Monday, December 31, 2007

Riding off into the sunset - theoretically

Saturday, December 29th marked the end of the Holiday retail season for ACO and me. ACO actually did pretty well through the holidays, hitting it's sales projections and significantly reducing stock without running into shortages (aside from UGG boots). Racks that had been bursting full when I left on the Saturday before Xmass were now half empty. Somehow management had played the season correctly.

I had managed the season without getting the dreaded Mall Leg, and more importantly had stayed in pretty good spirits toward the human race, especially the ACO crew. There is no deeper bonding experience than surviving a disaster together, and holiday retail can be pretty close. Through it all everyone worked hard, and played nicely. Thanks everyone, you're a great crew. It would be hard to leave - again.

But there was still one last shift - today I was at the register dealing with returns. Because of my belief that it would be better to break my fall off the bike with my leg as opposed to my deraillier, I hadn't walked much since Christmas Eve and had also begged out of working the day after - so while I had missed the serious returns, this Saturday still had them coming in the door. As the new year progresses the daily returns will lessen, dwindling by the end of the of the month to normal, inventory will be taken and soon spring gear will begin to arrive. In the Mall itself, Santa and his workshop have already disappeared as if they packed up that very night he was busy flying around the globe, the seasonal stalls will also disappear, but more slowly. First the calendar store will mark everything half off, the next week Hickory Farms will follow. A week later Hickory Farms will sell their remaining inventory at 70% off (if you ever wanted a beef stick, or cheese product that is the weekend), and pack up. By mid February the calendar store will follow suite. The space will be replaced by a stage hosting events mall management hopes will bring shoppers out in the cold of winter and remind me of the Mall Sequence in "Stop Making Sense." the Talking Heads movie.

--and I will begin another adventure.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the 4th day of Christmas

Reading the reports on Holiday sales this morning I'm beginning to understand that it (the reporting of the numbers) works just like the stock market reports. Someone gets one figure and then picks an explanation out of the air to explain that figure. When the real numbers arrive in about a month, the whole system has moved on and no one cares.

For instance today's economic headlines report that "Weekend Shopping Surge Fails to Salvage U.S. Holiday Sales". Most of which they blame on the rise in gas prices. (Forget the fact that U.S. household income hasn't really grown and a good number of home owners have lost a great deal of value in the last years.)

What is interesting this season however has been the cash sales. All these early figures are based on credit card sales. Retailers haven't reported their numbers, and while I've been sitting on my butt for the last 2 days, I do know that prior to that ACO was taking in a lot of cash. Which is just plain wierd considering the other issues. One fellow worker felt that the Christmas account had been popular this year. Which would be an amazing development. I'm not so sure what it means - except that maybe some Americans are kicking the credit habit.


Meanwhile I have been literally sitting on my butt, or laying on my back. Pulling ones hamstring is a bit worse than it sounds. My right leg doesn't bend very well, and putting on and taking off cloths and shoes is a nightmare which is just as well as I don't have pants that have the right leg twice the size as the left. All and all a lovely situation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

It's been a great year. It was another great Christmas, and Christmas season. I wish everyone joy and peace, happiness and friendship, love and good will.

Monday, December 24, 2007

and while sitting on the couch web surfing

I found out that The Video is out...

For those of you who wonder what I do at my real job, click on the video link.

On the second day of Christmas...

Amy opened her Birthday presents. Then I took the K2 Enemy to Bluff Point, where 1 mile from the parking lot I skidded on the ice, seriously tore my right hamstring, and tried not to pass out while limping back to Angela.

I'm home on the couch now. Wondering how stupid and lucky I really was, watching CNN's coverage of "critical Christmas-eve shopping", and wondering when did shopping become "critical?" I mean sure, it's critical to Jr. Is he, or is he not getting the Red Ryder Bee Bee Gun, but when did it become critical to the news, to America? And more importantly - should it be? Can't we base our economy on something else?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the first day of Christmas we decorated our tree

While fellow ACO workers returned to the front this morning I started wrapping presents.

Once the sleepy heads woke up we pulled out the boxes and decorated the tree.

After lunch, the girls started getting ready to do out.
"So where are you guys off to now?" I asked.
"Oh, we're going to the mall. Want to come?"

...I don't think so. But I'll be thinking of you, and all the folks at ACO

Christmas magic

Yesterday was my last pre-Christmas day at ACO...and wow, was it busy. For 8 solid hours 2 of us rang out purchases while the others restocked and assisted customers. There were some problems, one pretty obnoxious, but when the day was done it was something else altogether that stood out.

Just outside the store is a bank of candy machines. Since the machines take only quarters we often have children in asking for change. That's what Jill thought the little girl, who's head barely reached over the counter wanted. Then ahe noticed that she had change, quite a bit actually. Looking around the store quickly, she put all the change on the counter with one hand, and with the other she put down a pair of gloves. "Do I have enough?" she whispered.

