The mayhem had begun, and that did not necessarily mean madness. It was the disorder that was the order of the week, and I was in the middle of it from beginning to end.
This time of year is always more erratic than usual, at work, as some people 'take off' a week before Christmas, and some wait until the 'week of', and then run their vacation into the new year. As the bottom of the food chain, in the legal industry, we get what is given to us, and are very grateful. Someone will be going out of town for a couple of weeks, and suddenly 'bad planning' on their part becomes our 'problem'. "We need this done, like, now!", is something that was heard, and will be heard, several times over the next week. All we can do is oblige with a merry smile!
I did not smile much Monday morning, as I took myself off to the post office at 9:15am. I drove past the door, saw the queue on the pavement, and drove back to the office. At lunchtime, Samantha and I took our daily constitutional, and again, the queue was far too long to contend with. I decided to go back earlier on Tuesday.
At five minutes to the hour of nine on Tuesday morning, I was eighteenth in the queue. I decided to stay in line, as this was not going to be any different all week. Most people appeared to be of good cheer, although one or two were deliberating over how long they would be able to stay, and (perhaps cynically) I perceived that some wished to be 'let in' further down the line as they had to 'be somewhere' sooner rather than later. I was tempted to respond that most of us had to 'be somewhere' sooner rather than later, and that is why we were in the queue before the official opening time. Two minute past the hour of nine, the shutters started to roll up and we all gazed expectantly at the area behind the counter. It was empty! I almost broke out in applause as the lone employee walked from the side of the stage and took her seat in the middle booth. There were no spotlights, and no music, but the crowd stood waiting for the next member of the cast to appear. As the first person was 'called up', we realised that this was going to be a 'one man play', and despite the inordinate amount of 'extras' running around in the background, there was only one 'star'! Shining ever so brightly, Mrs. Post-office (the lady whom I consider has the most knowledge and is the most efficient at the local facility) took the crowd in her stride, and dealt with the first two customers with ease and efficiency. The window to the 'collection point' was opened, and we were advised that first-class stamps could be bought from this area, but not at the moment, as the machine to accept cards was broken. The intake of breath was followed by the communal sigh!
As I become number eight in the queue, a senior gentleman was called to the counter. "Yes", was the answer to the question, "Do you have to weigh all twenty seven packages". The communal sigh was heard once more! However, the seasoned employee once again took this in her stride, and managed to have all taken care of very quickly. The queue, however, was getting longer, and the crowd more rowdy. The latecomers were rather adamant that if they were 'in charge', things would run differently, and those of us that were almost at the front of the queue were of the opinion (perhaps cynically) that their tardiness would probably deny them from ever being 'in charge'!
It was finally my turn, and I approached cautiously. Mrs Post-office greeted me enthusiastically, and her smile did not wain when I told her that I needed stamps; lots of stamps; lots of stamps of many different denominations. The communal sigh was heard, again, as she left the counter and joined the 'extras' out back, in search of my request. Anyone who is familiar with the scene from the film 'Oliver!', where they sing "Who will buy", will understand why I wanted to burst into song, as various uniformed personnel zipped across the back of the counter with trolleys.
The work was, as predicted, erratic. Each day brought its own variety of inconsistency, and as Friday afternoon approached, we were all looking forward to the weekend with relish. The only people who appeared to be enjoying the week were the 'express' delivery men, as I had, in typical English tradition, made a few batches of mince pies, and this non-American delicacy was being devoured by those delivering parcels. Most of the parcels that arrived at our door were not for us, as many of the offices had 'closed for the holiday', which appeared to be to the advantage of those delivering! 'Cookies and candy', started to be 'so last year'. During a lull on Friday afternoon, I boxed up the remaining goodies and placed them in our makeshift kitchen area. One such delivery man arrived with a packet for our neighbour, and looked as if he was going to burst into tears. "Where did the pies go?", he asked, with sorrow. The smile reappeared on his face when I assured him that they had just been packed away for the weekend! Some traditions will find their way across the pond and become new traditions here. The only problem is that I am the source, so the new traditions will ensure that I will not have any free time on the weekends leading up to Yuletide, in future years!
Saturday morning started early. Samantha and dog arrived a little after eight, and Dana and dog left for the office. The drive to the outlet mall was reasonably quick, and we arrived to a virtually empty parking lot! List in hand, we headed to the shops that we on said list, deviating only a couple of times. The queues were short, and in some cases non-existent, to start with, but as the morning progressed, so did the lack of patience among our fellow shoppers. "What about...?" was met with, "Are you kidding me?", and an exchange of words that would have, at one time, been preceded with the phrase 'not in front of the children', transpired for the entire store to hear. However, many people were oblivious to the various fracas, as they were all having the same sort of conversations!
