Working hard…or hardly working?
December 20, 2022
I parked my Subaru in the same spot yet again. I always parked it by the road so that my regulars knew I was there. I pushed my seat back and struggled my way into the backseat, thanking god for my tinted windows. I didn’t get time to change inside after school, before work. I tried my best to slip out of my school clothes, but it was less of a “slip” and more of a wrestle. After approximately two minutes (all the time I had to spare) of suffocating in the back seat, I finally got into my black jeans and black Dunkin’ shirt. I pulled the door handle, crawled out of the car and grabbed my uniform hat that sat on the dusty dashboard.
Once I walked in, everyone would leave and I would be working alone until nine, when I was finally freed from the confinement of my working lifestyle. My days were very structured and very stressful.
“Presque Isle Runs On Dunkin,” was in shiny silver letters above the workplace. “It actually translates to Presque Isle Runs on the labor of exhausted employees,” I thought to myself.
I could handle the night by myself. It wasn’t quiet but it also wasn’t crazy busy on a weeknight. It was slow enough that I could take care of the nightly chores, prepare the regular customers’ drinks a few minutes before they showed up. It was like clockwork.
I had an easy night other than one person banging on the drive thru window, rioting the temperature of their freshly brewed hot coffee. All at the same time a figure was slouching on the front counter, having me remake his coffee for the fourth time because it was too watery.
“Customers are always right,” I whispered to myself repeatedly.
I handed the man his fourth extra large hot five sugar five cream, double cupped with a few ice cubes. (I’m not quite sure why he added ice cubes if he was concerned about the water in his coffee.) I slid him the darkest roast, just to see if he would even taste a difference.
The moment I dreaded the most was happening in slow motion, he lifted the white lid off of the holiday edition green paper cup and examined the color of his coffee. I could gag looking at the amount of sugar and cream that made the blackened dark roast look like a tan eggshell sort of color.
“Thank you hun, this looks perfect,” he exaggerated with a sluggish smile. I let out a sigh of relief and ran back to the drive thru window to take care of the customer who waited for me to remake her scalding hot coffee, so it would be hotter. I hit the switch to the automatic window, just to be warmly greeted by burning hot lava (actually, burning hot java) all over my uniform and my light blue converse. I simply closed the window and gave up all hope of satisfying this customer. I had bigger fish to fry. I shrugged and walked away, thankful that my uniform was all black, it engulfed the coffee color.
Before I knew it, the night ended the same as it began, except this time I was climbing into my car to drive home and rest before school the next morning.
I had $15 saved up in tips, stored in a sealed bag in my glovebox, I called it my “treat yo’ self” money. Tonight I decided I would use it to get a new book on my way home. Work got me amped up to the point I had trouble falling asleep every night, I needed something like a book to slow down my brain.
Although I felt like the only student living this lifestyle, I was fully aware that many of us are in the same situation. It both comforted and unsettled me to walk into our local Wal-Mart and see so many familiar faces folding clothes, working registers, stocking shelves, etc. Considering how I, just a barista, was treated at work that night it made me worry about how all of these teen cashiers were treated this time of year.
The Presque Isle Wal-Mart was a giant pool of stress. Everyone drowned in it. Stressed out cashiers constantly getting attacked by furious bargain-seeking grandmothers, their clean-freak managers and even fellow coworkers who can’t do their part in holding down the fort.
I greeted multiple employees, their dark eye circles and slouched posture hinted at exhaustion. Yet I knew I would see them in classes the next morning. On one hand, it made me proud to see so many County kids working hard for themselves. On the other hand, I was concerned about the mental health effects of the non-stop perseverance that these students exerted.
Studies show that students who work 20 or more hours on a school week are more prone to substance abuse, poor grades and depressive tendencies. According to this study by the University of Washington, students ages 14 to 17 who worked less (or not at all) had better academic expectations and performance than their peers who were working 20+ hours a week.
In a Google Form survey of PIHS students, out of 38 anonymous student respondents from grades 9 to 12, 18.4% reported that they work more than 20 hours a week. It almost causes a moral dilemma of “should we be supporting this?” On one hand, we want kids to know how to work; work is a part of life and early exposure to that will prepare us for the life ahead. On the other hand, the importance of mental health should be recognized and prioritized.
Next time you’re in Walmart, stressed out and trying to get through the lines as quickly as possible, remember how the teen behind the register must be feeling. When you’re in Dunkin’ and your coffee isn’t just right, remember not to yell at the barista who rushed to get behind that counter after a long day at school.
In a world where the customer is always right, let’s be the customers who do the right thing.