"Not on MY Watch!": On Lines and Line Cutters and Vigilante Justice

Leaving the jazz festival with my folks the other day, I realized, to my dismay, that I’d left my parking stub in my car on the 4th floor of the parking garage.  It was one of those garages where you need to pay for your parking at a little kiosk before getting in your car, and the paid ticket is what gets you out of the garage.

My parents had driven separately, and they had their ticket with them.  So they waited in line with the baby to pay their ticket while I went back upstairs to get mine.  I got in the elevator with two men about my age, both a little thugged out, and one of them in a wheelchair.  I didn’t think much of them at the time, and they got off the elevator a couple of floors before I did.  But when I was heading back down after getting the ticket, they got back on the elevator too.  I guess they’d also forgotten their ticket in the car.

While we were heading down, the non-handicapped one was talking about how they wouldn’t have to wait in line at the kiosk, on account of the other one’s wheelchair.  The basic attitude was, ‘who’s gonna say anything to you—sitting there in that wheelchair—if you cut to the front?’

Yeah, who would do that?

We get to the bottom and the door opens, and there’s my dad, in the front of what was now a VERY long line, his hand stretched out to take my ticket from me.  He puts it in the kiosk, I hand him some money, out pops my paid ticket, I turn around and push the button to go back up in the elevator, and we’re off.  Except…



The next thing I hear is this:  “You know there’s a whole line of people behind you, right?”

Here we go…

The non-handicapped friend answers, “what’s that?”

Dad:  “There’s a whole line of people who’ve been waiting in this line.”

When this is met with no response (I said these guys were thugs, but my dad is 6’4” tall…not exactly chump change), he continued, “I mean if you wanna ask them if they’re all okay with you cutting in like this…"

I have to stop right here to just say that that last line, about, you know, ‘if’n you wanna ask all these people’…that is quintessential my dad.  I can’t think of anybody else I’ve ever known who would say something like that.   I picture the handicapped fellow rolling on down the line:  “Are you okay if I cut?”; “Are you okay if I cut?”  And even better…he gets all the way to the guy before the last guy in line, and he’s not okay with it.  What a bummer that would be.

ANYway, at this point, I think everybody nearby is at least a little uncomfortable.  My Dad says (and I have to just take his word on this because I’d already disappeared into the elevator to wait) that the guy right behind him was visibly upset by the line cutter.  And my Dad, good citizen that he is, had (in his words) “created a pick,” blocking wheelchair man and thereby allowing the man right behind him to pay his ticket in the correct order of things.  

Maybe he should have stayed there and created picks for ALL the people behind him.  I wonder how long it would have taken our thug friends to just move on to the back of the line.

So back to the tension…in order to break it, an older man about 3 people back in line (could’ve been ex-thug himself in his younger days, when they were called greasers or something like that) says to my Dad (but not really TO my Dad, just kind of to the crowd at large), “What are you gonna do, beat the guy up?”  A few people laugh, and of those, two of them are the thugs themselves.

I’m not sure what the handicapped guy said after that…he kind of mumbled it.  But whatever it was, my Dad heard it.  So though he’d already turned toward the elevator and was prepared to end an otherwise pleasant afternoon with his wife, daughter, and grandson on that only *somewhat* unpleasant note, he turned back once more.  He turned back, looked down at the man in his wheelchair, and said, “What?”

It was that kind of “what” that might have easily been exchanged for “that’s it, you sonofabitch,” or “we’re not even gonna bother taking this outside.  Let’s go right here.”

I tapped my Dad on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go, Dad.”  To my relief, he joined my Mom and I in the elevator.  Hello awkward(!) those moments standing in there, looking out at the line of people and waiting for the elevator door to close.

And it’s not like I thought my Dad was really gonna throw down with this guy.  It was comical, actually…the image of my tall tall Dad, looking down at a man in a freakin’ wheelchair, with that challenging tone in his voice.

