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Walk a mile in our shoes

By Gloria Diaz

Check out Gloria's Blog — Edge of Gloria!

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-03-22


I know health care reform is important, but a law that needs to be put into effect NOW is ďEveryone needs to work retail or in a restaurant as a server for six months.Ē You think Iím kidding? This is extremely important stuff, because passing this bill will help you ó yes YOU ó discover what a colossal pain in the ass you are.

I know the assumptions. People who work retail only graduated high school. They have never been to college. At one time, that may have been true, but engage in a little conversation with some retail workers and you may find out you both majored in anthropology, but you got lucky (sorta) and landed a job with your cousinís insurance firm. Retail workers are just like every other working person ó they may like their job or hate it; they may see it as a career, or as a way to pay the bills until something better comes along/their band gets signed/book gets published. But bear with us, especially when you need an associate to help you with something. Chances are he or she is covering two departments, because someone called off, so-and-so is on break, and the other associate is at lunch. Besides, if you, with your college degree, consider yourself smart, why donít YOU figure out where dental floss would be? (Hint: itís not with the auto parts.)

Cashiers live in a particular part of hell, too. They are supposed to look busy when there are no customers, and the array of magazines at the check lanes are torture. You really do want to read about Oprahís recent weight loss or that piece on better sex tips, but you are not allowed to read magazines. And bear in mind the computer systems that have replaced traditional cash registers have their own quirks. Some days, the card scanner doesnít read. We have to go to a special screen for discounts, and we have to have a higher power (read: manager or head cashier) give us the go-ahead for that 10% off. And youíre probably a discount collector; haggling with a sales clerk for a price reduction because thereís a scratch on the BOTTOM of the clay pot that youíre going to stick in the ground anyway, plus youíre a veteran and itís buy 10 items get the 11th free day, and so on. You will make our lives hell until you get a $5 clay pot for 50 cents.

Pretty much every customer assumes you know everything about all the merchandise in the store. Tell me something: would you expect the receptionist at an architectural firm to know anything about weight-bearing walls? Would you ask her to design a house? Probably not. So why would you expect an employee of StoreX who works in menís accessories to know anything about Coach purses?

And donít get me started on the rotating schedules, having to work a closing shift and then having to open the next day, the corporate rules created by those who stopped working on the sales floor decades agoÖ

Then, we have restaurants. Again, there are people who work in the industry who are good at what they do and love their jobs. Even if corporate tells them to be cheerful, you get the idea that they are, for the most part, happy people and really are glad to see repeat customers. But please remember this: your server is the messenger. Donít shoot him or her. He or she did NOT cook your food. Itís no wonder Hellís Kitchen and other ďletís look inside a restaurantĒ shows are popular. Thereís drama aplenty, whether itís a mom-and-pop diner or a hoity-toity joint. My mother worked in a restaurant for 11 years, and Iím thinking the only reason she stood it is because (1) she needed a job; and (2) her co-workers, some of whom became good friends. Restaurants run out of ingredients, knives disappear, glasses shatter, people call in sick, and thatís just the tip of the iceberg. When I worked at Chi-Chiís, I had to split my tips with the busboys (which made sense; they helped keep tables clean) and the bartender (which didnít make sense, especially if I didnít need his or her services.) So thatís three people who have to split your 10% (or worse) tip. I remember getting a seven-cent tip once, and I canít honestly say why I got it. I didnít spill food in the customerís lap. I came back and checked on her after I served her lunch. I wasnít hostile. But I never forgot it.

So work with me to get this law passed. Iíve worked (and Iím still working) in one of these areas, so Iíd be exempt from it. However, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of putting a vest on or tying an apron around your waist and being on your feet for eight hours, come join us! Take care of your nitpicky, whining, grumpy, suspicious, customers with a smile on your face. And take that seven-cent tip, and be happy. Strain your back lifting the last redwood picnic table into the customerís SUV and realize pain is your friend. Step over into the dark side, and gain insight into yourself. And a 10% discount!

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