So I am sitting outside at a small white plastic picnic table. T is inside delivering a banana box of strawberries and bananas to the store owners. Sunshine turns my legs warm and the cool of the umbrella shade sets the tone. I am reading the sport’s page, lakers in four!, and waiting while T barters us smoothies for breakfast. Cars pull into parking lot in front, the click clack of someone walking down the sidewalk from the hair salon next store, the murmur of conversations, hello echoes, and then I realize that I have finished my paper, 25 minutes have passed and no breakfast smoothie of mango and ahsighee sits in front of me.
Without thinking very much, I find myself dropping the paper onto the table and striding off through the parking lot towards my favorite bagel shop across the street. Later, as T and I walk back up the hill towards our place, I find myself trying to explain what I felt about what had happened.
“The customer is the one in front of you. The one who placed an order and is waiting while you . . . well, while they apparently did everything else but finish your order. One of them got interrupted by family phone call. The other decided to finish making the tuna salad for the lunch crowd while she talked to you and the other customers who wandered in and actually ended up getting their orders filled first. ‘Cause when the cashier got off the phone, he began taking their orders and assumed that his partner was taking care of you.”
“They’ll never make it big,” says T. She says it although since she started advising them on their business three months ago, the business has quadrupled its sales. This month they have already reached their contracted limit for credit card sales ($5,000) with a week to go before the end of the month and they’re happy to pay the small penalty.
“Mom and pop versus McDonalds, that is the nut of it. Small businesses don’t have the benefit of a book of procedures that tell you exactly how to upsell the customer. At any MacD, the cashier takes your order, your money, and by the time that’s done, almost, the finished product is waiting at the pickup point. Everyone on the staff has an assigned set of tasks designed to get you in, get your money, and get you out. As a society, we have gone in my life time from drive ins to drive throughs. Grocery stores rush up extra cashiers when the line is more than three.”
T gives me that look she saves for when I’ve gotten up on my soap box and she wishes I could just hear myself. So I don’t have to say any more, she knows my drill. We have owned small businesses like that one together for several years. She also knows that most of the time I am totally anti-fast food from plastic flavored foods to upsizing the drinks. (Have you noticed the new ads for “extra chicken” that they are trying to slip through under the guise of going “green”?) So she is probably secretly amused at my upsettedness. But hey, I am a breakfast person and waiting 25 minutes well that just doesn’t wash.
The thing is that I really do support the idea of thinking global while buying local. T and I, we live the talk. We walk to the grocery, we barter with our local merchants, we both ride bicycles, we stack our vehicle trips and use the library for the majority of our reading materials and studies. Taking time to take the time is our motto but still we don’t live outside of our culture we live in it. Even in an uncrowded store, when you get to the purchase point, you can feel the breath of the next customer on your neck. And so we aren’t immune to the constant pressure unless we develop habits for dealing with it. Relearn the ideas of breathing deeply, and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our backs. And as Frankie used to sing,