To be honest I was really kind of annoyed at the whole thing at first.  I was thinking, you know, why does my Dad feel the need to say anything at all?  And why does he feel it’s his job to speak for EVERYbody in line?  You know, if they have a problem they can always say something for themselves.  It was kind of a sour end to the afternoon.

But as I was driving home I was also thinking it was kind of cool that he spoke up.  I don’t know anybody in the world who is just okay with a line cutter.  I think it makes the blood of most people boil…or at least rise a bit.  My friend Nicole thinks there’s a layer of hell especially reserved for cutters.  And most people are just too polite, or too afraid, to say something.  What I liked about my Dad’s action, in hindsight, is that I know it came from his confidence in the idea that handicapped people really DO want to be treated like everybody else.  And few non-handicapped people would risk cutting to the front of a long ass line with EVERYbody watching and expect to get away with it.

And the other thing I realized in thinking about it was that the old greaser’s joke, while well-intentioned, probably made the handicapped guy feel really bad when he was all alone with the idea.  How hilarious, to threaten to beat up a man in a wheelchair, eh?  I’m sure there’s a part of the handicapped fellow that would have traded circumstances, even for the chance to LOSE a fight, just for a day in his life.  His friend had really used him.  It was the friend who was pushing for cutting when they were in the elevator, and the man in the wheelchair actually seemed pretty uncomfortable.

And I also got over my minor annoyance when I thought about the fact that we’d be teasing my Dad about it by the time I saw him again, and most likely for the rest of our lives.  Imagine the headlines:

“Quick-thinking Pick Saves Area Man from Added Wait”

“Bay Area Giant Rises to Challenge from Wheelchair-Bound Line Cutter”

“Local Hero Sticks it to The [Paraplegic] Man

Entitled Convalescent Taken to Task

I told my parents, who are new to Northern California, that part of me feels Northern Californians are just a bit more mellow than folks in other parts of the country.  A bit more “live and let live.”

I mentioned a time when my friends and I arrived late to one of San Francisco’s free Stern Grove summer concerts a few years back.  There was NO room on the hillside slope where we endeavored to seat ourselves, among people who’d probably been camped out there for hours.   Not only did nobody around us grumble about our interloper-like arrival, they moved to make room for us and then shared their organic, farmer’s market snacks!!

But sometimes I think the mellow free-for-all can be taken to the extreme.  Is it that we are easy-going and relaxed, or is it that we are so stifled by political correctness that we can’t even stand up to ANYthing, even the obviously wrong?  Refusing to call a handicapped person on his attempt to claim meritless special privileges seems the opposite of politically correct.

Or maybe most people just don’t go around antagonizing thugs.

Whatever it is, I am glad to have a father who would risk unpopularity in order to stand up for what is right.  Part of me wishes I hadn’t ducked into the elevator and had instead joined The Pops in setting picks and facilitating order.  I tease him plenty, but I truly do admire his objectivity, his sense of justice, his care-taking nature, and so very many other things about him.

(Happy Belated Birthday, Dadio)


Table to Table, Door to Door

Oh yes, times are tough, economically, as we keep hearing.  You can tell times are tough when all the necessary jobs people used to do are still there, still filled by regular folks, and then there is this whole subset of extra jobs, strange jobs, filled by the balance of others.  Jobs that don’t even really seem like jobs.  Or they don’t seem like things people can possibly make a living doing.  They are the offerings to the desperate.  Or just people who can’t stand the idea of reporting to a given place at a given time, taking orders all day.

I was sitting outside a Starbucks the other day when two young guys dressed in faded black slacks and threadbare white dress shirts with black ties walked up to the table and asked me if they could have a moment of my time.  One was doing all the talking, while the other was just quietly holding an overstuffed sack, like some kind of hobo Mormon Santa Clause.

The talker said, “Okay well we’re just here in town today doing a special promotion.”  With this he reached into Santa’s bag and grabbed a super beat up box.  The picture on the outside of the box showed a toy helicopter in flight.  In flight!  “We’ve got this?,” the guy said.

