Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nineteen thirty eight...

It is probably no surprise to readers of this blog that I worked at REI in Santa Fe for nearly two years. I had initially taken the job as a way to supplement my yoga income, as well as a means to get affordable health care for Miki and I. Little did I know that that job would be my bread and butter.

At the beginning, I was a little worried to work for someone again, having been self-employed for a dozen years. And there were some hiccups early on. At orientation, some of the business jargon made me feel like I was in 'Office Space,' but I eventually realized that I simply wasn't used to it, having spend seven years dealing with language from the spiritual world (which also alarms me, on occasion). I was also surprised at the background check, and how normal it seemed to everyone.

By the third day, I began to feel that this kind of work was actually part of my life work. If I could help a person have a more comfortable and safer experience in the outdoors, then they'd grow to love it more and more, fostering a sense of stewardship and perhaps even a deeper spiritual connection. I kept this attitude during my tenure there, although I wavered a bit when I saw that many of the products are made in some of the poorer countries through which I'd traveled over the winter.

Retail jobs can be a drag a lot of the time, but REI was never that bad a gig. I surprised myself in how much I liked it. There were many days when I went to work in a bad mood, to be pulled out of it within the first hour. Not that the customers weren't a challenge. I was told by some employees that Santa Fe customers could be more challenging than most. Since I'd returned to the States, I'd heard the expression, "sense of entitlement" numerous times to describe Americans, and most frequently I'd heard it from my fellow employees. But we all had pretty thick skins and rolled with it. (I did notice that customers from specific demographics were worse behaved than others, but I won't get into stereotyping here.) I personally have an issue with rude behavior, and certain things triggered me, such as using cell phones during transactions, and throwing things onto the counter before me. I also noticed that the words 'please' and 'thank you' get very little use these days. In a decade or so, I imagine that they won't even be in the dictionary anymore.

Another annoyance at work are those customers who complain about everything being made in China. There seem to be one of these at least once a day. I always want to say to them "Why the fuck are you complaining to me about it? Rather than me, you ought to write to your congressmen as they sent all the labor overseas. Then, you need to prepare to pay at least three times the price for this sweater, since the American you would rather see make it is required by law to receive a living wage. Have a nice day."

It was a very social workplace, and I saw friends from around town just about everyday. It was weird to see people from the yoga and zen worlds there, who'd act as if my working in such a place was so far beneath me, and would look at me with pity in their eyes. But I truly enjoyed my work. The only problem I had with it all was the fact that I'd relenquished control over the amount of money I'd take in. Scheduling was at the mercy of the market, and over time I found that there was no real way to get ahead financially. And though I explored other alternatives, Santa Fe offered few, especially with the current economic climate. Miki and I eventually made the decision to return to Japan.

On my final shift, I had carefully prepared a retort to any of the dozens of entitled customers that grace us in any given week. After weathering whatever rant they might heap upon me, I would say to them, "Do you need a hug? You really seem like you need a hug?" Being Santa Fe, they'd probably take me up on it.

There are many good reasons why REI consistently makes the top ten lists for best Green Companies, as well as Forbes' best companies to work for. I'd recommend it to anyone. During my time in the States, I ultimately decided not to go to grad school. In a strange way, REI became my grad school, teaching me a lot about gear and how to stay safe in the wild.

On the turntable: X, "See How We Are"

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