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Growing Up In A Tourist Town Taught Me That The Customer Is Never Right

A story about having to deal with tourists every damn day of my young life.

Photo Credit: Brianne Okrane (Sylvan Lake, AB)

Sylvan Lake, Alberta, is a beautiful town full of wonderful touristy things to keep oneself occupied.

Photo Credit: Elijah Brown (Sylvan Lake, AB)

This was never more evident than when I was a teenager and continuously bored from the exhausting monotony of everyday life.

I moved to Sylvan Lake with my family the year I turned seven-years-old. Before that, my memories are a blur of random solitary moments that do not fit together in any rational way or meaning. Probably because being a kid is very similar to being blackout drunk. You know that shit was going on around you, but you’re too busy having fun, puking, or crying hysterically to remember anything.

Sylvan Lake was where my real life began.

It would be the place I’d make many of my lifelong friends. Similarly, where I’d meet the enemies that I still loathe to this day. I’d learn how to drink and smoke cigarettes while playing truth or dare in small playgrounds until the cops would break up our midnight shenanigans.

Sylvan, as we called it because using the word lake each time seemed monotonous and world-weary, would be my home for the next 20-some years. I’d grow to both hate and love that strange little town.

Sylvan Lake’s main attraction for teens was the pier that juts out from the main street and onto the expansive lake. Now, before you start visualizing, the pier is not what you’re thinking. It isn’t a rickety wooden structure that sways to and fro when a gust of wind picks up. Instead, it is a solid thing.

Back when people kept their photo's in albums.

Once upon a time, it was a dumping ground.

Townsfolk would come from far and wide to dump their trash in this communal space. My husband informs me that this particular structure is named Landfill Pier. I am going to go ahead and blindly believe him without doing any further research on the topic because 1) he is typically pretty knowledgeable about these sorts of things, and 2) I don’t feel like researching this.

At the tender age of fifteen, on any given summer day, a gaggle of my friends and I could be found moving dubiously about the pier. Like freshly beheaded chickens, we’d roam aimlessly.

Slathered in suntan oil with the distinct odour of marijuana smoke drifting in the air, we’d yell at middle-aged men from the pier’s edge, asking if they’d take us for a ride on their boats. We’d be sassy to the officers policing the beachfront, and steal passerby’s sea-doo keys and throw them in tall pine trees just to really drive home how jerky we could be.

We didn’t know how much danger we were in, how these actions had the potential to land us in some real trouble because, as is the case with all rowdy teens, our brains were no longer in control of our bodies.

We were bikini-clad hooligans, smoking cigarettes and drinking Big Bears in the hidden shadows of the towering trees that were planted atop our town’s ancient refuse. Our teenage audacity was showing, and no one (besides our moms) could tell us anything.

Canada Day was always the money ticket as far as great days in Sylvan Lake went. Drunken tourists packed the streets. They had journeyed to our legendary town for the lake living and beachfront bar hopping. By midday, Sylvan would be so packed, that merely walking the three-minute hike from KFC (my long-time place of employment as a teen) to Landfill Pier (previously mentioned dumping ground/teen canoodling site) took over fifteen minutes.

Aggressively throwing elbows to get to my intended destination while holding a bucket of chicken under my left arm, I powered through the crowd. I was in a sour mood.

Some dickwad had been hassling me at the chicken factory earlier that day.

He was adamant that we take the chicken that he had purchased, but instead of packing it up in the designated Colonel Sanders stamped paper bag, this guy wanted us to put it in the freezer for a while.

I was on my way to do just that — because hey man, I don’t care how you like your chicken — when my supervisor intercepted me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She asked as I was clearing out a bucket-of-chicken-sized spot in the walk-in freezer.

“This dude wants his chicken frozen for some reason. Stupid tourists.” I wish we had had some sort of neat towny line that we used for tourists, like OOTers (out of towners) or something. However, we weren’t that clever.

“Oh no, you can’t do that.” Her face shrunk into a frown, surely wondering how someone as stupid as I could have found themselves working at this place of business.

“Ummm…” I was drawing a blank.

“That’s against all kinds of food regulations,” She said.

Why I decided to use that moment to argue is still beyond me. Why didn’t I just say, okay, and move on with my day? Perhaps it was my argumentative nature surfacing, or maybe I sort of wanted this dude to get his chicken frozen. Who can be sure now, so many years later?

“But we put cooked chicken back into the fridge at home, what’s the difference?”

“I don’t care what the hell you do at home, Lindsay. It’s not done here. You’ll have to tell this guy no.”

“I’m sorry, I just really don’t understand why this is a big deal?” I said, holding firm to my frozen chicken position.

“If you’re not going to go tell this customer no and deal with your customers, then I will have to. And then I will have to ask you to leave because you’re not doing your job.” So, it has come to this; I thought — warm chicken or bust.

I begrudgingly carried the still hot bucket of chicken towards the front service counter, bracing myself for the multitude of anticipatory chicken eaters awaiting my arrival.

As I reached my cash register, it was a madhouse.

I envisioned a literal chicken coop, but instead of chickens, it was humans, clucking and pecking one another. A revolting scene. How could a person stand in this type of a shoulder to shoulder line, cramped with strange bodies, breathing air that has already been in somebody else’s lungs, just for a measly bucket of chicken? Gah, people are the worst.

