9

Road Trip; or, Minneapolis or Bust

For those of you who don’t pay attention to U.S. college athletics, my alma mater, Texas Tech, played in its first ever Final Four in men’s basketball. If you need more info, here’s a bare-bones: Every year, the top 68 teams battle it out in the NCAA tournament through seven grueling rounds of competition, with the last four teams standing being referred to as the Final Four. Prior to last season, Texas Tech had only ever been to the Sweet Sixteen (one of the final sixteen teams left). Last season, we made it to the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual champion Villanova. This year, Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in our conference. We not only won our conference, but we also made it to the Final Four. So, you could see how our excitement was intense. We decided that we may never see something like this again, and set sail for Minnesota, the site of the 2019 Final Four.

From our area, it ended up being about a fifteen-hour drive, broken up with a stop in Kansas City for the night. You may say, “omg that sounds torturous!” And you’d be right…partially. Oklahoma was quite lovely, really, as was Kansas. Missouri and Iowa, on the other hand, felt like they lasted about two to three times as long as they actually did. But Minnesota provided a nice respite.

Well, the Final Four didn’t turn out exactly as well as we’d hoped. Tech ended up finishing second in the nation after an emotional, hard-fought game. Not bad for a team considered an afterthought before the season began. I’m so incredibly proud of them.

As I write this, we’ve one leg of travel left to complete, from Kansas City to home, and I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with anything retail. What’s the one thing you encounter more than anything on a long road trip?

Rest stops.

Let’s talk about rest stops. After having driven through six states, here’s my ranking: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa. Yes, I’m sure you’ll say I’m biased, but Texas’s rest stops are top-notch. Have you ever seen the rest stops on the state border? They’re borderline palatial, massive welcome centers surrounded by the six flags of Texas.

And then there’s Buc-ee’s. I’ve seen supermarkets smaller than Buc-ee’s. It pretty much is a department store with gas pumps and incredible bathrooms. They even sell, no joke, furniture there. Anything you want, they probably have it.

Beyond that, Oklahoma had fantastic gas stations. My favorite was OnCue. Expansive, clean, and stocked with every manner of drink and snack you can imagine. I found a fantastic lemonade there that I still haven’t found since I left Oklahoma. The staff was incredibly friendly as well. You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma.

I don’t have an explanation for why Iowa’s ended up lacking. They were smaller, older stations usually, and I guess that’s the biggest difference. I’m not sure why this is the case. That’s just how I found it. I’m not going to go into much detail as to why or critique any of this any further. I just find the differences fascinating.

While I’ve enjoyed this trip across the country, I won’t be disappointed to leave some of this behind. The best parts have been the friendly people I’ve met along the way. The facilities, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. I wish I could explain why. Perhaps some reflection will help provide some illumination. Until then, we’ll see you down the road, comrades! Next stop: Home!

-The Retail Explorer

13

Service Industry Racism; or, Put Down the Taco, and Piss Off

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Dear Customer can really be a racist bastard when given the chance. This is not news, sadly. It’s been this way for decades, exacerbated recently by the growth of the internet, the vast availability of camera technology, and the rhetoric of Donald Trump. I don’t like to get political on here, but much of this racism has been emboldened by him and those who have not only given him credence, but have embraced him as a champion. It began here, with a reality TV star announcing his candidacy for the highest political office by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”.

And it’s only gotten worse from there. We’ve had a resurgence of white supremacy We’ve had a rise in anti-immigrant sentimentality and policy. Racism of all kinds has seen fresh breath and renewed vigor, and it’s incredibly disturbing.

It’s also incredibly baffling. In all of my attempts at understanding, I am still no closer to any clarity as to why anyone would spurn embracing other cultures. One thing is for certain, though: Racists are perfectly happy enjoying the fruits of immigration while simultaneously condemning the same immigration that allows those fruits to prosper here. I’m not focusing on racism out in the general public, though it’s not hard to find. (For further in-depth reading, I suggest checking out this article from the ADL. And that’s just about anti-immigration, not all racism.)

I’m not here today to provide a history lesson or an in-depth analysis of the immigration reform issues in our country or prove that racism still exists in this world (It’s already abundantly clear.); I’m here to say one thing to the racists of America: Shut. The fuck. Up.

Seriously, shut up. Check your racism and privilege at the door, or don’t walk through it. What I’m focusing on in this article is racism out in the service industry. I’ve seen, and posted about, two stories this year alone in which anti-Hispanic sentiment has been captured at a Mexican restaurant. And who knows how many other incidents have flown under the radar. My point is this: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the foods of foreign cultures and then get up and arms when you find out it’s been prepared by immigrants.

