December 19, 2012

Service, German Engineering and White Men

Yesterday morning I posted this on Facebook:

When you're on your way to work at 7:00 on a cold foggy morning, and you stop at Starbucks to pick up the largest cup of coffee you can find because you know you're going to be working your ass off, it's a little disconcerting when the barista follows you out and gets into a much nicer car than you are ever likely to own.

I'm not placing a value judgement on slinging coffee for a living or even saying that what someone drives at all meaningful. It's just a bit...incongruous.

I took some heat, both in the comments and in some email I received. Then I realized that I'd been misunderstood. Or, worse, came off sounding like elitist complaining about first world problems. That's not what I meant. I could literally not care less about what other people drive. I don't want a fancy car but I don't begrudge those who do. And my white collar doesn't give me an exclusive right to nice pieces of German engineering.

What I was trying to say is that, for a fleeting moment, it was demotivating. I worked an 80 hour week last week. I'll work another this week. Would I want to sling coffee and deal with everything the barista has to put up with? No. It was disconcerting because it made me ask the question "am I better off in a high stress job or can I do something different and still be able to thrive financially?" After a bit of research I learned that the answer to that question is no. Baristas in the greater Washington DC area make about $9/hour or an average salary of $19k/year. If someone wants to sink three years' salary into a car, fine. (Though, seriously, a Honda would be a wiser choice.)

It was also pointed out to me during the course of the day that I was implying that, as a white man, I feel entitled to be served. And that's ridiculous.

Because I'm busy, I do hand over a lot of stuff to my wife. She cooks most nights, she cleans, she does laundry and she does the lion's share of the kid wrangling. She also doesn't suck at math so the wealth of our vast empire is under her command. It's a lot. And some days I go home, find the couch, place my ass squarely on it and act as if I don't ever want to move, having gone off and slayed the proverbial dragon for the day. She cuts me a lot of slack, more than she should. But I realize that the slaying of said dragon is only reflective of one of my jobs. I'm a dad too. I trade one hat for another when 5:00 rolls around. And it wears me out and sometimes I'm impatient and wish I could just be left alone. But that's not how it works and, frankly, I'd be miserable if it did.

In the past, sure, white guys got used to being handed things on literal silver platters. Those days are gone. To claim otherwise is doing a great disservice to all the men who've tried to break that stereotype, the husbands who truly value a division of labor with their wives and appreciate all they do, and the dad's who've changed more of their fair share of diapers. There's a long-recognized glass ceiling for women but there is also the, well, the opposite of that for men. I'm tired of the stereotype that I can't take care of sick kids, can't figure out how to do a load of laundry or have some chromosomal barrier to loading the dishwasher correctly. It's almost as insulting as I imagine equal job and pay issues are for women in the workplace. The only thing women can't do that men can is pee standing up. And even that's not an impossibility. It's just messy.

Posted by Chris at December 19, 2012 7:48 AM

Actually with the invention and availability of the "Go Girl" women can now pee standing up without the mess.

Who knows what the barista's story is? I try not to make those comparisons-especially hard when some 16 year olds are driving cars that costs a good chunk of my annual salary working in non-profit. Good job on facing your criticism head on.

The only thing that confused me a little was the last paragraph where you state that white men are used to be handed things on silver platters and then go on a discussion of breaking down gender barriers and stereotypes-wasn't sure how race played into your further discussion and didn't want to misunderstand your intentions when you were trying to clear things up.

Posted by: amyd at December 19, 2012 8:59 AM

Some people have entirely too much time on their hands if this is what they're bitching about. I get where you're coming from. She probably has rich parents. :-)

Posted by: Holly at December 19, 2012 11:17 AM

I also cut the grass, change headlights, rewire electrical outlets, replace broken doorknobs, and fix leaky faucets, in addition to cleaning, cooking, laundry, and kid wrangling. You know, just since we are discussing it.

Posted by: Mrs. Cactus at December 19, 2012 12:19 PM

Don't let internet peeps get you down. I get what you meant. You're a great guy and you appear to have an awesome wife!

I have a great job (and great wife!) and I drive a Honda. It would bug me to pay 2 or 3 times that amount for a car that's just to drive to and from work.

Posted by: James Proffitt at December 19, 2012 12:45 PM

I drive a Honda and its not that we can't afford a nicer car, we have better things to spend our money on or invest it for our retirement.

I don't know how anyone could've taken offense at your post yesterday, you were making an observation, that is least that's how I read it.

Posted by: Kristin at December 19, 2012 2:50 PM

My first thought was that he was a guy with a white collar job and a German car who got downsized and opted to work at Starbucks instead of not working at all. And then I thought, man, maybe he's a financial wizard to buy a nice car on a barista's salary. I didn't think it made a bad reflection on you at all, but then, anyone with your taste in music must be a quality human being, so... :-)

Posted by: Brooke at December 19, 2012 3:32 PM

My thought is that the Starbucks worker is either 1) working just for the fun of it - something to keep themselves busy 2) way over extended and terrible with making wise money decisions.

Posted by: Heather at December 19, 2012 4:36 PM

You know I REALLY think it's lame that...(snoooorrreee....).
I understood what you meant. Although I AM a white guy with three kids and a stay at home wife. The sliver platter is still warm from the dishwasher (tongue in cheek).
Thanks for sharing. I'll be back for more.

The Cheeky Daddy

Posted by: Jason at December 19, 2012 4:47 PM

You know I REALLY think it's lame that...(snoooorrreee....).
I understood what you meant. Although I AM a white guy with three kids and a stay at home wife. The sliver platter is still warm from the dishwasher (tongue in cheek).
Thanks for sharing. I'll be back for more.

The Cheeky Daddy

Posted by: Jason at December 19, 2012 4:48 PM

i'm not quite sure where this post starts or ends or where it's going! when i saw your fb status, the only thing i thought (but didn't even worry about saying) is that there's no way anyone except maybe the regional manager working at starbucks makes enough to pay for a super amazing car and that barista must just be lucky to have nice rich parents or something and good for her. :)

you're not the kind of guy who would really begrudge her that so i didn't think much of your post :)

Posted by: kati at December 19, 2012 7:36 PM

Whenever I read a comment that starts with "I hate to be critical . . ." I realize what I am about to read is going to be extremely critical (and I think the person who wrote it is lying about hating being critical - otherwise, they wouldn't be. Especially in a public comment.)

I read what you put down.

Posted by: Mindy Lee at December 20, 2012 1:42 PM