I had a very unfortunate experience at a quick oil change place yesterday. I had never been there before, but I need an oil change and we were in that town visiting. As I drove up to the shop, a man very angrily directed me to park in front of one of the bays. I lowered my window a little bit because he seemed to be saying something. “Get the f*ck over here!” he said as he gestured for me to park next to the bays.
People curse a lot, I thought to myself. So I just parked where he told me to, and then I sat there for ten minutes. As another tech took information from other drivers, he asked the first man about me. “I have this car and this car, and then I have to go take care of that asshole over there,” the first man said. The second man looked at me and walked over to me. He told me it was going to be another twenty minutes.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m leaving.”
“But there’s cars parked behind you,” he responded.
“Well, can you tell them to back up a little bit? I’m not staying.”
As I drove away, I wondered why the first man was so angry. Yes, it was a cold and rainy day, and he seemed to be very busy. Was all that enough to curse like that and call me an asshole? I thought back to my dad and how much he actually enjoyed having plenty of work to do, even when he was overwhelmed. He said it guaranteed money in his pocket and food in my mouth. The only time I ever saw dad turn away someone from his shop was when there was absolutely no place to park a single car, or motorcycle.
Because my brain is what it is, I also started to think about the angry man and what his fall-back plan was. If he kept up that attitude, chances were that he wouldn’t keep his job very long. I could have very well made an enormous stink about his cursing at me to the manager, then what? Is his retirement secure? Has he paid-off all his debts? The way he was acting was the way someone who either has nothing to lose or doesn’t care acts. And he wasn’t some young, punk kid, either.
When I was a teenager, I’d “poke bears with sticks” as young ones do because it made me feel energized. I felt like I was standing my ground on almost anything, and that people would notice me. Well, they did notice me, but not for the right reasons. That adversarial attitude has been attenuated and replaced with a bigger sense for what battles need to be fought, though I still stumble a bit at times and poke the wrong bear.
Then again, I do have a fall-back plan. If I can’t do public health anymore, I’ll work in a laboratory, doing menial lab work or even just drawing blood. If I can’t do that, there are plenty of orchards in Pennsylvania that would welcome me to pick apples — and to translate the bosses’ orders to the other pickers. If that doesn’t work out, I’m not above cleaning toilets a la Good Will Hunting.
Who knows? Maybe the angry guy at the oil change place does have a fall-back plan. Maybe he’s really good at making beds and could pick up a gig at a hotel or something, and here I am being all judgmental. Seriously, though, if you work in a service job and your service sucks, have a good fall-back plan.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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