Monday, September 05, 2005

Industrial Action of One.

I am cold. I am wet. And I am hungry.

Not a happy camper at all, but I want to blog tonight's events while the emotions are fresh and before they fade with a hot meal, a hot shower and a good night's sleep.

I am angry. Not the seething, raging, throw dishes through the window sort of hot flashes of flaming anger. It is the ice-cold, calculated, clear-headed type of anger. The dangerous type that quietly says "mess not with me".

And tonight I did something I am not proud of. Do not misunderstand. I am not exactly ashamed of what I did, but I am not proud of it either.


***


The evening started quietly enough, except for the radio warnings of a fierce cold front incoming, storm conditions around 8pm and the usual motorist-keep-off-the-roads and storm-proof-your-house warnings.

And like clockwork, the store manager on duty at the big pizza place calls me. Of the two scheduled drivers, one called in sick and the other did not turn up. And the other drivers are not available to work. And would I mind working a last-minute shift? And pretty please because he was desperate and had no drivers available. (Okay, so he did not say pretty-please, but he requested politely. And he is a friendly likable guy once you get past the taciturn exterior.)

So I spend the first three hours in the expected miserable conditions. The weather is even worse than the previous time which almost made me quit. Strong gusty winds, minor flooding on the roads, drenching rains.. the usual crap. Was in pretty good cheer actually, especially seeing the faces of people huddled up in their homes against the terrible weather and the relief of being able to get hot pizza delivered in comfort without having to go out in the bad weather. Was even amused by the delivery to the "gentleman's club" when the ladies were going "oh, you poor thing" when they saw my sorry sodden self trailing water into their front lobby. I was about to say the same thing to them actually - considering we both made our respective livings catering to the carnal pleasures of the flesh.


Then I get back to base after a run about 9pm and I am surprised to find all the four parking bays in front of the store occupied. And three shiny new vehicles. You have to understand that a whole string of shiny new saloon cars gleaming even in the dim street lights is just not something that happens to a commercial low-price pizza store next to a fuel station in the middle of a residential area.

I walk into the store. The walk-in customer area is relatively empty. I walk into the back of the store. A young well-dressed guy in his 20s is folding boxes (something we drivers do in the lull periods) and I caught the tail end of his comment that "this is not too difficult work".

The store manager intercepts me (he is unusually quick and chirpy) and introduces me to the three co-owners who are in their late 20s and early 30s. I am polite, guarded and do not say much. I sort of slip by the introductions unnoticed - after all I am but a nobody delivery driver. The owners (who own a few units of the franchise chain) lapse into a distinctive accent and speech patterns when speaking unguarded to each other - which identified them as coming from a tiny island at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula. I go about plugging in the empty pizza bags, cashing in the money, and picking up the next deliveries. I am effectively invisible.

They talk amongst themselves about how hard it is to get good help. (Of course it would be at such minimal wages!) And of how it was hard to turn a good profit on the stores. They speak openly (and imho, in a patronising tone) in front of their employees - after all, we kitchen hands and delivery drivers must be too stupid to understand (or we'd be working better jobs, right?).

And emotionally it all goes downhill as I make the next set of deliveries. I get drenched by a passing truck zooming through a pool of water. I notice my shoes and socks are soaked. The howling wind gets freezing cold. The car engine dies going through a deep puddle, but restarts thankfully. I notice accidents by the side of the street, and debris being blown about. I slow down to pass a crane removing a tree that had fallen into the roof a house in the suburbs. I become aware of ambulance and police sirens in the background.

I return from the delivery run feeling strangely angry and aggressive. I notice I am gunning my engines and driving with the engine at around 3000rpms (I usually shift at the 2000rpms mark). A faraway alarm in my head goes off, as I recognise the symptoms of my being about to do something stupid / impulsive.

I get back into the store and notice the store manager missing. One of the co-owners is chatting on the kitchen landline. One of the co-owners is fumbling at the till trying to log on to the system. Another one explains that he sent the store manager to help with the deliveries while they are "taking care" of the store. The kitchenhand left on duty is quietly pretending to keep busy in the corner, avoiding all contact with the co-owners.

Click. And that sets off something in my head. I recall the three gleaming new cars in the customer lots blocking easy access to the store, and wonder why they had not moved. And estimate mentally how quickly the delivery backlog could be cleared (even in this bad weather) with three additional vehicles.


Even when I was running my own team, I made damn sure that I could reasonably do any of the jobs of the people I was responsible for. And that I regularly did the most unliked jobs in the team - not just as a morale-building exercise for the team, but also to keep myself grounded in the day-to-day problems my people face.

You just do not send out your highest qualified staff (the duty manager) to do the lowest qualified job (driver), especially in storm conditions. You can damn well just pick up a couple waiting pizzas and deliver them to your hungry customers - rather than wasting your most senior guy out in bad weather, while you play "I know what I am doing because I own this place" in the store!


***


I saw too much of such arrogance in Singapore which I left behind. Only to encounter it here with a trio of Singlish-speaking franchise owners of the pizza chain I work for. And did they not realise the impact on morale they were having on the staff? Destroying the magic of the team, in a single night, that the store manager had spent weeks (months?) building?

When the store manager returned from his deliveries drenched and dripping water.. I told him (in front of the owners) that I was done for the day and was clocking out. I volunteered to help him call the cutomers to cancel the deliveries, since it was unreasonable to expect drivers to work under hazardous storm conditions.

One of the owners interrupted saying that if I stopped work, I should not expect to get paid for the rest of the shift. I answered (politely but coldly) that the pay was not worth working the hazardous storm conditions.

