2020 has been the Edsel of years. For those who are too young to understand that ancient reference, it has been the New Coke of years. Am I still going back too far? Okay, it’s been the Google Glass of years. There, I’ve covered every generation who may read this column. For all of us, the common thread is anger.
People are snippy. Tempers are short. We see the videos on the news. You’re telling me to wear a mask? Then, I’ll kick your shopping cart! You’re short-handed because your co-workers called in sick? That still doesn’t explain why I’ve been waiting for my Whopper for five minutes! What do you mean I can’t come inside the bank? You’ve got my money in there, and I have to wait in the drive-thru line?
Evidently, some folks haven’t heard. This isn’t 2019 any more. It’s not even 1999, or 1969. Our new world is spinning around like Barney Fife, after accidentally drinking out of Otis Campbell’s mug. It’s staggering around aimlessly, knocking over everything in its path. We’re just along for the crazy ride.
No one is taking the blame, and no one is shouldering the responsibility. No one has said, “I’m sorry, I’m the reason you’re wandering around in masks, missing church, and living like a hermit.” We don’t know who take it out on, so when our pressure cooker is released, we aim it at the nearest human.
I got some carry-out treats at one of those square-burger places (because y’all know I’m into health food), and I could see the despair in the clerk’s eyes. As I approached the counter, she offered a weary welcome. We had a minute for small talk, so we chatted underneath our masks.
She was wearing a manager name tag. “How’s it going?” I asked. She sighed and said, “I’ve been here fifteen hours a day, seven days a week. We can’t get anyone to work. They’re making more money staying at home. If I didn’t come in, this place would have to shut down. I’m not complaining, it’s paying my bills. I’m just worn out.”
Displaying my knack for always saying just the right thing, I said, “Well, at least you’re making the customers happy.” She hung her head.
“I wish I could,” she replied, “but they’re madder than ever. They complain because we can’t let ‘em eat inside. They yell if I remind them to wear their mask at the counter. They’re angry because the wait is longer than it used to be. They don’t understand that this has become a two-person operation. I don’t have six people back there helping out. They’ve got to take it out on somebody, and here I am.”
With that, she headed for the kitchen to grab my order, while others lined up behind me. Some of them were sure to complain about one thing or the other. Seven days a week, fifteen hours a day. And we take it out on her.
The next day, I stopped in at the post office. I went from the frying pan into the fire. The line was long, and only one window was open. Frankly, this post office has been understaffed for years. Now, it’s like a bad comedy routine. Imagine Tim Conway behind the counter trying to track packages, sell stamps, and help people fill out forms as the line grows longer.
But the post office audience was in no mood to laugh. He was explaining to customers that they weren’t the only ones experiencing delays. Mail was being held up, sorting devices were being removed, and workers’ hours were being cut back. But, 2020 being 2020, we have to take it out on someone, and he was the one on duty. “That package was mailed four days ago, and it should have been here by now!” The postal clerk agreed. What else could he do? No one else was there to apologize. No one else could take responsibility. The angry customer could either vent toward the clerk, or go out and kick a mailbox. The package still wouldn’t be there.
Help me pass the word. We are still several months at best, from being anywhere near normal. There is no official expiration date, no finish line. We’ll get there, because we always have. No matter who’s in the White House, or who’s in Congress, we’ll figure it out. We’ll learn from our mistakes, and we’ll find a way to get our burgers faster, and receive our mail on time. But until we do, be kind to those who are showing up for work, and trying to help us. They are as frustrated as we are, and maybe more so. If you don’t believe in the Golden Rule, believe in this one: Just chill.