Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Call Me Old-Fashioned

On our drive back from the last Oregon home football game, we were desperately looking for someplace to get a quick, late dinner. We had hoped to find a Burgerville, since that is our fast food stop of choice, but the Albany Burgerville was packed and we couldn’t find the Salem Burgerville. Finally, we decided to just pull into McDonald’s. Once inside, we found a line of two people waiting to order and two people waiting for food – not bad. However, the place was dirty. Napkins were strewn around the floor, tables were left unbussed and garbage was flowing out of the containers. The woman behind the counter was busy putting together orders and did not acknowledge the people waiting in line to order. When she finally handed out food and then went on to take orders, she never made eye contact, never apologized for the wait, never even smiled. She obviously felt overworked and it was clear that each new order was just seen by her as additional work she would have to do.

After a lengthy wait for our food, I realized that she was finally assembling our order, but it was on a tray, not in a to-go bag. I went up to the counter and said, “If that’s our order, we’d like it to go.” Her snarly reply: “Well, you didn’t say you wanted it to go,” to which I replied, “You never asked.” (That’s supposed to be the first or last thing they ask when taking an order). At that point, I could no longer contain my disgust with her attitude and suggested that it wouldn’t hurt for her to trying being polite. She then went on a tirade about being busy; doing the best she can, blah, blah, blah.

While I’m sure this McDonald’s, just off the freeway halfway between Portland and Eugene, had, in fact, been busy throughout the post-game period, it was no longer all that busy and I counted at least five people working in the restaurant (all of whom had the same sneer as our counter attendant) and none of whom seemed to be making any attempt to be pleasant or to clean up the dirty floors, tables and garbage cans. On the way out of the restaurant, one of my sons said to me that I shouldn’t have said anything to her because she’s in a dead-end job, being paid minimum wage and can’t be expected to be nice under those circumstances. When I responded that I’d had similar types of jobs in my youth, he said, “Yes, but that was thirty-some years ago.” Really? Has it become old-fashioned to do a good job? To be polite and welcoming as an employee at a public establishment?

My parents taught me to always do my best, regardless of the situation. Have a class you don’t like? Get through it and do your best. Teacher’s unreasonable? Do your best. Job boring? Do your best. The summer I turned fifteen I found a job at a small café in the coastal tourist town where I spent my high school years. It wasn’t a popular place and didn’t have much curb appeal, so business was often slow. I had to be at work by 3:30 a.m. all summer and, often, there would be only a dozen customers throughout the day (except for weekends when we sometimes had people standing in line because of the tourist business). I hated the job. I was bored most of the time, the hours were terrible and, because of the light level of business, the tips weren’t great. I remember complaining to my dad about it, but he just said the usual: Do your best. He suggested that I find things to do when I was bored: sweep the floor, clean the shelves below the counters, polish the pie displays. I took his advice and made it through that summer and the next year, when I applied to the manager of the local “hip” drive-in, I had a great reference from the café’s owner. Later, when I worked at as a teller at US Bank, busy days were my favorite. Sure, it was hectic and exhausting, but it became a game to see how many people I could serve and, of course, I did it with a smile because I had to “do my best”. I went on to a management-training program within the bank and was a Vice-President when I “retired”. I have to believe that “doing my best” had something to do with my career success.

If it’s true that it’s now old-fashioned to do one’s best, regardless of the circumstances, how do people ever expect to advance? To ever have opportunities? To ever feel self-satisfaction? If this is the current state, just call me old-fashioned.

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