What You Really Learn in Five Years

    Here’s a little skeleton I’ve decided to let out of my closet: this is my fifth year as a Triton. Yup — I’m a bona fide super-senior, complete with two almost-degrees and only seven classes left between now and freedom.

    I actually remember when the Tenaya Hall rooms weren’t triples, Tacone didn’t exist and the UCSD-owned cliffs nature preserve in the La Jolla Farms neighborhood west of campus wasn’t locked at dusk to prevent freshmen from enjoying midnight sessions on rocky outcroppings overlooking the crashing waves below. (But I have to say mad snaps to the female security guard who has stubbornly outlasted these changes — yes, Muirons, she still dutifully patrols the unrealistically quiet, “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”-esque neighborhood in her rent-a-cop mobile attempting to intimidate those trekking their way to full-moon keggers on Black’s Beach).

    I’ve seen the campus expand immensely — through both increased enrollment and construction of new buildings and labs — watched administrators come and go and remember when annual undergraduate mandatory student fees (the university’s term for tuition) totaled $5,684, which actually seems affordable compared to the whopping $7,126 currently being sucked from us by the UC Board of Regents.

    I no longer stress about talking to professors, could give a rat’s ass about the bizarrely nonhuman pre-meds slithering their way through my biology lectures and have learned that shelling out hundreds of precious dollars for a parking pass is a horrible decision when the neighborhoods adjacent to Revelle College and the Theater District are teeming with lonely unpainted curbs begging for company.

    But with this milestone comes a price: less financial aid. My Cal Grant is dried up and my S.M.A.R.T. Grant eligibility has expired, and although UCSD supported me through a generous campus grant this year and I took out the maximum Stafford Loan, I still did not have enough aid money to ride out my final three quarters as a Triton without supplementing some of it myself.

    So, determined not to let the change in my financial-aid status get me down, I swallowed my reluctance and began searching for employment. And not just any job, mind you, but one that paid more than the $8 minimum wage, because there was no way in hell I was going to wash dishes at Jamba Juice ever again. (Suck it, Strawberries Wild.)

    After being turned away by Trader Joe’s (not hipster enough, I guess) and Best Buy (long story, but I didn’t pass the retarded online interview), I started feeling discouraged. But then, as I was meandering my way through Home Depot one fateful August afternoon in search of tiki-torch fluid, it hit me: Why not apply here?

    So that night I submitted my application, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call the next afternoon requesting that I come in for an interview.After responding to several hypothetical situations (“What would you do if a customer was buying a $300 drill but you knew the job could be effectively completed with a $100 drill?”) and completing my video training in Escondido, I was hired. Piece of cake.

    And then, orange apron and all, I found myself manning a register for $10 an hour. Although memorizing SKU codes (don’t ask) has been the most difficult part of the job, what I really want to talk about is how much I’ve re-evaluated my own position as a customer in a retail environment.

    Yes, I went in for one reason: money to help me pay for school. But I’ve come out with a whole new appreciation for retail employees after being exposed to the horrors of the customer world.

    Seriously, people traipse in all flustered and expect you to know the exact location of their very specific item in a store that sells approximately 40,000 different products. Directing them to a general area is oftentimes not enough, and I’ve received a glare or two from customers who somehow think employees can flawlessly zero in on every item in the store within a five-centimeter radius.

    Even worse are customers who think cashiers have the answers to their intricate plumbing or electrical questions and seem surprised — even disgusted — when you tell them you need to call an associate from the department to explain differences in copper pipe sizes.

    But the customers who take the cake are the ones who bitch at you for reasons entirely out of your control: “there’s no price tag on this item,” “everyone in the flooring department is busy helping other customers,” “you don’t carry the product I need” and, of course, “these prices are outrageous.”

    So while Home Depot has definitely fattened my wallet this quarter, working in the giant warehouse has also helped me realize that people, myself included, really need to be realistic when they walk into a store and wait patiently while the employee addresses their concerns. Lighten up if an employee doesn’t know the immediate answer to your question as long as that employee is doing everything within his or her power to find someone else who does.

    Being a poor fifth-year student has definitely forced me to appreciate students who work hard to pay their way through school; many of them are anonymous faces in your local retail stores who juggle homework, extracurricular activities and a social life in addition to their job duties, which include dealing with crabby customers.
    That said, I can’t wait until I get a real job.

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