by JIM HARRIS
When all the manufacturing jobs in America disappeared, we became a nation of service people. OK, that’s still an honorable profession, but then the corporations began firing all the competent (i.e. well-paid) service people. Now the only ones left are either catatonic or insufferable. They act like they’re doing you a huge favor by even taking the time to deal with you.
Recently, I was trying to find a particular TV, so I went to Wal-Mart. After waiting for 20 minutes for the sales clerk to get off his cell phone, I gave up, came home and Googled the item. Google directed me to a Radio Shack out in the burbs. When I got there, the young clerk told me with a smirk, “The good news is we’ve got one left in stock. The bad news is, it’s not for sale, because we’re using it ourselves.”
The fact that I was there to spend money didn’t seem to interest him at all. He just wanted to get back to playing with the gizmos in the store and looking for girls in the mall. Undoubtedly, these types of employees will eventually get fired, but they’ll most likely just be replaced with more of the same.
So I go to Subway to get a cheese sandwich. I am met there by a nondescript humanoid in latex gloves, standing at attention in front of a row of troughs. “What do you want in your sub?” he says. “I’m not sure,” I replied. “What do you recommend?” He gestures once again toward the various containers and repeats in a zombie-like tone, “What do you want in your sub?”
Unwilling to further partake in the charade, I excuse myself and repair to the relative refinement of a nearby Whole Foods. There I am able to dine peacefully without the middleman. Afterwards, however, I am faced with the recycle-bin gauntlet: landfill, hog food, glass, cardboard, paper, plastic? Not being a scientist, I cram all my trash into the closest bin and skulk out the door.
And it’s not as if the customers are any better than the service people. Have you been to a restaurant where small children are behaving like wild baboons, and the parents act as if they’re in another country? And when is the last time you saw a customer actually smile at a server and say “Thank you”? Last night we were in an area restaurant, and the table next to ours had a mother, about 37, and two sons, about 10 and 11.
The mother was either talking on her cell phone or texting messages throughout the entire meal, and the sons played on an iPad from the minute they sat down until they left. There was no conversation between the mother and children at any time, and almost all food ordered was not even touched. (It was taken home.) And do I have to tell you that they all treated the poor server as if she did not exist?
I guess it’s no wonder that more and more service jobs are being performed by machines. I can’t decide if this is better or worse. When I bring my own bags to the self-checkout grocery line, the machine keeps saying “Unidentified item in bagging area; please wait for assistance.” It might as well say, “Please wait until you hit the lottery” because the human attendant on duty is either AWOL or has long ago stopped paying attention to the world around her.
When I pump my own gas, I have to answer a dozen questions on the screen before the pump deems me worthy to dispense its contents: “Do you want a receipt?” No. “Do you have an A-Plus rewards card?” No. I don’t even know what that is. “Do you have any sexually transmitted diseases?” Not that I know of. Can we hurry this up, please? I’m late for work!
To park my car, I have to find a kiosk, navigate through a menu, retrieve a ticket and put it in a visible place on my dashboard. Sometimes the kiosk instructs me to go back to my car and get the number of my parking spot before I can continue. This may involve moving the car, since the number is often painted on the ground underneath my vehicle.
In situations like the above, I often utter curse words, so I then have to go to the confession kiosk at my church: “Type of sin? Number of times committed? Receive penance slip from slot below, and recite prayers into microphone.”
But the kind of customer abuse I personally find most egregious comes from the so-called entertainers out there these days. As I was watching the July 4th concert broadcast from the Art Museum Circle, I was amazed by the way some of the performers treated their audience.
First off, they seemed to feel that every time they said the word “Philly,” the crowd was supposed to howl with delight like some boondocks bumpkins who are being visited by royalty. Outrage number two: whenever they sensed that audience interest in their lame performance was lagging, they’d say “C’mon Philly! I know you can make more noise than that!” I must have heard the phrase “Make some noise” 100 in the course of the evening.
If a performer truly wants to win over an audience, how about saying something like “Thanks for coming” instead of ordering them to make noise. And third, whenever the “talent” had nothing truly entertaining to offer, he would try to engage the crowd in some infantile call and response, like, “When I say ‘party,’ you say ‘hardy!’” Tell ya what, mister big star, when you’re getting paid to be onstage, then you should say both “party” and “hardy” your damn self, if it’s not too much trouble. Thank you.