Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bookstore Clerks in Return of the Mini-Trucker

Customer: "Do you sell hubcaps for a '72 Pinto hatchback? Ooh! Mini-Trucker magazine!" (Clerks)

Mini-Trucker magazine.

I had forgotten all about that scene in Clerks until a couple of months ago when a couple came into our store. In their late teens, the girl was pure BCBG and the boy was Abercrombie & Fitch right to the points of his flipped up collar. Trendy as all hell with too much money to spend...like most of our customers (the joy of being a central business district store) who are city to their core. They wandered in about thirty minutes before closing and shuffled through our magazines, hung on each other, and had some delightfully vapid conversation (concerning the size of some starlet's breasts) before the girl approached the counter.

Girl: Do you have the new issue of Vogue?

Me: I'm sorry, we're out. Can I help you find anything else?

No response. Instead she turned away and looked at the magazines again. Used to being ignored by customers, I started to leave the counter only to have her speak up.

Girl: Yeah, do you, like, have Mini-Trucker magazine?

Boy: Yeah, Mini-Trucker! Whoo!

My Coworker (who was next to me behind the counter): You're kidding, right?

In retrospect, I'm just lucky he didn't say "You're shitting me?" Small victories, I savor them when I can.

Girl: No.

Coworker: This is the middle of [the city].

Girl stared blankly, waiting. Boyfriend stared too, head cocked to one side. Coworker looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Finally...

Coworker: No, we don't carry it. You're best bet would be to try the mini-mart down the street.

Girl nodded and then left with her boyfriend who looked angsted by this news.

Coworker (after they exited the store): Jesus, what next? Hubcaps for a '72 Pinto Hatchback?

While the idea of finding a magazine in a bookstore isn't outside the realm of possibility (even when that magazine is the epitome of white trash truckin' goodness), this conversation highlights some of the weird requests I've received. I know you're thinking, it's a magazine, you're a bookstore. Helloo? And I understand, this example has more to do with people's powers of observation than anything else. We are a very upscale mall. Most of my car magazines have to do with Bimmers or other cars over $50k. Nothing even approaching Mini-Trucker resides on my shelves by my company's choice. Even when I worked in the suburbs, I never, ever, had anyone ask for that magazine. I'm not sure that they sell it outside of swapmeets or that it still exists. So to have someone who's wearing at least $800 in clothing ask for it threw my world little out of whack, especially because I fear that they weren't trying to be funny a la Clerks.

My coworker (the one who's foul mouth I feared) refers to these people as time burgerlers because while their requests might be so outrageous or out of context, you still need to deal with them in a friendly manner. The energy expended to not make a smart ass remark or keep from staring at them in disbelief is draining. Sure a good customer service "What the fuck?" moment can become a funny joke to tell at parties, but often you get that out of body feeling that makes you think, "This can't possibly be happening, can it? Tell me that Candid Camera is hiding somewhere."

Let's look at some examples of the best of the best (ranging from least offensive to aneurysm causing:

***

Customer: Do you have padlocks?

Me: It's a bookstore, sir.

Customer: And?

Me: No, sir, we don't. There's a sports store just a block from here that might have them.

Customer: Why would a sports store have them?

***

Female customer: I'm looking for a zip drive.

Me: You mean a book on zip drives?

Female customer: I need a zip drive for my laptop.

Me: Your best bet would be Office Depot, four blocks from here.

Female customer: You mean you don't have them?

***

Male customer: I need a box of paper.

Me: A box of paper?

Male customer: Yeah, computer paper.

Me: Um, sir. All of our paper is already bound.

Male customer: Bound?

Me: Into books, sir.

Male customer: Oh. I guess I can see that.

***

Customer on phone to Coworker: I'm looking for a book.

Coworker: Yes, ma'am?

Customer: It's by that guy on TV. You know the one.

Coworker: That guy on TV? Do you have a name or a title?

Customer: It's by that guy on TV. You have to have his book. It was just one TV!

Coworker: Ma'am, I have several books that meet that criteria, could you be more specific?

Customer: It's that guy! He wears a tie and a monogrammed jacket!

Coworker: Phil McGraw?

Customer: No! Not him! The guy in the monogrammed jacket! He's on the cover! Don't you watch TV?

Coworker: I'm a college student, ma'am. I don't have time to watch TV.

Customer (huffy): Well, you should still know this guy! What kind of job are you doing?

Coworker: The best I can, ma'am.

Customer: Well, you should still know this guy. (hangs up)

***

Customer 1 (female) to Customer 2 (also female): Oh look, it's Oprah's new book!

Customer 2: Wow, it's big.

