitate toward their inner Me-Monsters, as one of my best friends says. I don’t know why. We can’t just all hang out and make money. We have to have more than yesterday, and we have to have more than the cashier next to us. And I’ll be damned if Aaron is going home with $300 in tips again tonight! I want some of that cake.
The cage cashier window was populated by a small and wild range of personalities. My favorites were the wackos and drunks. They were there to kill time until the next Chaos sequence in their own lives, and for some odd reason, they were oddly satisfying to work with. Some part of them recognized the futility of the Casino at large; accordingly, they honed their customer service skills to a bizarre, admirable level. I must have watched Fred for a month until I put my own spin on his bill-flicking Lucky Bill delivery cash-counting method. The same Fred could loose an unbelievable string of vulgarity under his breath, leading all the way up to “HI MRS. WALLACE! HOW ARE THE MACHINES TREATING YOU?” The guy was unbelievable. I can still picture his smirk and his casual elbow-lean on his coin machine. We all wanted to hit that level. A bunch of the rest of us weren’t pro cashiers, but we weren’t scared of counting money, either. We developed a quick cache of go-to phrases which delighted the guests, but mostly made ourselves sick, along with those around us. It was a necessary evil. Some of mine:
“Here’s the Take: the lucky bills are on top.”
“Only old fives for you, Mr. Johnson. I know how your machines like them.”
“Gimme those coin buckets–you won’t be needing them any more. This here is Jackpot Money.”
You get the idea. I was on cruise-control. The bullshit just spilled right out. Three months in, I was trading shifts to score optimal window position, or just to increase my chances of pairing up with other degenerates with whom I could laugh away the pain of such a terrible environment.
The holiday season was unpredictable, and if I couldn’t trade shifts, I never knew what kind of money I was going to make or where I would be working, so there were nights that I left with maybe double my gas money, and that’s when I started to get itchy palms. College classes during the day were draining my energy and making it hard for me to stay awake during my night shifts. In the sunlight, I was learning about all kinds of interesting theory and how it could apply in progressing education, and at night, I was pretending to not whore my personality for off-the-books money. It wasn’t going to last much longer.
In 2009 I asked my sister if she might know of any places that could be good for earning extra money, and she pointed me toward Uncle Sam’s, a sandwich bar in the Robinson Township area of Pittsburgh. I started working there about a week later, and stayed for seven years. I have too many stories to share about that amazing place–that is something I will trickle out in savory dollops. Today, I would like to write about Stacie and Chay Marshall, two real-horrorshow Troma-watching lovebirds who tied the knot this year. They just celebrated the Stacie and I bonded over 400-degree Vulcan flat-top grills and ridiculous customers. We passed the time on our shifts by referencing (non-stop) any and all pop culture, including guilty-pleasure TV binge-watching, indie films and indie artists, and, my favorite of all, satellite-delivered college or alternative rock (at this very moment, this unexpectedly addictive gem is playing for you, Stace). Stacie’s theories about upcoming Game of Thrones episodes often brought me to a standstill, and I’m positive that I overcooked my already-overcooked cheese steaks.
One of Stacie’s creative pursuits materializes on Etsy, where you can find her wares. I never was much of a hands-on creator, and I have watched Stacie’s work for years with an extreme interest in the thousands of hours she spends to do what she wants to do, and what she should be doing full-time: creating. Click here to visit her shop.
Chay is Stacie’s co-swashbuckler. I met Chay not long after I met Stacie, and although we have never slung sandwiches together, Chay’s channeling of Master P “unnnnhhhh!” is not something to be taken lightly. Part post-punk and post-art, and all pre-Revelations, I haven’t seen Chay’s final form, but I have seem glimpses of his power, and I think his digital art is otherwordly. You can sample some of his work here.
