“It seems like something here has resonated with a few people. And that’s kinda neat.” —Steven Slater
There are monsters among us.
Every day we witness bitter, demanding, resentful trolls—so mired in their own misery—release their dyspeptic nature on innocent bystanders. They shop at our grocery stores and work out at the local gym. They are passengers on flights and sit at neighboring tables at restaurants. They drive the cars you avoid on the highway.
Woe to any who come near these intrinsically bitter people. To witness their pain is to feel it. They dish out their misery with abandon.
These male and female malcontents attack with a simple dispatch of a dehumanizing remark, an acerbic demand, or snippy comment. Their unhappiness is so vast, simple interactions become an emotional sinkhole that can pull unsuspecting victims—the passer by, cab driver, nanny, waiter, coffee shop barista, or flight attendant—into their wicked depths.
As someone who has worked in restaurants for decades, I can tell you from experience that the service industry gets more than its fair share of monster customers. Angry devils dressed as customers step through the door of restaurants, hotels, department stores and retail outlets every day. They bring their anger and their blood-thirst with them as they demand all sorts of things no normal person would ask for*.
Often, these malevolent beasts go without rival. Anyone in the service profession is required to be accommodating, no matter how difficult and unreasonable the customer. We silently take the venomous attack and hope for the ugliness to pass. What else can we do?
Yesterday, a Jet Blue employee offered another kind of solution to the “customer is always right” paradigm. In a controversial–and widely celebrated move–flight attendant Steven Slater snapped after being sworn at by an aggressive customer obsessed with overhead baggage space. He took his I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore thoughts to the loud speaker, told off the offending customer, inflated the airplane’s emergency escape slide, popped open a beer, and slid off the plane. He drove away, only to be arrested later.
In what could have been a small, personal triumph for one overworked flight attendant has become a kind of battle cry for thousands of people across the country. In just a few days, Steven Slater has accrued more than twenty thousand Facebook fans, a website in support, a legal defense fund, and a handful of folk tunes have been penned to extol his actions.
*Warning: This video does contain some questionable language.
Steven Slater is an avenging folk hero for the service industry. Many of us day-to-day working folk can’t help but cheer him on. Slater has given voice to our internal monologue complete with a public tell off, an emergency slide, and a celebebratory beer.
We in the service industry often swap stories of lone figures we knew who stood up to brutality in one final, last-day-on-the-job stand. We share these stories over beers at the bar after an especially long day of work. These stories cheer us up and let us know that if it ever really gets bad, there’s always One Last Stand we can take.
There’s the story of the girl who walked off the job on the busiest shift of the year just to make the boss pay for all the months of abuse he dolled out. Or the guy that ordered a cab to arrive at the bar just in time for him to hang his apron on his bosses shoulder so he could walk out of his good-for-nothing-job and make a fast get away. I knew a co-worker who tossed his apron after getting sat the same group of regulars that frequently came in. They were known for buying not much more than a side of fries and then would demand baskets of free bread and butter, piles of sliced lemons so they could make their own–free!–lemonade, stay for hours, and left pennies for a tip. “To Hell with THIS!” he yelled as he crumpled up his apron and threw it on the table of the no-tipping customers. The customers were so shocked and embarrassed by the scene, they stumbled out of the restaurant never came back again.
Everyone has an “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it any more” story we keep in our back pocket for a dark days.
Do you have any great stories about standing up to emotional bullying you’d care to share?
*I have witnessed customers demand: a free meal because the special they liked so much wasn’t on the menu any more, a discounted meal because a woman at the next table was wearing too much perfume, a discount because their dessert was served while someone stepped away from the table to use the bathroom, a full refund because they found a hair (theirs) in their dish.