The Other Side

How quickly we forget! How easy it is to let all the little things slip from our minds while allowing seemingly important issues to take over our lives. How effortlessly we let materialism guide our lives before even thinking of other human beings.

In my first month of the dual-job summer, I have begun to realize a lot about the world around me, noticing little details which seemed invisible only a few weeks earlier. After chasing eight year old girls around at arts camp all day, mirroring dance move and demonstrating drama exercises, I slip home for a quick shower and a change of uniform and quickly depart for my second minimum wage job. Following my exhausting day, I plop myself down in a chair with a good novel and a can of La Croix and sell concert tickets for the next five hours. While “overscheduled” may be the first word to come to mind as I remind people of my thirteen hour work day, I find the system rather satisfactory and perhaps even relaxing. My jobs give me a purpose, a duty to fulfill, and I enjoy accomplishing whatever work is put in front of me.

While spending hours behind a desk and a glass window, I’ve received all types of questions from “Would I buy a children’s or adult ticket for my dog?” (Neither? Who brings a dog to a concert?) “What if it’s a puppy? (No.) to “Is it supposed to rain during next week’s concert?” (I don’t know) “How can you not know?” to couples making out in front of me rather than signing receipts to various costumers yelling at me in languages I cannot understand in the least bit. (Seriously, the louder you speak in Russian/Japanese/Kiswahili the less likely I am to understand a word.)

The thing is, after spending time on the other side of the line, I suddenly realize a perspective I have neglected my entire life. It’s so simple for me to swipe my credit card at Trader Joe’s while checking my email in the other hand, to force my reusable bags into the hands of the person at the checkout while maintaining seven different text conversations, and to grab my bagged purchases while updating my Facebook status. All without making eye contact.

In my time behind the counter, I’ve realized that a little smile goes a long way. I’ve learned that an extra once of politeness, an anonymous “Thank you,” truly makes my day more pleasant. I’ve seen the value behind full attention, the obnoxiousness of ignoring the person doing your menial labor just so you can save time and place an order on Amazon.com via iPhone while she rings up your current order.

How often do we think back to the laugh we exchanged with the checkout person at the grocery store, the friendly nod with the salesperson in Nordstrom, or the “Have a nice day” given to us by a banker. I’m willing to bet never. But what if all of those people growled and barked at us like the pesky Chicago Traffic Directors in their neon vests on Michigan Avenue/State Street/every other location where they are unnecessary?

There are so many days when I would rather lay in bed all day rather than venture out to work, but I know I have a responsibility, a task to complete, and I allow the escape to divorce me from any and all personal problems. I find my job almost like a kindergarten dance recital: a forced smile, no matter how cheesy, convinces me I’m happy, convinces others they should be happy, and somehow makes my day better.

Working behind the counter is almost the complete opposite of The Biz. For one, my name and headshot are not printed in a glossy Playbill, my accomplishments are not listed below, and I lack pretty much any opportunity for special acknowledgements. No one is here to see me. I'm often referred to as the lady wearing the purple polo shirt (or worse: the young girl in purple). Just as no one cares about the person selling the groceries/clothes/house, we just want the end result.

But I’ve found solace in my job. I’ve realized that in the few hours I am not working, when I finally have free time to buy a bag of spicy cashews or checkout a new library book, I can make a little bit of a difference in the world. I can try and care about every individual and appreciate her helpfulness. I can put down my cell phone while rushing through the convenience store, I can I return a mandatory “How are you?” with a “Good, thanks, how are you?” and perhaps I can even create conversation.

Because from the other side I’ve realized, that as quickly as we forget, it is just as simple to remember that we are all individuals, we are all humans, we have our flaws and our shortcomings, our moments of invisibility and our time to shine, but we cannot forget that we all have to look out for each other, smile a little more often, and perhaps use the magic words (“please” and “thank you” for those of you who forgot preschool) every once and a while. Because without each other who do we have?