seasons change

September 30, 2005

Mary is right, it’s gorgeous out lately. The sky is that fabulous blue that only God can create, the air is crisp, so much fresher than the humid summer air, and it’s finally time for hooded sweatshirts, jeans and boots and long sleeves. I think, as a Midwestern American my “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality comes from growing up with the changing of the seasons.

You see, every spring I await the day the weather is nice enough to head to the lakefront, enjoy the warm weather and get a start of color to my skin. I’m aching to take off layers, wear sandals and play outside. But toward the end of summer, I’m sick of the heat, I want cool days, even rain, a break from the sun. I complain about the heat, the humidity, and plot my way from air-conditioned structure to next air-conditioned structure.

I know by November I will be complaining about the cold, plotting my way from heated building to heated building, bundling up, cursing snow and cursing having been born in Wisconsin. Really, how can I be so fickle? I do this every year?! While I am speaking in the first person here, I suspect many of my Midwest-born comrades can relate to this experience.

To be honest, this is all so mundane that I never gave it much thought until I started getting to know people from more homogeneous climates. I mean, some of my Mexican in-laws were asking me if I thought it was cold the other day when it was about 60. I tried to explain that I felt it was great because we had been through the hot summer and now we were ready for fall. They sort of laughed, but not being followers of the greenest grass, they didn’t necessarily relate.

The more I get to know people from Mexico (and I used to analyze the same traits about Chinese I met), the more I ponder how different our cultures and backgrounds really do make us. Some people seem to really think that basically all humans are the same, but I think that’s a little naive. Many Americans, for example, think that we are bettering the world by bringing our form of capitalism, democracy, and let’s face it, consumerism to the world. But the combination of these principles done our way doesn’t necessarily translate into good for other cultures. In developing countries like China and Mexico a growing “middle class” has more money, but kids are getting fatter and fatter as they devour convenience meals, chocolate and Coke that we market there. People who once lived simpler lives and were basically content with what they had now bear children who now long to live in big suburban houses and drive SUVs.

Last night I was listening to an American journalist who works for the New York Times in Iraq talk about how our government expected there to be some sense of a unified social framework underneath the regime of Saddam Hussein, but that wasn’t true. Now we seem to have instigated a near-Civil War. We are trying to form a Western-style democracy there but the people there don’t trust government, nor the U.S. nor their neighboring ethnic groups. Our way doesn’t always work, and now we have to find something that does.

I’m not so sure where I am going with this, except trying not to be overly critical, but I no longer go through a day without wondering what we are doing to our world, our society and our environment. I can’t listen to the radio without being a little depressed about what is happening in Iraq with the war, to the poor of New Orleans, to our nations slums, and in the budding capitalist societies all over the world. It sometimes strikes me that I should quit my job, leave everything behind and travel all over the world before it all becomes too much like the place I would have left behind.


Restless

September 21, 2005

So, a few weeks ago I started having these mini-personal crises about my job. I used to be able to mask my true emotions about working in a corporate restaurant better, but I’m not so good at it any more. I used to be on my way up. I really wanted to be a General Manager 1) for the experience and 2) to be able to write that on my resume. In a way I have reached a short-term plateau in my job and have quickly become restless. I know in a way I am good at my job. I meet a lot of interesting people and I love my employees, I really do. But that’s about all that’s left of me enjoying my job these days. I was hoping that the personal crises would be a short-term thing, but they just keep coming back. I can see myself becoming cynical, and it’s scary.

I would guess that many people spend their day doing things that they find utterly useless, but the amount of time I spend doing those things has increased since I started at my current company. There are many things that are not meaningless about running a restaurant — customer service, hiring, most paparwork, inventories, ordering, customer service, cleanliness, training, etc. These are all things that can be done well and can improve the restaurant for the guests who visit it and make it a fun place to work. However, there are also many nitpicky, stupid things that the corporation makes us do that contribute to my waning sanity. I can’t really give an example because they require some knowledge of the business and I think most of you would say, “who cares, just do it, it takes two seconds!?” But with these things multiplied many times a day and the expectation that a manager can somehow stay on top of all of them while still maintaining the important aspects that I listed above, is crazy.

I do think I could enjoy working in restaurants again if it was for a company that didn’t allow men in suits with no practical experience to devise ways to make their employee’s lives more difficult with no real benefit to the operation. I could also enjoy working in a non-corporate restaurant I’m sure. But I’m finding it more and more difficult to be a person of integrity in my job. I am starting to see why a great majority of the 30 and 40-something restaurant managers I know are either totally burned out, have some sort of drug habit, or are very cynical, bitter people. It’s really hard, the hours are long, and the money’s not that great.

