Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pizza Blog: Why are we still using fax machines?

An inmate at the Southern Regional Jail, in Beaver WV, killed himself in his cell on April 13. According to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, he was supposed to be released one day earlier, April 12. Why, then, was he still in jail? Apparently the fax that was to signal his release didn't go through.

The fax to signal his release didn't go through.

One more time, in case the people in the back didn't hear.

The fax to signal his release didn't go through.

Fax.

The fax didn't go through.

A fax machine.

The year is 2017, by the way. And, we're using fax machines.

For those who don't know, a fax machine is basically an email without a computer. A contraption is set up next to a phone line. You put the paper in there that you want somebody else to see. The phone line sends a signal to space, that signal goes back to the other person and they get their document.

It was very popular in the late 80s and into the 90s, before high-speed internet became a thing over the last decade-plus. Anyway, I'm sure you can do a quick Google search for the rise and fall of the fax machine.

Except... there's still a large majority of people in the business world who still use fax machines. These West Virginia jail people still use it. When I was a reporter in Luray, Virginia, I inquired about a document via email. The response said "We faxed it to you." I didn't even know where the fax machine in the building was. Luckily, somebody had sat it on my desk the next day.

2017 isn't the first time I thought that fax was an outdated technology. Why, that brings me back to my days as a member of Pizza Hut management...

In 2011, there had been a shakeup in Pizza Hut management. The 2010 happy-go-lucky story of friends Bob, Mark, Chris, and Robbie running the Pizza Hut together was in for a rude awakening as Bob was out in early 2011 and we were left with Mark in charge, Chris (me, btw) trying to hold it all together as the longest-tenured employee who wasn't the 15-year server, and Robbie doing his part. All of that is a good story, and fodder for a future #PizzaBlog one day.

So, 2011 was filled with three men doing the job of four. We were all in a constant state of exhaustion. The Pizza Hut corporate management didn't care - they were happy that they didn't have to pay a fourth manager. Profits were good, the "numbers" were being reached, and they didn't have any issues with us. Again, another future #PizzaBlog, as all three of us were gone by the end of the year.

That's the state we were living in. One of our more confusing days was when our fax machine was installed. We had a Pizza Hut computer system and an email program, which really wasn't utilized that much. We had to fax documents to the old men telling us how to do our jobs. We didn't have a fax machine for the longest time, so once a week or so we would have to go to this printing place in town and fax things.

An inefficient and obsolete method made further inefficient by the fact that the manager had to drive down the street and pay 25 cents per page, when he could have sat at the computer in the back and attach a document to an email.

Two Pizza Hut fax machine stories come to mind, one professional and one personal.

We needed to order more uniforms for the employees. Mark delegated the task of filling out the forms to me. It was basically a shopping catalog full of Pizza Hut stuff. You could order from like 10 varieties of uniforms, a couple styles of hats, aprons, those bags the delivery driver puts your pizza in, etc. 

We didn't really have that many options - we were told the cooks wear this specific uniform, and the managers can do this one or that one. I asked Mark if me, him, and Robbie could get this specific one I thought was cool. He said no, that his bosses wouldn't like it. 

What I've learned in life is that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So, I checked the box for the uniforms that I wanted - that we weren't supposed to have - and the other ones we were supposed to get.

I gave it to Mark the next day to fax, since I didn't know how to use the fax machine, and if we're being honest, he really didn't either. He sent it. We waited for the confirmation. It didn't go through. He got the original sheet and looked at it again, at which point he noticed the improper uniforms and changed the order.

Around the same time, I had a court matter. A minor traffic ticket turned into a big deal and I ultimately do a bunch of stuff before it was ultimately dropped. One thing I had to do to finalize it all was fax a paper to the DMV. I went to Pizza Hut on my day off and used their fax machine to send the document. It took a while, since I wasn't really sure what I was doing. After a few tries, a piece of paper printed out that looked like a confirmation sheet. I went home.

About a month later, I'm driving on Stafford Drive in Princeton, which is sort of the main street in the area. I had just gotten some food from Sheetz and was preparing for a long night. I had an essay to write for a college class.

Not knowing a lot about how these things work, I looked in my rear view mirror and thought "That's odd, that cop is following me really closely." Then he turned his lights on and pulled me over.

"Do you know what the speed limit is on this street?"

At that moment, I realized I had no idea and told him so. I had been speeding and didn't realize it. He was cool and accepted that. He took my license and walked back to his car. He came back a couple minutes later.

"Do you know your license is revoked?"