Customer 1 (holds up book): Excuse me, could you tell me if this is new?

Me: That's Steinbeck's East of Eden.

Customer 1: Yeah?

Me: It's came out in the early fifties.

Customer 2: Wow, that was a long time ago.

Customer 1: Oh. So is it like real or not real?

Me (hesitating): Do you mean fiction or non-fiction?

Customer 1: Which one means real?

Me: It's not-real, I mean, it's fiction.

Customer 1 (nodding): Oh.

Customer 2: Are you okay? You look like you have a headache.

***

There are days when two or three of these people come in one right after the other and we start looking at the calendar to see if there is a full moon. Usually we can laugh it off, but sometimes, I'm convinced that the only reason we don't all commit suicide by jumping off the roof is the fact that our store is in the basement. We just don't have the energy to go up the escalator. I'm not asking for all customers to have well formulated questions or replies, only that when they make a request that they realize what they are asking for (and how ludicrous it may seem to the person they are asking). Maybe sometimes their gamble will pay off, but they have to understand that we're a bookstore.

A book store.

You know, a place where books are sold.

Crazy, I know. We really need to diversify. Maybe work on getting those hubcaps for a '72 Pinto hatchback.

You know, just in case.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

My teacher said there was no such thing as a stupid question.

She lied.

That or she never worked in a place where books are sold.

Jey said...

Interesting that you consider 'mini-truckin' the epitome of "white trash"

Perhaps you should look more into a scene before you call it something that it really isn't.

The mini' truckin' scene is a multi-BILLION dollar industry. This is no longer about kids working on their luv trucks. You're talking about buying 50,000+ rides and doing things to them, beyond s10 pickup's trucks like escalades and navigators , are not uncommon.

These trucks, after they are complete, and featured in a magazine like mini' truckin' will sell on average between 25,000-50,000 dollars, for a truck that might have been 10-15k to begin with, and has had well in excess of 50,000 invested.

Perhaps the abercrombie boy doesn't project the mini-truckin' image as you percieve it, but...

I assume people who work at book stores are intelligent... but, then again people are known to make mistakes when generalizing about things they have no concept of.


Thanks,

Bookseller Chick said...

Jay,

Dear lord, you had to dig back a few months to find this, but allow me to clarify on my knowledge of the car industry. I have been into the scene, quite a bit: classic, lowered, raised, you name it my father and brother discussed, disected, and followed (my brother more of lowered and raised, my father more the classic). Not only do I know how much money can go into rehabbing a vehicle (and the possible return on investment), but I have spent many a weekend at one carshow or another, and dated many men who knew their way around a carborator or a lift. Still it has been a long, long time since I've seen that magazine or even heard of it. Perhaps it is where I live. Perhaps it is simply not as widely distributed because in my area the mini-trucker industry is still viewed as the redheaded stepchild to the rest of the car world. Yes, it has evolved beyond the pickup trucks of the past to escalades and navigators. I've seen them. I've also seen the response that they receive from the others at car shows, a mix between interest and disdain.

A "Congratulations, you've spent a lot of money on something new that you can barely drive anymore," response.

Would they give this same response to a lowered '36 Ford Coupe? No, it wins awards. Same for a '52 Chevy pickup. Could this just be a regional difference? Possibly. Which would also explain my shock at an event that you perceive as a slam on the entire industry. I am sure that there are many different types of people involved in the mini-trucker industry as it stands now, which has--as you pointed out--grown from its more humble roots.

As for Abercrombie boy, the image he projected was one of fad-lovin' empty-headedness, so to hear him asking for Mini-Trucker did come as a shock. I had no idea that it had penetrated that age group's social strata. I shouldn't be surprised given the increasing number of lifts and kits on cars out on the street. And now that you mention it, cars are a hobby for those who have the money to enjoy them, and Abercrombie boy appeared to have that part taken care of.

Hobby magazines don't tend to sell at my store, whereas they fly off the shelves of the more surburan malls. I see this as a reflection of how people parcel their time: in the city they are work and buy work related items, in the suburbs they are home and buying leisure related items. I sell lots of Bimmer mags because they are a status symbol that reflects the job. I sell (and stock) very few auto-trader magazines.

If I have learned anything in the retail business, it is that each area is different. Suburban bookstores and urban bookstores seperated only by ten miles will sell wildly different things, and service wildly different requests. A bookstore in L.A. is going to have a different sales pattern than one in Seattle, and that will be different from one in Boise. What I find out of place in my store may be common place in yours. My generalization was based on the placement of my store, my normal customer base, and the belief that everyone should employ their own powers of observation. Perhaps that's assigning everyone too much credit. I'm sorry of my perception of events angered you.