This essay is the second finalist featured in The Daily Muse’s essay contest, “Surviving a Workplace Disaster.” Want to enter your own Office Horror Story? We’re still accepting essays! Get all the details here.
Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston, Texas, proceeding to devastate the Gulf Coast that September in 2008. Ike’s raging hike did not end there; his turbulent, tempestuous path led him through Dayton, Ohio, downing power lines and trees, leaving a community to cope and reorganize.
Where I work, Dorothy Lane Market, a three-store upscale grocery chain unique to Dayton, handled the disaster and served the community in our own special way. The store’s mission statement reads as follows: To make our customers happy by providing honestly better food and service every time.
On a Sunday afternoon, Ike made his presence known through the roaring wind. Trees, wires, and lampposts all bent and swayed under his force. Then, nearly every home and business lost power. Coming into work that afternoon, I endured four-way stop signs as traffic lights were down. Relying on my sense of direction, I snaked through residential streets avoiding fallen trees. The store where I worked had regained power, while the other two stores succumbed to Ike.
A mere glance at the parking lot foretold the mob scene inside the store. Upon entering, I encountered scores of people preparing for the indefinite darkness and trying to comprehend what happened. The associates running the customer service booth struggled to keep pace with people calling to see if we were open and had batteries. A girl in the break room described in a shaky, stressed voice the constant phone ringing and the struggle to impart accurate and current information to distressed customers. “Good luck,” she wished me before I started my shift.
Before entering the deli, I saw the line of distraught people needing dinner, crowding the aisle recalling their experiences losing power. My co-workers and I made haste keeping the deli case stocked, waiting on one customer after another. “Just a little bit, our fridge is out,” was the phrase they echoed. The store director motivated and inspired us as he walked by, smiling and assisting distressed customers. We made about 40 sandwiches that first night, and everyone left at least 45 minutes later than scheduled.
The drive home evoked of images on postcards depicting vast prairies at night, illuminated only by stars and the moon. I entered my house to see candles glowing and immediately wished I were still at work, in the light and amid the chaos, instead of the darkness and silence enveloping my house.
The next day brought the crowds, still needing just enough food, and a line meandering into the parking lot for a coffee. Though still busy, everyone accepted and acclimated to Ike’s ravages. The overnight crew cleared space and set up a massive skid of ice bags. Various managers devoted much sweat and effort maintaining contact with distributors to keep our ice supply stocked. Customers still flocked to the deli for lunch; a regular recounted how a tree fell in her front yard. Fellow associates discussed coping with power loss. Surge protectors dominated the break room, as work was the only place we could charge phones and laptops. The frenetic pace at work provided welcome relief from the boredom and quiet at home. We established new, strong rapports with customers and enhanced old ones, while expressing concern for their plights and cheerfully fulfilling their orders.
By Wednesday of that week, many businesses and residences had power restored, and by Saturday everything was almost normal. In the face of Ike’s force, Dorothy Lane Market rose to the occasion, spending time and energy tending to our customers, listening to their woes. We discussed how the wind storm stirred up absurd desires, such as longing to remain at work instead of going home. My co-workers had lived the mission statement, and we all felt the exhaustion that comes from the giving of self to others.
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