“This Old Dog Can Still Bark”

“ For everything you have missed, you have gained something else and for everything you have gained you lose something.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I use to think that the world around me was just going crazy than I had to take a step back and accept that maybe it wasn’t the world but me. The last decade or so has brought this new generation to a different way of thinking when it comes to servicing the public. Technology has made some things easier but corporate greed …book taught, rather than working one’s way up-management coupled with an I’m-gonna-get-mine-first attitude has almost annihilated the phrase “ Slow and steady wins the race “ .

 It no longer seems to count for much to have years of experience and skills…nor does an opinion seasoned with age  carry very much weight when placed against one packed in multitudes of empty research memos based on mindless focus groups instead of real people. It’s not just jobs being shipped overseas that is damaging our work force but corporations sitting in an office dictating policies and procedures that aid only to increase a shareholders profit margin while doing very little to really serve it’s customers and even less to benefit an already under-paid work force.

My Oldest son is working on his 3rd college degree…why ? Well, it’s not because he just wants to work two minimum wage jobs and pile even more education debt on his back. No ! It’s because he could not find jobs in his fields of study after graduating ( one of them being architecture…that bubble burst the year he graduated the first time).Even with his degree to be a math teacher his future is foggy at best but he knows without a degree in something he could be locked into an hourly paid hell like I have just been through.

I had my 15 minutes of fame when I was young…I got to experience a dream . Flooded with those feelings of euphoria that comes from knowing that you have done something really great and you did it better than you ever thought you could. I did not always have a smooth path to travel on but I was blessed with good people in my life as well as the ability to see beyond the bad stuff and learn from it. I never had a lot but always seem to have enough. I chose to be a parent though others may think differently….to me that in itself is a lifetime career with endless rewards.

Knowing that I needed a stable job to be a good provider I picked the one industry that  included a lot of the elements of my dream job…The restaurant world…keeping in mind that this was at a time when mom & pop places could still thrive and the goal was to serve up atmosphere …good food….and affordable prices. I loved to cook. I loved to please people. I loved to perform and in an open kitchen format…I was queen bee. Nothing fancy. No roses made of radishes . Simple comfort food …Blues or classic rock always playing in the background. Smiles and laughter a prerequisite for walking in the door. I worked long hours and didn’t make a lot of money but as I said it always seemed to be enough. I got to work with so many young kids just starting out. I was told I was a good person to work for…even won a few community awards. Many of the young people I trained in such a small little setting went on to be very successful managers.

Corporations began putting the squeeze on small places with higher prices for ones who couldn’t afford to buy mega-quantities at a time. So for those of you who wondered…it wasn’t the government or insurance costs that did in your favorite diner…like with the oil industry the food industry can be just as cut throat if not more. After 20 years in the same location…my little piece of heaven was gone and with two sons to still provide for I did the same thing others like me had to do…I went to work for one of those corporations.

It was a bit stifling at first, the pace faster…public contact somewhat muted but little by little I made my own niche…little by little once again I had a following and a hungry audience to feed and perform for. For more than 14 years, I worked hard…made so many friends…again never making a lot of money but we got by . I delighted in showing my sons that happiness and pride in your job was important no matter what you did for a living.

 Than a little over two years ago, the company I worked for was sold . The new CEO than proceeded to cut costs starting with the hourly help. We were forced to take pay cuts being told at first that it was to keep the company from going bankrupt than it was more forcefully imposed that if you didn’t agree you would be fired and it was scary to find out that in my state…the power is all on the Corporation’s side. Our benefits like paid vacations…401k help…good strong insurance …all taken and replaced with basically nothing. Those of us that had been with the company the longest were hit the hardest.

I lost 6 years worth of raises but I had one friend who lost so much more. They cut hours of older employees to the point that they could no longer qualify for the better health coverage. There is no pensions or compensation for working for 20 years in most of the food industry. ( Though I did get a plaque and a table top grill for 15 years.) There is only…”you’re old…slow and we can get teenagers to do the job faster and cheaper.”