This morning I woke up with a sore throat, a headache, and a weird, slight phlegm rattle when I take deep breaths. Obviously the change in weather (finally) has brought other changes with it. I took a sick day today. Since not everybody understands that there is an important protocol that you must establish and follow in the event that you take a sick day from school, work, or regular life in general, let me help you out: there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Thus, then, you are joining my morning in progress.
I brought something like eighty sick days with me when I transferred classrooms. I didn’t even know something like that was possible, but in more than ten years in education, I am still not fond of taking a sick day, as it invariably creates more work in a field where the last thing needed is something more to do. Regardless, here I am, typing away, hair super-trendily unkempt, clad in an old white t-shirt and blue basketball shorts. It is unlikely I will shower for many hours. I’ve taken the first of many Alka-Seltzer daytime remedies. It goes down like hot, grainy lemonade. My classroom is the last thing on my mind.
Next to me on this desk is a DIY CompTIA A+ Certification book, a package of lemon Oreos, and an Xbox One. My mind has been wandering all morning, and now that I have opened my eleventh tab in Firefox, it’s time to write something.
Dear friends and readers, I hate my job.
This is nothing new. I have hated many jobs over the years, for a variety of reasons. “Hate” is an interesting word, and perhaps it is inaccurate. None of us probably want to work, but at some point, we find it necessary to subscribe to lifestyles, and that usually costs something, depending on the categories involved. When I got all noble-like and decided I wanted to “make a difference” by entering the education industry, one of the categories that comes with it is, has been, and (most likely) will always be: lack of pay. I knew it going in, so I’m not going to go on and on about it. Until this year, I have had extra jobs to supplement my pay. It’s not a big deal.
Let’s agree that “hate” is kind of a ridiculous term. I experience personal mental and emotional discomfort in my current position. My discomfort stems from a very real and long-running knowledge that I want to do something else. So I am.
I want to share a couple of obvious things with you, and maybe some of it will resonate. Maybe we can all be together on this one. Most of us are not doing what we want to be doing.
“You’re not your fucking khakis,” says Tyler Durden, psychic and physical manifestation of the Narrator’s real wants and desires. Fight Club is Palahniuk’s best work for a reason. Don’t take Tyler’s word for it, though. Especially if you don’t wear khakis. I Googled “change jobs every ten years” and had some interesting hits. I vaguely remember some statistic from when I was in high school or just entering college.
“You Are Not Your Job” by Alyson Madrigan is an interesting article about the author’s failed startup, which she details. Alyson had a fantastic idea that didn’t work out, and she put her all into it. Read about it Joyo and life after Joyo here. Ray Williams’ “You Are Not Your Job” for Psychology Today (posted May 2009) extends the theme, but there is one line early in the article that drops like an 808: “When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow.” If you need confirmation of what you already suspect, head here.
“Breathe” by Telepopmusik just switched to “Hey Now” by Odesza on Pandora’s Chill Out radio station. I don’t need any more open tabs. Here is my declaration of purpose: I am returning to Imagination Land. I am sorry I ever left it. I am hoping to see some of you out there, in whatever form you wish to take. It’s going to take a while to Create, but that is all I want to do. I think we can do it together.
Ashley sent me a text mid-afternoon: “Let’s have a little adventure tonight” which is code for “let’s eat and drink somewhere interesting.” Tonight’s winner was Stickyz Rock’n’Roll Chicken Shack, a fantastic place in downtown Little Rock’s River Market District. See, the South doesn’t know how to make wings for shit, and as that is a dietary staple, Ashley and I can’t get anything close to what we loved in the Ohio Valley. (Looking at you, Basil’s.) Believe me–a bite to eat on a weeknight is more important than it appears. It can change the direction of your week–something I need after today.
Eclectic is a great word for non-franchise places. Corporate can’t always get the job done, so it’s a big deal when you find a cool place with good people. Such was the case tonight.
