I stopped at the front door, I didn’t have a mask and this particular grocery store required one. I rummaged through my pockets, and then through the pockets on my car door, and even through the pockets in a jacket in my trunk, all with no luck.
I faced the possibility of driving all the way back home and then all the way back to the store for a can of tomato sauce which was needed for the recipe that I was making. Effectively turning a $1.20 purchase into a $15 expenditure, because of the extra gas, not to mention the time and effort.
Working in the hospitality industry, I know that a business is free to ask you to do whatever they want you to do as long as they don’t discriminate in certain limited criteria. Freedom of expression might be a guaranteed right, but it doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want on someone else’s property. Or, as I told a boss of mine once, when he felt he was pushing too hard: “I am not going to argue with you,” I said. “If you tell me to make drinks one-handed while hopping on one foot, I have two choices. I can either do that, or I can find another job.” He really liked that answer, up and until the moment I left. The same is true with a business. If they tell you that you must wear a clown suit to enter. You better start looking for some 34 extra-large shoes. Or, find somewhere else to go. I know that doesn’t sit well with some people, but that is the reality of the situation.
I asked the store manager if he had any extra masks. He didn’t. Still facing that extra gas charge, I asked if I could buy one. $5 later and I was still ahead of the game, walking down the aisle with the store logo emblazoned upon my right cheek. The right cheek on my face, in case there is any confusion.
As I walked down the aisle a strange thing happened, a woman pushed her cart right at me, so much so, that I had to do an awkward sidestep. Then as I walked up to the canned vegetables, two, then three, then four people, walked right in front of me like I didn’t exist. Procuring my sauce, I again walked down the aisle. A man was approaching on the left side of that aisle. I tried to get as far to the right as I could, and I could have sworn that he aimed straight for me.
We bumped shoulders.
“What the hell was that?” I asked, truly surprised.
“You are supposed to get out of my way,” he said.
“What do you mean I’m supposed to get out of your way?” I asked.
“I mean, that you,” he pointed at me, “are supposed to make way for me,” he said, touching his own chest.
“You just ran into me, you jerk. You are on the wrong side of the aisle, and there is literally nowhere for me to go,” I said.
“I don’t care for the way you are speaking to me,” he replied. “Go get your manager.”
“My manager?” I asked. “I don’t work here,” I said.
“Then why are you wearing that?” he said pointing at my mask.
I realized then that he thought I was an employee, and people tend to treat employees differently than they do other customers. It’s a fact. Don’t believe me? Just watch how a server/busser/ bartender moves through a restaurant. People will make way for another customer but will often step right in front of an employee. Stairs are always a good indicator. If an employee is standing at the bottom of the stairs holding two plates of food, many customers will descend those stairs so slowly you’d think they were Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” They will then add further to that descent by then slowly looking over the plates the server is carrying for no other reason than to prolong the exercise.
“I didn’t have a mask,” I said looking my current Rhett Butler eye to eye.
“I am so sorry,” he said backing away quickly. “I didn’t know.”
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-As if “I didn’t know” is an acceptable excuse.
-How you treat the most vulnerable people you meet says more about you than almost anything else.
-For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. Except, of course, in the service business.
-We have got to stop telling ourselves that no one would ever [insert bad behavior]. Because they will, and they do, every single day. Just ask anyone who has ever worked in customer service.