Friday, May 29, 2015

Dear Diary: Ron Grossman's Crankiness Makes Me Cranky

Dear Diary,

I read a stupid thing by an old guy. I'm going to complain about it now.

Ron Grossman penned an article about Starbucks' recent (it's now been a few weeks, but when I wrote the draft of this it was recent. I swear.) point of sale system and how it highlighted Kids These Days' general lack of gumption and boot straps to pull themselves up by. Ron wants you know that it's a damn shame and it shows a lack of moxie. You can read the article here, but all you need to know is that straight up accuses Starbucks baristas of not having moxie. I know. Strong words. This is some old man, get off my lawn bloviation.

The background is that Starbucks suffered a widespread crash of its POS system (what a POS, amirite?), and, as a result, some stores gave away drinks for free while others closed. Ron Grossman wants you to know that isn't how things were done back in his day, which experts estimate to be at least 5 decades ago. Ron used to work at a deli, and once, he couldn't change the receipt paper fast enough and  probably for fear of being beaten with cured meat, his frustrated boss started doing math by hand. Not on regular paper either, but a brown paper sack. Xtra Folksy. Grossman later tells a wistful tale of his boss smacking him with a stick of cured meat.
"When frustrated by me, Mr. Gertzkin would reach for a hard salami hanging over the deli case, holding it like a night stick."
I'd have trouble using fine motor skills to thread a spool of paper into a cash register too if the fear of violence were looming in the back of my mind. But Grossman still blames himself, because he was a young, low-level employee, and the young and low-level are inherently dumb and incompetent. The abusive deli owner is just trying to run a business.

Ron goes on to recount a tale of woe at his local RadioShack. Ron's TV was on the fritz and, seeking an aspiring electrical technician learning the ways of servos and transistors, headed to RadioShack, a business patronized by people who find Best Buy too advanced. But Ron found no whiz kid to fix his rabbit ears. Instead he was met with a clerk as clueless as he. He eventually found a helpful hand at a different RadioShack.
"[M]y interlocutor wasn't an employee but the father of the store's youthful manager. An electronics buff in his youth, he happened to be visiting his daughter."
Ho, ho, ho, what a twist ending.

Ron Grossman's point is that whippersnappers aren't helpful, and yet, nowadays, only whippersnappers are employed at the chain stores that muscled out the Mom and Pop shops. It was those small, locally owned businesses where you found knowledgeable employees who cared about the business. The loss of those places as the norm is a fine thing to lament. But the employees of Starbucks and other chains aren't responsible for that. Consumers, people like you, me and Ron, are. We get what we pay for, and we pay for lower prices and convenience that stand alone stores can't offer. The youthful RadioShack manager didn't hire herself. If you're mad at someone for grabbing the brass ring of RadioShack store manager, then you probably think Monty Burns and the Grinch are misunderstood champions of self-reliance.

So, why is Ron focusing his tongue clicking at baristas forced to wear black and green? He's probably an old crank. And he's probably never had a low-level customer service job for a giant corporation. I've got news for Ron Grossman. The reason that RadioShack employee couldn't offer real help, and the reason the Starbucks employees gave away free drinks, is because they don't give a shit about their employers. Nor should they. They probably aren't paid enough to care that much. National chains run on low-wage employees. One of the reasons Ron cared about that deli he worked in is because he saw and worked along side the owner every day. Do you know who owns the Starbucks currently nearest to you? Of course not. Neither do I. And I'll bet you a sixer of frappuchinos that if you went to that Starbucks every day for a month you'd never see them, because it's someone (or a group of someones) who have never been there. To expect the same level of investment from the bottom rung employees at a Starbucks as employees in a neighborhood deli from yesteryear is idiotic. You know when politicians use that brain dead Main Street/Wall Street analogy? Ron Grossman is the kind of blockhead slapping his armchair saying "It's about damn time!"

Another important factor in the Starbucks Free Drink Fiasco is the fact that the POS system was down. They couldn't take credit cards, which probably account for well over half of transactions. They may even not have been able to open the registers for people who were paying cash. A lot of computerized cash registers are dumb that way. They may have been unable make change. When employees feel like nameless cogs in a machine the odds of them saying "fuck this" when the going gets tough are very high. If anything, this is great publicity for Starbucks. Giving away product when they couldn't take payment and being okay with that (or seeming to be cool with it) makes Starbucks look like a cool company. And they can afford it. If they couldn't then I wouldn't be within walking distance of four of their stores. If they came out and said "Our baristas screwed up and it cost us a lot of money" they would look like a dickbag robber baron from the 1800s, or member of the Walton Family.

To be clear, I've never worked at Starbucks, but I've worked at places where protocol and rules were determined by people I'd never met. Rules about hours and overtime (don't work too much or we'll fire you), training videos with accompanying worksheets, systems to determine what grade of toilet paper can be ordered for employee bathrooms. It's not the same as being taken under the wing of a kindly shop owner.

I don't even know why Ron is taking up for Starbucks. Is he upset that Starbucks lost money because its employees couldn't keep a cool head in a crisis? Or is this just as reason to bemoan kids these days? Either way, Ron needs to get off my lawn.