“Welcome to Walmart!”
Retirees joke about becoming a greeter at Walmart, but for Bert Shayte it became a reality and was just what he needed at just the right time.
Bert had the same dreams of a traditional retirement that many people have: living in the house he had shared with his wife of many years and bouncing grandchildren on his knee. But at 54, Bert found himself divorced, kids grown and living out of town and in a job where he was asked to do more and more for less and less. Ready for a change, he left his job with the intention of taking a break and finding a new job within six months.
He spent some time volunteering at the Baltimore Humane Society walking and feeding dogs. That’s where he got his pit bull Bertha, his constant companion. It was a little bit of a rough start. She was a puppy and he had to housebreak her. She was also very skittish at the beginning, afraid to go down the steps and even tried to attack his television set once.
After a few years, he had still not found a paying job in his former profession, publishing. Instead, he was living off his savings and spending much of his time in his man cave with Bertha, in front of the television with a drink in his hand and eating unhealthy food.
An off-handed comment from a friend made him realize that he was drinking too much and doing too little. He knew he wasn’t living the life he wanted to live and decided to get help. He started seeing a therapist who helped him get onto a more positive path.
Working at Walmart
But then COVID hit. Feelings of isolation grew, and he knew he had to do something different. So, he applied to Walmart as a Customer Host, today’s version of a greeter.
“I was hired on the spot,” Bert said. He started making only $11 or $12 an hour, but he did get COVID bonuses for working during the pandemic. “The best part of it was being out and around people.” He developed a camaraderie with some of his co-workers and even some of the customers.
He began working in July 2020 at the height of the pandemic. “I went from seeing almost no one to seeing thousands every day” he said.
Bert balanced preventing theft with enforcing the mask mandate. “People yelled at me when I had to give them masks and they yelled at me when I ran out of masks,” Bert said. “Basically, it seemed like someone was always yelling at me.” But a friend told him, “You’re exactly where God wants you to be.”
“It was humbling,” Bert said. “But I eventually learned not to take things so personally.”
He had originally signed up to work five days a week but found he could only handle four. Standing on his feet 8 hours a day watching customers was tiring. Bert said, “It was like a circus sometimes. I thought they should sell tickets.”
Bert learned a lot about himself working at Walmart. “You see all kinds of people wearing all kinds of things,” he said. I found myself being very judgmental. “One day I saw this very heavyset guy come in and I thought, I bet he’s headed right to McDonald’s.” The man did end up going over to McDonald’s and then came over and sat down on a bench near Bert and struck up a conversation. Bert learned that the man had had an organ transplant, which had contributed to his weight gain. “He was a really nice guy,” Bert said. He realized maybe he was judging people too quickly and for no good reason. “Not that I didn’t judge people after that, but I was more conscious of it,” Bert said.
The same friend who told Bert that God wanted him at Walmart told him a year later, “It’s time to go.” Bert knew that was true when he was reprimanded for leaving his door post to help render aid to a woman having a medical emergency in the parking lot.
On his last day, Bert asked a customer for his receipt, as was his job. The man told Bert his wife had the receipt and was just behind him. There was no one following him, so Bert again asked for the receipt and the man just continued through the doors. Bert turned over the cart and intervened to prevent a theft of over $2,000 in merchandise…which was not an expected part of the job. He was working diligently right up until the minute he left.
“It would have been nice if I’d found a less menial job, but honestly, there’s a lot you can learn. I learned a whole lot about people by working in a low-level retail job,” he said.
New Lessons to Learn
With those lessons learned, Bert turned to a different type of schooling. He enrolled at CCBC to become a Certified Supervised Counselor for Alcohol and Drugs. CCBC offers over 60 tuition-free classes and Bert has decided to take advantage of the opportunity. “It’s not totally free, but it’s really cheap,” Bert said. The classes he is currently taking will allow him to work in the counseling field for 2 years while completing his certification.
He said it hasn’t been easy navigating the on-line technology associated with going to school in 2022. He had to not only learn the school’s user-unfriendly email system, but also other software and Brightspace, the educational learning platform used by CCBC.
As he approaches 65, he reflects on all he has been through over the past 10 years. He is happy where he is and is looking forward to the future. He’s even taking a spin at online dating.
Once again, he’s living on his savings, but this year he will be applying for Social Security and Medicare. Besides school, he is looking for a part-time job. “I don’t think I’ll go back to Walmart, maybe some place a little bit nicer like Wegman’s or Costco,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Whatever his path, Bert knows he can handle it. “I used to worry about things all the time. I learned not to worry too much about stuff. I think about it, and I do something about it because worrying doesn’t do any good. I’ll get by,” Bert said.