With all our parcels loaded up in the back of Samantha's car, we were ready to leave, and watched the argument between two drivers that had both thought they deserved the coveted space. As we were not sure which arrived first, she did not maneuver to give one priority over another. Unfortunately, those whom we were following along the narrow aisles were not looking for a way out, but were hunting for their own space, and were moving at a snail's pace. Eventually, Samantha took charge of the situation, turned the car around, shouted "I'm the daughter, and granddaughter, of London cab drivers", overtook a couple of prowlers and found an exit which led us to the Interstate. We were heading back to Austin, and to the main mall, where we anticipated more crowds.
The traffic on the way back was not particularly heavy, but there was a four car pile-up two exits before ours. This slowed us down considerably, but we kept smiling, and singing to the radio, and speculating that for those we had left behind, especially those who would probably not be on speaking terms by the time their shopping expedition was over, it was not yet 'the most wonderful time of the year!' Having exited on to the frontage road, we realised that that the new overpass that was being built last year would have taken us over and round to the road upon which we needed to be, and instead of waiting for two sets of traffic lights to turn green, and we could have been ahead of the game! We continued to smile and sing, if only to keep up the charade! Over the bridge we headed, and I took many photographs of the decorated trees that sat on the crags by the roadside.
The mall was busy. We parked a fair way from the entrance, but the weather was warm and we enjoyed the fresh air before being cooped up in the confines of the large commercial building. Samantha queued to purchase me a reviving cup of tea, as I browsed one of the apparel stores. I returned to the cafe, empty handed, and was quite delighted at the attitude of the staff. They were not only making specialty beverages, but were periodically placing cups of iced water on the counter for anyone to take, as they realised that some people just needed re hydrating! It was a wonderful gesture! Once 'tee'd up' I called my sister, as planned, so that she could decide upon her options. The favoured store was not busy at all, and I purchased the two items that my sister required with ease. As I was paying, she called Samantha on one of the magnificent 'apps' that is available, and asked if we could possibly get something else! "What about...?" was met with, "Are you kidding me?" and and an exchange of words that would have, at one time, been preceded with the phrase 'not in front of the children', transpired. However, it was met with laughter at both ends, as the situation was not as serious as that which we had encountered down south! Eventually, we decided upon two items, (not divulged for fear of spoiling a surprise,) and the call ended. For some reason, during the course of our conversation, virtually the entire population of the mall had decided to descend upon the store in which we were shopping, and all had found their items immediately and were queuing to pay. The line was longer than that at the post office on Monday morning! There were no options available to me. I had to queue. It was not the wrath of my sister that concerned me, should I not buy the goods, but the fact that I would have to go searching for something else, and I was starting to feel the effects of the early start! Samantha had gone in search of 'something else', to replace one of the chosen items (as they were not first choice) when I overheard one of the employees mention that the back checkout was about to open. My exhaustion disappeared, and I ran across the store before anyone could shout, an answer to "What about....?" Returning with a different item, to replace one that we were purchasing, my daughter was stunned to see me at the front of the new line. "That was impressive", she said, and I had to agree!
Unfortunately, Samantha was not as successful in achieving her goal, as the store that she planned to purchase from was not sticking to its promise. Fifty percent off everything, was written in enormous letters on a placard outside. In writing that would have needed a pair of glasses, a magnifying glass, and a microscope, under the enormous letters, were the words, 'Exclusions apply'. Perhaps they should have put the 'fifty percent off' comment in the small writing, and the words, "Most things in store normal price!", as most things were excluded. This made a lot of items prohibitively expensive, and I saw a slight look of defeat run across my daughter's face. Her 'secret santa' present would have to be rethought!
Another round of 'face time' with my sister took place, and we found two more items which completed her shopping list, and Samantha was pleasantly surprised when she found a replacement for her original choice of gift! After paying for our supplies, all that we needed to do was negotiate a quick route out of the mall, and then head towards Walmart, so that we could buy some real essentials! For some reason, those who were heading in the direction that we did not want to go, were reluctant to let us through. It was as if they were jealous that our path was empty, and theirs was not! I was about to jump out of the car and stand in front of one of the trucks, which had moved just too far to allow our exit. However, the truck in front of him edged forward, allowing a big enough gap for us to slip through. This was not met with a pleasant response from the driver, but he had to contend with the smiles of two women who were singing, "It's the most wonderful time of the year", which was playing on every station over and over again!
Walmart was virtually empty. Either everyone had left to go and join the long queue at the store in the mall, or everyone had shopped for groceries earlier. We parked, shopped, paid, and loaded the car in record time! Eventually, we arrived back at my house at five o'clock! The day had been long, but successful. Everything on our list was bought, and all remained for us to do was fit it into our suitcases!
Sunday, so far, has been reasonably peaceful. Dana and I went out for breakfast, and took our weekly walk up 'the hill' in our complex. It was raining for a while, but it is still quite warm. All that remains, today, here and now, is for me to wish everyone that participates a merry Christmas, and happy holidays to all. I can only hope that all those families that ended their day fretfully, are having a better day today, and will enjoy their time together over the next week. After all, this time next week it will all be over! I will be in England, and it will almost be time to say goodbye to another year, but that will be........... another story!