I take the train to work every day – living in LA, this news is always reacted to with bewilderment and later, amusement. “There’s a train from your place to downtown? Where is the train station? But isn’t it….weird?” Yes, close, and no. Having taken public transportation to work for over three years now, I love it and have seen a lot of things that those who commute in the bubble of their car might not be able to experience. I see the same faces every day, I love seeing how busy the train station becomes, homeless people at the train station, the young professionals all dressed up and ready to make their mark, people trying to subtly hit on each other thinking no one else notices, cracked out teenagers, and a bunch of characters that make it interesting. The one thing that stands out the most to me are the older generation of employees going to work every day. They’re tired. Fifty years of age and over, they have a worn, anxious appearance to them, worrying about their retirement, mortgages, their children, paying for college, so many things. I wonder, what happened to the wide-eyed version of themselves? The one that knew exactly what they wanted to do, full of spunk and moxie. It really hit home when the train’s been late a few times… they are the ones pulling out their cell phones immediately to call their supervisors to apologize for being ten, twenty, thirty minutes late. Eager to please, so worried to lose their jobs because they know how difficult it would be to get another.
Yesterday, I saw a older gentleman, asian, and my father’s age. He even looked like him. The train was about ten minutes late, and as he was standing in line behind me, I heard every word of his conversation with his manager. “Mr. S…., I’m calling to let you know I’ll be late. I’m so sorry, the train is late….yes, I know. It won’t happen again, sir…..yes, I understand. I will stay late today to make up the time…. I was going to take Friday off to go to the doctor, but I can change the appointment” He looked like a proud man, but I heard the desperation in his voice. I turned around and smiled at him, and he said sheepishly, “My manager is 28, can you believe it. Younger than my son.” It broke my heart. My own father is a proud man as well, typical asian, never praising to his children, always pushing us further, but worked so hard to support us. I never saw him apologize or bow down to anyone. I could tell he was the same. He was at the same company for thirty years until last year, when he was laid off. He used to tell me that if I studied hard and was a good employee, I would have job security in America forever. I told him forever doesn’t exist anymore, but he insisted that it did. When he was laid off last year, after his company was bought out, it was the first time I saw him with tears in his eyes. He went back to beg for his job, any shift. They gave him the graveyard shift. A twenty-nine year old gave my father, a man well over sixty, hours working from 9 pm to 4 or 5 am. My mother had to beg me from going over to the office and pummeling him. If I happened to see him somewhere today I’m not sure I would be able to control myself. Something in him broke that day, because he took it.
At work, I am the controller, but they have found another use for me. Apparently, I’m good at firing people. They joke that I’m the “Up in the Air” girl, because I can fire ten people a day and console them to where they will call my corporate HR and tell them that they appreciate the way it was handled, which ultimately translates to less lawsuits for them. The past few years though, there has been a push to let go of the older group, as they’ve been there longer, are slower, and more expensive. They cry, they say they will take a pay cut, work part-time, whatever it takes. In every face, I see my father, his worry, his patience, how hard he has worked, only to be treated this way, his whole life gone, another dream broken. And I am that punk ass kid.
In the future, when I start another company, I want to make sure that I am a good employer, one that doesn’t do this to their people, their work family. At the restaurant, I can proudly say we hired and kept all our employees, paying them great wages, so I know it can be done and successfullly. I’ll do it again.
Daddy, I love you more than you will ever know and I’m working hard to make sure you or anyone else will ever have to bow down to anyone again.