I Know Your Shame

This morning I was at my local Peet’s waiting on a latte when I noticed the line behind me was getting pretty long. Like out the door. Commuters were starting to get the angry eyes.

The guy behind the counter pulling coffee shots and making drinks was moving slow, and when he noticed the backup, he got a little flustered. The more he eyed the long line of impatient workday people, the more flustered he got.

Suddenly, one of the other people behind the counter went, “whoa! Ok, you work the register” and then she physically pulled the guy away from the espresso machine and shoved him at the register. The young man sighed, dejected, turned to the next customer and said “can I help you?”

The kid was put in the hot spot, the bottleneck, the key role….and he couldn’t handle it.

And I felt bad for the guy. Then I slipped into the Wayback Machine.

The year was 1990. It was summertime. My folks were living in Carlsbad, so I went back home to C’bad to spend my summer between semesters at NMSU.

My salt-o-the earth parents insisted that I couldn’t enjoy the summer break. I was required to get a job.

Times were a little tough in Carlsbad in that year. Many of the potash mines had closed and jobs were a little scarce. Any good summer job had already been snapped up, and that left me with only one place that would hire me.

Taco Bell.

I slipped into my double knit polyester rust colored uniform, pinned my name to my chest, and went to work slinging beans.

I had worked a cashier’s job in high school, and one of my coworkers taught me how to count change and keep my till balanced to the penny. The Taco Bell people loved me. My till always balanced, I was pretty good as customer service, and I kept the place clean.

Inevitably, the manager decided to give me a shot working on the drive thru window.

The hot spot. The bottleneck. The key role.

It started out ok, I guess. I was a little confounded by taking the order but not taking money right away and keeping track of which car owed what amount and which order came next. The line of cars started to back up. It extended out onto Church street.

I managed to give the wrong order to at least three different cars.

Some guy came inside the restaurant all pissed off and complained to the manager. Cuz, you know, his tacos weren’t right. Or something.

Anyhow, I was unceremoniously pulled off drive through and put back on front register.

It was clear that I’d failed, and my failure was Very Bad. My coworkers wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I’d once been a star employee. I was now disgraced.

I was never given another shot at my nemesis the Drive Thru. Never had another chance to prove I could handle it (not that I cared, honestly).

I made it through the rest of that summer working register and of course went back to Las Cruces. Classes began again at NMSU and over the years I graduated, got a job and lived my life.

Twenty years later, the embarrassment is still fresh. Another minimum wage employee has learned the humiliation of not being quite good enough to handle the hot spot.

I hope he gets over it quicker than I did.
Tangentially related, two years later, a F2 tornado ripped through town, injuring 6 people at the Taco Bell and ripping the bell off the top of the building.

The tornados in Carlsbad are the stuff of nightmares. My personal tornado story is well documented here.

A short Google search, and lo and behold, a photo of the 1992 tornado. The Internet is a weird thing.

Image from Southeastern New Mexico Weather Web Page.

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  • Ur Bro

    My best one is work at the Green Acres nursery and getting fired from fork lift duty. I had been a lift driver for a while, and this is the best job in the place as you at least get to sit for a few minutes.

    I ran into the side of a car. Forks first. Through the door. Very very good thing no one was in the car. I never drove again… at least until one summer during college years when I worked there again. Different manager so he did not know my history and I was able to redeem myself…

  • Lucky

    I was a cashier at a supermarket in high school and had a perfectly balanced till for two summers. My last night before I left for college, someone stole $100 from my drawer. I swear it was one of the managers, but of course everyone assumed it was me because I couldn’t get in trouble anymore. I am still not over this.

  • Anji

    I worked in a bank when I was very young. The secret is to ignore the line and concentrate on the customer in front of you. I was a good cashier but could not handle lead till. Busy gazing into the the eyes of a security guard who was collecting wages, I missed giving him $5000. I think we both got into trouble for that one – never saw him again. I hope that young man finds out what he is good at.

    My son is at KFC to keep himself in clothes while studying. He says the management in his branch is bad, they seem to enjoy putting people in the jobs they do worst and then yelling at them. They just need leadership training….

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