“I’m so sorry, sir!” I said to the man now impatiently waiting at my register, “but I’ve been advised from my supervisor that we are unable to freeze this bucket of chicken for you due to food safety concerns.” I say this with a huge shit-eating grin on my face. In retrospect, I see that this may have only caused more vexation toward the situation.

“Wha? Das da schtupidest thing I ever head! Wut wrong wit you ‘ere in Canada?” He said with a heavily slurred Australian accent.

“Again, I’m so sorry, sir. But if I could just move along with this transaction, I’m sure you can see that I have a very long line of hungry people to serve.” Again my chipper demeanour and unwillingness to sympathize with this man were not helping our current situation.

“Fuckin’ bitch.” He said, looking directly into my soul, while the smell of beer wafted off his breath.

I then jumped the counter, flung myself onto his back, and slammed him to the floor with my ninja skills. I told him that his name-calling and rudeness was not acceptable and would not be tolerated in this place of business. All while holding him down in a chokehold and giving him a nuggie. Then the surrounding patrons body-surfed me back to my station at the register while cheering me on and gushing over how pretty I was.

No. That’s a writer’s lie.

I only wish that had happened. Instead, I rolled my eyes, placed his bucket of chicken on the counter to my left, and asked who was next in line. The guy abandoned his pail of thighs and keels and went screaming out of the store, calling me all the names in all the books.

However, I was too busy to care. I was too busy to care until I wasn’t busy anymore.

Then, I was done my shift, and I cared a lot. Who did that guy think he was? Why am I to blame for KFC’s impeccable health codes and food safety standards? **This is not a paid endorsement for the Colonel Sanders Corporation.

At least I got a free bucket of chicken out of the deal. Sure it had been sitting on the counter for the last two and a half hours, and that’s why my supervisor so kindly offered it to me rather than trying to salvage it for another order, but my friends wouldn’t mind. I’d be the Landfill Pier hero of Canada Day, showing up with a bucket of chicken for all.

Photo credit: Brianne Okrane (Sylvan Lake, AB)

Now, if only I could get my hands on something to drink.

I’m sure I could find someone adequately sozzled in this crowd of drunkards to boot for me, but the problem was I didn’t have any money. Why did I spend my last $23.00 on that lime green halter top that had the dimensions of a bandanna? Blast you, Forever 21!

Nearing the pier, I grabbed myself a chicken leg and tossed it to a nearby rogue child. The wildlings. Her hair was matted, face soiled with dust from the beach’s walking paths.

Photo Credit: Brianne Okrane (Sylvan Lake, AB)

I knew if I didn’t give up a piece willingly, she’d attempt to fight me for it. Once catching the fowl fodder between her teeth, she started panhandling down the beach by doing backflips for the passing tourists.

I found my besties, Ashley and Janelle, once reaching our designated bench. It was our designated bench due to the numerous times we had carved our names into the thing. It's a wonder it could still stand considering the endless widdling we did to that thing.

The girls immediately went for the chicken. See, you can buy people’s love with fried food.

20 years later, we are still all best pals...Likely, because of my fried chicken connections.

As we ventured to where everyone was sitting, Ashley nearly tripped over a body lying on the ground. I figured we should probably check if it was alive and, if not, call an authority. A dead body would surely kill the town’s celebratory buzz.

As we investigated further, I discovered it was frozen chicken dude. Wasted and passed out on a grassy knoll behind a garbage can.

“This guy,” I screamed, pointing at the dude now unconscious on the ground. “This guy was a total jerk to me at work today!”

“Well, let’s throw him in the lake,” Janelle said matter-of-factly.

“Yessssss,” I mused as I stared off into the distance and rubbed my hands together maniacally. Janelle was always the brains of the operation. Looking back, I fear that I may well have been the evil one.

“I’m kidding, you loser,” She said.

“Pfft, yeah, me too,” I replied disappointedly.

“But we could jack that bottle of booze he has in his pocket.”

“No!” Ashley, our excruciatingly kind-hearted friend, said. “We can’t do that, you guys.”

“He called me a bitch because I wouldn’t freeze his chicken.” My two friends stared at me blankly.

“Is…is that some kind of sex thing?” They asked, almost in unison.

While explaining that chicken freezing was in no way related to sexual acts, I cautiously reached into this stranger’s cargo pockets and slipped out the mickey of whiskey.

It didn’t go far between 7 teenagers and the fact that we had to pour one out for our dead homies, but that didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I was victorious. I believe it may have been this moment that shaped me into the individual I am today.

Well, shit.

At the very least, it was one of my first experiences with the trials and tribulations of customer service. However, it would not be my last. Sylvan Lake primed me for my life of customer servitude in the best way possible. I learned very early that the customer is not always right. More accurately, the customer is rarely right.

Lindsay Rae Brown
Lindsay Rae Brown
Read next: Camping > Hotels
Lindsay Rae Brown

Lindsay Brown is a freelance writer who loves to give people a chuckle with relatable stories about everyday life.

See all posts by Lindsay Rae Brown

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