Currently Listening to: Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
The Year of the Karen
2020 has had three continuous topics of discussion: Coronavirus, voting, and Karens. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the new noun, a ‘Karen’ is defined by Urban Dictionary as a middle aged woman who makes solutions to others problems and inconvenience to her even though she isn’t remotely affected. In simpler terms it is a woman that complains about the most minute of issues and wreaks havoc on people, usually people of service who are trying to help them. It is almost unavoidable on Facebook, Twitter and even TikTok to see a video of some woman terrorizing their communities and embarrassing their children in front of them.
Like most viral trends in 2020, there are pros and cons to this outbreak of Karen-age. The pros is that those that are acting out and being terrible human beings are getting called out and some are even being fired from their jobs. One such occasion involved a woman harassing a Filipino man who was stenciling Black Lives Matter on the concrete in front of his home. She thought she was doing the public a service by claiming she knew who lived in that house and what he was doing is defacing property. Little did she know that man lived in that house for 18 years and by him posting the video of her being a ‘Karen’ as they say, she got fired from her CEO job for skincare company LAFace (stupid name anyways).
Of course then after being practically shunned by half the internet she did that typical thing that people of higher power do and say “I’m sorry for my actions, I am willing to learn from these mistakes and learn more about how I can help”. Yeah… OKAY buddy.
The con of this Karen apocalypse is that people are constantly being filmed and sometimes on occasion these angry people are totally in the right in the situation, but since Karens are popular memes and trends on the internet people are more than likely going to side with the person behind the camera.
I thought with all this negative attention on Karens and just 2020 being ass, that I would highlight what it means to people of service when the OPPOSITE of a Karen comes around to their job. The regulars. What Teddy is to Bob in Bob’s Burgers. What Homer is to Moe in The Simpsons. I don’t know why cartoons came to mind first, but nevertheless there’s so much highlight put on the bad people that the good ones barely get any love. I have worked customer service jobs for over five years now and I have definitely seen the good, bad and ugly.
There’s this saying that says we are more likely to tell a story of a bad customer experience than a good one. Probably due to the damage it had to our workday and we just need to vent. But I have worked enough Sunday mornings and school nights in my life in restaurant service to make a few friends along the way and I’d like to highlight that because that’s what I love most about working customer service.
The ‘Nanny McPhee’
If you’ve never seen the movie Nanny McPhee, it follows the story of this ugly nanny (it’s not far off to call her ugly, that’s her character trait) who is hired to take care of a group of poorly behaved, wealthy children and as they begin to act more proper and obedient she gets better looking. There’s customers that I have helped that are slow burners and with time and experience with you they gradually start to like you or at the very least tolerate you.
I have a regular that comes in every Sunday morning, usually the first customer of the day, that orders a cinnamon bagel with a coffee and pays with his bag of quarters. He’ll usually come up twice for a second round of bagels. When he first started coming in him and I did not get along whatsoever. I used to dislike taking his order because of how unresponsive and dismissive he was to my small talk efforts. One Sunday all this changed. He came in and waited in line like most Sundays, but this time when one of my coworkers called him over to take his order he told her that he wanted to wait because he “wanted to wait for my guy to take my order”. This guy happened to be me.
I’m not sure what I did to make him all of a sudden like me, but who cares him and I were vibing. I always knew exactly what he wanted at the sight of him coming through that door and got everything ready. Him and I had this running joke of him giving me pens from his job that was part writing utensil and part laser pointer. I would toast his bagel and then the moment I’d turn around and hand it to him he’d flash his laser at me and say “got another pen for ya!”
Most people who go into fast food like places just want to be in and out to go about their day. Some people look to establish connections with the associates. The people that go to places like Denny’s twice a week and get ‘the usual’ which if it’s Denny’s the usual is probably the blackest coffee you’ve ever tasted and a Grand Slam with a secret red hair that the kitchen hid just for you. Every place has those memorable regulars and I definitely have a lot of them.
There’s this Russian couple that have been nothing but kind to me from the very beginning of when I started. We’d always refer to them as Victor and his wife because his wife always sat down while Victor would come up and order their meals. I have asked in the past, but they always steer the conversation a different direction. Normally I wouldn’t say a customers name in something like this, but they would love this publicity. They’ve openly acknowledged how they enjoy my writing ability in the past so I think they would really dig it if they ever found this.
What makes them so significant is how selfless they are to everyone. They were small business owners who made beautiful pieces of art for clothes, canvasses, and pillows. Again, I have no idea what I did to make them like me but I guess I did something right. I love making conversation with anyone so maybe I just seduced them with my half-awake, early morning charm and scent of bread.
They have consistently asked me to model for their website and given me personalized gifts out of pure appreciation for being nice to them. They once made me a shirt that was very cool, but I think they gave me a youth large shirt when I wear an adult medium so sadly I couldn’t rock that crop-top look without looking like I hang out at public park benches in my spare time. Anyhow, these guys were always super selfless and made my Sunday mornings a little bit easier.
This one may sound kind of weird, but I’ve worked at my current job for about four years and I’ve made a lot of connections with customers over that span of time. Some of the regulars ask me how school is going and simple stuff like that, but some of them have introduced me to their families and tell me about their lives too.