Okay.  No matter what, no matter what…I don’t laugh in people’s faces.  It’s just not in me.  But it was really hard not to in this case.  I thought, ‘what the hell kind of establishment does this person purportedly work for if they are sending teams of people like this one from town to town?  If this was their “special promotion,” what were their everyday promotions like?'

I said, “Ummm, no, I don’t really need one of those.”

He was, however, obviously a seasoned and professional salesperson (naturally, that’s why they’d sent him out of town on this mission).  He reached back into the sack and pulled another janky-ass box out, this one featuring an electric hair/beard trimmer.  “This?” he said.

“Um, I definitely don’t need one of those.  But thanks.”

“All right,” he said, already three steps in the direction of the next occupied table.  The guy with the sack took off behind him, still struggling to get the mangled boxes back inside it.  Wow, I thought.  How far have these guys traveled today carrying these stupid things, and how much did they possibly stand to make, even if the bag came back empty?  I mean, I’m sure they had replenishments in a car somewhere, but how likely were they to be needing them?  It was clear the helicopter box had been participating in this pitch for some time.

The incident brought to mind a near miss I myself had with one such job over a decade ago.   I was living with my grandpa in SoCal and waiting tables at a Chevy’s “Mexican” restaurant.  At the time I was looking for a second job (to this day I cannot figure out why on earth I was working two jobs during that time.  I guess because, having taken time off from college, I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t just being a lazy loaf?). 

Back then, one still consulted the want ads in the newspaper to find employment (that seems so crazy now), and I found a promising one!  It said a warehouse nearby was looking for managers.  No experience necessary!  I called and was scheduled for an interview, and, when I showed up, was surprised to enter a waiting room already overfull with people.  Shocking that a management job opportunity where no experience was necessary would actually attract folks, right?

We were called into interviews two at a time.  The interview went something like this:

Interviewer:  What would you say your strengths are?

Other interviewee:  I’m good at video games.  I got my friends’ backs in a fight.

Interviewer:  Okay thanks.  And you?

Me:  I am reliable, dedicated, a fast learner and hard worker.  I get along well with coworkers, etc.

Interviewer:  Great, great.  Okay, next.  What do you think you can bring to our company, as a manager?

Me:  I am a hands-on worker.  I can lead by example with my strong work ethic and enthusiasm.  I am good at making decisions, even under stressful circumstances, etc.

Interviewer: And you?

Other Interviewee:  I like to tell people what to do.  I’m harsh when I need to be.  I’m big so people listen to me.

Interviewer:  Great, great….(folds hands and leans forward on desk) Well, I think you’d both be great additions to our company.   We’d love for you to come back tomorrow.  You’ll spend the day meeting with some of our accounts and clients.  Plan on spending 10 hours with us.  Don’t worry about bringing a lunch because we will be taking you out to lunch.  Oh, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes.”

Amazingly I was not that concerned at this point.  Yes, I was baffled as to how both Other Interviewee and I could be exactly what this company was looking for.  I had no idea what this company did, what kind of warehouse I’d be managing, or why it was so important that I wear comfortable shoes.  I think what I was thinking was, ‘Wow.  They are going to treat us to lunch!’

The next day I put on some sensible loafers and set out to make our 9am meeting at the warehouse, NO lunch in hand!  I got there and there were about 20 of us, all looking around trying to guess what was going to happen next.  Interviewer came along and separated us into groups of four, three managers-in-training and one experienced “manager” who was going to “introduce us to some of our clients.”

For some reason (and thank GOD he did), the manager of our group opened the trunk of his car just as we were all about to get in.  There I spotted a pile of long, thin blue and white patterned boxes that looked eerily familiar.  Only because I had seen them the NIGHT BEFORE, when some apparent manager-in-training had wandered into Chevy’s while I was working and gone table to table, trying to peddle long-stem roses to people so cheap, they had taken their dates to Chevy’s.

