To preface, I moved to Philadelphia from Indianapolis at the beginning of the new year, got a brand new job at Starbucks, and was immediately surrounded by a worldwide pandemic. This has most assuredly been the oddest year of my life, and I haven't even hit my 21st birthday. Every day when I go into work, I take my temperature. I answer a questionnaire about any possible symptoms and the people I've come into contact with. I'm handed a single use mask, and often I'm switching someone for a headset that first needs rigorously disinfected once I'm on the floor. All to serve coffee.
I'm young, and most sources say that I'm low risk for contracting COVID-19. However, other sources warn about the dangers of unknown effects in young people. I worry that I have conditions I may not know about, because I don't go to the doctor as much as I should, because my lungs aren't the best, because I've had chronic undiagnosed pain issues since I was a teenager and don't know what causes them. I worry that my partner may have conditions that we don't know about, and that I could infect her, though she is safely working from home. This is truly the most paranoid I think I have ever been, and yet I push it aside as much as I can. Still, I'm scared, as are many others in my position.
I recently made a post in my neighborhood on a local app urging my community to avoid unnecessary trips to places like Starbucks, and was hit with an incredible amount of fairly nasty backlash. I advocated for ordering delivery from local businesses that will need support to get through this, while avoiding frequenting large, corporate businesses like Starbucks and McDonald's that will undoubtedly make it through and are currently exploiting loopholes about what constitutes an essential business and endangering their employees. I explained that I was grateful to have a job, but felt stuck in a potentially dangerous situation for no reason. I'm not a first responder; I'm a barista. Yet, the comments continued to be vicious.
I've heard from many people like me, considered expendable in the eyes of their industry and stuck in a job that feels dangerous without reason. It's one thing to be serving first responders; another to be berated by angry individuals bored with quarantine and upset by line lengths, as there are fewer restaurants to choose from and those still open are seeing a major increase in traffic that is becoming unmanagable. It seems that the public attitude as a whole is becoming nastier, that more and more people are making nonessential trips and trying to resume "life as normal", and workers are left without options or protections. Most won't qualify for unemployment should they choose to quit due to feeling unsafe, and because rent freezes have not been overly successful and the food stamp benefit process is clogged, many feel that they do not have a choice but to continue working.
Again, I am grateful to have a job, as many pointed out on my post. I hope to remain as impartial and aware of my blessings as possible, but I do not think that this can excuse the potential dangers of this situation that I'm in. I often worry that I will get sick and that this will result in long-term health issues, all because I continued to work as a barista in my early 20s during a national disaster. Many others share similar worries. The anger I see is often misdirected, from those who have been furloughed and not recieved unemployment, or from those who are recieving unemployment at a rate considerably less than their usual salary. These things are far above my experience as a single person, and yet I think it is easier to take ones anger out on a single person on the internet than demanding action of our governments, who are supposed to be taking care of their citizens in times of national crisis.
Unemployment, for instance, is meant to supplement a living wage, but it currently does not reflect this. Homelessness is expected to spike, but imagine how this might be solved if housing wasn't a business-driven market. Hunger is also expected to spike, but imagine how this might be solved if we reduced food waste and donated rather than throwing away. These are larger issues on a grand scale that I've found being thrown at myself and other essential workers, when the real directive of the anger should be thrown towards a government who is meant to work for its people, and who is currently avoiding all responsibility in this time of crisis.
Another consideration is that there seems to be an incredible overlap in the number of people telling essential workers to be grateful to have a job, and those unwilling to recognize that essential businesses will continue to be hiring during this pandemic. According to the Starbucks hiring portal, there are nearly 70 open positions currently in my area. I can understand that it is less than ideal to go from a comfortable office job to food service, but the unbelievable irony of those berating essential workers for worrying about their safety and being selfish for complaining while they still have a job, and then becoming suddenly silent at the mention of being hired in the same field is hard to ignore.
Along these same lines, this pandemic has opened my eyes like nothing else to the way service workers like me are viewed by the public. I have worked in customer service and retail jobs my entire working career, and I plan to continue in this field. It seems that the public perception of service workers is that they are lacking the skills to get a "real job" (office job, etc), while in reality, I guarantee that we handle so much on a daily basis that many people would never consider, let alone be able to resolve. I'm primarily a writer, but it has always been my plan to make my money in the service industry. I am good with people, I love making coffee or selling books, or whatever else it is that I may go on to do, and while it is apparent now more than ever that people don't view these jobs as "real" jobs, and see them merely as stepping stones for the young and lazy on the way to possible progression to something "higher up", it is also more apparent that these jobs are what is currently carrying society.
It is my hope that, if nothing else, this pandemic will teach us as a whole where to direct our anger, who is really carrying society, and how to have compassion towards the people around us, but for the time being, it is an odd world we live in that demands I continue to serve coffee in a mask and gloves, to a population in denial.