Working Woes

If you want to be invisible, put on a uniform. If you want the part of you that’s human to be forgotten, put on a uniform.

If you’re a worker, customers can’t see you or hear you, right up until the point they need something from you, and then you’re suddenly put under their cross-hairs.

Scenario: I’m at work, and the soda machine is out of ice. I go upstairs to the ice room, shovel ice into plastic bins with wheels, and cart them back to the soda machine. As I’m lifting the lid off the soda machine, customers will cut in front of me, virtually pushing me out of the way, and as they nudge the lever for ice with their cup, they are met with an empty growling from the machine. They try again, because the total lack of ice was not signal enough. Once more, in case there is one last cube hiding in the bowels of the soda machine. After the third try, they look around frantically, aggressively scanning the restaurant for an employee to notify about this hideous betrayal of ice. And, there I am, standing right next to them with my bin of ice, “Yeah, there’s no ice. Imagine that.”

Only at that point do they back out of the way, finally registering my existence, whereas a moment ago, I was not even in their realm of perception. But even as I dump the bins of ice into the machine, they impatiently flip their cups around in their hands, and a toe-tapping crowd gathers, their ravenous thirst putting them on the brink of total fatigue, and shortly after that, a quick death. I, on the other hand, am sweating and groaning as I lift these hefty bins of ice over my head (I am a noodley-armed human), and some customers cannot wait another moment and begin squeezing around me to quickly collect their ice from the machine. No worries, I don’t have anything else to do than stand here and be hindered from this one task on a long list of other tasks to do. (And naturally, customers will complain about other inconveniences for them; I reply, “I’m aware. It’s on my list.”)

It’s just that customers, by rule, are assholes. Oh, they don’t mean to be. But they are. I try my damndest to be the customer I would want to interact with when I’m in other restaurants and stores, but I know I’m probably being an asshole unwittingly, just as much as everyone else who is less aware.

Every place of business has its hang-ups that customers are drawn to. At a wing restaurant, it may be that every customer asks the wrong person for extra ranch. At a gas station, it may be that paying customers neglect to pay attention to the dozen questions on the credit card machine. At a library, it may be that patrons leave their unwanted books laying about in an entirely unrelated section. Every business will have those few things that every customer does that’s annoying because every customer does it. But they don’t know that that’s the fifteenth time today a worker has dealt with that particular issue. If it happened once or twice, no big deal. When it’s incessant… That’s when workers grow resentful.

To be fair, customers can’t know all the ins and outs and annoyances of workers at every establishment. That’s why there’s this thing called human decency. Notice, that it’s not called human awesomeness or human exceptionalism. It’s called human decency because treating other people in a courteous manner is literally the bare minimum you can do to be a good human being.

Here are some fun tricks and tips on how to be a decent occupant of space:
-When you’re at a store and don’t want an item in your shopping cart anymore, don’t leave it laying around on the other side of the store. (Despite what you may think, this is not a fun “scavenger hunt” type game for employees.)
-If you’re at a restaurant, look at your table before you leave and ask yourself, “Would I want to clean up this stranger’s mess?” (It takes literal seconds to gather your wrappers and such onto a plate. And no, tidying your table does not mean you don’t have to leave a tip.)
-If you’re having a bad day, don’t yell at the cashier for the increased price of your Pepsi. Just don’t buy the damn Pepsi if you are still that frustrated by inflation. (And although this may seem impossible, cashiers have nothing to do with the price of your Pepsi.)

Of course, someone does get paid to clean up messes. But there will always be a mess for them to clean up, and the least you can do, human-to-human, is make their job a little easier and clean up some of your own mess.

There’s a human behind that uniform, and they have their own struggles. Don’t be one of their struggles.

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