We sat at the small bar on the restaurant side and ordered local craft beer to start. Anna was our bartender. She was last week as well. While we settled in, Ashley overheard her say that tonight was her last night. Anna’s undergrad is in freshwater ecology, and a road trip to Washington state awaits when she clocks out tonight. A new start? I’m jealous.
We made small talk with her in between bouts of customer service. In the meantime, Hunter has come in and has taken a seat next to us at the bar. He’s in a state of flux: 25, in between jobs, a few years of mistakes behind him, which he shares with eyes downcast, as though we give a damn. He’s come from Tulsa and stopped at Little Rock en route to Tuscaloosa, where he has a helping hand. Hunter is tall and lanky, with a southern accent–not Gulf, not swamp. Texas-by-way-of-Oklahoma, if I had to guess. We chat. Ashley tells him the story of how she escaped her classroom, and he seems to brighten at that. I like the way she tells it–we have lived it for two months, so it’s enlightening to see someone else’s take on it. A quick trip into the past: Hunter went to boarding school in Virginia and played basketball and football, so we talk about Richmond and Charlottesville, among others. He regrets not finishing college, but while he spent time in food service, he figured out what he really wants to aim toward. I take swigs of my beer, and remember 25 for a few minutes. It’s a long time ago. Hunter checks his phone a lot; his dinner party is assembling nearby, and soon.
While he’s occupied, I ask Anna if we can pay for a shot, if he wants another one. Hunter seems genuinely surprised by this, but there is no way for him to know that this is my favorite thing in life: meeting random souls at crossroads in their lives and the horizon in their eyes. Gods willing, if I ever don’t actually have to work for the Man (any Man), I’ll build a Waystation where all that happens is stories telling stories, on the way to more stories. Hunter chooses bourbon, but he’s humbled and says, “Oh, uh, well–whatever’s cheap,” to which I object. “Have him try Bulleit,” I suggest to Anna.
“To the future and new beginnings,” I say as we raise glasses. Hunter finishes his bourbon, looks at the glass, and shakes our hand on the way out the door. He is more than gracious, but the pleasure was ours. I’m happy for him, in a very deep way. “Follow your heart, sir,” I offer, and we shake hands one more time as he leaves and the live music from the bar side starts to supply the soundtrack for the rest of our night. He’ll do just fine.
Because I’m a tool and I make bad decisions at times, I waited many years to start grad school. Honestly, I’m glad I did. It was the best academic experience of my life. No, the conditions were not ideal. I was overworked and emotionally and mentally exhausted at that point in my life. Years of bad habits continued to encourage non-productive and non-progressive habits. However, something had shifted in those long years after my undergrad degree and later “degree enhancement” of adding teaching credentials. I was pretty pissed at myself and ready to put money toward something substantial–something that would lift me academically, if nothing else. Good God Almighty, I found it. The seven-point checklist you see above is but one of the many gems lurking in the Leadership Studies pathway I took as a specialization. You may say, “But Vince, are you going to be a principal or an administrator? Why Leadership Studies? That doesn’t make any sense.” On one hand, you’re right. On the other hand, who cares what you think? I rocked 33 hours in eleven months, put myself through hell, and got more out of that than my previous thirty years of education combined.
Let me break down the brilliant simplicity of the Sources of Ambiguity. They’re everywhere. They’re in every organization that isn’t airtight. Guess what? Few organizations are airtight. Are you ready to try something with me? Apply those seven principles to everyday life. Frightening, isn’t it? What we have here is a framework, my lords and ladies. And it applies to everything. A little bit of honesty, and a lone resource, and you may be on your way to drawing a line through those ambiguities. That’s what I try to do, one day at a time, in all kinds of situations. After my current contract comes to a close, I’ll share with you all the ways this checklist helped me laugh through an entire year of suffering. For now, give it a try in whatever context you would like. While you’re at it, search something like “solutions for” paired with your specific industry or application, and see if smarter people haven’t already written about what we could be doing.
Special shout-out to Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations and all of the inherent truths in the 4th edition.