Tag Archives: career

Slots of Fun: The Cashier Cage and the Way Out

Image result for cashier's cage

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.

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Hurry up, bro. We gotta count more money so we can get more tips so we can count more money.

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.

Slots of Fun: The Cashier Cage in the Early Days

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This is it! This is your lucky machine!

After a few weeks of staring out of my cancer booth, I had a chance to become a full-fledged video lottery cashier, which came with a pay raise and a ridiculous amount more in tips. Something important to remember about casino life in the early 2000s, at least in West Virginia: our tips were “gifts” from patrons. Translation? We didn’t claim them. Here’s the scenario: if you make, say, $8/hr for a base pay and you have even the smallest amount of the Gift of Gab, you will easily make another $8/hr per hour in tips, which effectively doubles your take. Any cashier with an actual personality made more than $100 per day in tips, which, when combined with his or her take-home pay after health care, insurance, and $100 more worth of random deductions came out, made for pretty impressive earnings. For being a cashier. In a place where customers weren’t actually buying anything. The shit was unbelievable.

I’d like to take a moment to explain something to those of you who might happen upon this post but have not worked a customer service job…the seemingly friendly folks on the other side of your transaction hate you. Maybe not in a permanent, they-actually-hope-you-go-to-Hell kind of hate, but it’s not too far from it. No, it isn’t your fault, unless you’re an asshole. See, there is a dynamic at play, dear guest, and it can be reduced to this: you’re spending money, and the facilitator of your transaction would also like to spend money. However, he or she cannot, as the balance at that moment is that you are the consumer, and he or she is part of the pleasure of the provided service or product. And dear God, what a sickening display. Forget about regular, even necessary transactions, like buying something at the grocery store, or pumping gas, or even copping that skunk weed from your hillbilly dealerI’m talking about an entirely different form of consumption, and people outside of casino life may not be able to fathom this, so strap in for a minute.

The rules of commerce, polite societal exchanges, and the underlying principles of behavior governing otherwise decent human beings go right out the window when it comes to money transactions in a casino. Gamblers are junkies. There is no other way to describe it. The American Psychiatric Association updated the DSM-5 to classify gambling as an addiction, as opposed to its previous designation as a compulsion. Now, before you offer some ridiculous opinion on how gambling is okay, stop. The APA is smarter than you. It is smarter than I am. No excuses here. Neuroscience wins.


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Dopamine feels good, Fam! Lemme get some more! Just one more win, so I can get break even! And some lucky bills!

Those of you who have been in customer service know. It’s just one of those things. Kevin Smith covered it in Clerks, and the staff in Ryan Reynold’s Waiting are amazingly accurate. It doesn’t make any sense, but if we have to wait on you, there is contempt. I’m sure all of us know one customer service provider who is genuinely happy with his or her life, but I’m not writing about those kind of people. They are deranged. Who could be happy running coins through a machine and fingering Cleveland sweaty bra money all day? Oh, sure. Load up on that hand sanitizer. Won’t make any damn difference. You’ll forget and rub your nose, or maybe even use the back of your hand for an itch near your eye. Mucous membranes, jagoff. Casino SARS for you. I can’t tell you how many times someone in that damn cage had whooping cough or some other shit from the 1800s. On top of that, for some unknown reason, most of the cashiers smoked the same shit cigarettes they also inhaled secondhand from the doomed customers! It was unreal. My blood pressure is skyrocketing as I relive it. Okay, let’s focus. Here’s a typical cashier transaction, mid-shift:

Where the hell did these guests come from? Is this a Cleveland bus?

Cleveland? You mean Cleeland?

Oh, right. Yeah. Cleeland.

The girls in the Players’ Club said they watched six buses unload this morning.

Jeezus, dude. That’s it, then. They’ll be with us most of our shift. There goes my tips.

Shhh. Here comes one.

HI, Mrs. Wallace! How is your day? How are the machines treating you?