With that, I hope my time working for “the man” is creeping to it’s end. I am not quitting or looking for other jobs, but I really want to travel some more. Fermin needs to spend some time in Mexico this winter and I might just quit and go with him. I met a girl through work that is going to Mexico in December and asked me to go with her. I need to have some more adventures. I need some new writing material, some time outside of this insane country. I want to learn a new place, to explore and absorb. The conventional wisdom would say that I should think about my 401K and my retirement savings and my future, but I have no kids and little to really bind me here, and when have I ever cared about conventional wisdom?

I paged through the Lonely Planet guidebook for Beijing at Barnes and Noble today and almost started tearing up as I read the writer’s “perfect day” in Beijing. It was strikingly like many of my best days in that fascinating city. Get a strong cup of coffee, jump on my bike and head to this great park where if you can’t find someone practicing calligraphy with brush and water on the sidewalk, you will at least find a shady place to sit near the lake and read or watch people in peace. Do some shopping, stroll in Tiananmen Square, eat and have some drinks at Sanlitun. Ahh yes.. how I miss Beijing.

There are many places in Mexico I want to explore, and I bought the Mexico Lonely Planet guidebook today so that I would be reminded of the nagging tug I feel today.

By the way, if I go to Mexico for a few months this winter, I will be seeking some travel partners as some of the time Fermin will be doing other things while perhaps I go to different states to explore. Any takers?


a ranting bunny trail of opinion

September 11, 2005

I just realized that I haven’t posted in a week. I actually thought I had posted something mid-week, but, it was just a draft and now I don’t really feel like finishing it. I was going to write something about the hurricane and add some links to some of the great journalism I have seen in the past two weeks, but instead I would just suggest that you all take a look at www.nytimes.com and especially check out the recent column on the hurricane by Nicholas Kristof, a great journalist and writer.

What else can I tell you, fine reader(s)? I’ve had a few nice days off, did some work around the house, stained my first cabinet (for our new bathroom) and planted some fall mums that I hope will actually live through the winter.

I just thought of a topic!

I feel, perhaps in the last three to five years, that I am becoming old enough to get a sense of a historical perspective on things. For example, I now hear myself making comments like “when I was in high school, everyone wore backpacks in the halls,” or “when I was a kid, we played in the park every day of summer…” I feel kind of old, not in a bad way; perhaps experienced is a better word. The thing is, I have a little crew of high schoolers that work for me, and while I don’t feel that much older than them, I do see that they think of me as an adult woman, which is amusing.

The reason I bring up the whole “historical perspective” thing, is that, in my short-ish life, I have noticed a few trends that I have this continuous Seinfeld-like desire to say “what’s the deal with ____?” about. Here goes:

  1. What is the deal with food allergies? Seriously, when I was a kid at a normal-sized suburban school district, I never knew one kid with any sort of nut, wheat or seafood allergy. People – take a look at the fine print on almost any package of snacks nowadays and you will find some kind of nut disclaimer. “This product may have been produced in a facility that processes tree nuts.” As most of you know, I work in the restaurant industry, and we used peanuts in some of our food at the last restaurant I worked at. I can’t tell you how many parents needed their food to be made specially without peanuts so their kids wouldn’t have a reaction.

So, this sort of strange phenomenon makes me think – what has happened in the last 20 years that has caused so many American children to develop all these strange allergies? Based on absolutely no scientific knowledge or research, I think it’s because of our anti-bacterial, germophobe, clean-freak culture. I mean honestly, Clorox wipes, air sanitizer, and parents freaking out when their children get dirty? Who are we? Just watching advertising for any number of cleaning products might lead a person to think it’s possible (an beneficial) to create a germ and bacteria-free environment. But really, it’s impossible, and no amount of food safety, sanitation and cleaning is going to stop that. Furthermore, we don’t want to raise our children in a sanitized environment, because when they do venture out into the real world, their immune systems can’t function correctly. Maybe this is an explanation for all these crazy allergies – undeveloped immune systems reacting badly to perfectly safe ingredients because they are so underused and out of whack. I think I may have read an article about this once, or maybe I just made it up, but I also think it makes a lot of sense. I guess I’ll do a little research and see if any scientists agree with my theory.

