The Austin Chronicle

The Luv Doc: The Cannon Fodder of Capitalism

No one wants to be the Michael Jordan of the cash register

By The Luv Doc, July 2, 2021, Columns

Dear Luv Doc,

I live in Wells Branch but work in Central Austin, so I do most of my shopping, dining, etc. in that area as well. I am told I am a polite, well-mannered, and good-natured person. Most of my interactions with people during the day are pleasant, positive encounters. Why is it then that every time I conduct business in Central Austin businesses, the person behind the counter always treats me like someone they secretly hate, or at the very least have to tolerate, rather than someone they should try to please? This morning I spent nearly $40 at a Central Austin restaurant and as the sour-faced cashier basically threw my receipt at me, I reflexively responded with a cheerful, "Thank you!" Her response (or rather, her lack of response) was a blank look of either apathy or disdain. This rarely happens to me out in the 'burbs. What is it with service people in Central Austin? Do they all think they are too good for their jobs or are their managers just terrible people, too?

– Thanks and FU Very Much

I have spent a lot of time with Austin service-industry employees over the years, and I can assure you that almost none of them plan on making a career out of the service industry. I have never once been drinking with a cashier and had them tell me, "I would really like to stay in the cashier game for another 15 to 20 years and see how far I can take it." Nobody wants to be the Michael Jordan of the cash register – even if that's the pinnacle of their human potential. Someone might be perfectly suited/qualified for a service-industry job – like me, for instance – and they are still going to believe that they have a few bestsellers in them – maybe a Grammy, Oscar, or Pulitzer. Optimistic artist types like me are the cannon fodder of capitalism in a city of miracles like Austin.

Of course, the flip side of that irrational optimism is bitterness and resentment. America's next great blues guitarist can only assemble burritos for so many years before burrito assemblage starts feeling like an artistic indictment rather than an unfortunate stopover on the road to riches and glory. Not even regular smoke break doses of medical grade marijuana can undo the crushing sense of failure brought on by having to make your disillusioned, groupie ex-girlfriend and her new, Tesla-driving boyfriend a monster-sized steak burrito with extra guacamole – especially when you know they're just gastronomically slumming so she can rub it in your face. Pair that with a criminally inadequate amount of psychiatric services for low-income employees and you can see why that cashier might have lost her chirpiness. Fuck, for all we know, she might be the next Billie Eilish – or maybe Grimes if Elon's divining rod points another direction.

The real point is that we can never see the whole picture, so probably the best way to proceed when confronted with a surly service-industry type is to be grateful you can afford a $40 breakfast ... or maybe that you aren't trying to survive in Austin on less than $15 an hour by sharing a 1-1 off Parmer with three other brokeass musicians with service-industry jobs.

Keep in mind, I know plenty of ex- and current service-industry employees that share your justified sense of indignation at what is often someone's breathtaking inability to control their resting bitch face. After all, part of being an employee is playing a role, and sometimes that role is Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock. Sometimes in life you just have to suck it up and be the person people want you to be. Is that so hard? Not as hard as winning a goddamn Grammy, I would wager. And yes, even though it might seem like every service employee in Central Austin has a bug up their ass, there are plenty of notable exceptions and you should make it a point to patronize them with enthusiasm, if only as a gift to your own mental health. Lastly, and I have no doubt your generosity knows no bounds, I have learned over the years that a consistent policy of generous tipping has a way turning people's frowns upside down. Fuck it. It's just money, right? When you spend money on other people's happiness, you're really spending it on your own.

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