There’s one customer in particular that I have known since the very beginning that if you’re reading this and you work with me, you know exactly who I am talking about. Man, if there was ever someone who was a second mom it would totally be her. Nothing is gonna replace my actual mom obviously, but she has given me great advice in the past and really motivated me to pursue my passions and further studies.
It has gotten to the point where if either of us see each other in the cafe we have to catch up with each other whenever I’m not occupied or at the very least say hey what’s up. I’ve had coworkers text me in the past telling me that she has asked them when I am coming back from school or how I am doing too. Other members of her family that come in are awfully nice to me as well and that makes my day. I say this because what else is going to make my day? Not tearing up while cutting onions? Well, yeah that would make my day too I suppose.
This one sounds worse than it seems. Truthfully, this one could easily be interchangeable with ‘the parent’ or just a friendly face in general. If you’ve ever seen Freaks and Geeks, Lindsay has a close connection with a former math teacher to the point where she calls him by just his last name as a nickname. She goes to him to voice her opinions and to complain too. This is applicable to customers too. I have met people while working that will talk to you and have that close connection, but will also treat you as if you have some sort of authority.
There’s one lady that comes in that is infamous for complaining about things around the restaurant because she has been going nearly every day since the place first opened. Why not? She knows this place better than me probably. It’s funny though, instead of talking to a manager or asking anyone else she’ll voice her problems to me. I don’t think she expects me to do much other than relay the message, maybe it’s because I actually hear out what she has to say, but at any rate she comes to me about any strife she has. She’s told me before too “this is why I come to you. You don’t suck” Thanks, I think?
There’s also a guy that used to come in with his wife (again I’m not gonna use names out of respect) who would complain about our bagel toaster not being effective enough. He would also call me the ‘expert bagel toaster’ to my managers and say I am the only one that can make that thing work. Sure, it’s kind of a backhanded compliment, but I’ll take it. It’s better than having an egg whipped at me (yes, that has happened. Over-easy too). That guy actually ran into me one time when I was out for breakfast at a different restaurant and payed for my table’s check. What a guy.
Point is I think some people just want to find that messenger to relay how they feel if they don’t feel confident to do it themselves. I’m hired to help customers out, why else am I working? To ignore what customers want?
The Genuinely Good Person
This one is easy to write about. These customers are just flat-out good people. They treat you like you are an equal and not a victim to their every demand. These people I appreciate the most because these people 99% of the time aren’t regulars. They are just random people that take time out of their day to be considerate and be selfless. These people matter the most because I don’t know them. I don’t expect anyone to be nice to me when I am working but I’m not gonna say I don’t want that. The same way I don’t come into helping someone expecting them to be a dumbass or an angel.
There was this one time where I was refilling the drink stations and this lady approached me and said “I know I’m a total stranger, but you’re kicking ass at your job.” I was fairly new at the time so I was astonished that someone even noticed me since I was pretty shy back then. From then on we knew each other on a friendly basis. I even saw her at a gas station once and I chilled with her while she waited for someone to help her get back into her car.
The most important time of someone being a genuinely good person goes to this couple that would come in every Friday evening. This was probably two months into my job, I really enjoyed working there, but I had a lot of doubt in my work since I felt kind of unheard and under-utilized at the time. This night in particular was rough since I had made more mistakes than usual. I was still giving my all during work, but I think this couple could recognize something was wrong. The man said after I rang them up, “you know you’re doing a really great job. You’re very chipper, it’s nice.” That line has stuck with me ever since I first heard it four years ago. They became my favorites instantly and I would look forward to taking their order every Friday night.
Why Write This?
So besides what I said earlier about how we should focus on the good when this year has been so negative, I think it’s important to recognize the small good deeds in the world. There are genuinely good people out there. When I repeat these interactions I have had with customers giving me compliments it isn’t to brag or even prove that I am good at my job. I just remember these moments because they meant a lot to me.
I go into work truthfully expecting nothing. I don’t fish for compliments or get upset when people aren’t being particularly nice some day. I go in there expecting to work hard and get paid. My moral compass says to do good and not expect validation or anything in return. Why wait around and be disappointed when people don’t return the favor when you can just do something nice and not expect anything? This can be said about these customers I talked about above.
I wrote another entry recently on teachers and the effect that even their smallest gestures have on us going forward. The same can be said about customer interaction. Like I said, I don’t expect anything in return when I help these people out at work because it’s my job, but when someone does do something generous I never forget that and it really is kind of an incentive to continue to work hard.
When I first applied for this job never did I think that it would shape me into the way I am today. I have come across so many new people and had a lot of interactions good and bad over the years. Sure, I remember bad times there but who wouldn’t? We’re programmed to remember the small traumas. Don’t dismiss the not so grand times since we can learn from them, but definitely don’t forget the spectacular ones since they remind you what you are capable of doing.
I usually don’t dedicate these posts to anyone, but this feels appropriate even though he’ll never read this. I would like to dedicate this post to Don. He was the first guy who complimented me at work and became good friends. He passed away a few years ago from a long battle with cancer. I’m very blessed to have known such a selfless, caring, funny guy such as himself. You made my long Friday nights at work a little easier.