Now, obviously Mrs. Wallace is an alias. Mrs. Wallace represents anyone who comes to the cashier window. All cashiers working a window are like Amsterdam whores. We want you to like what you see, so you’ll give us some money. We’ll even give you a little conversation and pretend like we’re not praying for a giant meteor to crash through the ceiling and seal everyone’s fate at that exact second. And it’s all for an extra buck. Every transaction, for the entire shift. Do you know what kind of psychological fortitude it takes to pretend to be interested in some gambler’s winnings? It’s sickening. And we all did it. For months. Many did it for years and years. Anyway, I can’t describe to you the potentials level of self-loathing that can grow in such customer service positions. Towards the end, I couldn’t tell what I hated worse: the fact that I allowed myself to get accustomed to such bullshit to make a rather obscene amount of money, or the fact that I can recall what it feels like so easily. Moving on…

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Wallace. Here, let me give you some lucky fives. (Insert a signature customer service move, the most popular of which is a hearty flick or bizarre and meaningless charlatan hand gesture on the filthy bills)

Now get back out there and make some money! HA HA HA (Mrs. Wallace leaves, smiling)

Dude…that was kind of sickening.

Yup, it was. And she gave me a five. Now kill yourself.

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No, Mrs. Wallace. Those weren’t really lucky fives. And those machines are programmed to take your money. But I’ll smile just the same and grovel to you every time you come back to the window. For a dollar. Every time. Ugh.

In high school, I worked in fast food. More than once. I used to think those were the worst jobs. They’re not. At least some fat ass is getting a fix on the horsemeat Whopper I hand him through the window. In the drive-thru window, we either wore a headset or stayed hunched over a microphone, droning orders to the sandwich preppers. Always with a Diet Coke, too. The noise of those shitty drive-thru communication systems sounds like Vivaldi when compared to the CLINGETY-CLING-JINGLEY-JANGLE of a coin hopper. Modern casinos utilize ticket systems. Coin hoppers have been gone from machines like those in the picture above for a long, long time. But they were alive and well when I was a cashier. We stood there in our little vesties, and we smiled, and we loathed the sight of almost everyone on the other side of that cage. And it got so much worse.

Slots of Fun: The Beginning

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 us turned eighteen, then nineteen, and decent-paying jobs were scarce in that part of the Ohio Valley. Most of use were drawn into that awful vortex and were making more money than we thought we would. And o, how the years passed.

Now, before I kick off this series, let me be clear: who I was then is not who I am now. I wasn’t a good person, and I am not saying I am now, but look, friend: some of us have to try to hit bottom before we even remotely understand what bottom really is…and those were my years in the casino.

Here’s a little bit of background for you, arranged neatly into three categories. After that, you’re ready.

I. My friends/coworkers at the casino: some of the most ridiculous characters you could ever meet. To this day, several of them are my closest friends. What we endured there together in those years is hard to gather in one volume. We’ll do our best.

II. The casino itself is still operational. Ownership has changed many times since my last shift, but the constants are still there: addiction, death, and a never-ending Level 5 Space Hurricane of unbelievable subpar top-down management and operational horseshit. The tales we share here will come mostly from the video lottery side, as I got the hell out of there before tables arrived. Also, I have never had a head for cards, and thus, I don’t give a shit about anything that goes on outside of video lottery…unless I make money doing so.

III. There is no actual product in the casino business. It’s filed under “entertainment,” but what that means is that patrons piss away more money than they can often afford, and everyone is looking to cash in on chance, that marvel that isn’t the kind of math you can study. At some point, you still have to be at the right place at the right time, with the right kind of money. Good luck with that.


This image is labeled for reuse, so don’t try any bullshit. Coincidentally, these also happened to be my favorite machines on which to work when I eventually left the cashier cage and became a floor attendant. More on that later.



Abandoned dream

At 10:37, I take a left onto W 28th Street and enter the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and I slowly drive through the campus until I pop out on the other side in a sketchy neighborhood. I circle under and around the southern end of the campus, take a right onto University Avenue, and this time when I enter campus, I park in a remote northern parking lot. I don’t have a pass, but where I pull in looks like the end of the land development, so I’m not too worried about a parking ticket. I walk at a decent clip (might as well try to raise the cardio a little and make the steps count) to arrive at the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology building. I’m early for my appointment, so I slow my pace and take my time looking around the lobby before I decide to take the stairs to the next floor. The building is impressive, and I decide to check the directory to make sure I don’t do something stupid, like assume the floor number for the room where I’m headed. I feel a measure of relief when I see that room 547 is, indeed, on the fifth floor.

