The slowness continued on Thursday, we sold 6 trees, and Friday we sold 10 trees. Then Saturday, which I had some hope for, it rained again. It feels like it has rained at least some every weekend since we have been here. I suppose I could go back and check, but I don’t have the energy for it. Major ennui has settled in and the constant cloud cover is not helping. I did decide we should cut down some of the larger trees though, since we had a family looking for a ten foot Noble on Friday. I guess that is common practice as we get closer to the end of the season, and after getting the owner’s permission, decided we could cut down at least one of each.
We still have 180 trees in the lot and no further discussion about taking any away. Corpus Christi (the busiest location) already has a tent full of trees and they also had a chemical spill down there which has stopped people from drinking the local tap water. Not sure how that will ultimately effect business down there, but they were always the location that sold the most. We talk a lot about why business is off this year. It could be the political uncertainty, it could be economics, but most likely it’s just the rain. San Antonio folks don’t go out much in the rain. Or it could be the price. There was a shortage of availability this year and prices were higher. The closer we get to Christmas the more folks are looking for a bargain, but the owner is adamant that we don’t discount trees (beyond the 10% returning customer or active military discount). Even when it finally stopped raining things were still slow and at 3pm we had only sold 4 trees. The HEB down the street marked their trees down 50%, but as one customer who bought said, they didn’t have any large trees left.
It stayed slow all day and pretty humid with temps in the high 70’s. I let one person go home early and called another one off before he even came in, but I never really got caught up on the labor. I did treat myself to a Pizza Hut online only pickup deal of a Thin Crust pepperoni and mushroom pizza for $7.99. There is a small delivery hub right down the road and it was slow enough I could pop out and get the pizza. I am also developing quite the love of Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate ice cream, which is the best chocolate ice cream I have ever had in my life. Whatever weight I lost at the beet harvest, I am definitely gaining back lol.
At 8:30pm the wind and corresponding cold front started. It got cold fast, and the wind blowing through the tent was pretty unsettling. We were prepared though and per instructions kept the cash register on and covered it with a blanket, disconnected the flocking machine and brought the metal spray gun inside, and closed up the tent flaps. For the second time the wind was so hard it ripped one of the big banners off the metal fence, but we caught it in time before it blew away. Feels a little Wizard of Oz when it’s that windy and you are hanging out in a tent. Thankfully, by the time we did all those chores it was time to close anyway. We ended up only selling seven trees and we weren’t alone with the slow day. We heard later that the most any lot had sold was 30 trees. I know this is unusual because of the reaction of the more experienced lot managers. At the end of the day though it doesn’t really matter what past years have shown. We have to deal with the cards we are being dealt.
The next morning it was COLD. It was below freezing until after we opened at 11am, and we even had a thin layer of ice on the bowls of water the trees were in. The water bowls in the trees closest to the edge of the tent where the wind came through were completely frozen. Plus still windy, so I was thrilled when Lee offered to sit in the tent this morning and let me watch some football. I haven’t watched a game since we first arrived, and as an avid football lover have felt the loss. Initially we had some trouble getting a decent FOX signal, but after downloading an app our friend Greg recommended (DTV Antennas) we got a very good signal. So I worked on a paperwork mistake I had made, straightened up the house, did the dishes and watched some football, all while Lee sat out in the very cold tent. It was super nice of him. We have taken one of our space heaters and plugged it in the little office we have, but since it’s right near the tent opening and has no windows it’s still pretty cold. I feel really bad for the helpers we have, because they have to sit outside the office with no heat source at all. Occasionally they will go into their cars and warm up or I will bring out some hot chocolate, but it’s a pretty cold gig for them on days like today and not much I can do to make it better for them. When we have customers and they are active the physical exertion helps keep them warm, but when it’s slow it’s cold.
I called off two of the four people we had on for today, but we are still having 1 extra person at all times. We talked about having no employees here at all, but there are a couple of reasons why we are not taking that step. First, once people lose all hours it is likely they will find other work. Since we know we need help during the tear down process, I am trying to keep at least two of our long term employees with some hours. Secondly, we still never know when we will sell one of those big trees. Almost every day last week, despite the extremely low numbers, we sold a 9 or 10 foot tree. And I just don’t feel comfortable lifting anything that heavy after I almost hurt myself on an 8-1/2 footer. No big deal, you might think, take the risk and then seek medical care, and under normal circumstances maybe I would roll the dice, but this job comes with no workers comp insurance.
Every single position we have held to this point, including our two volunteer positions, have had worker’s comp insurance. And it’s not just hourly positions, but 1099’s as the gate guarding company offers it and they are 1099. And ironically I have seen more people hurt in these jobs than at any other place we have worked. One person dislocated their shoulder, another badly sprained an ankle, and a third ruptured two disks in their back. Loading, unloading, and processing trees is extremely physical and when most activities are done with a second person it is relatively easy to strain or sprain something. By now you all know I am a team player and I think I have shown I am not afraid of hard work, but I have to draw the line about putting myself in a situation that could involve injury and impact our future income. Neither Lee nor I have ever filed a workers comp claim in our lives, but knowing the insurance existed gave us some peace of mind. That’s just our personal take on it. The company is certainly within their rights to not offer the insurance, but I also feel we have the right to be as safe as is reasonable. We must be somewhat alone in our concern because that the labor ratios require at least one person in the couple to work person in the couple to physically work most of a 10 hour day. Regardless having one employee takes some pressure off of Lee. He still has to lift every tree, but at least he is doing it with someone stronger than me. The cost of that is $80 a day in labor which I think is a reasonable price to pay. Will find out at the end if the owner feels the same.
We ended up only selling six trees for the day and one of us had to sit in the cold the entire day. (Hey kids! Any guesses as to who that one of us was? – Lee) And it stayed cold. Several of the water buckets with trees in them remained frozen solid and the wind never really died down. Cori and Greg stopped by for a bit, which was awesome, and I got to watch my Patriots beat the Broncos which was also really great! Lee bore the brunt of the pretty awful day though and I felt bad about that. I only had to break him during his lunch and then again for his dinner at 8pm, which made for a long, cold day for him. I think at this point it’s pretty fair to say he’s over it. (I’ve been over it for about a week. – Lee)
Oh and on a completely different note, I received my bonus from the Beet Harvest this Friday. I don’t know if it was the blog, the phone call I made, or everyone’s positive thoughts, but someone changed their mind. I do know it wasn’t a clerical error initially, because I did verify that on the initial phone call, but someone, somewhere changed their mind and I am grateful for it.
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