I’m not going to point out the obvious hypocrisy is here, that we’re all, aside from Native Americans, the products of immigration. It doesn’t matter how far back it goes. We’re all the children of immigrants. This goes without saying, so I’m moving on. I will, however, point out that this fact does not go unnoticed.

The majority of this anti-immigrant rhetoric in restaurants has been flung towards Hispanics, or really anyone speaking Spanish and not looking white enough. This is not exclusive, mind you, but the vast majority have been directed at the Latino community.

To anyone with a soul, it’s sickening, a disgusting reminder of the facts of living in Trump’s America, in which immigrants aren’t people; “[They] are animals”. And Dear Customer is more than happy to oblige in furthering this message. In each of these incidents, these racists hide behind the same tired phrases that play like a greatest hits album of contemporary American racism: “Show us your passports.”; “…speak English. Not Spanish.”; “Go back to your country.”; etc. Even politicians are facing backlash for enjoying immigrant cuisine while defending the restriction of immigration and promoting a culture of racism

In this electronic age, where everyone has a video camera on hand at any given time, a lot of racists are showing their true colors, and while many of them aren’t ashamed of being outspoken in their absurdist outrage, the rest of them choose the cowardly road: They leave a note (such as the one above). It’s the grandest hypocrisy of them all, and the one I highlight today: Allowing a culture’s food to be a part of America, while prohibiting that culture’s people from becoming a part of it as well.

https://www.eater.com/2016/8/21/12574342/waitress-anti-immigrant-racist-note-tip

Some go bolder, like spray painting their hateful messages on the edifices of businesses. Honestly, if you’re going to be a racist, at least be accountable enough to do it to the person’s face. Racists haven’t traditionally operated that way, though. Why else would the KKK wear hoods to hide their identity? The internet has allowed for this perceived anonymity to continue. The good news is though that racists seem to think that that electronic white hood seems to extend to every corner of the internet, including social media (including Facebook, which really doesn’t work the way racists think it does). The cloak themselves in their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The only difference between KKK members of previous decades and contemporary racists is that those KKK members understood the distinction the First Amendment outlines: It is the prevention of government suppression of free speech, and has absolutely no protection from public and private sector retribution. While the government can do nothing against you for saying racist things, the public is only restricted in that respect by the laws set forth by the country, state, county, and city. They can fire you from your job and ostracize you from your community, and they knew that. Nowadays, racists just don’t get that, and we can all be thankful for that. It helps us to pick them out more easily and treat them like the scum that they are.

And it’s not just customers who can be racist. No, that pendulum swings both ways. Employees and owners can be racist, too, and the retribution is often just as swift. Just ask the owner of Asher Cafe and Lounge, who posted on Facebook, “We bring people from shithole countries because shithole Democrats need shithole votes so they can turn America into a shithole.” Or the owner of Holiday Club, who posted a controversial meme insinuating that the policy of separating children from parents at U.S. border crossings is justified since they are all just trying to come over illegally, and not asylum-seekers, as it has been contended. Or the owner of Taco Cid, who allowed these ridiculously racist shirts to not only be created but to be worn by employees. Or this McDonald’s employee, who decided to call a customer a “n*****”. Or the owner of Eddie’s Steak Shed, who’s now getting deported because of the policies of Trump, for whom his wife voted.

(It’s interesting that this highlights the big hole in Trump’s immigration logic: Most illegal immigrants aren’t getting in through illegal means, such as via an unsecured border; they’re getting in legally and overstaying their visas. It also shows the major downfall in the two-party system: You can’t pick-and-choose which policies to vote for in a candidate. You pick one candidate/party or the other and accept the full package. The economy was a bigger sticking point for this woman than the harsh, racist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy. I don’t know enough about political science to go too deeply into the debate of the two-party system, so I’m moving on.)

Illegal immigration is a very complex and sticky issue. While the majority of illegal immigrants are visa overstays, there are some that do cross borders illegally. Just ask the citizens of Dillon, Montana, where the only Mexican restaurant in town is run by a woman who entered the country illegally ten years ago and has since become a pillar of her community. Or the citizens of Galax, Virginia, where a population increase of Latinos has made the disparity between Trump’s racist claims and the reality of the people as bright as day. It’s not all sunshine and enlightenment, though, as racism is still an enormous problem that is still on the rise, as Univision documents here. With as many as eleven million undocumented aliens in the country, and fifty to seventy percent of laborers being among that population, QSR paints a picture of uncertainty for the restaurant industry going forward. “The National Restaurant Association estimates that nearly a quarter of all American restaurant workers are foreign-born,” the article states, and while some look at immigration reform optimistically, and with open arms, others are not as certain. Forbes makes the argument for immigration’s merits in the restaurant industry, as immigrant populations are an enormous support column for the agricultural industry, as well as restaurants and street vendors.

