COLUMBIA — Among the sweet perfume of fresh-cut roses, lilies and carnations, Randy Slaughter waited for one of the six women working last Saturday morning to send a finished arrangement his way.
With slim-fit jeans, an Old Navy sweatshirt, ball cap and a few days worth of salt-and-pepper stubble on his face, Slaughter is not exactly a dainty flower. And as Allen's Flowers' only full-time delivery driver leading up to Valentine's Day, he's not your typical Cupid, either.
This will be Slaughter's first Valentine's Day with Allen's. He said owner Sandra Ferguson has told him he'll be the last one to go home this Saturday, but with 12 temporary drivers enlisted over the weekend, Slaughter said, "I'm not worried."
Allen's is one of more than a dozen florists in Columbia that will experience the Valentine's Day rush. Ferguson expects, like years past, Friday and Saturday will be the busiest days of the year, and she estimates the downtown retailer will deliver between 500 and 600 arrangements on Valentine's Day alone. The National Retail Federation says at least one in three Valentine's Day shoppers will buy flowers for their sweetheart this year.
For Ferguson, that spells good business — but also long hours and sore feet.
"It's a holiday that none of us really enjoy, but it's just part of the business," she said between answering phones and jotting down information in a well-kept inventory book. "You just have to be prepared and ready."
Helping to lighten the mood, though, is Slaughter, who Ferguson said, is a "good-tempered, real witty" guy who keeps his coworkers "in stitches" with his stories.
Out on the road, between deliveries to an MU sorority and several Columbia residences, Slaughter told a story about the time he had to retrieve a bouquet from a local salon because the guy who'd placed the order decided he wanted to give it to another girl. (Luckily, the first girl hadn't picked up the bouquet when Slaughter returned to take it back.)
On another occasion, a woman didn't seem too receptive to an apparent attempt at an apology. When Slaughter tried to present her with some flowers, she said, "Look at it, see if it's from Chris," Slaughter recalled in a mock falsetto. "If it is, I don't want it."
When he verified that it was Chris's name on the tag, she told him to "take it to the hospital and give it to a sick kid."
Behind the wheel of Allen's van, he's quick to laugh along at the stories he tells.
At a delivery site, he quickly hands off the merchandise to whoever answers the door. "Delivery for Natalie," he says, and, "Have a good day," before ducking back to the van for the next go-round.
The job can be hectic at times. "You gotta be at one side of town at 2 o'clock and the other side at 2:20," Slaughter said. "It's like, 'Who do I want to make mad?'"
But, with the "economy acting stupid" lately, he said he feels fortunate to be working for a company with as good of a reputation as Allen's.
And the nature of the job itself makes it not so bad.
"I enjoy knocking on people's doors, talking with them, shooting the breeze, whatever," Slaughter said. "I don't really mess with too many uptight people, 'cause once they see it's for them, they're happy, you know."
Sometimes when he goes into an office to deliver flowers, other women will ask, "'Where's mine?'
"It's like, 'What's your number, girl? I'll get right on that,'" Slaughter said.
Does he consider himself to be a romantic type of guy?
"Nah, probably not," Slaughter said. "I am, but I deal with it all day, so when I get home, that's the last thing I'm thinking about."
And with a girlfriend who works at a greenhouse, he added, flowers don't always have the same effect as they might have on other women. "I give 'em to my mom more than anything," Slaughter said.
"I've never been much on Valentine's Day, even when I was married," he said.
Then, reflecting on the sheer number of orders he'd be filling throughout the week, he laughed and said, "Someone asked me, 'What's the best thing about Valentine's Day?' I said, 'The next day.'"
Slaughter's last delivery before heading back to Allen's was to an MU residence hall. The occasion for this stop?
"Late-night rendezvous, probably," he said, grinning.
Then, checking the card, Slaughter corrected himself.
"No, this one's for Valentine's Day."