As the shop sinks ever deeper into the pitiless ocean, the owners look for heavy things they can heave over the side. I have not yet been singled out as one of them, but they've been estimating my weight by eye. Last week I almost didn't get paid because my effort to help my colleague George set up a nice display of bikes for someone who had spent nearly $5,000 purchasing them at our shop interfered with our warm welcome for one unannounced teenager from the ski team showing up to wax his skis for free.
Irrational panic has set in. It is aided by a pre-existing tendency to be irrational at the best of times. The employees they need to meet the basic needs of operating a shop with two doors and rooms that can't be surveyed from a single central point seem like dead weight to them when no one comes in. I sympathize, but they have no other options, since one of the two family members young and lucid enough to come in and work as slave labor refuses to spend more than a few hours on two separate days in the shop. That leaves only one overworked owner and a labor pool of three hourly-wage employees to sprinkle over the schedule. Of the three employees, one is a retiree with a sufficient pension, so he takes off when he feels like it. The other one is balancing his need for the income from this job with the other factors in his life that lead him to take some fairly lengthy trips at times. So that leaves me. But I've been told I'm such a liability in the customer service department that the bookkeeper "finds it really hard to write your check."
After 23 years with the company that's pretty hard to hear. But you reap what you sow. Evolution is a cold bitch, and it's about to select against me. Twenty-three years be damned. If I'm not worth paying, I'm not worth paying. The past is dead and gone. The future is a dream.
The late Bill Call, my friend who died of colon cancer a couple of years ago, once told me that being a dishwasher is a pretty good job. Easy to get, easy to leave and it's generally yours as long as you can stand it and you get the dishes clean enough to pass a health inspection. Sure the pay isn't great, but I've lived on that little before. And there's no chance I'll break out and offend customers. I just have to get along with a few coworkers and keep up with the work load. Nothing to make, nothing to fine-tune, just dirty things and clean things.
It helps that I know I have no future. Grunt jobs are harder when you think you're meant for something greater. I've had plenty of time to figure out that I'm not. However many times I've pulled the bike shop's chestnuts out of the fire with an ingenious fix, it's worth nothing now that people aren't spending money on anything we sell or requiring service on things we repair. In a hundred years people might be riding bicycles a lot, and valuing simple ones that last a long time, but I'll be dead by then. Things will get worse before they get better for my kind. Nothing brilliant has flowed from my pen. I have not improved the world because the world cannot be improved, only experienced for as long as you are permitted to live.
According to the Houston Chronicle website, prospects for dishwashers are expected to improve through 2020. There's job security. Of course once the word gets out it will become more competitive. One might need at least two years of college, preferably with a business major, to get the really good positions.
Depending on where I find work in this rural area, bike commuting might be over. The truly efficient grunt does not own a home, so he can migrate to a more conveniently located sleazy rental with each job change.
I don't know what will happen to the bike customers who relied on my expertise whether they knew it or not. Certainly they will be greeted with lavish courtesy by whoever might work at the shop for as long as it stays in business. I understand that's really what matters anyway. Anyone who believes otherwise is awfully hard to pay.
It's not over yet. I am still scheduled to show up and man the pumps for the foreseeable future. I don't know how to sweeten it for them when they have to force their pen across that wretched check I didn't earn, but I'll keep cashing it as long as they keep writing it. And start noticing where all the restaurants are.