Did you know that most corporate restaurants have timers in the place and quotas of seconds that need to be shaved off ..in order to have a …”get them in and get them out” sort of format ? Time is money and quality of service always seem to be in conflict. Think about that the next time you get annoyed because you are in the drive-thru line longer than you think you should be…know that the people inside will undoubtedly get yelled at and possibly fired because their time was over the 1 minute and 24 seconds they were allotted.

I had been lucky that our last leadership had the mind-set to try and put the customer first but sadly once again, that all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end won out. What wasn’t widely know is that the Bank CEOs and Wall Street fat cats weren’t the only ones who took liberties with the economic crisis. After cutting our pay and benefits our new CEO gave himself a hugh raise and acclaimed one of the reasons was he was helping the company reap a profit. We weren’t doing more business though he just took the money from the workers and gave it to the shareholders instead.

Than our District Manager informed me that after cutting my hourly rate, I was now at the top of the wage “cap”, essentially telling me that no matter how many more years I worked for them…no matter how good a job I did… I would never receive another raise. How do they expect someone to want to continue after that ? And yet, I did….why ? Because I had loved my job so…I loved my customers, many of which had been with me a very long time. I loved the pride I felt being a part of making my store better. I am old-school…I worked my way from the bottom. I am not someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to have a successful business but I also believe that not everything can be mass manufactured when you add consumer confidence and loyalty to the mix.

Too much competition in the marketplace today not to work on things that make you stand out & that shows you can bend to what your corner of the market wants from you. My uniqueness as a cook use to help us hold on to a rather large group of regulars that we could count on even in the lean times but my effectiveness has been stifled this last year and as I stated before my experience….my skills…all the things that make up a big part of who I have become…do not fit into the mold of how and what they want done now. This “old dog” could still learn new tricks but had a hard time understanding why they had to go about things the wrong ways. Couldn’t just keep my mouth shut and accept the shorter leash. I was more than just an hourly robot and  it became all too obvious that there was no longer a place for me, my ideas and especially my opinions so it was hard to walk away from a place that was such a big part of my life for so long but I did.

 I had seen in the faces of my sons such concern…they had to watch as my self-esteem and joy in my work was ripped away from me. I know that some parents hide this kind of adversity from their children but when you try to raise them on the belief in being open and honest…it’s sort of something that you have to set the example for or risk it just being empty words on a page. There is also a place you get to that makes you re-evaluate your own definition of importance especially when you find yourself saying final farewells to three special people in less than four months. The last one being someone who started this journey of life with me and now has left me with a cryptic message of not wasting anymore time on things that are beyond my control to change and focus more on the things I can effect change in….like helping those less fortunate than me…being a part of groups that are fighting to help our country get back on track…try to step up and remember that one single voice might get loss in a crowd but one added to others makes for a hell of a choir… and building more happy memories with those I love because these are the things that matter and will live on after me.

Some of my friends are disappointed in me for “giving up” but it wasn’t a question of giving up… it was a question of giving in and compromising so many things I believe in. Does a corporation get rewarded for getting my skills at no benefits & a ridiculously low price ? If so, how long do you think it would  be before they are in front of me again taking something else away and telling me to accept it or move on ? Moving on seemed the best way to get back at least a piece of my sanity as well as my self-respect.

It’s been hard to fill out job apps…only having two jobs in 30 years looks a bit strange but I will keep moving forward. I am old school but I like to think that I can still learn new things. One manager who interviewed me told me that it wasn’t my age that bothered him it was my experience because I had more than his whole staff did…silly that anyone could think that you can be over-qualified to flip burgers… though…FYI…there is a knack to it J

Thanks for sharing this little rant with me, I actually feel a lot better than when I started it.

5 responses to ““This Old Dog Can Still Bark”

  1. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I am so glad that sharing with us helps.

  2. bigdogmichaels26

    16 years is a long time,Jo but I know you’ll be ok. You’re a classy lady and things will work out. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

    • Thanks,Ethan…it’s been so hard…16 years of getting up six days a week at 4am to go to work and not to have to do that is somewhat unsettling but I am still taking time to get my head around things.Just keep sending positive thoughts my way 🙂

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