Updated: Apr 4, 2019
It's hard to top a job where you get paid to evaluate strains, so we thought we'd take it the other direction: Here's our team's Worst Day On A Job stories
by Nigel Rawlins
The year was 1988. January 1988 to be exact.
Pet Shop Boys, Information Society and Robert Palmer graced the top of the charts. John Hughes' teen angst films were in the here and the now, not yet 80s retro classics, and Tom Cruise could do no wrong with Top Gun, Cocktail and Rain Man all released within a year of each other.
I pulled into work on a cold and very snowy Saturday morning like a stud, having just obtained my full drivers licence. George Michael’s I Want Your Sex cassette was turned up to 11 on the car stereo. I was given full car privileges at age 16 under one condition – that I always let my parents know where I was going and that I always call if I was going to be home more than 15 minutes late.
Looking into the rear view mirror as I put the car into park with the steering column gear shift, I went through my pre-work pump-up routine: Risky Business Ray Bans – check, Michael Anthony Hall-esque hair gel – check. Blue and Yellow Far West Gortex Jacket – check.
I rolled into what was before today the best job I had ever had, a job to be proud of, a job my peers thought was rad, wicked, and cool. I was the youngest racquet stringer and ski technician in the city at the coolest fucking sports store. Think High Fidelity (the movie) but with running shoe, racquet and ski walls and less records, but with a big a boomin’ system nonetheless – a decade before the big chains moved into town.
We played the music loud, chugged Slushees all day, dazzled customers with our product knowledge, and we played hard – usually at the arcade after work.
This was a normal day, but a big snowstorm was moving in. We knew because all of our parents called us at the store around noon to let us know. There were no cell phones, no weather apps, no CP24, just a store stereo, and the 2 guys working with me that day would have flipped out if any of us changed the station to listen for a weather update. Especially since Dave just put on Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.
Dave was the shit. 25, store manager, drove a convertible and had a hot girlfriend who resembled Phoebe Cates (If you haven’t seen Fast Times, please educate yourself).
Rick was there too that day. A good guy, 16 like myself, quiet but cool to work with. As store manager, Dave was accountable for most responsibilities around the store and reported into the owner, who was hands-off and lived out of town.
You might be thinking, ok Nigel, this sounds like a best year on the job story for a 16 year-old. Don't worry, I’m getting to it. I really just wanted to paint that 80s picture. Ahh (thinking about my collection of Vuarnet & Hypercolor long sleeve T-Shirts).
Alright, here we go. It was 5:00 pm now – one hour to store closing. The snow was blowing sideways. There was about a foot of it. As the hours passed that day, store traffic became lighter and lighter as common sense prevailed and everyone got off the roads. We hadn’t seen anyone in hours, in the store or outside.
I was working away in the back, finishing up stringing some tennis racquets when Dave, with an arm full of cross country skis, boots, and bindings, walked past me towards the back shop and enthusiastically said, “Let’s go, Nigel.”
I followed him to the ski work station.
“Mount these bindings on these skis – we're going on a magical winter adventure,” Dave instructed.
“Umm,” I replied, looking at Rick to get a sense of his thoughts.
“Don’t be a chickenshit, let’s go. You’re the only one here who can put these skis and bindings together.” said Dave, our cool af manager.
He is the manager, I thought. I’m just following instructions. Maybe I’ll get an invite to his pool parties this summer, join his crew, hang out with his buds, meet Phoebe Cates doppelgänger and her friends. By the time I replayed that Fast Times scene in my head, all the skis were ready to go – bindings on, skis waxed.
“I feel the need. The need for speed, Maverick,” I overenunciated to Rick.
No reciprocation to my high five hanging out there in the wind. Rick was scared shitless.
“Nigel, what if we get caught?” he said.
“Don’t worry, Dave’s got our back,” I replied as I walked out the front door of the store all geared up for our rogue cross-country adventure.
Not a car or person in sight. The city landscape draped in a white fluffy blanket. There were only our 3 cars in the parking lot, all covered in snow.
We headed out to the variety store down the street. I kept looking behind me as the store lights and neon OPEN sign became smaller and dimmer with each smooth waxy glide. As we approached the variety store it became apparent it had closed early because of the weather. Disappointing but a good mission despite the outcome.
