Anywho, guess what? Recently, Mr. Everything and I became spies. That’s right, my friends. He can add “espionage” to the long list of things he can do well. The man truly can do everything (thus the name).
This was sort-of a mystery shopping assignment, but it was more like a mystery shopping assignment on steroids. (No, we didn’t take steroids. Don’t do drugs, kids. And stay in school.) No, this was the mac-daddy of all mystery shopping assignments, and thank goodness, it was in Mr. Everything’s name and not mine. In case you don’t understand that last statement, that means he was responsible for completing the paperwork instead of me.
This assignment involved going to two places. Actually, it was two assignments, but they were for the same company. We were not to focus on customer service. In fact, it didn’t matter at all how the employees treated us. No, we had other information to get on this mission. We were going to be spies. What were we looking for? I can’t tell you. Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say it involved photographs, videotapes, license plate numbers and an affidavit. Good times.
Now, the first step of being a mystery shopper (or spy!) is to learn how to blend in. You have to be a chameleon. I’m pretty good at that. Since I look like an average housewife, no one pays much attention to me. Little do they know how un-average I am! Mr. E and I together can typically blend in any situation. Unless there’s dancing involved. Then, we’re in trouble. One thing not on the Everything list is dancing. The man has no rhythm.
So, for our first mission, we had to go to a bar. No problem. We’ve blended in there before. I can’t say I’m completely comfortable in a bar setting, but I’ve gotten pretty good at acting natural. Sometimes, our normal mystery shopping assignments involve going to the bar of a restaurant before or after the meal. No problem. However, in this case, the bar we went to was not a bar. It was a club. The only time I’ve ever been in an actual nightclub was when I was 17 and I went to Europe. I didn’t even speak the language, so I certainly did not fit in there.
We honestly thought we were walking into a sports bar or pub-type place. We were wrong. When we arrived, we first thought the place was closed. There was no one there but a man who was working on a laptop. We opened the door and went in. I asked if they were open, and he said they were and to come on in. The man was really nice, thank goodness. However, I quickly knew “fitting in” had gone right out the door.
This was a night club. They didn’t even sell food. (What kind of place doesn’t even have nachos??) The music was blaring at a deafening volume. The words coming from the music? Well, let’s just say someone needed his mouth washed out with soap. It was bad, people. Really. Between the ‘N’ word and the ‘F’ word being thrown out on every beat, my head was spinning. My instinct was to run, but we had a job to do. Within 5 minutes of being there, the nice man who was running the place completely confessed to what it was we were there to gather evidence about. Unfortunately, he said it before Mr. E had a chance to get his video camera up and running on his phone. Too bad. It would have been a beautiful confession.
Instead, we sat there for a few minutes. It felt like we were there for at least 3 days. I tried to act natural. Um, yeah. 41 year old mother of two bouncing along to the ‘N’ word, ‘F’ word music. That’s natural, right? Mr. E ordered a drink. Every time the employee would walk away, I would say under my breath, “Drink it. Drink faster. Get me out of here.” We had expected to be able to show up, eat a burger and hang out to get the information we needed. Instead, we sat awkwardly, alone at a bar in a night club. Ah, the memories.
When Mr. E felt like he had enough video coverage of what he needed, he told me he was going to go the restroom to check it. “You’re leaving me??” I said. He pointed out there was no one there. I told him that made it easier for them to hide my body after they killed me. I offered to go to the bathroom with him, but he said that might make us a little memorable. So, I waited. Awkwardly, alone at the bar in the nightclub.
When Mr. E came out, we paid and left. We had to drive around and take some photos of the outside of the building. In that time, I’m not sure how many times I said, “NEVER AGAIN! That was the worst experience of my life!” Little did I know, we were just getting started!
Our second assignment made the first one look like child’s play. At least the guy at the first place was nice and was not creepy. At the second place, the hair on the back of my neck was standing up during our entire visit. (And for those of you who don’t know, that’s a mama thing. We KNOW when things aren’t right.)
The second location was not a bar. I was excited about that. However, by the time we finished, I was begging to go back to the bar. Oh, no, the second place was an E-cigarette store. As in, smoking. As in, those stupid looking, pen looking things people are now sucking on instead of cigarettes. We thought it was going to be sort-of a bar setting. I pictured a bar with people sitting there, trying different vapors. Not the case.
No, no, no. This was a store. Literally. It was in a grocery store strip mall. It was brightly lit and had a glass window store front. It was not a bar. At first, I thought that was a good thing. I was wrong.
As we walked up to the door, we realized the store hours said they closed at 9:00. We were there at 11:00 PM, but they were clearly open. I knew, going in, that we had to have a good reason for coming to their store on a Saturday night at 11:00 PM. I searched my mental database of reasons, but I had nothing. However, we were now standing in front of a well-lit store, and the people inside could clearly see us. It was not like I could stand there and think of a reason without being obvious, so in we went.
One employee greeted us, and the hair on my neck immediately stood at full attention. He asked if we were there for the special event. I knew what the special event was based around (since this was part of our assignment), but I did not know the details of their event. So I went with “No.” Then, by the look on the employee’s face, I knew I had just raised suspicion since we were not there for the special event but we were there. I quickly recovered by saying I had intended to stop in for weeks but hadn’t. I told him, we were driving by and saw the lights on and figured then was as good of a time as any. He seemed to buy it.
For the next 7 hours (Okay, we realized later when we watched the video that it was only 3 minutes, but it sure felt like 7 hours), I distracted the employees while Mr. E got the video he needed. I did this by acting like the dumbest potential smoker they had ever met. Actually, I didn’t say I wanted to smoke. I knew I couldn’t be believable. Instead, I said I was there to get information for my father. (When all else fails, through the parents under the bus.) I asked question after question after question, coming up with anything to keep the employee talking. While I did this, I saw another employee lurking around. (They were all lurking. They were creepy. Thus the neck hair salute.) He went to the back room, and when he returned, another bigger guy came out with him. (Uh-oh. SECURITY!) The big guy went and spoke to Mr. E, trying to figure out what we were really doing there, but Mr. E maintained the story I had created. Then, the big guy came up very close behind me, under the premise of getting food from trays beside me. However, I had no doubt he was trying to intimidate me. (Cue the Tom Petty song, “I won’t back down,” playing in my head.) I took a big step to the side and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Was I in your way?” He just looked at me. He didn’t smile and did not answer me. It was a good thing we had stopped at Taco Bell on the way for me to use the bathroom. Otherwise, I might have just embarrassed myself.
I never missed a beat in talking to the first guy about the many fascinating ways to vape. (Yes, that’s what they call it. Vaping. As if it could sound any dumber.)
When Mr. E approached and touched my arm, I knew he had what he needed on the video. I thanked the nice young man, and we left. (And the academy award for best acting role in a weird situation goes to….) I resisted the urge to run to the car. I knew they were still watching us.
The challenging part was getting the photographs we needed of the outside of the building. Then, even worse was gathering license plate numbers. As we were finishing that, the big guy came outside. He was looking right at us (or at least, in our panicked state, we thought he was). Mr. E kept his composure, backed up and left. The big guy got in his car, and at first, we thought he might follow us. Later, we laughed at ourselves for being so nervous that we thought so. He was probably just going to get a real cigarette from his car.
When looking back at the video of the vaping experience, I realized I’m a pretty good actress! As I listened to myself, I knew I was panicking, but I couldn’t even hear it in my voice. Perhaps I missed my calling. Maybe I was supposed to be a famous actress, or better yet, maybe I was supposed to be a spy! -Al