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Dennis Myers: Clerks, fast food workers a sign of decline

Years before I went into broadcasting, I was fiddling with audio equipment. After working my way through small tape recorders, I decided to buy a substantial reel-to-reel. I’d had my eye on one in a drugstore in the same block in downtown Reno as my father’s barbershop.

The drugstore was owned by the pharmacist who worked inside, and the store carried goods from candy to cameras. The first time I looked at the tape recorder, I asked the pharmacist/owner some technical questions on things like the capstan drive, and he answered them! He knew the goods he sold, not just the prescriptions he filled. He accepted my counteroffer of $75 (it was marked at $100), so that closed the deal.

Jumping ahead about 40 years, at Radio Shack I once made the mistake of asking a clerk to replace the battery in a Radio Shack calculator. I was very fond of the device, which was no longer being manufactured. It was in a bi-fold case and I had carried it everywhere with me for years. The clerk made the switch and I don’t know what the problem was but the calculator never worked again. It was permanently damaged.

Clerks who don’t know the goods their employers sell are just one of the reasons why brick and mortar stores are losing so much business to the internet. But it’s an important one.

Another is that store employees of all kinds are trained to be such slaves to routine that they do not hear what customers say. You may have noticed this in restaurants when you try to interrupt a clerk to give an order in a way the clerk does not want to receive it.

He or she wants the information in the order he or she is trained to follow. And often, the clerk is half a step ahead of the customer. I was at a grocery store this week where a bag person asked me the familiar question, “Paper or plastic?” and was already pulling plastic out before finishing that sentence. She didn’t hear me reply, “Paper, thanks,” and when the transaction was complete my groceries were in plastic.

The day before that, I had gone through a McDonald’s and ordered a hot chocolate, no whipped cream. When I got the ticket with the drink, it read, “Hot Chocolate NO Chocolate Syrup.” I don’t know who would order such a thing, but that’s what it said. Someone wasn’t listening.

One of my big grievances at fast food restaurants comes when I ask for a small drink and hear, “We only have medium.”

I have gotten into the habit of asking, “How many sizes do you have?” They inevitably reply, “Two.” And I point out, “Then you don’t HAVE a medium.”

More often than not, the clerk looks puzzled.

Who do we fault, employer or school system, when high school-age workers cannot grasp the concept of medium?

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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