Monday, March 13, 2006

The Vanishing Breed of the Attendant

I was referred to an interesting "My Story" in Newsweek. The author is an attendant at a full-service gas station. The economy is slowly forcing him and his brother out of business after decades of working together. It seems that people aren't willing to pay for someone to be attendant to them. True enough: I only go inside a gas station if I'm adding a slurpy to my gas purchase. But this fellow makes some interesting observations not just about what the consumer loses when attendancy goes the way of the dinosaur, but what we lose when we abandon our own opportunities to attend to one another.
Who wouldn't learn compassion from chatting with a total stranger who sheds tears when small talk turns to his wife's struggle with cancer? Who wouldn't ponder human nature upon reading that a customer who had filled up for the holiday at your service station spent Thanksgiving Day stabbing his wife 27 times?

I'll be interested to hear what you think of the article.

8 comments:

Margaret Feinberg said...

Wow-very thoughtprovoking. Great observations.

Mr Steve said...

You did it again Dave. You post about compassion and feelings. What do you get. 1 comment from margaret. Where are Pete, Rick, and the other guys? Perhaps watching Fletch or the Bueller . . . Bueller . . . DVD edition of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. What other films can create an instant bond with a stranger? Show me a 30-someting man who can't drop a quote from either film and I'll show you someone that didn't have cable tv or a vcr in the 80's.

As for me I'm reviewing Keifer Sutherland's playlist on iTunes and realizing that it isn't 24 or Lost Boys that makes him cool. It's the fact that he includes Moonage Daydream and Born In the 50's on his playlist.

And I'm sure if pressed he'd know who said: "It's all ball bearining nowadays."

David A. Zimmerman said...

But Mr. Steve, who's more macho than a gas station attendant? That's the twenty-first century Marlboro man, isn't it?

Well, maybe that's overstating the case, but when I hear of someone whose vocation includes cars, I call to mind someone not given to oversentimentalizing. I do imagine someone watching transience in action; I'm reminded of John Lennon:

"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. . . . People asking questions--lost in confusion.
Well I tell them there's no problem, only solutions.
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind. I tell them there's no hurry... I'm just sitting here doing time."

Then again, perhaps I oversentimentalize the poetics of auto mechanics. John Lennon's no Marlboro man, to be sure.

Mr Steve said...

What does it mean to be "manly"? That's a question worth posting. Is it the Clint Eastwood/Marlboro Man/ Working class loner? Or is it the foolish/beaten down/ buffoon portrayed on sitcoms.

Is a cubicle jockey more likely to "oversentimentalize" about the good ol days before every person with a computer could clutter the net with a webpage or blog than the automechanic about the loss of contact with customers? I don't know.

John Rogers has an interesting post about America's self-image. It's not really a post more of a rant, but I think he asks some valid questions about our perception of the "average American".

Are we losing touch with each other? I guarantee it. We contribute under a false guise (screen name). I don't know any of you, (except for that Zimmerman guy who may still be wearing Superman underoos). Is there a sense of community among posters on a blog? Maybe. But where does that commitment to each other end. How often are neighbors interviewed on the news? All the time. How well do they really know the person they're talking about? I would guess not very. "He seemed like such a normal guy." Yeah, well had you ever had him over for dinner, or been in his house. Maybe then you would've noticed the gun collection, 20 copies of Cathcer In The Rye stacked up next in the kitchen, and a DVD library consisting solely of all the seasons of Saved By The Bell and Full House. We have created a "virtual" community that allows to easily disappear and hide when it's convenient.

Am I manly? I don't know, I don't watch ESPN, know anything about NASCAR, have calloused hands, or go out for a bowling/poker night with the guys. Am I "a man after God's own heart"? I'm working on it on a daily basis. What I do know is that I'm getting to know the poeple in the cul-de-sac I live in very well. We watch out for each other. And I hope one of them is manly enough to kick me in the head if I start turning into any of the fathers portrayed on prime time tv.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Good points all. I note that I have the option to "choose an identity" even as I post this comment to my own site. But virtual relationships are pretty entrenched by now, aren't they? I mean, I have passing familiarity with my physical neighbors, but what responsibility do I have to people who visit loud time? Is there virtual hospitality that's correspondent to virtual relationships? Is it my fault that Mr. Steve doesn't know Dan or Margaret or Pete or whomever by now?

Pete Juvinall said...

I've been down in Atlanta and still catching up on stuff. I really saw this in play tonight when my 2 year old, Aidan, and I went to walmart after hanging out for a bit.