There was so much snow we couldn’t tell where the sidewalks ended, and roads began. It was awesome. In that moment we ruled the streets. On the way back, I led the way, following our tracks back to the store. I glided down a hill allowing me to quickly roll up my sleeve to look at my Timex Triathlon digital watch. Struggling to depress the light button with my gloves, I finally managed and 5:45 pm flashed at me.
“Perfect timing!” I yelled back to Dave and Rick. We kept pushing forward, only 50m to go! The race was on!
As we pulled into our parking lot, I noticed a new car there, not covered in snow. “We’ve got a customer!” I shouted back to the guys.
Getting out of the car was a man, and if you could draw a look of anger combined with disappointment on an individual, that was this person's face. Maybe he’s upset because he couldn’t find anyone I thought. I thought wrong.
“Where is the manager?” this man said.
I waited for Dave to answer behind me, but he didn’t. All I could hear was the silence of night and snow blowing across the parking lot. I turned, and where Dave and Rick should have been. Nothing. Just a big white void. They ditched me.
“Dave is the manager tonight” I sheepishly replied. “How can I help you?”.
“I’m the store owner, nice to meet you. Get in the store. Now.” he said slowly and firmly.
The mystery man… the owner, the playboy eccentric with not one ring-less finger, the absentee store owner who spent all of his time abroad, never at the store. The store owner, yes him.
HE. CAME. TO. THE. FUCKING. STORE. TODAY. OF. ALL. DAYS.
Where were Dave and Rick? They were coming to save me, right?
As I walked into the store, skis under my arm, with a snow trail on the carpet behind me, I heard the front door lock, and the OPEN sign flipped to CLOSED. Two noises most retail workers associate with the end of the shift and a fun Saturday night ahead. Now I know what you’re thinking because you’ve probably seen Pulp Fiction, but don’t worry. There’s no Gimp, no gigantic steamer trunk in the basement, but to a 16 year-old at the time, this scenario was very, very bad.
I was marched into the back room, told to get changed, and to hang up the $500 ski jacket and pants (with the store tags still on). When I came out the owner was standing there with a bucket, cleaning supplies, mop and plunger.
“Dave told me to….” I quickly tried to explain why smart decision-making skills escaped me that night, but was interrupted.
“I don’t see any Dave, just you!” he yelled. “Who mounted the bindings on these skis? These are $400 skis. You can clean the bathroom now, young man…and make it spotless”.
My silence was acceptance. This was the washroom that our female colleagues refused to use, the washroom you wouldn’t take your time in reading Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues, this washroom is the one which could have been the location for that notorious scene in Trainspotting.
As I sprayed the washroom down and began to scrub away, I was so worked up with anger over my colleagues ditching me, so scared I would never be seen again by my friends and parents, and –
I looked down at my watch. 7:30 pm. I was supposed to be finished at 6:00 pm, home by 6:30 pm, but it was 7:30pm.
“Can I call my–”
“You can go home when you’re finished!” the owner interrupted.
Oh my god, my car privileges. I’ll be grounded for a month, I thought. There is no greater fear than the thought that my father was at home waiting for me, worried about me, not knowing where I was. I realized that they were probably trying to reach me. The store phone had been ringing all night. I had done a pretty good job on the washroom in a short period of time. I think I was only sick in my mouth twice.
The store owner finally told me I could go. As I got to the front of the store another car pulled into the parking lot. I recognized that car – it was my folks.
The store owner said, “If you want to keep your job, none of this ever happened tonight.”
I was confused. I get to keep my job if I keep my mouth shut. If I tell my parents about the kidnapping (of sorts), would I lose my job?
Scared and confused, I told my parents as I left the store that I lost track of time and was very sorry. There was of course no excuse – I simply could have refused to set up the skis, bargain my way out of ski night knowing Rick would have had my back, finished at 6:00 pm, probably earlier, brushed off the car and been home with plenty of time to enjoy a night in my room playing Jordan vs Bird on the Commodore 64.
I went back to work the next weekend, on the bus which was my primary source of transportation until the spring. I’d see Rick during the occasional shift but Dave never returned – we heard he quit, but I believe it could have been a nasty firing later that night. I never saw the owner again.
I could have followed my common sense, but I decided to risk it all, for one night of cross country ski adventure, which ended up being my worst day on the job.
(puts Ray Bans on and runs hand through hair, cue Simple Minds. Don’t you forget about me...)