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The land of blue vests & green

dots

Welcome to Wal-Mart, where holiday shopping begins with a smile

The thing that makes you a Wal-Mart greeter, as near as I can tell, is the blue vest. I certainly don't have any other qualifications.

Phyllis from personnel gives me my vest. Also a blue ribbon that says Associate in Training and a red, white and blue name tag that says BILL. Under my name it says, Our People Make The ...

I wonder why difference is italicized but let it go.

Phyllis says Elsie and Edith will show me the ropes. That would be Edith Finigan, 80, of Eagle Point and Elsie Loftis, 81, of Phoenix, my fellow greeters on this last Saturday before Christmas, which is one of the Really Big Shopping Days in the Wal-Mart on Crater Lake Highway in Medford, as it is pretty much everywhere.

What you do as a greeter, other than greet people, is you put stickers on things. If people have merchandise to return, you put a pink sticker on it. On little kids' hands, you stick yellow smiley faces (kids know this going in and accept, no, demand it).

There are several categories of stuff on which you put a green dot. One, I think, is stuff people bring in from other stores.

If you find a receipt, you're to rip it up. Not crosswise but lengthwise.

Greeters stand between the courtesy desk where people take returns and a little nook full of vending machines with stuffed toys and video games nobody plays such as Turkey Hunting USA.

People come in droves. They come in talking and laughing, pushing carts and strollers, carrying babies and packages, walking with canes and walkers and yakking on cell phones.

I seem to have a problem with Welcome to Wal-Mart. Enjoy your shopping. If this were a play I'd ask the director about my character's motivation. Maybe it's because I'm a stranger and I don't feel qualified to welcome anybody.

I abandon Welcome to Wal-Mart and go to Good morning or Hi or Need a cart? It's much better. To guys I say, How ya doin'? To a cowboy, Howdy.

People are quick to smile and speak unless they're wearing sunglasses or on the cell phone.

Hey honey, it's Bill, a man says to his wife. Do I know this guy? Argh! The old name tag trick.

The pink return tags come out of a little gun that for some reason is on a string about 6 inches long. Unlike the green dots, which have little numbers, it's easy to get the hang of the pink tags, and I'm a demon on them.

We keep running out of carts. Young guys run around the parking lot collecting them non-stop, pushing them through a big opening in the wall. Loftis rounds them up and wrangles them into greeter territory.

You can put 'em just about anywhere you want if you do like so, she says, lifting the last cart in line a couple of inches.

People bring in toys, electronics, sweaters, pants, shoes, baby stuff, fishing rods, car batteries. Loftis says there's not much they can't bring in.

Dogs and cats, she enumerates, snakes, mice.

I wonder why people would want to bring in snakes.

Loftis has worked for 60 years ' factory work, a sawmill office, the Bear Creek kitchens. She says Wal-Mart is a great place. She says she's not been asked to work off the clock, a thing some Wal-Mart stores have been accused of.

I hope I never have to quit, she says.

Some people greet her as a friend. One woman says she hasn't seen her since somebody's funeral. Elisha Chicano, of Central Point, who has five kids to buy Christmas presents for and has had a rough year, got a card from Loftis, whom she barely knows. Inside was &

36;50.

I'm going to spend it on my kids, she says.

Loftis says a man with a bag of stuff needs a green dot, and I stick one on, although I'm not sure why.

A woman on her way out asks if I want to check her green dot. I eye it carefully.

Looks good to me, I announce.

She's happy.

A woman complains that she parked in a handicapped space and forgot to put her permit on the mirror and got a ticket from the cops.

I almost ask if she'd like a green dot but decide against it.

A guy from an armored car service strides briskly in with a hand truck and a gun. Probably no green dot there either.

Elsie can't figure the attraction of smiley faces. Somebody stuck a sticker on her once.

It took me a week to get that stuff off, she says.

Nothing seems to dampen this day. When I can't answer people's questions, I hold my palms up in the universal sign of 'who knows?' and point to my Associate in Training ribbon. Ah, they smile understandingly.

A couple hours go by quickly, and it's time to take off the blue vest. I wonder how Loftis will keep up with the carts without me. Hey, it's one of our busiest days. I keep the name tag. I never did figure out the green dots.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

As a Wal-Mart greeter in training, Mail Tribune reporter Bill Varble gets the ?hello? part ? but admits the stickers stump him. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven