Our new volunteer job at the Umpqua River Lighthouse includes giving tours AND selling tickets to the museum, which means using a cash register and making change. My first real job, scooping ice cream, included ringing up sales on a cash register. And in college I was the assistant manager of a recycled clothing store where I learned how to run a credit card through the machine to generate three carbon copies, cash out the register drawer, run daily reports and fill out reconciliation sheets. So working the cash register at the Lighthouse didn’t scare me, though I knew I’d have to learn a new system, a new sequence of buttons, and how to use a chip-reading credit card machine.
Marika, on the other hand, has never worked a cash register, never made change, and is not tech-savvy. But even though she was terrified of the job, she wanted to try a new thing.
The day before our first official shift, we hung out with our co-hosts, Jackie and Ray, to learn the ropes of closing the museum. We had read the notes but wanted to get some hands-on experience.
Jackie walked us through the three floors of the museum, telling us which lights get turned off, which doors stay open, where to store the signs from outside, which curtains got hung on which windows, and how to clear the answering machine. She showed us which key opens the desk drawer to get the key for the register, and then she showed us how to close out the register.
Jackie pushed each button on the register as I wrote down the steps. Marika hovered over her shoulder trying to follow along, even though she couldn’t see the buttons or read the screen on the credit card machine to know what to select.
After the third step, I asked if it was written down somewhere. Jackie pulled out a typed paper from the drawer. “Why? Do you want to read along while I’m doing it to see if I’m saying it right?” No,” I said, “I just didn’t want to write it all down if it was already written someplace.”
From that moment on, I think she felt challenged by me. Maybe because she spent her working career in banking, something very exact, accurate, linear. She was conveying information, but not necessarily teaching us.
When we got home that afternoon Marika was feeling very anxious about the whole thing. I reminded her that everything was written down. I assured her that I’d help her with the register, that we’d go over it step by step with her pushing the buttons, and that, if she didn’t feel comfortable with the whole money thing, she didn’t have to do it. I also told her how proud I was that she was even trying.
“But what if I can’t remember it all?”
“No one expects you to,” I said. “It’s only our first day.”
“I just don’t know if I can do it. How am I going to remember everything?”
I took her hand and said, “What if this were a bakery job. They wouldn’t expect you to make a fifteen layer wedding cake on your first day, would they?”
“No,” she said. “They’d probably have me breaking eggs.”
“OK,” I said, “so tomorrow is all about breaking eggs.”
And that calmed her. She went back to memorizing the Lighthouse facts, rewriting dates on her note cards, rehearsing the script out loud.
The next morning we got to the museum early to open. We turned on all of the lights, took down the curtains, put out the open signs, opened the register, and counted the cash together. Marika announced that I would ring up all the sales for the day and we would lead the tours together.
Thankfully, it’s not the busy season, so I could take my time to find the correct buttons on the register. I had no problems with the credit card sales and was feeling very confident about closing out the register.
At the end of the day we ran the reports together, counted the money together, and it was my job to transfer the numbers to the reconciliation sheet. It took three tries to get all of the numbers in the correct places and have everything balance. But we did it. Together.
And then we were told that, from now on, we’d be running the gift shop as well as selling tour tickets, which meant we couldn’t do the tours together since one of had to stay in the gift shop. Marika freaked again because now there were more buttons to use on the register. And so we decided that I would do the register and she would lead the tours.
On our first do-everything day, I settled into my stool behind the counter, ready for customers while Marika took a couple on a tour. I checked my email, then walked around the store, familiarizing myself with the inventory. I straightened the books on the shelves, rearranged some items to make them more visually appealing, refolded t-shirts and zipped up jackets. And I had no trouble ringing up sales. Marika enjoyed her tour groups, even though all of those lighthouse steps made her knees achy. We closed out the register together and the next day, Marika even rang up a few sales.
Yes, I miss doing the tours, being outside and sharing the magic of the light. But I’m enjoying the engagement with folks as they browse the gift shop, and it fills my heart that we are doing a job that involves a cash register. Because this opens us up to more opportunities for future volunteer gigs. Last month I was willing to clean yurts and now she is learning how to run a register. Together, we can do anything!