David, you'd appreciate this. We went to the local 'cool' comic book shop and walked around. I've been trying to introduce Aidan to cool, cultural stuff that I appreciated as a kid and he had such a blast. The owner's daughter was in there playing with the action figures and she actually saw Aidan and was like "Hey, come play with me" and we spent some time playing in the comic book shop for a while (and the next door CD place) and in both cases they really did a bit to engage us in a 'mini relationship'. Aidan actually cried to leave the comic store...

After running a couple of more errands, we stopped by walmart to pick up Milk. I realized why I'm not a fan of walmart; the one here just breeds apathy. From the customers to the employees I think there is a huge cloud of apathy that hangs over the whole building.

Beyond people not being willing to answer questions and others nearly running you down when you're in the aisle; at one point Aidan got away from me and darted towards the little room where the carts are pushed into and I asked the person who was 'guarding' it to please catch him - she didn't and just kind of looked at me.

Anyway...I think the best example of the whole notion of attendant is the silly self-checkout lanes at the grocery store. The times I've done them I've been in a hurry and they've been *convient*, but not necessiarly good. Having Aidan there, he almost always makes the checkout person laugh and he engages with them too.

Doing the self-checkout, especially at Walmart, I think breeds apathy and you really miss out on human interaction.

Of course, there are always those time when it's easier and nicer, but easy does not always equal better.

Pete Juvinall said...

Here’s my other long post for the evening :)

Mr Steve said...

>>As for me I'm reviewing Keifer Sutherland's playlist on iTunes and realizing that it isn't 24 or Lost Boys that makes him cool. It's the fact that he includes Moonage Daydream and Born In the 50's on his playlist.<<

Things I didn’t know about keifer: he owns a record label? The bands he listed were pretty cool. What’s up with the picture though? He doesn’t look so tough grabbing his lapel like that.

Mr Steve said...

>>Is a cubicle jockey more likely to "oversentimentalize" about the good ol days before every person with a computer could clutter the net with a webpage or blog than the automechanic about the loss of contact with customers? I don't know.<<

I really try and bite my tongue when it comes to this and not oversentimetalize when it comes to technology. A creed has always been to never assume (to quote a nineties movie when you make an assumption you make “an ass out of u and mption”.

At most I occasionally will laugh at just how far technology has come since my stepping into my professional life (e.g I bought a 1GB external drive array my first year working that weighed about 5 pounds and now I have a 1GB USB drive).

>>Am I manly? I don't know, I don't watch ESPN, know anything about NASCAR, have calloused hands, or go out for a bowling/poker night with the guys. Am I "a man after God's own heart"? I'm working on it on a daily basis. What I do know is that I'm getting to know the poeple in the cul-de-sac I live in very well. We watch out for each other. And I hope one of them is manly enough to kick me in the head if I start turning into any of the fathers portrayed on prime time tv.<<

I beginning to think this a gen-x kind of issue. I talk about the loss of relationship to older people and, for the matter, even younger and it seems to fall on deaf ears. My pastor, who is my age, and I were talking about this the other day and he even refuses to park his car in the garage because he feels like he doesn’t want to close himself off the neighborhood.

>> Dave said...

Good points all. I note that I have the option to "choose an identity" even as I post this comment to my own site. But virtual relationships are pretty entrenched by now, aren't they? I mean, I have passing familiarity with my physical neighbors, but what responsibility do I have to people who visit loud time? Is there virtual hospitality that's correspondent to virtual relationships? Is it my fault that Mr. Steve doesn't know Dan or Margaret or Pete or whomever by now? <<

There’s a whole good series of lit. on the idea of ‘hyperpersonal relationships’ (google it…) and how relationships develop online. An interesting fiction book I picked up recently when I bought it for my wife for Christmas was ‘SAHM I am’ and it illustrated just how these kinds of communities could spill over into real life and what they end up being based on.

Basically, there is civility and decorum here because we have a limited thing in common and we have a basic knowledge of each other in a very limited context.

Your brain sort of relationally ‘fills in the gaps’ and you make assumptions about people and you build a mini relationship with them that can be very deep very quickly; because you fill in the gaps of the relationship you assume things about the other person that may or may not be true and it leads you to reveal more about your self quicker than you would if you knew the person normally.

Pete Juvinall said...

eek...sorry for the jargon on online relationships. It was my Master's thesis and I tend to ramble... :)

--pete