Monthly Archives: December 2011

A two week contract – Working at LiquorLand

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The visa that I got for New Zealand was a Workers Holiday scheme Visa – a visa that allows the bearer to live and work in the country for a full year. Thus, when a friend offered me an interview at one of the liquor stores near the flat I was staying at, I jumped on it. The work itself wasn’t really the normal for me, since I was more used to desk jobs or a position in front of a milling machine, but I was actually pretty excited to get a chance to work a “manual labor” type of job for once. Upside, it meant that I wouldn’t need to pay for a gym membership while working. And the pay wasn’t bad either: minimum wage for New Zealand, but that meant $13.20 an hour, versus the simple $6.75 minimum in the United States. Yeah… I wasn’t too sad about taking it.

The work itself was pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: moving beers from the back into the main freezer room, stocking up the store, and helping the “real” employees out with whatever they needed.

A few short stories from my two weeks working there:

“A soul-crushing job”

One day, late in the morning, my Boss Paul came up to be with a grimace on his face. Now Paul is usually a pretty cheerful guy, so I was immediately concerned that I had stocked something wrong, or broken a bottle by accident.

Paul – “Ben, I have a soul-crushing job for you, I’m afraid”

Ben – “Wha… what is it?”

Paul – “Well, I just got a call from Three Guys (a brewery in New Zealand that produces some very fine single-bottle craft beers), and it turns out that one of their batches used bad yeast. We need to clear it out and send the bottles back”

Ben – “Ohh, ok. Want me to go through the stock and pull them out?”

Paul – “no… we already did that. I need you to uncap them, pour the beers out, and wash out the bottles. Sorry… I told you its soul crushing”

Ben – “Nnnnnnnooooooooooo!!!”

And that’s how I got stuck pouring a crate of beer down the drain for nearly half an hour.

“Breaking down the doors”

I consider myself a fairly mechanically-inclinded person. So when I heard a grinding noise while I was working the rolling door at the back loading dock, I quickly assessed the situation and figured that, with a bit more pressure, the door would be able to break past the blockage and finish closing. That was a bad hypothesis.

Two hours later, Paul, the second manager Ted, and I were still working on fixing the door. Since that door was a rolling door, it worked by staying in a specific channel on each side… and by trying to force it downwards I had popped it out of the channel. And now… it didn’t want to go back in. We had tried slowly lowering it, tried raising it halfway and trying to wedge it back in, and we had even tried bashing it into place with a hammer. Though I’ll admit, I think that the bashing it option was done mostly to relieve frustration on Paul’s part.

We finally got the door back in its track by raising it all the way, then raising it even higher with the manual control chain, and then slowly lowering it back into its channels. And the final piece to the repair? Adding a little note onto the side of the door, reading;

“Truckers AND BEN are not allowed to use this door.”

“A most excellent hat”

I now have a new hat, thanks to Paul. Its a pretty nice dark green snowboarder beanie that he had extra, from an Export Gold promotional. Originally it had a little beer logo on it, but Emma was able to snip it off for me, so now it just looks like your average, totally rad beanie. With a sun visor. Yes, Ben + Beanie = awesome.

“Driving of the forklifts”

One of the first things that Paul asked me during the interview for the position was whether or not I knew how to drive a forklift. I had to admit that I did not, but I qualified myself by saying that I’d be quite willing to learn. Unfortunately Paul said that wouldn’t be necessary, and that I’d most likely be staying in the back hauling stacks of beer around instead. Which I did, all the while staring longingly at the forklift.

Thankfully for my curiosity and desire to learn random new things, Ted and I were on duty one evening where there was absolutely nothing to do. Paul had gone home already, Blair was watching the till, and we were just hanging out and being bored. So when I asked if Ted could teach me a thing or two on the lift, he jumped at the chance to actually do something.