As I go through the administrative process of clocking out and returning the float, I hear the owners tell the store manager to make the rest of the deliveries while they "watch the store".


I make eye contact with the store manager on the way out.

His eyes hold a familiar message. One that I recognise from myself in the past.

"I need the job and I have to do this", his eyes plead.
"Take care of yourself and drive safe. Don't take risks.", I say to him.
"Thanks, I will", he says.

Then I walk off the job.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Martin said...

I feel your ANGER, man. Can I utter profanity here? Excuse my French, Nabe*h to the trio...they cannot make it!

Btw,are they aware you're also from SGP?

Have a goodnite.

September 05, 2005 11:50 PM  
Blogger Tym said...

Ohgodohgodohgod.

I am in awe of your resolution and principles, but I am also so sorry it had to end in such a shitty way.

Not all men from our homeland are pricks. But those three smartasses ... Bloody hell!

September 06, 2005 12:40 AM  
Blogger Calamity Man said...

fuckinell.

i sooo know how the manager feels. im in that desperate situation right now.

i just ran for half an hour to release all that angst after 15 1/2 hrs at work my friend.

September 06, 2005 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of the three co-owners knew or were aware that you are from Singapore ?

September 06, 2005 9:46 AM  
Anonymous mrs budak said...

Fuckwits.

September 06, 2005 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the oppressed have become the oppressors....
i will say a prayer that you will not be in the company of such people again...
take precious care & all the best

Chin up!

September 06, 2005 11:54 AM  
Anonymous bohemianlisa said...

I was told once by, nonetheless, a Singaporean friend in Australia that she could spot another Singaporean from miles away from their shameless behaviour. At that moment, she was so embarrassed to be associated to them in anyway....

Of course not everyone is liddat. Just a few rotten apples.

You did right on your principles. IT's just not worth it.

September 06, 2005 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. I admire your balls but I think nothing can be gained from being hot headed.

The concept of being a boss and doing the most dirty/mundane/worst work that your staff does, is a concept very few Singaporeans are aware of.

So no point getting angry over this. See this as an opportunity, look for something else. You mentioned that you had gotten very caught up in the day-to-day living, that you had forgotten about your original goals. Use this chance to rethink them.

I wish you good luck. Your story is my epic, and your success will bring me hope.

September 06, 2005 12:14 PM  
Blogger Amazonian said...

Some punks thinking they rule the world? My A$$! But do not waste any more time on people like them. What goes around, comes around. Already, without you there, good luck to them in making their business as good.

September 06, 2005 12:14 PM  
Blogger elin said...

My dad used to be a bar owner and he was the one who would clear the clogged up cisterns in the toilet from patron's vomit. Thats all I have to say.

September 06, 2005 12:40 PM  
Blogger C said...

*sigh* Singafuck mentality lah. Such a great example we make of ourselves.

But good on you man. They probably find it hard to get good workers because they treat them shittily enough to make them bad ones/leave.

September 06, 2005 4:33 PM  
Anonymous erahnan said...

Meeting these 3 Amigos must have made you even more convicted of your move down under. I've had Aussie bosses who really sweat and toil with us. Its all about decency and treating others who run your business right.
Keep your chin up ok.

September 06, 2005 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Gondo said...

ELIN, maybe your fadder never pay enough or didn't treat his staff well. That's why he is doing all this shit job that only bangla will do. Bwahahaha! (read: that is meant as a sarcasm. Singaporeans have this stupid mentality that cleaning up puke or something like that is a low-rate, undeserving job. So must complain).

September 06, 2005 9:07 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

Just saw the weather report.

Last night had rains flooding the low-lying areas and winds of 90 to 95 kmph. More than a couple houses lost their roofs. I think that should qualify as hazardous driving conditions even for the most gungho or desperate.

No, the co-owners of the place were not attentive enough to pick up that I was from Singapore. And it is not hard since I have never been able to totally hide my Singapore speech patterns and accent (even when I do bother to try).

In retrospect, I do not think I was being hotheaded about it. It was a cool calculated (but still emotion-charged) decision that the increased odds of being maimed or killed was not worth the survival wages at that point.

September 06, 2005 11:10 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

KoP,

I will say, in the defence of Singaporeans, that this is NOT only seen in Singaporeans. I've seen this kind of fuckwit behaviour from American bosses, Brit Bosses, Italian Bosses, French bosses, Indian bosses (as in from India, not from Singapore).

Without divulging too much detail, I've seen first hand exactly how "talented" foreign leadership can be.

Btw, KoP, you mentioned losing out in the tryouts for Athens a while back. I went to Athens, Greece to debate when I was in NUS with Wenqing, Kunal, Kher Shing etc etc. Were you part of that group? Or were you part of the NTU team?

September 07, 2005 1:51 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Oops...

Just realised you wouldn't have been part of a Singapore university debates team.

Me stoopid.

September 08, 2005 9:04 AM  
Anonymous pfong said...

powerful writing.

September 08, 2005 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Gary said...

You left Singapore for a better place, but it didn't turn out as expected, right? So don't black mouth Singaporeans carte blanche. We have a friend who emigrated to New Zealand. He was back to visit, upon seeing our place, said, "You are doing all right, so it pays to vote for PAP, right". For the record, I never voted for PAP in the three elections I had the opportunity to vote in; he was just spiteful at someone/something/somewhere for not doing better than he planned for. (After 5 years, he has yet to secure a full time job)

September 16, 2005 2:59 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

gary:

Hmm.. perhaps you are reading more into the entry than I intended. Where in this blog entry did I black mouth Singaporeans carte blanche?

And I certainly hope I do not come across as spiteful.

September 21, 2005 11:17 PM  

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