I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama…the same city which was famously known as the most segregated city in the United States. Even in the heart of my time in the city—the late 80s, the 90s, and the early 2000s—there were still remnants of segregation in the city, mostly in the more affluent parts of the city. Even more than the masked segregation was the presence of racism and prejudice. For almost all of my life and close to all of my time in Birmingham, I escaped without having to experience any of these 3 forms of inhumanity. There was a period of time I did see it almost every day though and the experience has factored into me getting to the age of 30. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover the story of Rani Chapman.
THE BACKGROUND. My history with Rani Chapman goes back to November 3, 2000…the first night I closed at Domino’s Pizza. I was only in my 1st week of working my first real job and I decided to take up the franchisee’s offer of more hours by being on the closing team on Friday and Saturday nights. My social life as a new 16-year-old wasn’t too impressive and I kinda had a money goal so the extra time on the clock was worth surrendering Friday and Saturday nights. Rani had been employed at Domino’s for quite some time before I arrived on the scene, working alongside her 3 adult kids. Don’t get me started on my opinions of that. She typically worked the morning and lunch shifts so I didn’t see her in my normal day-to-day in the store. But because she also worked the Domino’s Pizza booth at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, I’d see her when she’d pop into the store to return equipment and leftover personal pan pizzas from the BJCC events. Initially, she was friendly towards me. She’d usually interject into the makeline conversations I frequently had with the senior closer—an older chap named Elbert—by telling me not to listen to a word he says. My issues with Rani were a consequence of 2 things: (1) a war between her and a fellow insider, who happened to be a childhood neighbor of mine and (2) my meteoric rise in positioning and pay. Rani had it out for my childhood neighbor—Toccara was her name—after a January 2001 incident, in which she reacted a bit overboard. For a couple of months, subliminal jabs between the two were exchanged and it all came to a head on a particular Tuesday night in April 2001. As fate would have it, one of Toccara’s good friends—a somewhat physically-imposing basketball player who happened to be one of the top recruits in the country—stopped by with some of his crew and their presence spooked Rani enough that she actually hid in the manager’s office. Those guys actually stopped by to get some discounted food but Rani planted the seeds that Toccara was out to get her and within a month, she was gone. While Rani and Toccara were at war, I was perfecting my craft and rose from washing dishes and making the occasional pizza at $5.50 an hour for 20 hours a week to being the senior closing insider, making $7 an hour for 37 hours a week…all in a period of 5 months. In that same time period, I won Employee of the Quarter and I eventually got the nod to run the Saturday morning shift, a slot that probably would’ve went to Toccara had Rani not got her axed. Rani definitely didn’t like the fact that a 16-year-old was running an actual shift—albeit the 9am-4pm Saturday shift—but she was straight up pissed that I supervised her grown yet naïve daughter. She’d make subliminal remarks about me to others and do little trivial stuff, trying to get me a bad rep in the store. For the most part, I took the high road although I occasionally reacted with my own subliminal shots at her.
THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. When it comes to impact moments in my issues with Rani Chapman, there’s always December 4, 2001. It was a Tuesday and I was working 4:30pm until 10pm as I did on school nights. I was preparing for fall semester finals at the time so when I wasn’t constructing pizzas on the makeline, taking calls, or boxing everything coming out of the oven, I was studying for a big time Honors United States History 11 test. It was Mr. Moore’s class and he told us weeks earlier that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the book we were covering that semester in addition to the curriculum text, was a major part of the exam so I brought the book and all my notes into the store and took advantage of the free moments by studying. This wasn’t the first time I brought schoolwork to the job and I wasn’t the only one who did it. Damn near all of the drivers—the UAB students—brought their schoolwork with them on occasion and many of the other insiders that were high school students, like me, brought their schoolwork on occasion. Because of that, it was kind of an unwritten rule that you didn’t mess with anybody’s stuff. Apparently, Rani Chapman didn’t respect the unwritten rules. On that particular Tuesday, I remember us getting this incredible yet unusual rush period for a Tuesday evening: like 60 pizzas during the 7pm-8pm hour, with most of them being a short-notice timed order. Of course, we also had orders of wings, cheese bread, and CinnaStix to prep as well so it was an intense hour. During that hour, I did notice Rani come in to chat it up with her daughter for a minute but I was too occupied with the makeline to see what else she was doing. After the rush was over, I went back to the corner I was studying in and I noticed both my book and notebook were gone. Initially, I thought one of the drivers may have placed them elsewhere to make room for the prep of wings during the rush but all of them said the same thing: they saw it on the table. I asked Rani’s daughter if she saw the book and she gave this deer-in-the-headlights look before saying no. That’s when the process of elimination kinda told me that her mom swiped them. So, I left a note for the franchisee about the incident and how I suspected Rani snatched my stuff ahead of a major exam I had that upcoming Friday. The following day, I came in about 30 minutes before my shift to meet with him and he asked Rani about the book and notebook. Of course, she denied, denied, denied. I didn’t believe her for one second and I was furious. I remember voicing my frustration about it my entire shift that night…even swore revenge. One of the drivers—an eccentric dude named Kevin—told me to just keep calm and that he’d replace the book for me, which he did the next day (Thursday), leaving me with just that night to prep full circle for Mr. Moore’s test. I felt so unprepared in taking that test, only being able to really rely on the handful of notes I got from a classmate and some stuff I read from SparkNotes. It was one of the few times I finished a test feeling as if I failed…especially considering most of the 35 questions were essay or short-answer questions. Despite that entire fiasco, I still got 33 of 35 questions correct on that exam, good for a 94% score…something I made sure I broadcast all over the store to the other insiders, the drivers, and in plain view of Rani when she was in the store. About a ½ year later, when school was well out for the summer, I found myself going through all of the preparations to open the store during my Saturday morning shift and guess what I found on the prep table in the corner: my lost book and notebook. Both were bent up and had sauce stains all of them. I couldn’t do nothing but shake my head at it.
HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. For the remainder of my time at Domino’s, me and Rani had a bit of a silent war. She didn’t come at me directly but she surely did it through her 3 adult kids. Whether it was her happening to be in the store to “help out” with the pizza order I made for a class party at my school in which my pizzas were skimmed bare on toppings or the time the pizza cutter happened to go “missing” for an entire morning shift I was working with her daughter, she certainly made it a point to stick it to me. My issues with Rani actually extended towards all of the insiders for a period…especially when her eldest kid became one of the evening shift managers. All the white insiders ended up working evening shifts that her kid managed and the black insiders worked the shifts that one of the black managers worked. The entire store became somewhat cliquish and it was mostly because of her shenanigans. But Rani taught me a valuable lesson: there are some people out here that don’t feel as if you’re worthy of where you’re trying to go and will do everything they can to prevent you from getting there. I wanted to be the best of the insiders at the store and she didn’t like the meticulous way I was going about it. Everybody knew I had plans bigger than Domino’s, bigger than Birmingham…and she didn’t like that either. Maybe it was because her own kids failed…maybe it was because she was a 40-something working in a pizza store with her 3 adult kids, making the same amount per hour that I did. Nevertheless, I got a small measure of revenge on her in 2005, when I stopped by to pick up a pizza order. I don’t think she was working there at the time but she was talking to her daughter, who was working there. I walked in, talked to the franchisee for a spell…talked about my military accomplishments and my collegiate accomplishments. Gave her a wry smile as I left out to let her know that despite all she did, I still won. Today, that’s how I approach it. When people try to hold me back, try to deny me of a place I feel I should be in any capacity (personal, professional, academically), I just work that much harder to ensure success or that I reach a stated goal and if I have an opportunity to show up my doubters along the way, I take advantage of it. I have absolutely no qualms about flaunting my success in your face, especially if you tried to jam me up on the way to it. Nevertheless, the chip on my shoulder attitude is a major factor in my personal success up to this point.