Wha?  What was this?!  I was going to be managing a rose warehouse?

I understood in that moment that there was no part of this that had anything to do with established clients, management, or even a bona fide warehouse (glamorous as that had sounded).  And there was no way I was getting in that car to be trapped selling roses, table to table, door to door, for the next 10 hours, not even for free lunch!

I said, “Wait.  Are there roses in those boxes?”


“Oh.  Wait.  So are we going to be walking around trying to sell roses to people?”

“Um,” (hemming and hawing, like how long were they planning to keep this a secret?)  “Well, yes.”

“Yeah.  No I can’t do this.  I won’t be joining you.”

“Oh really?  Why?  What’s wrong?”

“I just.  No.”

Who knows?  Those guys who approached me at Starbucks the other day might have been managers-in-training, too.  Maybe I caught them at the very very end of a very long day, the beginning of which had promised management opportunity and free lunch.  I’d be similarly low on enthusiasm by that point.  I’d be ramming that flying helicopter box back in the Santa sack too, with little regard for how it would look to the next person who was going to reject my sales pitch either way.

I hope, for their own sake, that a “real job” with real potential to make them a decent living became all too appealing after that day of footing it.  Otherwise, they’re going to have to think of a much better approach to beard clipper sales.


PLEASE Leave a Message

Everybody my age and older needs a friend at least 5 years younger who can break things down for him or her—someone who can translate the slang for us and dull the edges of cutting edge.  Now, what this friend is able to do for you probably depends on how old you are.  If you are 80, your 75-year-old friend may be able to point out that referring to your bridge partner’s grandson as a “gay young fellow” is probably not what you really mean to say.  Your young 50-year-old friend might tell you that it’s not, in fact, called “The Google.”  And your 35-year-old friend may be able to enlighten you on an iPhone vs. Android debate.

My 5-years-younger friend is Jesse.  He introduced me to Wikipedia, oh so long ago!  He knows how to take amazing pictures and turn them into Superamazing pictures using Photoshop; and he’ll show me how to do these things too!  He always seems to know more about the things that interest both him and me, because he just knows where to find shit out.  I don’t know how he does it.  He’s just ON it, no matter what it is.  Aside from being a great source of information, he’s just an awesome friend and on a very short list of smartest/funniest people I know.  And for these reasons and more, I like him a whole lot.  But he doesn’t check his gosh darned voice messages!!

Why oh why, Jesse, I have asked him, don’t you check the message I just left you before you call me back?!  (This was particularly vexing when we worked together at a university bookstore and I would call and leave him a detailed message about what still needed to get done after I’d left for the day or which customer or professor was likely to come in that evening and give him hell over a book that hadn’t yet arrived).  To which his response was likely to be “why didn’t you call me back when I returned your call?” To which I would probably answer, “why didn’t you leave a message?”

See, this is the chasm five years creates when the two friends involved are of our exact ages.  I still remember when there were no answering machines in homes.  If somebody called and you missed it, you had no way of knowing.  The phone just echoed its lonely ring through the house for as many rings as the caller could stand.  And eventually, the caller would call back, if it was important enough.  Again, the caller would call back if it was important enough!

And then answering machines came along.  Now you still may not have known if you missed somebody’s call (at least before caller ID arrived), but if the call WAS important, the caller would leave a message.  Again, if the call was important, the caller would leave a message!

So imagine my surprise when Jesse finally broke it down for me about people who were still in high school when cell phones began to saturate the markets.  “We don’t bother leaving messages,” he’d said, “we just return the missed call.”

Okay clearly this 5 years makes a huge difference.  I told him so.  “Listen, if you want to tell me something, you could leave a message, or if you really want to talk to me, you could call back.  If you don’t leave a message I just assume it either wasn’t important, or that it was time-sensitive.  Like you were calling to tell me our boss was on t.v., in a crowd shot at The Warriors game, and he was picking his nose.”

