Posted by: Rob | April 20, 2008

The downside of a boom economy

We were out and about yesterday running a few errands in Sherwood Park. Probably ill-advised as it was snowing rather heavily (it is April, isn’t it?) and yet the plans were in place before the weather went south.

We had several planned stops to make. We were looking for toaster pastries made by “Nature’s Path”, you know, the “organic pop tart”? According to their corporate website, their products are handled by several grocery stores in Sherwood Park. Well, their website lies. After that unsuccessful stop, we went over to Chapter’s at the Sherwood Park Mall. We were looking for yoga mats (yes, one was for me – don’t say a word), which we found; we also picked up a paper. I thought I’d like a tea from the Starbuck’s there when Ann went to get her ritual Chai, but changed my mind. I decided that I wanted a milk-shake instead. (I don’t know why, they also give me a belly ache. Guess I’m a slow learner.) We left from there Chai-less because, according to Ann:

“The line-up is too long. And besides, I don’t like the way they make the Chai’s at this one.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, and the people are so rude!”

“Who? The workers?”

“Yes!”

So we paid for our yoga mats, a copy of today’s Globe and Mail and headed back out into the snow.

We stopped by the standalone Starbuck’s on Baseline to get Ann’s Chai fix and then the next stop was General Paint to get another gallon of interior paint (Shire Field…it’s green) for an in-progress project. And after that, we ventured over to a nearby McDonald’s to satisfy my milk shake fix. Katy, having overheard my milkshake announcement, decided that she wanted one too.

The other night – Thursday – after a failed attempt to take a walk on the trails around Fort Saskatchewan (long story and a comedy of errors, so to speak) we decided to treat Kate to an ice cream cone and head for home. As she’s lactose intolerant, we opt for the cones from McDonald’s as they’re made from edible oil. As we approached the Drive-Thru (because who wants to go inside those places?) we noted that several cars were backing out of the Drive-Thru and leaving. Ann figured something was wrong with Drive-Thru and that maybe I should go inside for the cone. Well, being the fat, lazy bastard that I am, I said, “No way. We’ll give the Drive-Thru a try. Should be okay.” Famous. Last. Words. We entered the twilight zone the drive through alley and were immediately trapped by several vehicles entering behind us. No word of a lie here. We were in that line waiting for one soft serve cone for a half hour! I don’t know. Maybe my expectations are too high? I just feel like that’s 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. And, of course, given the quality of the staff (and, yes, that’s a shot at young service sector employees everywhere) there was no mention of “Sorry for the wait” or any other inkling of an explanation. It was take your money, here’s your cone and the request for extra napkins greeted with exasperation. It also didn’t help when I started bitching about the wait and Ann reminded me that I had apparently said last time we were there that we would never go there again.

So, being one with an extremely short memory (and dogged determination) I boldly entered the Drive-Thru at the McDonald’s just off Broadmoor and Baseline in Sherwood Park. We sat for several minutes behind another car at the order panel. The person in that car looked frustrated. I looked ahead at the lengthy line up of other cars, had a painful memory of the other night, hit reverse and got the hell out of there. “I’ll go inside.”, I said.

Inside was…I don’t know how to describe it really. There looked to be a single manager on duty and she was surrounded by at least a dozen blue shirted minions, all engaged in doing…NOTHING. Well, okay, some were wandering aimlessly about. Really, I don’t know how a business can function like that. Somehow I was able to exchange $8.25 for a couple of milkshakes and a couple of orders of lard filled sponge sticks french fries. And, geeze, it only took about 25 minutes to do this too. And no, it was not the lunch rush time. When I arrived there were only two other customers in front of me in line. But there were about four other people waiting for “special” orders. (And by “special”, I mean menu items.) The kids employees on window ran the gamut from surly to clueless. I don’t know what kind of training they give these kids; to me, it looks like none. The on duty manager was doing the bulk of the work in the kitchen and alternated between shouting orders to her minions and ragging on them for being late to work that day.

I took my leave once I finally got my order and headed for the exit. I regaled Ann with my adventures inside McDonald’s and wondered aloud about things like training (and the obvious lack thereof). She gave me an education about what is really wrong:

1) We, as a society, are letting kids work when they really are too young to work. At ages to 14 – 17, kids have not yet developed any sense of cause and effect or behaviour and consequences. Putting them to work and expecting responsibility and accountability is, well, going to be disappointing.

2) In school, we teach kids how to work in groups, rather than on their own. Foolishly, we tell them that this is how it works in the real world. But, Ann assures me, what the real world holds is that each person is generally responsible for a piece of a project or task and, when all the pieces are completed, then that is the definition of working in a “group” (or “team” as we like to call it now). Unfortunately, what the kids learn in their “group” work is that usually one or two stronger individuals will do the bulk of the work. Everyone else just hitches a free ride, sitting around furthering their social skills. This learned behaviour translates into the workplace when they begin working these crappy jobs at fast food restaurants and the like.

3) What makes us think that we can take the children of people who are marginal employees and workers themselves and make anything different from them? As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The boom economy in Alberta has probably done more harm than good. We’re falling all overselves to exploit our fossil fuel reserves as fast as we absolutely can. (Here’s another conundrum: the same people who cheer about high crude oil prices are among those who bitch the loudest when pump prices for gasoline and diesel go up, up, up!) I can only imagine in the vaguest of terms what this means for our environment. The social impact is much more visible: more and more cars and trucks on the same old roads and highways, housing developments springing up hither, thither and yon, housing prices going astronomical (the price of the average home around here has more than doubled in the last two to three years – I really don’t know how anyone can afford a home, let alone those at the entry level). And, tied to the above rant, the lowest level and lowest paying jobs go wanting for bodies to fill them. These places are always hiring and they seem to be willing to offer anyone a job. The only prerequisite is that you’re breathing.

I can’t think of a single good thing about a boom economy.

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Responses

  1. You have written my views better than I could have my love.


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