  1. So, what is the deal with snow? People – where is the snow from my childhood? I live in Wisconsin, and I can honestly remember that most if not all of the winters of my childhood involved large amounts of snow. We had these mountains of plowed snow rimming the playground at my elementary school and we used to climb them and wander around on them. I remember how great it was to see things from an elevated view, feeling tall and like you had a view of everything going out on the playground. I never noticed it much when I was in college, but now that I am back in Milwaukee, it really seems like we never have the amount of snow we had in back in those years, when I was a wee lass. Ok, just kidding, but if that isn’t anecdotal proof of global warming, I don’t know what is. My parents swear that when they were kids there was even more snow.

I know there is a lot more proof for the effects of global warming, but I am just amazed that with all the climate change and the terrible effects humans have on the environment, that we never learn to live in a more conscious way. Everything seems to be about Americans getting their oil and continuing our “great” lifestyle. What is that? Just getting more stuff? We certainly aren’t a successful culture as far as family life goes, with our 50 percent divorce rate. We aren’t a successful culture as far as health goes, with 40 percent of our population overweight and more and more obese children every day. And as we have all read in the past few days, we clearly haven’t been successful at dealing with poverty. We are so selfish, myself completely included, and the more I live with people of another culture, the more I realize how ingrained our selfishness is. The average tv-watching American kid can be totally occupied in the hobby of accumulating stuff – toys, then clothes, then gadgets, cars, etc. We are taught by our modern media to want stuff as if that embodies the American dream. Mexicans, to use my familiar example, are so much more likely to make great sacrifices in their lives for the good of their extended families than modern Americans would. I’m not judging, I completely fit into this category, but I can’t help wondering where we went wrong, and how we might teach our children to be different.


news of the days

September 7, 2005

I am definitely a news reader, but typically the big national stories, usually covered the same way over and over again, do not grab my interest. Too often they deal with celebrities or political maneuverings or sometimes, I just can’t read about stuff because it makes me feel shameful to be a citizen of this country. How many suicide bombings in Iraq can we stand to see – knowing that without our presence there, these people would not have died. How much cronyism and conflict of interest leading to economic benefits for the rich in our country can we read without becoming cynical?

It’s a much different story of course, but the hurricane has occupied a lot of my reading, radio listening, and tv watching time in the last week or so. It’s devastating and emotional to see what’s going on, but I also have enjoyed reading and watching the fruits of journalists doing real journalism – interviewing, investigating, commenting, experiencing and describing the events in the South. There’s been so much good commentary on NPR and so many good articles on the New York Times and other papers, I thought I would post links to some of them here:

  • Uprooted

a few days…

September 2, 2005

I am about to enjoy an evening of comfort food (deluxe mac and cheese) and red wine mixed with cranberry juice (I had always been more of a wine cooler girl, despite my attempts to truly enjoy wine). Desperate times call for desperate measures. My last few days at work have been terrible. My assistant and I usually complement each other in the way that on his bad days, I am usually the encouraging, optimistic one, and vice versa for my really bad days.

But the last few days, having to fire our best potential shift supervisor, losing one long-term well-trained employee, a variety of personal objections about what I do coming to a head in my head, have led me to a general feeling of hopelessness about the future of our store. It’s been four months since I was transferred there. Certainly, many things are a lot better, but I am still plagued with a situation where I have virtually no promotable employees, and therefore Adam, my assistant, and I are constantly so focused on just getting basic stuff done on our shifts that we never catch up. We never get to really be managers, do any long-term planning, nor train our employees to the degree necessary.

Furthermore, my moral obligations have really been weighing on me regarding my job. Here’s what I mean: Last night I was listening to this discussion about the benefits and evils of Wal-mart moving into urban neighborhoods in Chicago. I meantion this because these discussions remind me that in theory I believe in paying people good, living wages with benefits and all the lik. I care about this, but in my job, I am not always able to do that. I am forced, by the constraints that are set at levels above me, to meet certain budgets for labor, and therefore I really only have certain limits to what I can pay people, and I don’t generally feel very good about that. The other option, however, is to constantly struggle to make labor and therefore not do my job very well.

I was cynically joking about this with my boss today, and she joked that I was literally “the man,” in the negative, oppressing and harassing the masses sense. I usually can remove the dramatic view of this from my daily perspective, but today I was just overwhelmed with the idea that I didn’t want to do this anymore. In addition to the fact that despite my best efforts and he efforts of a really good assistant manager, things aren’t going that well. Sometimes I just wonder why I am doing this. This morning I was really on the verge of just deciding to leave. I would probably never do that, but today I really wanted to, and I didn’t even care anymore. Not caring really scares me, because it’s important to me to like my job, but there are days when the working life is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Time for wine and macaroni.