It’s a complex issue, and only time will tell which way it swings. The only thing we know for sure is that racism is an appalling blight upon our society, and must be stamped out. And while there are many people out there who voted for Trump, believing that immigration should be conducted via legal channels (Honestly, who doesn’t think that this is the way it should go?) and that he was the man to do it, it is impossible to not only separate the man from his words, but it is also impossible to separate yourself from his stance.

Beyond that, there are also people in his camp that believe that no immigrant, legal or otherwise, is a good immigrant. Those are the racist pricks who are fine benefiting from immigration while condemning the practice altogether. They’re a-ok with going into a Mexican restaurant, having a margarita and some enchiladas, only to degrade the staff when they find out that they might possibly an immigrant. Their hypocrisy is massive. They’re fine benefiting, so long as the veil of ignorance remains unfurled between them and they staff that caters to their needs. As long as they don’t know the person is foreign, then everything is fine. But once that veil is lifted, how dare they exist in this country and try to be productive members of this society!

You can’t have it both ways, racists. Either embrace the wonderful melting pot of American immigration and enjoy the fruits thereof, or leave the lasagna and ramen and pizza and tacos and go have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh, wait.

-The Retail Explorer

7

Short Story: IFR Conditions

“Crap,” Pete said as he checked the weather app on his phone. “Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.”

He knew it would be a bad day, or a slow day, at the very least. He trudged to the window. Gray. Everywhere he looked was gray. His shoulders slumped as he turned to resume dressing.

When he started this job three years ago, he had the impression that if you couldn’t do much flying on days like these, it only made sense to go buy things in preparation for when you could fly. Time showed him, however, that the opposite was more often the case than not.

Pete found rainy days generally enjoyable. He really couldn’t quite put his finger on why though. The sound was definitely nice. And so was the darkness. But rainy days in a shop were boring. They were slow. They were quiet. In a word, it was painful.

There are only so many things an employee can do to keep himself occupied before he runs out of tasks. He quickly ran through the to-do list in his head. If he drug his feet, he could probably stretch those tasks to about an hour. A sigh escaped his lips as he buttoned his pants and fastened his belt. Quietly, he poured hot coffee into his travel mug over two packets of sweetener and screwed on the lid. He then grabbed his keys and headed out the door.

In the parking lot, a fog had set in, blanketing the tops of the apartment buildings in the complex. Pete was overwhelmed by the grayness surrounding him. At least the roads were clear, not like that would make any difference. No one knew how to drive in any kind of weather anyway, so it would still be agonizingly slow and congested anyway.

All around the store was eerily quiet, with the exception of the jingling of his keys as he unlocked the various doors of the business. Normally, he enjoyed the quiet, but on days like today, it was more of a harbinger of doom than a fleeting joy. Lamentably, he flipped on the lights, then jiggled the mouse of a sleeping Dell.

“Ugh, morning, Pete,” he said amidst a prolonged yawn. “What’s happening?”

“Gonna be a long one today?”

“Why’s that?”

“IFR conditions.”

“Aw, crap! I hate IFR conditions!” His monitor flashed red and vibrated.

“I know, Dell. We all do.”

A shadow swooped quickly over Pete’s head. “What do we all hate?” Poe said, coming to a landing atop Dell’s monitor. “I mean, aside from customers, that is.”

“IFR conditions,” Pete said.

“Crap!”

“Yeah, pretty much. Looks like it’s going to be that way for most of the day, too. I better call Ash and let her know not to come in until this afternoon.” He pulled out his cellphone, scrolled through the contacts to Ash’s name, and called. “Hey, Ash. What’s going on?”

“Until five seconds ago, sleep. What’s up?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I was trying to catch you before you started heading this way. Don’t worry about coming in until after lunch.”

“Why?”

“IFR conditions.”

“Crap.” She paused for a moment. “Oh, well. Thanks for the heads up. Back to sleep. Later, Pete.”

He envied her, able to roll over, close her eyes, and find a few more hours of sleep. But then he remembered the schedule she usually kept, home by three, up again by eight or nine, and the jealousy quickly receded. If he kept that kind of a schedule, he couldn’t imagine how poorly he’d fare. Probably wind up curled into the fetal position, muttering nonsense. He slid his phone back in his pocket and sighed.

“Well, let’s get to it.”

“Must we?” Dell said, as he did most mornings.

“That’s what they pay us for, so yeah.”

“No, that’s what they pay you for. We don’t make squat.”

“That’s a problem? What the hell would you need money for?”

“Things.”

“What things?” Poe squawked.

“Ya know. Things.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “You don’t need anything! You’re a computer. As long as you have power, wi-fi, and anti-virus software, you’re fine.”

“Pfft, you’re no fun.”