Ted set up a little obstacle course for me in the back warehouse, and went over the basic controls of the lift with me. Forward, reverse, tines up, down, etc. After I had played around with the basics he started me in on the obstacles – learning how to turn on a dime (thanks to the steering coming from the back tires), how to lift pallets, and how to make sure not to run the forks through the beer. It was a fun little course that he took me through, and while I’m definitely not the best driver of a forklift… I can at least say that I know the basics, and could take over in an emergency if need be.

“A flying sign and a missed opportunity”

This is something that I don’t understand. Just a small situation, but such an amazing example of missing out on a chance for great PR, and turning this good opportunity into a great way to loose customers.

See… a few months back, a woman had parked out in front of the shop and her car had been damaged by a sign that had been blown by the wind. Now, this was not legally the fault of the store owner, since

the sign being blown over by the wind was an “act of god”, and was not the due to a failure or mistake on the part of the store. However, the repair bill was only $300. If the owner had told the woman that he was not liable for the damage, but was willing to pay it anyways, she would have gone home, told her friends about how helpful he was, and good word of mouth would have spread. Indeed it would have, since we learned that her husband was extremely active in the community.

Instead, the owner decided to ignore the problem for two months, and then vehemently denied any obligation to the woman. He even threatened to ban her from the store if she continued coming by, asking about a settlement. Now, instead of talking glowingly about the store to their friends, the people are taking the shop to small claims court. Its quite unlikely that they will win, but the lawyers costs alone, ignoring the owners time, will amount to more than the $300 she wanted. And, they definitely won’t hold back when telling their friends about how much of a dick the store was. Great.

So take a nice and simple lesson here – if you’re a business owner… play nice with your customers. And if the universe gives you an opportunity to make some good karma with the community… take the chance, burn some money, and get in on their good side. You never know when you might need their help in return.

Earthquakes, incoming!

So, as a previous entry read, Christchurch was hit with three major earthquakes while I worked at LiquorLand. Frst a 5.8, then a 5.3, and finally a 6.0, all of which shook us pretty impressively. There wasn’t much damage overall, though the 6.0 did knock over quite a few good craft beers and an entire stack of mediocre beers, we didn’t loose too many spirits or wines. In fact, one of the wine bottles actually jumped out of its shelf and landed (undamaged) in another shelf about half a meter (1.5 ft) away. A CLOSED SHELF. Yeah… still not exactly sure how that one happened.

But one good part can be taken from the quakes, and that’s a quote from the manager Paul.  Right when the third quake starts to hit, I hear him roar,

“Ohh FUCK OFF!”

Thats right… Paul’s first reaction, literally a second into a major earthquake, was to tell the quake to fuck off. That’s the way to be.

Pictures from the old Christchurch Stockyard

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I had seen this building on the side of the road a few times, as I was driving to either Capoeira or the climbing gym.  It was nearly a ruins – walls without ceilings, and doorways and windows sitting open and bare of their glass.

I honestly didn’t know what it was, besides from the mostly-fallen down sign above the main entrance, but I knew that I wanted to explore it.  From the outside I could see small peeks of graffiti and artwork… and the fact that it was semi-blocked off by fencing and guard-rails didn’t make it any less inviting 🙂  Half the fun of exploring urban artwork is where its located, and the chance to do a bit of adventuring through ruins always piques my interest.

So that morning I packed up my satchel with some extra batteries and memory sticks, and headed into town.  I got a quick breakfast at a place called “Drexel’s”, mostly because it seemed to be named after the college that my little sister goes to.  I’ll admit that I was really impressed with it though… I’m used to the American grease-breakfast, and the pancakes that I ate here were perfectly fluffy and delicious – nearly as good as my Dads 🙂  The pile of Bacon was a nice little bonus too… a “helping” of Bacon at this place meant a plate full; literally 10+ slices.  By the time I left I could barely get onto my bike, though my belly was quite happy.

