Who are these service children; they who serve your coffee, your taco, your pastry? They who arrive at the wee-est hours of the morning, commuting across town to arrive just in time to endure a day of smiling and serving, serving and smiling.
American business culture demands so much and preaches so much about the value of that damned smile. As if it effectively masks all the other real emotions that are undoubtedly wrapped inside that polyester uniform, that green visor, that powdered sugar smudged apron, those insulting name tags (I would like to see other businesses try to get their “people” to wear them).
The name tag: just another reminder to the worker that, indeed, their personality, their name, their most sacred and private selves are up for sale along with that double half-caf skinny latte.
And you better smile doing it, or some pale, unhappy fluorescent businessman will become obsessed with your nonchalance and complain to the owner about your carefree nature and your essence that belies that you are a servant to the masses and, ironically, that you are supposed to treat them and their petty needs and complaints with individual attention and concern.
I have passed through the valley of the shadow of the service industry with my care for humanity partially intact. But the voices of the needy Americans yearning for community and identity and finding it in their two-dollar exchanges with their food servers is a chilling and nagging reminder of a growing sense of individualized disconnection.
However, after serving for 10 years (“boot camp” i.e. bussing tables was shockingly hellish) the one thing a service worker craves is disconnection. Disconnection from the whining yuppies searching for answers about their lost youth in your tip jar; disconnection from the nouveaux-riches owners who demand everything and give nothing (besides minimum wage and “allowing” tips); disconnection from the McDonaldization of your life (read George Ritzer).
Those who have passed through the shadow of this industry will never forget. So you do more than will ever be remembered by your “server,” you tip every time and increase it exponentially with the number of visits with a particular laborer. And you hope they know that you are not just some type of petty bourgeoisie playing service industry social worker.
That, in fact, you have immense respect and you really do want to see their life and, inevitably, their art. And you will withhold any reminiscing about when you peaked in the industry with your own hundred dollar nights at that “real nice” restaurant. And you will withhold the story about your own epiphany; the one in which you realized you could not possibly continue feigning that maniacal service smile anymore.