To make a super long story slightly less long, the fax didn't go through. So, the DMV never got confirmation that my minor issue was fixed, and as such, my license was revoked without my realization.

He was understanding and told me I could call somebody for a ride home. I called my mom. She drove over a couple minutes later, and parked at the opposite end of the parking lot the cop and I were sitting in. My phone rang.

Mom: "Where are you at? I don't see you?"

Me: "Look to your right. Do you see the police lights?"

I still don't know how she missed that. She gave me a ride home and told me that tomorrow she would come get me and we would go get all of that fixed. I waited a couple minutes until she was gone, then I made the 20-minute walk back to my car and discreetly drove it home. Then I sent that fax the next day again and made sure it went through.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The slowest day at Pizza Hut ever

Spring 2009. I'm a 22-year-old 5th year senior at Concord University. I have long hair, which is usually in a bun because I'm too lazy to really have long hair. I had been working at Pizza Hut off and on since 2005. At this point, I'm working during the school year, on Saturday and Sunday, the opening shift - 9:30 until 4-ish.

It's about a half hour drive from Concord to Pizza Hut. I live my life in a perpetual daze, especially when I have to get up early. So, it's around 9:15 a.m. and I'm driving to Pizza Hut one Sunday morning. I pass a church and notice it's packed. I pass another one, and notice the same. And, so on. So on, and so on. There are a lot of churches in Princeton.

By the sixth overflow church parking lot, I realize that it's Easter Sunday. That's never been a holiday that's meant much to me, so I never really celebrated it. 

When I was younger, we would do the egg hunt stuff at my grandpa's house. Me and my two cousins would color eggs the night before. I both liked and hated it; I enjoyed the creativity of it, but hated the smell because vinegar was involved in the coloring process. This was back before Google, so I couldn't search "Ways to color eggs that don't smell like absolute shit," so I just had to take my grandpa's word that it was the best way. 

I show up to work and it's the first time I'm working with Tommy, the new manager. He had been a delivery driver for the longest time before. He was a huge stoner and really didn't know what he was doing. I was still 6 months away from becoming a manager myself, but just from being around it, I had an idea of how things worked, so I helped him do his opening stuff; counting money and computer work and whatnot.

Sunday was always a busy day. It was the only time during the weekend that there was a buffet. And, it was very popular with the church crowd. We wondered to ourselves how the holiday would affect things. There was a possibility that it would make things a lot busier - there are more people at church today, so more people could come to the buffet. Or, it could go a little slower - it's a special day, so maybe some of those people have other plans.

Pizza Hut opens at 11, and the buffet starts at 12. The server shows up at 10, and delivery driver shows up at 11. And, usually right when we open there are a couple orders immediately. By the time the buffet starts, there are usually 10 orders. A busy buffet shift could see 40 tables in a 90-minute span. For a small Sunday crew, that's an overwhelming, hate-yourself-during-it shift.

How did Easter affect us in 2009?

We did not have a single order until 2:30! TWO THIRTY! THREE HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES AFTER WE OPENED! 

What were those church people doing? Who knows... they certainly weren't eating pizza.

Interesting note: Tommy didn't stick around long after that. One day his till came up $50 short. When questioned about it - not even in an accusatory manner - he got defensive and quit on the spot.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Newspaper Awards


I'm still getting settled into my new life in Charleston. Before I started working at the newspaper here, I had only ever been to the mall or the hospital in Charleston. I still don't know where a lot of things are, but I'm slowly learning and finding my way around.

One of the reporters at the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize recently for his investigation into over-prescription of pills in the state. That's so crazy to fathom. It is the first for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and only the 2nd West Virginia newspaper to receive a Pulitzer. That was in 1976 and had something to do with school textbooks. 

I haven't asked around, but one would assume that the 1976 Pulitzer winner is deceased. I feel like there would be a comment from him or a feature looking back at his work, or something to commemorate his moment in relation to this moment. 

* * *

While on a much, much, much smaller scale, I can also say that I am now an award-winning journalist. I picked up a couple 2nd place certificates at the Virginia Press Association awards ceremony for my work with the Page News and Courier.

Feels good to be rewarded in some fashion for my work there. I had a mostly-good 16-month run at the PNC. The PNC also won something called "Grand Sweepstakes." That basically means we did a really good job overall.

* * *

I don't miss the Page News and Courier at all. Some people have asked me about that recently. I had decided in January that it was time to move on, and I did that. It was no longer a beneficial position for me to have, so I looked for one that was.

It was time to move to a bigger challenge, and I did that.