After back-to-back 60-hour work weeks with two more months of them ahead, it’s hard to remember a time when I was more exhausted by work. Working at Oklahoma Graphics still tops it, of course. The summer I worked there I worked 12-hour shifts, between three and seven days a week. It was 12 hours a day of doing physical labor while standing on the concrete floor of a warehouse with no air conditioning. The summer I worked there I doubled my food intake and still lost over 30 pounds — an effective weight loss plan, yes, although a difficult one to recommend. Oklahoma Graphics was a different type of exhaustion than what I’m doing now. Although it was a physically demanding job, mentally it was quite boring. Also, that was the summer of 1993. I was 19 years old that summer; today, I’m 39.
Excluding Oklahoma Graphics (and what I’m doing now), I think the most exhausting week I ever spent at work was in 1994 at Best Buy, when I joined the store’s “O-Team.”
“O-Team” stood for “Opening Team.” A week before a new Best Buy would open, nearby stores would deploy their O-Teams out to help get the new store ready for opening day. I remember one Friday in the Fall of ’94 my supervisor (Tracy) asked me if I would like to be a member of our store’s O-Team. “Sure,” I said. “Great,” he answered. “We’re going to Tulsa next week.” And that is how I joined the O-Team.
In exchange for traveling, Best Buy paid us (I think) $30/day for meals and put us up (two to a room) in the La Quinta Inn next door to the new store. In return we were expected to do whatever was needed and work as hard as we could. Personally, I was in hog heaven. No one had ever paid me to travel before that. Being handed $30 cash for food when you were making $5/hour made me feel rich, and being put up in a hotel made me feel like downright royalty. What, I got to travel, and they paid for a hotel room and they gave me extra money for food?!? Royalty, I say.
Most of us carpooled up to Tulsa. I don’t remember who all drove, but seeing as how at that time I owned this dune buggy, I did not. Our first stop was the hotel. My only knowledge of college dorm parties comes from 80s movies, but based on that, the atmosphere at the La Quinta wasn’t far off. The convenient store around the corner from the hotel was more than happy to sell cheap beer to guys in Best Buy shirts, and most nights after work all of our room doors would be propped open so people could come and go freely. Nothing got stolen because none of us owned anything worth stealing.
We showed up at the store Monday morning, eager to work and slightly hung over. All the guys I traveled with worked in either computers or electronics, and a few of the guys (in retrospect, probably those with seniority) got picked to hook up all the display computers. The rest of us (including me, “he with no seniority”) were handed dollies and told to head the the rear of the store. There, we began unloading semi trucks full of goods. Not just one truck; dozens, hundreds perhaps. People inside the truck sorted the incoming piles of goods roughly into store departments — a pile of computers here, a pile of televisions there. My job was to pick up a stack of goods, wheel it to the department where it belonged, and come back for more until the truck was empty. After the truck had been unloaded, it was our job to report to our respective departments (computers, for me) and start putting those boxes onto shelves. We stocked shelves until the next truck arrived, and then we grabbed our dollies it was back to that.
And wouldn’t you know it, while on Monday there were more people there to unload trucks than there were dollies available, by Wednesday or so there were a lot more dollies than there were people showing up to unload the trucks. By mid-week, whenever someone announced that another truck had arrived, like roaches when a light flicks on, people would scatter into whatever available nooks and crannies they could find, not to emerge until the truck was empty again.
I don’t remember what time we started each day — 8 or 9 in the morning seems logical — but I remember working through dinner every single evening. I remember one night the store bought a bunch of cold cut sandwiches, cut into small (3″) sizes. They brought them in while we were unloading a truck, so after dropping off a stack of 486 Packard-Bell computers I stopped by the break room to grab a bite. I set my dolly down outside the break room door and stepped in to grab one of the sandwiches. As I took my first bite a manager stuck his head in the door and said, “hey, this truck needs unloading, let’s go. Don’t just sit around eating while everyone else is working.” I specifically remember sticking the sandwich into the front pocket of my khakis and going back to get my dolly. I think by this point in the week there were only a handful of us unloading trucks, I finished unloading the truck with that sandwich in my front pocket the entire time. When we were all done I went back to the break room only to find a line a mile long of people waiting for food. They ran out of sandwiches long before I ever made it to the break room again. From there I went to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, pulled what was left of the sandwich (which was a complete mess by this point in time) out of my pocket and finished it off.
Breakfast was included for free at the La Quinta. I don’t remember buying lunch, but I must have. Most of that $30 daily per diem went to beer and dinner.
What time I didn’t spend unloading trucks was spent up front giving the loss prevention (LP) folks a break by watching the cameras for a few minutes. I never caught anyone stealing anything and I don’t think they expected me to. The point I think was to simply have a body sitting up there in front of the cameras. I enjoyed pressing the buttons to switch between views and controlling the cameras with the joystick. I also enjoyed sitting on my rump and not unloading trucks for a few minutes at a time.
The store’s grand opening was Saturday, and I ended up working in the outside tent sale. Anything that got damaged throughout the week ended up out in the tent, where it was sold at a discount. Lots of employees bought damaged electronics (mostly just smashed boxes) at steep discounts. I walked away with a Sonic the Hedgehog stuffed doll. It should surprise no one that I still have it. Here’s a picture of his old haunting grounds, my old arcade.
Currently he’s sitting out in a box out in my garage. He deserves better than that.
That was the only time I was deployed as part of an O-Team. I left Best Buy in the spring of 1995 for a job with a help desk that eventually turned into the career I have today.
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