Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater: mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

By now, everyone with Internet access is aware of Steven Slater, erstwhile JetBlue flight attendant, who decided he’d had quite enough – and didn’t just quietly stew(ard) about it. He became so fed up that he cursed out an unruly passenger on the PA, then activated the emergency evacuation slide, and slid himself right onto the tarmac at Kennedy Airport.

I guess he didn’t have to bother to say “I quit” at this point (or “Fired? I quit.”) A short while after he abandoned his post, and, presumably, all hope in a future career in the airline industry, Slater was arrested at his home in Queens. He’s now cooling his jets at Rikers Island*, which may be a bit more than he bargained for. He has been:

…charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.

“When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds,” a law enforcement official said. “If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed.” (Source: NY Times.)

Who knows what’ll happen with Slater, once the cult hero worship dies down. Maybe a new career as consultant to burnt out airline employees? Maybe a made for TV movie?

But who among us hasn’t at least entertained a fleeting fantasy of pressing the ejection button, pulling the rip cord, activating the evacuation slide, and calling it quits with a capital Q-U-I-T-S.

Most of us don’t, of course.

We seethe, we grind out teeth, we bitch to our colleagues, we have sleepless nights.  If it’s really all bad/all the time, we make our escape plans, but it’s seldom that real-time dramatic.

We update our resumes, contact a head hunter, spread the word in our network.

If we’re lucky, within a few weeks/months, we’re able to utter the two most beautiful words in the English language: I quit. (Although we don’t even say that, in real life. We say, ‘I’m leaving.’  We say, 'This great opportunity came along,’ or ‘I needed a change of scenery,’ or ‘It was time,’ or ‘I’m really going to miss you guys.’ Nothing personal, don’t you know. (Even when it is.)

I did leave one (professional) job in a huff, but the huff took four weeks to play out. My boss – who was a pretty good friend – did something that I considered completely off the chart rotten to me. By noon, I was in a head-hunter’s office. Within a couple of weeks, I had a new job lined up. The new job, as it turned out, was a dud, mostly because the company was an extremely bad fit. If my PC had been working on Day One, I probably would have fired off a resignation letter and begged for my old job back. I did end up sticking it out two-and-a-half years, but, hey, even if the company itself – insanely hierarchical and absurdly bureaucratic – was terrible, I liked my colleagues well enough.

Other than that, my only huff leave-taking actually wasn’t my personal huff.

Post college, my roommate and I spent a year-plus traveling cross-country and cross-Europe, financed by waitressing at Durgin-Park, a venerable Boston tourist trap.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to leave for England, Joyce got into a wrangle with the owner (long since dead).

This was exceedingly easy to do, as he spent the half of his time he wasn’t shoveling down prime rib and fisherman platter dinners (and chugging Crown Royal with a splash) berating the waitresses for infractions, real and imagined. The dynamic was truly crazy. “The Boss” would fire you for, say, storing napkins on your station (which had been allowed the day before).  You’d go crying to the ‘old gals’ – waitresses who’d been there for 50 years – and the ‘old gals’ would intercede with “The Boss” on your behalf. He’d relent and give you your job back, while waving his finger in your face and yelling about not letting “it” happen again.

On our fateful final night at Durgin, “The Boss” had stopped Joyce as she left the kitchen, and screamed at her about putting too much whipped cream on the strawberry shortcake. (To get the full picture, you have to understand that Durgin had an open kitchen, so all of the screaming at the waitress occurred in full view and ear-shot of the diners.)

Insult was added to injury when, a half hour later, “The Boss” saw Joyce bussing the shortcake plates – on which little of the whipped cream had been touched. He went into a full-throttle tirade, at which point Joyce just threw the plates down on the floor, and the whipped cream splattered all over “The Boss’” shiny, high-water black pants.

Joyce then hollered over to me, “I’m out of here,” and I figured, what the hell, I’m out of here, too. (We were short timers, anyway.)

The ensuing scene was straight out of Keystone Cops, with “The Boss” chasing Joyce up the stairs to the break room, where we kept our coats. Then downstairs to get the break room key, which was missing from it’s usual hiding  place (in the break room lock). By this point, a number of the younger waitresses had joined in the chase so that we could help protect Joyce from “The Boss” if he caught up with her. (Fat chance of that. He was obese, and likely loaded, and wasn’t moving all that fast. Joyce was young, lithe, and fleet of foot.)

As we were making our exit, I had the presence of mind to go over to all my tables, and Joyce’s, to tell them we were leaving and to ask anyone if they wanted to give us our tips. (Most did.)

We actually had the gall to come back the next week for our final paychecks – about $15  a piece. (Waitresses made next to nothing, other than tips, in those days.) “The Boss” had his wife take down the names of everyone who spoke to us, but no one was fired.

And you know what?

This all felt great. Thrilling. Exhilarating, even.

Would I have done this in a “real” job? Highly unlikely.

But this was a temp job. And we were short-timers, anyway. And “The Boss” was such a louse – completely irrational and abusive.

There couldn’t have been one waitress working there who hadn’t wanted to hurl a strawberry shortcake at him, or whack him up the side of the head with a dripping slab of prime rib.

I almost wish it had been me….

And I can guarantee that, this week at least, there are a lot more workers out there fantasizing about doing exactly what Steve Slater did (Great Recession or not): activating that emergency exit slide, and sliding right out of a bad situation.



*The Times had it as a Port Authority facility, but that might have been for starters. People claims Rikers.

Tip of the pert, flight attendant’s cap of yore to my husband for spotting this story for me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, you have to read the whiteboard girl quitting on the chive: