Airports are great places to observe the great American decline first hand. As I stood in line to get my overpriced, charred coffee mixture cut with heavy cream, the ravenous guy in front of me stared hungrily at the empty sandwich tray in the display cooler.
Five employees stood behind the counter. One worked the register, one worked the espresso machine, one stood in the corner watching the two who were actually working, one watched the one who wasn’t working, and one supervisor watched everyone else. All they needed were a few orange cones and a couple of orange vests and it could have doubled as a CalTrans construction project.
No one watched, or paid any attention to the people with the money. In the five minutes that I patiently stood in the very short line of five people, more than a dozen harried and hurried people with money came up to the sandwich display, looked desperately at it, and went on.
When the ravenous guy in front of me finally got waited on, he asked the cashier, “Are you out of sandwiches?”
“Of course they are, dumbass,” I thought. “Do you think the fucking rack would be empty if they had a fridge full of sandwiches in the back?”
“Hang on,” the cashier said, using her most polite Starbucks language. She turned around, where a small refrigerator stood, and opened the door. Out tumbled half a dozen sandwiches. The inside had been crammed full to busting with sandwiches. “Whaddaya want? Turkey and ham? Chicken? Tuna?” it sounded like she was talking to a beggar, instead of someone about to give her a huge amount of money in proportion to the quality of what she was about to give him.
All this time the girl in the corner watched. She was having a feud with the barista, apparently regarding her apron. She primped her hair. She rolled her eyes. She mouthed at the barista, who mouthed back at her. The other watcher watched. The supervisor finally sprang into action, if you’ve ever seen a slug spring.
Several more people eyed, then passed, the display case.
The angry girl finally mashed on her Starbucks cap and began carrying sandwiches around to the front, where she could load them into the case. The barista came over and took my order, aware that the register gal was going to be overwhelmed with the sandwich order for a while.
The watcher never did anything. The supervisor didn’t, either. Angry Girl dropped the sandwiches on the floor repeatedly as she loaded the display case. Even though they were wrapped in plastic, the floor of LAX has been known to have a shoe or two on it that has walked through the public toilets. Right?
There were so many things wrong with the airport Starbucks picture, from the mega-corporation to the bad service to the unskilled workers as interchangeable parts to the surliness to the mediocre product to the monopoly of the public space to the total unaccountability of the owners to the people with the money.
Last night I stopped by Sprocket to get a taillight. I was greeted. By name. I was served. Promptly. I had a tear in the sidewall of a tire mended. For free.
I got home and charged the light. It didn’t work. I took it back the next day. Paul made a minor adjustment, all the while apologizing and promising me a new one the next day if it didn’t work. The adjustment worked. The light functioned perfectly.
Although I bought the light at Sprocket, it could have been PV Cycles, Manhattan Cycles, or Bike Palace. Unlike Starbucks, each of these shops does what billion-dollar conglomerates apparently cannot: provide a good product, provide good service, and treat me right.