Later in the day an 11ish girl walked up to the counter with two wallets and asked which was better? As I was explaining differences she suddenly pushed them both straight at me so hard they fell onto the floor behind the counter. "Hi Daddy" she said to the man walking up behind her. "Did you find out where the snowshoes are?" He asked her. "Yes, there at the front of the store," she answered (I've no idea how she knew that.) As her Dad walked away she whispered, "I'll take the blue one."

Then there was the little boy with his father. Both grinning. The little boy had on one of our beanies. As the father paid for the hat, the little boy filled me in on the details. "It's a beanie" he told me. "For my mom. I picked it out, and I'm going to wrap it, and put it under the tree, and mommie will open it, and wear it, and love it." How could she resist.

...and that's what Christmas is all about.

My personal moment in Christmas magic however arrived at 3 am that night. My little Amy walked through the door. According to the United Airlines website, her airplane was still sitting on the ground in Chicago as a snow storm blew in. What the website didn't say was that while waiting, a very nice ticket lady had called her up to the desk and switched her to one of the last flights out for the night. She'd had to run from one end of O'Hare to the other but she'd made it. And she was home!

...and so begin the 3 days of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Staying happy during the Holidays (while working in retail) is all about attitude. It's how you step over the store threshold, how you handle bumps in the road with fellow workers, ways of dealing with holiday complainers (even those who return gifts before Christmas and throw the coupons that came with them in your face), steadfastly enjoying those ever repeating Holiday songs, and happily counting down the final days.

I'm doing okay as I head into my third day of the day and night job. This morning however, it was a bit of black humor that gave me a lift. Read this article and you'll understand some of my bigger issues with Christmas. Laugh along with, and you'll understand some of the joys too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

and meanwhile, out at the farm (land)

Little Amy's having her own adventure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Socks, socks, socks

BTW - when in doubt, and even when not, don't forget to get the socks! Christmas without socks is like Christmas without Claus, without snow, without eggnog, without - well you get the picture.

There's nothing quite like opening that small, soft package of new special socks on that special morning. It's not just that fresh new smell, or the way they cradle your foot for the first time, or the centuries old tradition, it's also the knowledge that they were picked out special just for you....

So if you need assistance picking out just the right socks keep these facts in mind:
  • The word "sock" is derived from the Latin soccus, the Old English socc and the Middle English word socke.
  • ACO sells over 50 kinds of them there socks. (Buy 3 get 1 free - until Wednesday)
  • 8th Century Barbarians wore brightly colored socks.
  • ACO sells some really colorful Smartwool socks
  • Reverend William Lee of Nottinghamshire, England invented a sock-knitting machine in l589, and started to make hosiery out of cotton, wool and silk.
  • Cotton socks are evil - they retain moisture and loose their shape, creating bagginess in your shoe. Silk is nice for office work.
  • It was the Victorians in the late 19th century who insisted than men should wear dark socks especially after the death of Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband in 1861
  • Did you know the Victorians also over-painted portraits of our ancestors so their clothes were more presentable?
  • Synthetic fibers were presented to the public at the World's Fair in New York in 1939.
  • ACO's socks are primarily synthetic, lately we've even begun selling socks partially made from corn. (Come to think of that, does that make it synthetic - it's real corn.
My favorite socks?
Well, since you ask...they're the EMS Women's Fast Mountain Socks

Christmas Superheroes

It was a busy Saturday. Sunday's forecast for "100% chance of ice pellets" seemed to be bringing all the shoppers in. The majority were in good moods.

The crew was in a generally good mood too. We were in the home stretch, John had brought in pizza, Crystal was organizing an expedition to summit the giant snow piles in the parking lot (does anyone know where the EMS flag is stored?), Johnny had been appointed the "Holiday Complaint Department" and was handling the stressed out shoppers with ease,I'd mastered the inverse juggle, and most importantly we were solving patrons shopping quandaries left and right. "

"What kind of gift should I get for my secret santa?"
"My son-in-law likes hiking, would he like this shirt?"
"Do you have the pink nalgene?"
"Is this fleece as good as that fleece?"
"We need a waterproof, windproof, superlite jacket, do you have it?"
"Is that woman's dry suit still on sale" (oops that was my question}
"Could you put that last Thule box on hold for me"

Ah - it was like being a superhero - well kinda.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Enemy is in the house (or garage as the case may be)

So yeah, I picked up my touring/cyclocross bike last weekend. And I love it. Yes, I realize I've gotten lots of toys this year...but you know...I've never had toys before. Even as a child I had to play with kitchen utensils, and use left-over newspapers for drawing. So - now it's playtime.

In yesterday's typical Southeastern New England snow/sleet event I went riding. You know the sound snow makes when it crunches under your feet? The sounds of snow slurping under your bike tire is even better. And it's black (the bike) and looked so cool in the snow. Before yesterday I couldn't imagine why K2 called it the "Enemy". They make a ski called the "Public Enemy" and somehow when you picture a skiier bombing down the mountain plowing over innocent, and slower skiiers it makes sense. But now that I've raced though sleet covered streets while shaky drivers stared nervously at me over tightly gripped steering wheels, I can see how the bike's name just might fit. Hopefully we'll be just as aggressive while sharing shoulder-less roads with logging trucks. But I kinda doubt it.

