One day, the cash register's paper roll for receipts ran out, and while I was flubbing the task of threading a replacement through a maze of rollers, a line of customers impatiently questioned the delay. Mr. Gertzkin, the proprietor, came flying out of the back room. Grabbing a brown paper bag and a pencil, he started adding by hand and moving the line along.Yes. Figuring with paper and pencil is a lost art. As is initiative, if initiative involves anything more challenging than a search string on a device.
Intermittently he would give me a look that said: "You don't have the brains to figure that out? Forget about college. You'd be wasting your time."
He hadn't gone to college. But some Starbucks' baristas are college graduates. And Mr. Gertzkin's solution didn't occur to them? Some apparently gave away the cappuccinos and croissants, according to news reports, while others simply closed up shop.
Now it's reasonable to assume that Americans' brain power hasn't declined since those days. How then to account for the lack of initiative everywhere to be seen? In a big-box store, you are greeted with a perfunctory: "Are you finding everything you need?" The cadence suggests it's not so much a question as a mantra, repeated mindlessly to an endless stream of customers.What was that old line about unused brain capacity? A computer is a silicon-based moron, in the clinical sense of the word, and contemporary management practices seem to Mr Grossman to be treating the human appendages to the computers as carbon-based morons.
Mr. Gertzkin's personality wouldn't fit into a franchise business model, which depends not upon initiative but algorithms. Procedures are established much as a computer is programmed: If this happens, do that. Evidently nobody in Starbucks hierarchy wrote a memo titled: "Alternative Sales Methods When Registers Inoperable." Or: "Situations Allowing Exercise of Individual Judgment."We may yet re-discover that moxie in some people, but it might take an apocalypse-scale solar storm, and mass casualties, first.
So it's no wonder the Starbucks employees froze, and more is the pity. America was built by inventive types like Daniel Boone, determined to find a pass through the mountains to green pastures on the other side. Or like the Wright Brothers, convinced that humans could soar like the birds. In a world of giant corporations and franchises, it's hard to imagine a new Thomas Edison or Henry Ford is being groomed.
Or, evidently, a barista who, faced with a little adversity, has the moxie to grab a paper bag and a pencil and keep on selling.