After the breakfast I headed right over to the ruins, that a friend of mine later told me used to be the Christchurch Stockyards, and started snapping up pictures.  So without further adieu –

Living through the Earthquakes of Christchurch

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Being in an Earthquake is… interesting. Its akin to being on a large ocean-going ship hitting a very choppy section, except significantly more violent. I’ve tried to describe exactly what its like, but trying to describe an earthquake is like trying to describe the feel of silk… its possible to give examples of things sort of like it, but they really don’t do the experience justice.

On the 23rd of December, in 2011, I was working at a Liquor store in Hornby, a suburb of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South island. That day we were hit with three major quakes, and uncountable smaller aftershocks. The first quake hit right before 14:00, registering in at a legitimate 5.8, which was followed about half an hour later by a smaller 5.3, and lastly capped out by a 6.0 that hit around 15:00.

Now, the first thing that people should know about earthquakes is that the richter scale is Exponential. That means that a 5.8 is MUCH stronger than a 5.3, and a 6.0 is nearly 5 times more powerful than a 5.8. That, and the magnitudes only take into account the energy release at the point of origin; meaning that a closer quake will feel more powerful than a farther out quake, and the duration of the quake is not taken into account here.

The first quake knocked a few bottles off of the shelves, but it was honestly more of a “ohh. THAT’s what a real quake feels like!” situation. I was in the middle of hauling a stack of vodka’s out to the shop, and I honestly just thought that someone was opening the bay door behind me… until I saw the lights shaking and heard the bottles rattling. The first quake (the 5.8) shook us for nearly 20s, and it built up from a light rumble to an earth-shaking roar; I seriously felt like I was a doll inside a tiny house, being thrown around by a giant. But before I could really process what was happening… it was over. And we went about cleaning up the store, calming down customers, and assessing the damage.

The second quake (the 5.3) was only a few seconds long, and was much less violent; I honestly barely even registered it, thanks to the adrenaline still running through my system from the first quake. The real effect of Earthquakes revealed itself to me during this smaller shake though – the psychological trauma that earthquakes cause. As soon as I felt the ground starting to shake, I remembered the effects of the first quake, and started imagining how much worse it could get. Thankfully, years of rock climbing have given me a rather implacable calm when it comes to emergency situations, since freaking out on the rock can literally kill you, so I was able to ride the second quake out without much trouble… but I seriously question what sort of affect repeated earthquakes will have on my psyche.

The third quake was the biggest, and it was by far the most violent and hair-raising. It was a 6.0, but the major difference from the other two was that it originated much closer, a mere 5km (~2.2miles) from where we were. Thus, instead of starting low and building, it hit with the shock of a car-crash, and tapered off from there. That’s honestly the best way I could describe it… imagine being in a car thats smashed off the road by an 18-wheeler… but you’re completely safe from any impact. You just feel the world moving and being thrown around, but nothing is hitting you (unless you’re unfortunate enough to be in the way of projectiles… thankfully I was not). The effect of this quake was much worse than the previous two, both physically and mentally. In the liquor shop we lost entire stacks of beer, and dozens of bottles of spirits. But during the quake, our minds reached back to the previous quakes, where they had gotten stronger as they went on. Note: THEY GOT STRONGER. Here, we started with a hit like a mack-truck… now imagine that you expect that to get worse… it would have been equivalent to the Quake earlier in the year that had killed hundreds of people and leveled the center of Christchurch.

That, in itself, is what scares me about earthquakes, and what causes people so much trouble – the uncertainty of when it will hit, and how bad it will be. You never even know how long it will last, and its impossible to tell when a mere aftershock will turn into a full-blown quake, or if “the big one” will hit with no notice what-so-ever.

Its a scary thought, and scarier to live through the daily aftershocks (Ed note: Since these quakes, there have been dozens of noticeable aftershocks, 3.0 and above, every day.) But New Zealand is an amazing country, Christchurch an amazing city, and the countryside very much worth the danger. In my opinion its just another natural disaster… though one that leave a bit more of a psychological scar than blizzards or hurricanes, since its nearly unpredictable.