At Your Convenience
It's 2 A.M. at Store 24. Are there any Doritos left?
Store 24 is overflowing with customers a hub of commercial activity. The crowded lines curve into the aisles. Customers shuffle for positions closer to the register as voices fly back and forth from various corners in the store. "Is it Fritoes or Potato Sticks?"
"Where's the Cherry Garcia?" an elderly lady repeatedly mumbles, shaking her head in disbelief.
The appeal is universal; observe the diversity--yardlings' arms' laden with corn tortillas, salsa and soda; an older gentleman carrying a quart of milk and cereal; a German couple juggling "gourmet" deli sandwiches (chicken salad and ham and cheese); a semi-punk, white-faced crowd waiting on a pack of Marlboros and Lindt chocolate bars.
Robert Robshaux expertly handles the cash register with experienced ease, tugging periodically at his beaten, black baseball cap. The lines flow smoothly; the interchange of cash and goods continue uninterrupted. Robert, who has never before enjoyed working, says he loves his job. "I really want to keep this job," he adds emphatically, "the people are great and I'm making money."
Not that working the night shift is always easy. "The customers are the best and worst thing about this place," he explains. "I mean at the end of the night and about 100,000 people, it can really get to you."
Bonnie Fitzsimmons, who has been working at the store for four months now, agrees, "especially those stuck-up Harvard kids who throw their money at you and give you dirty looks. I mean you don't have to be rude. You can hand me the money, I don't have some disease."
It's two o'clock in the morning and the peak hour at Store 24. The Snapple and Dorito shelves--the store's traditional best sellers--are looking lonely. A small crowd huddles around the piles of cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, wavering between exotic macro meals and basic meatball subs.
"I don't want to incriminate myself," Robert's voice drops to a conspiritorial hush, "but I would never buy those deli sandwiches (especially the tofu burritos and lentil burgers)." Robert recommends instead the freshly cooked kielbasa and popcorn. Leaning back, legs crossed, he nods his head. "They're really good." He scratches his fuzzy, short beard in self-agreement.
Bonnie and Robert, resident experts and key insiders, have no qualms about the unique qualities of Store 24. Although she admits her bias, Bonnie says that Christy's just doesn't measure up. But what sets S24 apart? "Definitely the people," Robert flashes a toothy, charming grin. "Basically," Bonnie sums it up, "We have personalities." Loud music blares in the background as some customers compare tatoos in the back aisles. "We're friendly, cooler, more laid back," Robert adds approvingly. He flicks open the register again with a certain je ne sais quoi as if to prove his point.
Working at Store 24 isn't easy -- it requires patience and stamina. Customer personalities vary widely. Robert and Bonnie reminisce about confrontations with vocal, swaying drunks tossing around change, yelling profanities and swift-footed shop lifters leaving behind bruised cashiers and empty spaces in the soda case.
"Robert, can I just stand here and warm up for a minute?" He rubs his palms together, slightly shivering. "Sure, that's cool," Robert responds casually, proving that customers are treated here as individuals and in kind.
Robert is a musician aspiring toward a career in record producing. Even without his guitar and bass, he taps out silent harmonies on the counter tops and register keys. He sleeps a lot during the day to make up for his nocturnal nine-to-five shifts.
Bonnie, wavering between teaching English and physical therapy, is happy working at the store. Taking advantage of a break in the rush of customers, she slips outside to light up. Exhaling slowly, the smoke runs out in a steady stream, casting transient patterns into the dark air. She flicks the cigarette onto the pavement, momentarily contemplative. "Treat Store 24 with respect," Bonnie concludes seriously, "we're people too. I'm not in college, I'm working but that's not my fault."
Over in the cereal aisle two students toss each other bottles of gatorade. In the doorway, a balding man scratches at his lotto ticket, breath held in suspended anticipation. Robert places a black, plastic bucket upside down in front of one of the registers. It reads, "CLOSED," scrawled in black and orange ink across its belly (Halloween colors). The lines have disappered: the store grows suddenly quiet. Robert and Bonnie relax. Their shift only half-over, they wait casually for the next rush.
Robert and Bonnie's Store 24 Top Ten
4.Pepperidge Farm cookies--Chocolate Chunks
All Time #1. Chocolate Fudge Frosted Pop Tarts