One night, a thousand years ago, I was sitting in a college classroom. No, I mean I belonged there. Not like I was just sneaking into a building or anything. While waiting for class to start, I saw a guy reading, checking, stacking a bunch of receipts from purchases and filling out several forms, then putting things in a large envelope.
“Whatcha doing?” I asked, being the nosy bastard I am. “Tracking your spending?”
“Part-time job,” he said.
“Part-time job.” Eyeroll.
“Huh?” (He didn’t know I’m stupid)
“I buy stuff in stores and evaluate the employees.”
“What do you buy?”
“Coffee and sandwiches.”
“You get paid to buy coffee and sandwiches?”
“And – to evaluate the store.” (headshake)
“Do you get the food free?”
“They reimburse you for it.”
“Wait. Let me get this straight. You go into a store, buy sandwiches and coffee, get reimbursed, plus you get paid on top of that?”
“How can I do that?”
“Can’t. No openings.” (Liar)
“What store do you do that for?”
“That’s my favorite store ever!” And it went on a little more from there.
About eight years ago, when I needed a part-time job, I remembered that guy in college and did some net searching.
For those unaware, Wawa is the perfect store. It’s a convenience/grocery store that sells excellent coffee, great food, all major candy bars for fair prices, and about the lowest-priced gas anywhere. They’ve got breakfast hoagies that include scrambled eggs; a choice of bacon, pepperoni, or sausage; six cheese choices; wheat or white rolls; and more. They make a hot chocolate that is actually made with melted semi-sweet chocolate chips. Cappuccino and espresso are freshly made, ground, whatever. Some stores have pizza, all have quesadillas, several “soups of the day,” macaroni and cheese, and of course they’ve got all the regular hoagies you’d find in any deli. In November, they have a hoagie with hot turkey in gravy with stuffing and cranberry sauce. There’s a freezer wall full of various kinds of ice cream and another cold wall full of all kinds of sports drinks, milk, soda, and anything else you’d possibly want on the go. And as for “on the go,” you can find them here. They’re mainly in the Northeast, although now they’re appearing as far south as Florida.
I can’t rave enough about the store because it’s time to rave about the part-time job. I do something called “mystery shopping.” I go into a Wawa store, I buy a cup of coffee and something to eat, like a hoagie or a quesadilla, I stroll around the store to evaluate a few things such as how friendly the employees are, how clean the coffee area is, how long I had to wait for my order, and that’s about it. I get the receipt, get my food – usually about $7 worth, then I get about $10 worth of gas, and then I’m outta there. The $17 in food and gas is reimbursed, and then I get about another $8 on top of that as payment for the evaluation. I’ve been doing this for about 8 years.
To answer your first question – no, it doesn’t get boring because each month the food items change. Last month, November, was the hot turkey sandwich. This month is a cheese steak or chicken cheese steak quesadilla. Sometimes it’s the scrambled egg breakfast hoagie, and the hoagies themselves aren’t small. It’s a 6-inch hoagie, technically, but it seems completely bigger once it’s all full of foody goodness. I could probably go an entire month eating for free. If I had any brains, which we’ve all learned isn’t so, I would have taken a picture of my freezer about two weeks ago when there were roughly 20 of those turkey/gravy/stuffing sandwiches stacked up. Some months I have to buy any flavor of coffee, but sometimes – like this month – they want me to buy a peppermint mocha latte. I don’t know what that means, but it’s not bad.
There are other parameters to deal with. For example, I can’t just randomly trot into any Wawa I come across. There’s a website with a list of specific stores to visit. As I select the ones I want, they’re removed from the list so other shoppers don’t go there as well. Each month, there are different time frames. For example, this month I have to visit the store between 2pm and 5pm or between 8pm and 6am, anywhere in that range. Other possible times are from 6am to 10am and from 4pm to 8pm. It alternates each month.
Also, I cannot freely hit as many stores as I wish. When I log in to their website, I can only have about 10 stores on my “to do” list. Once I complete them, and my list shortens from 10, then I can select more. Receipts are necessary. Back when a college friend was doing this, he had to fill out paperwork and mail everything to the company. Now it’s all done online, including snapping a picture of the receipt with my cell phone and attaching it to the evaluation form on their website.
For those of you who may have seen some of my photography, much of it comes from this part-time job. There’s obviously a lot of driving involved, and that brings me to farmland, the beach, through suburbs, and a few small cities at various times of the day. Sometimes I’m out before the sun comes up, and you can get some of the best pictures at sunrise either near the ocean or alongside a farmland expanse where nothing blocks the horizon except cows and wheat stalks. Weather plays a part and can slow me down, but it can also bring some great summer cruises, windows down and sunroof open. I would use the convertible, but I’m too fearful of leaving the top down while running into a store as well and worried about the mechanics of constantly putting the roof up and down and up and down.
In addition to the free food and coffee, this job brings me about $400 a month, which is great for someone with too much free time on his hands already. It also causes me to learn a lot from books on CD, talk radio shows, and just letting my imagination think of ideas for short stories and other writing assignments like the Friday Fictioneers.
In a couple of hours I’ll be heading out for today’s “work.” I’ll drive to about five stores on my way to the shore between 2 and 5pm. Then I’ll do some Christmas shopping in a mall down near Atlantic City. Then I’ll stop at about six more stores after 8pm on my way home. That’ll net me about $150, 11 cups of peppermint latte, and 11 cheese steak quesadillas.
Oh, and to answer your second question – No. There are no openings. You can’t find this job on the Wawa website. And there are no openings because if you or anyone else starts doing this job, then you might be taking money out of my pocket, coffee out of my hand, and hoagies off my plate.