No, he insisted.  This would just be a waste of time.  “You waste your time leaving the message, and I waste my time listening to it.  You could just return the missed call.”

“Return a missed call!,” I’d exclaimed, “isn’t that kind of a loser thing to do?”  This is where my wrong thinking about it is apparent.  In my day, if you called somebody back simply because your caller ID told you they’d called, you were pathetic!  What person is so lonely and desperate for contact, they will seek out every last person who ever attempted to make a connection with them?  For all you knew you could be returning a telemarketer’s call, “Excuse me, um, did you just call me?!"

I refuse to get on board with this.

And another thing, since we're talking about the shift in how phones are utilized.  I need to ask Jesse to explain to me why texting is the preferred way for these young kids to fight!  I know he knows the answer to this one.  I used to be sitting at my desk, next to his desk at work, and be subjected to the constant tap tap tapping of his texting, rapid-fire responses to his girlfriend's rapid-fire accusations, or vice-versa, or both.

I got a rare glimpse of this text-for-conflict-resolution world when I received the following text, out of the blue, from a co-worker I barely know, who (strangely since I don't know her) had invited me to her bridal shower:
Did I do something wrong?  Are you mad at me or something?  My sister told me you said I said she was annoyed.  I didn't say she was annoyed!  I said she was upset!

Okaaaaay.  What happened was that I'd received an invitation to this girl's shower in the mail and had told her the next day at work that I couldn't make it.  She mentioned that her sister was all annoyed (er, upset) because people were RSVPing to the girl directly instead of to her sister, as they were asked to on the invitation.  That's totally fair.  I did feel kind of bad about that, so I called the sister to let her know.  I left a longish message, thanking her for the invitation, apologizing for not letting her know first, mentioning in a playful and mea culpa way that I'd heard she was annoyed (er, upset) with people who'd done just what I'd done, and telling her I hoped to meet her soon.  I did not give it another second's thought.  So it took me a good 10 seconds to register what that text message was even about.

And the thing is, I don't have enough interaction with this girl or know her well enough to have conflict with her, so it was dually strange to now be in conflict-resolution mode via text.  I thought it stupid, too!  Why not just call me?  I ended up calling her immediately, and she didn't pick up the phone.  Really strange, given that she'd just sent a text.  So I figured, okay, she doesn't actually want to talk about this.  She just wanted to chastise me(?).  I left a message assuring her that I didn't mean anything by my word choice, that I didn't realize I'd changed her words, and that I meant it as an apology to her sister.  No hard feelings, I hope, I'd said.

And then she texted me back right away!  So she avoided picking up the phone and then listened to my message.  We've all avoided phone calls and opted instead to listen to the message.  But cheesh, at least pretend you weren't available by waiting a while to respond.

"It's fine.  I calmed my sister down.  She's not mad anymore.  It's just, it should never have been said."

Wow.  I knew at this point I wanted nothing to do with this girl OR he sister and the little drama they had going on.  And of course, when I saw my co-worker at work three days later, she said nothing of the incident.  I just don't understand this kind of communication.  And I'm not claiming to be the spokesperson for honest and upfront communication, either.  I carefully avoid confrontation and unpleasant encounters whenever I can, and it's done me a lot of harm, this avoidance.  But even I draw the line at conducting an entire concern-raising talk via text.

Alas, I am aware, however it pains me to admit it, that I am simply the 5-years-older fuddy duddy in the mix who hasn't yet accepted the changing times.  Like the lamenters of typed-letters over hand-written ones, like the lamenters of e-mail over letters at all, here I am.  And shock of shocks, though they don't listen to messages or leave them, and though they text their grievances rather than speak them, Jesse and others in his age group still manage to have meaningful friendships and relationships, go to school and hold jobs, and make positive change in the world.  Hey, maybe they are even getting MORE done, more efficiently as well, what with all the time they've saved.

That last line was only meant to be partially sarcastic.