The November Economic Report

The Commerce Department released its report on November retail sales yesterday. They rose by the largest amount in six months. Despite loss of home value, and a 3.2% increase in wholesale prices, along with increasing gas, heating oil, and food prices, American's keep spending.

While economists seemed mystified, we at ACO know the answer. Addiction.

Yup. Americans are addicted to spending money. Its the country's number one recreational activity, and Christmas is the Olympics!

Expecting them to stop now is like...well...impossible. At this point in the Christmas cycle we're getting those folks who, when you ask them, say they have their shopping done...but don't want to miss anyone, or a good deal. We suspect its the missed good deal that haunts them most. For instance, just last weekend a gentleman purchased one of those previously mentioned Denali Jackets and announced that he was done. We congratulated him and told him that he'd finished up just in time, stores were starting to run out of things. Boris then related how during a lunch time mission out in the mall he'd run across a fight over a pair of UGG boots.
The gentleman was unfamiliar with the boots, but after we told him that we had one pair left, he bought them. And was noticeably happy. Did he picture himself crossing the line with the boots raised high overhead?

And if shopping is an addiction, I guess that puts us at ACO in the enabler corner...but have I mentioned there is now a K2 Enemy in the house? It went on sale two weeks ago and I couldn't resist. My name is Kelly and I too am a shopper.

Hitting the wall

You know that moment that comes to every adventure. That moment when the initial newness of the situation has worn off, exhaustion has begun to set in, and you wonder (under your breath) what the heck you're doing. That moment for this adventure, came Wednesday night. It was in the last half hour of what was a two day, 15 hour a day, work session. I'd worked solid that night, recovered the store, vacuumed the floor, and closed the store gate. All I wanted was to go home as soon as possible and sleep. Every moment of delay was...well not good. And I wondered what the heck was I doing? I'm too old for this stuff. What kind of adventure is working in a mall for Christmas anyway? Oh I know the answer, and have discussed it here a few times, but that night, at that time...I was ready to throw my bike to the side of the road and flag down the broom wagon.

BTW. The awesome picture, which is from the 1943 Tour de France, is from The Horton Collection website. Great old cycling stuff!

Sunday, December 09, 2007


There are many events in life for which focused training is required. Riding a decent Century requires weeks of carefully increasing distance and saddle time. A triathlete must carefully balance three separate disciplines. Even childbirth, while it is not widely known, benefits from a carefully planned exercise routine that increases as the date of the big event comes closer. So too it is with retail.

Last night the schedule for the week before Christmas arrived. In addition to working 40 hours at my real job I'll be putting in a minimum of 20 additional hours at ACO. Unlike 1 day events, this training must take into account the fact that the 'event' actually lasts for several days and is both physically and mentally taxing. And so it is with only a week to go I'll be increasing my aerobic activities (the better to grab stock from the back on a moments notice), ramping up the number of daily push ups (to facilitate climbing the 30ft high shoe storage racks which were designed for 6 foot rock climbers), switching to high protein meals, adding more flows to the morning yoga practice (to combat the increased risk of mall leg and develop inner peace) and digging up every funny video I can get my hands on ( for humor is the only true defense against the angry Christmas shopper).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's the Great Christmas Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

Yesterday between my real job and a night at ACO I stopped with some friends to pick up a beer and a pumpkin.

I know what you're thinking - -"it's the wrong season for a pumpkin." But through the magic of ACO, some mixed metaphors from the Peanuts series, and Dr. Suess, the "true meaning of Christmas" will be revealed.

After crowning the front register with said pumpkin, the gang (ACO not Peanuts) dug in for a busy night of unpacking shipment, greeting customers, suggesting gifts for "outdoorsie" relatives, and catching up on the week's activities. Things settled down around 8:30 and our attention turned to the pumpkin. Before we knew how it happened Boris Stewart, the store manager, was explaining how Martha (a distant cousin) carved pumpkins - correctly - from the bottom. It's an excellent idea that we had to try. Still being on the clock, and being the conscientious employees we are, it was determined that the attempt had to represent the store. And so it was that Boris expertly wielded his knife, demonstrated the Stewart homemaking and carving skills and prepared the great ACO pumpkin.

Rolf considered it carefully for size, scale and light trajectory, and selected the appropriate light, the Petzl e+LITE (great for the traveler/adventurer who has it all but needs just a little something, something).

Viola, The Great ACO Christmas Pumpkin was born!

And still you, like Charlie Brown, ask "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

Maybe just maybe , it 'doesn't come from a store.'
'Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.'*

Yeah - it's about being a kid. About having fun. About carving pumpkins in December. Presents aren't about getting things, they're about the excitement of getting and giving things. The fun is in guessing what those gifts might be, guessing what will bring the biggest smile to someone specials face. It's about playing games, decorating, poking holes in the day to day, and sharing it all with friends.

And so it is that on this first day of December the Adventure takes a serious turn - to remind everyone what the Holiday is really all about. Kick back, let it go, and enjoy that kid!

*Grinch, The