At 10:49, I sit at a small composite round table adjacent to 547, and I flip through an issue of Arkansas Living. In the July 2016 issue there is a two-page spread about the Bachman-Wilson House at Crystal Bridges. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house, acquired in New Jersey, and transported and rebuilt in Arkansas. I make a mental note to actually see the house, instead of just making a mental note to add this to a future unfulfilled To-Do List. Three minutes have passed. Thomas Wallace, Program Coordinator for Web Design and Development and the Information Technology Minor program (among others) says, “Vincent?” as he walks down the hall toward his room. I stand, shake his hand, and walk inside his office. He has an iMac and a MacBook Pro on his desk. His room is Spartan (environmental irony) and he has a genuine delivery. His hair is cut short and he wears a darker blue UALR polo shirt. His age is indeterminate, but I feel that he might be close to my age. He is in shape, physically. We make small talk before the information starts to flow, and he tells me that he has climbed in West Virginia a few times. He encourages me to check out northwest Arkansas, as it is clear that I like the outdoors and Arkansas has much to offer.


Where have you been?

Before the actual appointed time of 11:00, we’ve already begun to get down to the heart of the matter–why I have contacted him, and why I asked for a face-to-face with him. I explain how I am ready to leave my English classroom, but that I am not quite “through” with education. I explain how I have a deep love for technology, but that I have not formally studied it. I offer truncated versions of why the education industry, at least at my level, is fairly terrible, and why I am attempting to evolve my employment. I talk about a failed online school with massive funding and zero buy-in, and I share three anecdotes about students really not knowing how to do anything with technology. I throw in the term “digital native” and scoff at it, mostly due to the fact that I will never miss a chance to mention Mark Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation.

I have been a teacher for 3,711 days. That is 5.34 million minutes too long.

Mr. Wallace breaks down the details of what UALR’s IT departments aim to do. He profiles some of the partnerships, and he shares some insights as to how he thinks certain programs may benefit me. He mentions that he feels I could also be an asset to a few of the programs. I shake his hand at 11:36, and I am filled with something I do not understand as I walk out of the EIT building. I cross two parking lots and stop to take two pictures as I try to sort out what I am feeling. It is hope. It is a different kind of hope.


Where are you going?

At 11:47, I drive east through run-down neighborhoods that eventually lead to the area near the capitol building. Barred and boarded windows abruptly become Starbucks and the Childrens’ Hospital, and I’m on 13th Street, looking left and right at scores of businesses, some of which I might not ever see unless I take an errant route. My phone keeps updating my route and offering multiple upcoming turns in the hopes that I may course-correct and take the most efficient path. I decline.


At 12 noon I am drinking a scarlet red Berliner Weisse at Lost Forty, and although it looks like fruit punch or a sorority girl’s jungle juice, I don’t care. It’s delicious. I eat a small lunch. At 12:26, I am unexpectedly near tears when I hear Thom Yorke’s falsetto voice float down from the warehouse ceiling. Denial, deniiialll. It’s “House of Cards.” That strange hope that now made it hard to swallow, and I have to lean back to redirect my watery eyes. I crane my neck to make sure it’s Radiohead, and I pay the bill as I listen to the rest of the song. I snap a picture of Bald Bull on “Punch-Out!” on my way out to the car. I have a Crowler of Wet Hop Ale for when I get home.


Retro hit machine

I listen to a few songs as I drive north across the bridge and head west toward home. I have my phone plugged into an FM modulator and I am playing a few songs from a Playstation video game soundtrack. At a long red light, I pull off to quickly check out a sizable junkyard hidden in a grove of trees right off of the main artery of Maumelle Boulevard. I’m surprised by the gems hidden inside. There is a miniature mansion across the street from the entrance. I leave the Acura running; I don’t know who runs this forest, or if there are surprise guard dogs. I snap a few pics and retreat. Before I climb back in, I look north behind my SUV and see the sun reflecting from the Arkansas River.


Rusted treasure chest

Hope persists as I pull into the driveway, and I realize that in one hundred and fifty school days, I will not teach English again. I may not be in a classroom again. Ashley has become a pioneer (O, pioneer!) and has 2,400 classroom minutes remaining, if she finishes her notice. She is free. I am not far behind.

I will finish the school year. I would like to break contract right now–today–but I won’t. I can carefully shape the clay of this dream, and I can cultivate the energies to direct them efficiently.