Service of Who is Looking?

June 16th, 2011

Categories: Accommodation, Attitude, Back to Basics, Customer Care, Dependability, Food, Quality, Recognition, Staffing


I met a friend for lunch at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and noticed a park attendant working her heart out. We were eating our sandwiches and sipping our drinks under trees on this perfect almost summer day. Every table was taken by office workers and tourists doing the same. In the hour we were there, the attendant repeatedly emptied the trash from a small stationery container which, once empty, she’d spray with disinfectant every third time. She had to lift out the inside basket and turn the contents into a large trash bin on wheels that she rolled back and forth. I was amazed at her diligence–no rats in this part of the park that’s for sure–and I thanked her for it.

fire-fighter-badgeOn the other hand, a few weeks ago I drove through a small upstate town passing a sign asking me to slow up and announcing a collection up ahead for the local fire department. I expected to toss a bill or coins, whatever I could grab from my bag as I drove, into a bucket held by a fireman or volunteer. I didn’t see anyone near the cans or on the side of the road however there were a few buckets piled on one another on the yellow line in the middle of the road. Not a soul in either direction rolled down a car window to toss a coin or a bill in those buckets. If the firemen and friends couldn’t be bothered, why should we?

That day I was on my way to a craft fair in a field in upstate New York. Lucky I’d been there before. One untrained kid was doing a hesitant and dangerous job directing traffic at the exit which spilled onto the road I was on. When I got to the entrance a quarter mile past him–he didn’t tell me whether I’d be parking in the field to the left or the right of the road–I saw eight kids with the same tee shirts as his sitting around near the entrance on the left so that’s where I went. They were shooting the breeze. They should have been directing traffic on the road and in the large parking area. Guess they weren’t in the mood.

outdoor-food-vendorsWhen it was time for a snack I noticed a food vendor I’d not seen before. The stand stood out because it was the only one with a line. One youngster stood over three extremely hot metal plates making crepes. He poured the perfect amount of batter each time, painted it in a circle with a little wooden paddle, turned it and gave the finished crepe to another young man who filled it with chicken, veggies, cheese or whatever you wanted. The youngsters didn’t get ruffled in spite of the time it took to cook the perfect crepes and they never for a minute stopped. The result was delicious and well worth the wait.

There wasn’t a manager or boss in view so who of importance to the livelihood of the Bryant Park attendant or the crepe/sandwich makers would have known they were  meticulous in fulfilling their tasks? What inspired them to do their [unpleasant], no doubt minimum wage jobs so well? What were the firemen or the volunteers who planned the fundraiser and parking lot staff thinking? What signs do you look for when hiring such employees?


6 Responses to “Service of Who is Looking?”

  1. Peg G. Said:


    I think hope is the biggest inspirer. If you haven’t had a job for a while, and you take a lousy one, you are better off than you were, and if you try hard, maybe you’ll get a less lousy one.

    Our biggest problem is that we are all brainwashed to think that we deserve stuff, to have a right to stuff, that somebody else owes us something. I think the people who are happiest don’t expect anything from anyone, and do their job, no matter how gruesome, because it is their job. Those volunteer firemen had been hearing for too long about how wonderful it was that they had volunteered, not, “O.K. so you volunteered, so have a lot of people. Now get out there and raise some money!”

    I like to hire people I like. If I don’t like them, I don’t want them around, no matter how skilled.

    Educators, especially, do us no favors when they swell kids’ heads heads with, “Now that you have your BA/MBA/MA/PhD etc., you are special.” I just want somebody who is cheerful and willing to work. Obviously, though, if you are illiterate, like many of our grads, you will not be that much use as a proofreader.


  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I also think that if you do a good job, someone may “discover” you and may want to hire you to do something else.

    You can be certain that one of the lazy kids in the country parking lot won’t be asked to work at anyone’s store or business, or at a similar event for better pay [now that they have experience].

    As for swelled heads, I am not sure that these come with degrees as much as with the attitude that we can’t upset youngsters by not moving them along when they are lost in the thicket. Somehow we expect them to do well in the next grade when they haven’t completed the work of the current one. At one point, they will have to face the music–by not getting a job, apartment, house, or a spot on the team they want–and with no practice at turning failure around or living with it and moving on, the impact will be earsplitting.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    It is not necessary to feel one is being examined to do a good job. What’s needed is a healthy work ethic, liking ones work, energy, and preferably a dose of all three. Working hard is no answer to success either. It’s a known fact that the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, prefers golf to work, yet here he is, in line to become President in the event of a double disaster.

    In an ideal world, sloth Boehner would be out on the street collecting garbage, and the industrious park attendant would be occupying a prestigious position somewhere. Both instances could still happen, but it’s doubtful, so why dwell on time consuming “what ifs?” If the person which brings one to a higher level is watching, good. Just don’t count on it.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are plenty of Boehners around–most have worked with some–though I think perhaps fewer in this economy. I wonder if he didn’t work like a dog at one point to get where he is. I always thought of him as the poster man for suntans and wonder where he gets such a deep one in midwinter when he is from Ohio and works in Washington: A parlor, perhaps!

    As for the work ethic and energy, I agree. I can’t imagine that the kids liked what they were doing after a few hours of standing over those hotplates or that the park attendant is thrilled with her garbage tasks. Yet compared to no salary at all, as Peg pointed out….working and making money to support oneself is enough to keep many going.

  5. DB Said:

    The taxpayer is looking!

    Montgomery County motorists have been annoyed with our career firemen for collecting donations at traffic intersections while on the clock. Credit should be given to the fireman for working for a charity but should the taxpayer pay for their time?

    Which firemen deserve the most credit? Were your fireman out on a call?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    GOOD points, all.

    As for the firemen on a call, that happens, unfortunately, and the “event planners” might have taken such an obvious situation into consideration and enrolled the help of relatives and friends as backups.

    I don’t know if these were paid or volunteer firemen. If paid–and I understand that nobody wants to pay for a person’s time to fundraise–some of the bucket holders might be off duty and if that’s not a possibility and if they can’t attract volunteers to the task, it’s back to the drawing boards! Buckets in the middle of the road with nobody around will no longer work as a fundraiser in my opinion.

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