The age of entitlement

Move over Gen Xers. Step aside, Baby Boomers. There’s a new generation of disgruntled, misunderstood youth coming of age out there: The Entitlement Generation.

In case you haven’t heard or been keeping up on your trendy internet blogs, this term refers to those born between 1979-94. And like the moniker suggests, these twenty-somethings feel a sense of entitlement, purportedly undeserved, to higher pay, more vacation time and, of course, the corner office, company platinum card and private jet. Sort of like modern-day versions of Veruca Salt.

Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger. Bear in mind, just a few years ago, I had to stand by (OK, maybe I was lying on the couch with a raspberry Snapple and the remote) while the world referred to me and my peers as “apathetic slackers.” I would have taken issue with this had there not been a “Real World” marathon on at the time.

Anyway, I sure am glad that the proverbial torch of shame has been passed on, with another group of young, shiftless, lazy Americans taking the heat. And from some of my more recent observations, they seem to be doing an admirable job. On more than one occasion, I’ve felt the chilly cold shoulder of an (which is how I will refer to the aforementioned group from now on because my Gen X fingers are too lazy to type the entire name). Just the other day, I stood at the counter of an empty store trying to give the obvious working the cash register my money. My attention-getting salutation was returned curtly, and then the young man resumed his absent-minded monitoring of his asteroids screen saver. Perhaps he thought I was just being friendly, I’ll never know. But I do know that it never once occurred to him to ask those four magical words, “Can I help you?” Instead, I stood there in awkward silence, left to my own devices. I considered lighting my hair on fire, had I had any, to get his attention. But, I’m not sure it would have helped much, anyway. Instead, I waited patiently for the young man to return from whatever distant galaxy he was visiting. Finally, the pain became too much to bear, and another employee, who looked to be more of the Baby Boomer era, finally came to my rescue. Thank god, because I was starting to take the neglect personally.

But before I go any further, allow me to insert a disclaimer. Although it’s easy to poke fun of others’ customer service skills, the fact of the matter is I, myself, am a dreadful attendant when it comes to customers. Ask anyone privy to my work ethic in my Gen X prime, and they’ll tell you I was fired (I prefer the term “not asked back”) from restaurant jobs more times than an intern at the Trump Towers. While I can say that no missing persons reports were ever filed for people waiting on me to notice their presence, I did, on occasion, give a little “what have you” to a few, select individuals. OK, so maybe it happened more than occasionally. But the point is not to defame my good name – or give rise to those vicious rumors about my hand in the water pitcher.

The point is, we all seem to need a swift kick in our business end from time to time. While it might seem appropriate to ply your witty sarcasm on the hundredth person that day who asks for separate checks, sometimes it’s better to keep comments to yourself – or at least reserve them for the wait station, where you’re out of ear shot.

Of course, all this talk of slacking and entitlement was unheard of in my grandfathers’ generation. You got up every day, put in an honest day’s work, and that was that – no whining, no sniveling and no slacking. The world was in turmoil, and you had to work hard for what you got. And when you reached 65, they threw you a party, gave you a pat on the back and maybe engraved your name on a plaque in the front office. Which was all that was expected. Nowadays, if there aren’t some fat stock options and a gold Rolex, you can just forget about it.

However, in customary Gen X fashion, I will admit that today’s work force’s lack of motivation is not entirely its fault. After all, good role models are hard to come by – many have long-since left the working world in favor of shuffleboard and orange groves. And who can blame them?

But there is one local enigma that stands out. A kindly old gent, whose full head of white hair and lively gait proved that age is only a state of mind. For the past several years, I was greeted by “Joe” during my weekly, sometimes hourly, trips to Kroeger’s. With a cart at the ready, he embodied service with a smile, putting that creepy, yellow, smiley face at the Megabox down the road to shame. Maybe he was just being polite, but something told me it was more genuine than that. Nevermind that he was a decorated fighter pilot back in the day, Joe seemed to approach his current duties with the same devotion. When I needed a hand cramming Baxter’s first kiddie pool into the back of my Subaru, he was there to help out. And when a dozen birthday party-bound balloons escaped from the back of the family truckster on another occasion, he helped me round them up in a crowded parking lot. He even went so far as to invite my dog inside on a particularly hot summer day (an offer I kindly turned down because I didn’t want to get him fired.)

It got to the point where I enjoyed exchanging pleasantries with Joe, always taking the cart he offered, whether I needed it or not.

I’m not sure who will be ushering out the welcome carts now, but, unfortunately, it won’t be Joe. He passed away last week at the age of 87, and I’m sure his hospitality will be missed by more than a few locals who passed through those sliding doors. But the point is not to bum you out or mourn the loss of a bygone era, when people actually went out of their way to help each other out. Rather, the point is to maybe take a few tips from Joe’s example. In other words, we could probably all stand to be a little more like Joe. After all, in this day and age of entitlement, perhaps we owe it to each other.

-Missy Votel



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