I’d like to think that I’m not much of a complainer. You will probably never see a post on this blog entitled “My Top 25 Pet Peeves and the Horrible People Who Commit Them” (although I did once create a scrapbook page called “100 Things That Bug Me,*” so clearly I do have some issues.)
Tonight, though, going through the Wendy’s drive-thru (where I ordered a very healthful side salad and a bowl of chili, in keeping with the draconian demands of my now starchless existence), I experienced a sudden and atypical flare of irritation at the man-boy taking my order and my money. It wasn’t that he was rude, exactly. On the contrary, I think I would have preferred a little flash of rudeness to what I actually received, which was…blankness. Nothing. Zero. Nil. Not a single spark of recognition that I was, in fact, a human being interacting in time and space with another human being.
From the time I ordered my last medium fries (hey, the family still has to eat, you know), until I had finished paying and pulled away from his window, he didn’t speak one word or make one attempt at eye contact. And I was trying! I made a joke about the frigid weather. I smiled, a big one, because I thought he might need it (but, alas, he didn’t even see it since he never looked at my face.) I issued a sincere thank you before driving away, trying even at the last to capture one tiny nod or glimpse of humanity, but the blankness remained.
I admit it. It bothered me. As I drove away, I thought about it, and realized that I have encountered this same robotic, emotionless brand of customer “service” countless times and in many places. And, in spite of the other 95% of tellers, clerks, and hostesses who are perfectly warm and friendly, it’s starting to get to me.
Once upon a time, when mass-production industries were in their infancy, the anti-automation lobby painted a bleak picture of a futuristic America in which robots replaced human beings in almost every job imaginable. I always laughed about it, untroubled, knowing that nothing could replace the value of true human interaction in any meaningful way.
And I was right about that.
I need it.
Addendum #1: Okay, before I get completely lambasted in my comments for being unsympathetic to the plight of the proletariat (of which I am a member in good standing), let me just add that I, too, worked in food service for many years. I know the difficult customers, the thankless hard work, the agony of seeing someone walk in to the restaurant five minutes before the doors close and having to wait on them for an hour and a half when you really just want to go home. I have been there! But however annoyed I was on the inside, I never gave bad service (well, except for the time I accidentally poured milk in that lady’s purse), and I certainly never turned a deaf ear and blind eye to someone who was actually being friendly to me. Okay, that’s all I wanted to say about that.
Addendum #2: Let me clarify that many of the items on my “Things That Bug Me” list pertain only to me. For example, I am not put off by anyone else’s visible panty line (so you’re safe, Chad), and I could care less if other people’s homes are cluttered or their socks are hole-y. These are all things that only bother me when I have to deal with them. Otherwise, I would have written “people with visible panty line” and “people with holes in their socks.” So, dear friends, in closing, I am not a monster! And you can rest secure in our friendships, knowing that I am not secretly examining you for whiffs of morning breath and traces of dog drool.
*VPL: visible panty line, sprinkles on the public toilet seat, political smear campaigns, mold in the refrigerator, one-uppers, finding no toilet paper after I’ve already peed, bad customer service, cynical people, feminine product commercials, parents yelling at their kids in public, borrowers who don’t return things, dusting, skimpy clothes on little girls, finding litter when I’m out hiking, one bathroom for 4 people, stepping in gum, morning breath, bias in the media, cursing, being late, throwing up, infomercials, not enough sleep, clutter, forgetting things, bad tippers, cigarette smoke, razor stubble, whining, thinking of a good retort—a day too late, dirty fingernails, dead car battery, teenage “soap opera” shows, counting calories, wrong order at the drive-thru, false advertising, popcorn kernels in my teeth, getting a run in brand new pantyhose, Teletubbies, flat soda, misplacing things, looking forward to the last brownie only to find that someone else ate it first, inconsiderate drivers, gaining weight, holes in my socks, body odor, pop-up ads, allergies, dropping food on my shirt, icy roads, cold floor on bare feet, brussel sprouts, running out of cell phone minutes, mean people, the crack in my windshield, granny panties, propaganda, telemarketers, losing at Scrabble, spam email, waiting in line, graffiti, interruptions on the phone, hair in the drain, constant sniffing, dry skin, fast food wrappers in the car, overflowing trash can, too tight jeans, neverending chores: dishes and laundry, ants, guilt trips, clipping nails in public, smog, dog drool, dirty windows, junk mail, not saying thank you, balancing the checkbook, MTV, taking a knee, disorganization, disappearing pens, vinyl car seats in the hot summer, dishonesty, turbulence, sweat, do-nothing hair, dial-up internet service, saying “nucular” instead of “nuclear”, zits, buying something and finding it for less somewhere else, spoiled milk, credit card interest, broken promises, jogging, rap music, carpet stains, gossip, spiders*