Pete rounded the corner of the counter, turned the lock, and flipped the sign around to read, “Open”. “No, I’m not, and it’s an IFR day, which means it won’t be fun for anyone.” He then returned to his seat and wrote out the list he’d made in his head earlier that morning.

It was a short list, but he was determined to stretch it out as far as he could. Despite his best efforts, restocking took only a few minutes, and the cleaning lasted not much beyond a half an hour. As his list dwindled, and his boredom rose, he considered what items he could add to it. When he came up empty, he trudged back over to his chair behind the counter and slumped into it, heaving a sigh as he did so.

Throughout the morning, the store sat silently. The music, usually drowned out by the hum of customers, blared and echoed through the empty aisles. Pete sighed again, wondering if he’d hear from the owner, complaining about the lack of warm bodies through the door that day.

The owner never seemed to understand why these kinds of days went the way they did. No amount of explanation could enlighten him either. He just held firm to the belief that if you build it, they will come. That’s true of some places, like McDonald’s, but pilot supplies were not on the same level of excitement as a thousand calorie cheeseburger, especially when the weather was a drab and foreboding as it was.

So much of flight is contingent on the weather, and for a man who had his many fingers in a number of areas of aviation, Pete thought that was self-explanatory. I mean, bad conditions, while promising for instrument-rated pilots, were bad for private pilots, which included the majority of the pilot population.

Still, Pete saw some kind of point in his logic. If the weather was bad to fly, it was probably good to shop and prepare to fly later. Unfortunately, experience had taught him that this was far from the case. The more apt axiom was something along the lines of “when the weather’s bad to fly, it’s good to stay home.” Pete couldn’t disagree much with that, as he didn’t want to be there either.

After an hour of staring at nothing but his phone, he sighed heavily.

“Ugh, what?” Dell said.

“Nothing. This whole day just sucks, and it’s just going to keep on sucking.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to remind me.”

“We could do inventory.”

“Oh, god, why in the hell would you ever suggest that?!”

“I don’t know! I’m bored!”

“Ugh!”

Silence resumed. There was still another hour or so before he could break for lunch, and then four more hours to kill after that. He could’ve kicked himself for having left his book at home. Why the hell did he have to finish that chapter last night? Why didn’t he just leave it in his bag like he had every other day.

He checked his email, in the hopes that someone had sent in some kind of question or request. Luckily, there was one unread message in the inbox, a submission from the store website. His eyes read slowly.

Do you sell airplane seats? If so, could ship to Philippines?

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. What the hell kind of request is that? I mean, seriously, who the hell looks through our website, sees nothing even remotely close to airplane seats, and wonders if we’re just hiding them?”

“Oh, what are you on about now?” Dell said.

“Morons. And if you had gone through the website and seen the message that says we don’t offer international shipping, what makes you think that we’ll make an exception for you on an item we can’t get? It’s fucking stupid.”

“Preaching to the choir, buddy.”

Pete penned as polite of a response as he could muster and then fired it off across the sea. He then leaned back and stared at the ceiling. At least Ash would be in here after lunch so at least he’d have someone to talk to. He kept that thought bottled up because Dell would surely take offense, and Pete really wasn’t looking to pick a fight, especially this early in the morning.  There was also Poe there, and while he wasn’t nearly as sensitive as Dell, Pete really didn’t feel like chit-chatting with a raven then.

Finally, after an entire morning of nothingness, the phone rang, causing all three of them to jump with mild surprise. Pete snatched the phone off the base and answered.

“Aviation Supply Company. This is Peter speaking. How may I help you?”

“Hey, Pete!” Ash said. “How’s the store?”

“Dead. Deader than dead, actually.”

“Ah. Figured as much. You want lunch?”

“Yes, love some. Club sandwich?”

“You got it. See you in twenty.”

Pete hung up the phone and stared at the silent, deserted shop. Over the speakers, Cat Stevens opined that it was a wild world, to which Pete scoffed. He scowled as he stared down at his phone. He didn’t really want to spend the next six hours aimlessly cruising the internet, but if that was what got him through the rest of the day, then he was more than prepared to do it.

Soon, Ash arrived triumphantly with their sandwiches. As they unwrapped them and ate, they made small talk, while trying to avoid the touchy subject of weather. When it finally rolled around to that, Ash adopted the positive side of the fence.

“Well, maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe the skies will clear and we’ll get a late rush,” she said as she pinched off a piece of the end of her sandwich bun and tossed it to Poe. “Maybe it’ll all be okay.”

They looked between one another and tried to smile. Maybe, just maybe, it would find up okay. Maybe it would actually work out the way Ash hoped it would.

“Let’s get a positive attitude and make the best of this day!”

They then proceeded to do nothing but stare at an empty shop for the rest of the afternoon.

-The Retail Explorer