My time in retail recently came to a close (hopefully for good). In memory of my nearly six-and-a-half years working in the industry, I decided to look back at my weirdest experiences, from customers complimenting my English to them using me as their therapist after a relative died.
“Your English is pretty good.”
This was not a one-off occurence. This happened to me multiple times when I worked as a retail employee at Cracker Barrel. Hilariously, this wasn’t even region-specific. I worked at two different Cracker Barrel locations in my three years at the company: one in Dumfries, VA and one in Grandville, MI and it happened multiple times at both locations.
This was always meant as a compliment, but it was funny to me that, multiple times, customers were completely ignorant to the idea that English could be my first (and only language). This assumption and the “good job” compliments people would give me because of my hands were the two “compliments” that irked me the most.
The Cookie Lady
In 2017 and 2018, I worked at a pet store in Northern Virginia that specialized in selling higher quality pet food. One day, one of our customers buys her bag of Orijen dog food and leaves us with a freezer size ziplock bag of Lotus Biscoff cookies.
At the time, I had only seen these served on Delta flights, so my first thought was wondering how she had smuggled them off the plane the first time.
Turns out she was a flight attendant. It took a few more visits for me to actually trust her enough to eat the cookies, but when I returned for my final few shifts in December of 2018, I was very excited when she came around.
She also once told me and my co-worker about the time she had a fling with a band member of a popular 80s rock band, but she decided not to continue the relationship because she didn’t want to be stuck in Arizona while he toured.
I Met a Michelle Barbee
Somehow she was not as amused as I was.
I was home for March break in 2018 and working behind the counter when I noticed an order for “Michelle Barbee” had popped up on the register for a to-go order. Up until then, I had never met a person outside my family with my last name, so my immediate reaction was thinking I had accidentally placed an order myself.
Fifteen minutes after the order was placed, however, she walked in and I excitedly introduced myself, saying we almost shared the same name. Her response was far less enthusiastic. If anything, she was confused. The server brought up her food, and I never saw her again.
I Have a Doppelgänger
When I first came started at Calvin I didn’t have a car. Instead of getting an on-campus job like a regular person, I decided to commute to Grandville on bus to work at Cracker Barrel, which had allowed me to transfer stores. This trip took me over an hour one way.
One night, the bus driver enthusiastically greets me and asks me how my job is going at a certain company. I looked at her blankly, as I have never seen this bus driver and I didn’t work at the company she mentioned. She quickly realized I might not be the person she thought I was.
I considered this an isolated incident of mistaken identity until over four years later, when the mailman who was picking up orders at Hallmark, where I then worked, asks me if I had ever worked at Old Navy. He wasn’t the first person to ask me that question, but he was the most notable, as he had been coming for pickups for months at that point.
A few days later, a customer asks me the same question.
From what I gather from these conversations, my Grand Rapids dopplegänger is a few years older than me, working at Old Navy back in the early 2010s. If you have any information on the matter, comment below.
“I don’t think I can come; my brother just died.”
Back in 2020, my manager at Hallmark had me cold-call our top customers to inform them of our Open House event. This event was essentially a mini ornament drop where we had some pre-Christmas sales on things like boxed cards and ornaments.
Like almost anyone my age, I hate cold-calling people, but the trade off of getting to sit in the back was enough for me to just do it without complaint.
After calling the first few customers, with a few going straight to voicemail as I’d hoped, I called a woman, who picked up.
I hit her with the script I had been given, hoping that she would reply, “Thanks, I’ll see if I can come,” so I could hang up and move to the next person.
This wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, I spent ten minutes on a call as she talked about her brother’s unexpected death from cancer (“two weeks after his diagnosis he was dead”) and all about the funeral plans.
I realized at the time she probably didn’t have anyone else to talk to, so I didn’t try to force a goodbye. After a while, I think she realized burdening a retail worker who was making twelve dollars an hour probably wasn’t an appropriate use of her time.
The next person I called went straight to voicemail. I couldn’t have been more relieved.
- A foster cat escaped from his cage when I worked at the pet store, and it took an hour to get it back.
- An assistant manager of one of the places I worked at was fired for stealing stamps.
- I found $150 in one of the registers underneath the coin holder on my second day at Hallmark.
- I’d regularly find coupons from 2014 and earlier in drawers or underneath the register at Hallmark. I started in 2019.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.