Two Point Perspectives

I was comparing notes this morning with my dad about the various challenges one faces when working the pumps in a gas station. My dad was a mechanic, and at the start of his career no stranger to gas stations. My own career took a different path but in college I did work in a gas station. We both agreed that manning multiple pumps was a challenge, especially when people were not filling up and only wanted a specific dollar amount. There was no automatic cutoff unless the tank was full, so I had to be certain to make it back to a pump before it went over the amount they wanted. The people I dealt with were both wealthy and impatient. I was little more than an annoyance and often had to wait when they pulled up for them to finish a conversation on their cell phone. I vividly remember one woman pulling up and sitting there talking, then sighing in annoyance, “Ugh, hold on a moment.” as she rolled down her window to place her order, then resuming her conversation and apologizing for my interruption. And often if I didn't make it back to a pump in time the customer wouldn't pay the excess. There were many times someone asked for $10.00 worth and if it was even a few cents over, declared their outrage, paid only what they asked for, and drove off in their Lexus leaving me to cover the difference out of my own pocket. Occasionally people were understanding, and the rare few even tipped me. But the majority convinced me that the less I dealt with customers in my career, the better.

At lunch today we were on line in Target and my friend very nicely asked the cashier if she was open, since her light was out. She glared at him, sighed, rolled her eyes and then flipped the light on. We stopped off for food and when it was my turn, the cashier leaned forward on his register and stared blankly past me. An eternal sixty seconds elapsed before he looked at me and muttered, “CanIhelpyou?” After placing my order I took my receipt and stepped down, and when the girl called out my number I responded in assent. I waited for her to slide the taco closer as is customary, and when neither of us moved she said in a harsh tone, “Well there it IS.” I leaned across the counter, stretched and reached my food, and took my seat. On the ride back to work we all agreed how terrible all the employees were, and why get a job if you're going to be drowsy and act as though all the customers were inconveniences and interruptions. I started to think about my gas station days and the way I felt toward customers, and had some empathy for those cashiers, realizing how they must have seen me. I didn't like being treated as a servant by those who made more money than me and without realizing it, I was doing the same thing not from malice, but habit based on societal practices. At the same time I understood how my customers must have seen me, as some lazy kid who screwed up their order. It was an interesting epiphany to recognize both sides in that moment, and recognize the root of the problem in that we're all the center of our own personal universe. A customer expects to be treated as though there are no other customers the person they're dealing with is responsible for. A worker is weary and expects compassion and understanding from someone who's only exposed to a very small fraction of that worker's entire shift.

Since turning 30, I've been working on age perspective as well. To me, the 20s were young adulthood, the 30s adulthood, and 40s and 50s middle age. I don't FEEL like an adult or all that different from a week ago, but over the last decade I've gotten more tired, had less energy, and gotten a lot more aches after exercising. I also have to work out vigorously to maintain my slightly overweight status, even dropping junk food, whereas in college if I didn't eat Doritos for a week I'd drop 5-10 pounds without any additional exercise. I do notice that every year goes faster than the one before it, and speaking with my writer today who's in her fifties and also has a birthday coming up, she concurred, saying she wished someone had told her life goes by quicker each year. I remember when I was a kid and an hour seemed to take forever to elapse. Now I'm still wondering where the summer went or why I need to wear a jacket already. On the drive back from Target we were stuck behind an older couple, perhaps around my parents age in their 60s or 70s. They were driving slow, stopped for a long time at one stop sign and blew another one completely, and we all agreed how dangerous it is to drive as you get older. Just last week in the rain my dad couldn't see the lines in the road, and was making me very nervous as he straddled two lanes arguing with me that he could see the lines and was merely “favoring the left.” This morning I mentioned to my mom that I might try yoga to help with some of my recent stress problems and my dad called in from the other room, “That's got milk in it; that's no good for you.”

We laugh at stuff like that, but it's the natural progression of life. I don't know why empathy and perspective are so difficult to attain. I think the sense of immortality we possess as children and slowly lose as we age and get hurt is a natural part of development. There's a time in life when we can't afford to be paralyzed by fear lest we stand still forever, and a time when there's real danger if we don't recognize our own shortcomings and weaknesses. It would certainly be a very different world if we could see though each other's eyes, or fully appreciate the wisdom of experience when we're told what our future holds by those who've walked the road ahead of us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This morning I mentioned to my mom that I might try yoga to help with some of my recent stress problems and my dad called in from the other room, “That's got milk in it; that's no good for you.”

That's rich! Great stuff.


11/10/2004 9:35 AM  

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