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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: July 18, 2019

Janie Thibodeau Martin

For those readers who wanted contact information for the Amish dinners, we have received our postcard for a July 26 fish fry. It runs from 3:30 to 8 p.m. The address is 122450 Big Rapids Road, Stratford, WI 54484. 2.5 miles East of Highway 97; or 1.5 miles West of County Road M. If you write to the address and request being added to their notification list, you will get postcards when meals are scheduled.

Regular readers know how much I detest the "self-scan" checkouts in stores. I first encountered this annoyance at "Mega-Retailer" who has storefronts with 10 or 12 registers, with big lines of inconvenienced customers at the only two open. It has spread to a few more large retailers, including big-box hardware and home materials stores and some large chain grocery stores. I have been through the self-scan a few times with other family members who don't share my aversion to them, and I am totally capable of using them, but I came to the store as a customer, not as a cashier. This trend to less and less service began, as far as I can recall, when we started pumping our own gas. Next it was banking, with the customer filling out their own paperwork before approaching a teller. Then packing our own purchases, and carrying the groceries out to the car. Then filling our own drinks at fast food restaurants. You begin to wonder where it will end".but the newest frontier has arrived.

Recently on a solo road trip I decided to get a small snack and a coffee. I patronize a very popular fast food restaurant for such stops, mostly because the chain is ubiquitous and they have dependably clean restrooms. However, this time my intent was to just go through the drive-through; but seeing a huge backup of cars, I decided to park and go in on foot. (No doubt someone at the front of the drive-through line had ordered a cheeseburger with no ketchup and fries without salt, or some other exotic deviation from standard.)

I was headed to the cashier counter when a young man deftly herded me to a "kiosk." I was confused, but noticed that the front service counter had been severely truncated, leaving only two cash registers, neither attended. He said "I can help you here." He started flipping through screens on the large, upright monitor by pushing buttons for my selections, had me insert my credit card, and handed me a slip stating I was number 319.

Obviously this was a training and indoctrination effort to steer customers to the kiosk on their next visit, with the intent they would enter their own order. The front of this restaurant was chaos, though, with determined customers like me coming in and heading for the counter, employees trying to collar them to steer them to kiosks, and congested with those standing around waiting for food. A contra-flow of traffic was restaurant employees cutting through with trays to deliver to those dining in, who were identified with little numbered tents on their tables. It appeared there were lines for a few kiosks, making me wonder what in the world the advantage to the customer is in all of this. While I am absolutely confident I could master this task if I have to, I wondered how easily elderly people (as in older than me!) will navigate this, and if they will choose to patronize other venues to avoid it.

It was quite a while for my standard for time of day two item order to be ready, so I had lots of time to watch the bedlam and confused customers. When my lucky number was called, I weaved my way through the milling crowd to grab it and escape. While I drove I pondered the future of fast food. Will the drive-through be where you have to go to have a person take your order? Or will that too be converted to some sort of weatherproof kiosk you reach from your car window? Will the only human contact be when you claim your order when your number is called, or will that somehow be automated as well? (Order 319 is available in bin 4!)

It does not appear that any of this saves me time. Nor do I think it will result in lower prices. It probably does result in fewer entry-level, frequently part-time jobs, but is that really a good thing for us? Gone are the "carry-out boys," and the gas station attendants, and cashiers are an endangered species.

You wonder what the new entry-level/part-time jobs will be. Perhaps the future is being drivers for services like "Uber Eats," where you order food on line; and a hired driver picks it up from the restaurant and delivers it to your house. These folks will be tormented on your behalf by the fast food kiosks, and you will pay them to do so, and you can eat your fast-food burger and resulting soggy fries at home without setting foot in the fast food restaurant. Most of these people are not road warriors like me and care not about clean restrooms. Maybe the future is a virtual fast food restaurant " a kitchen turning out food with no counters, public presence or restrooms. Just a burger factory with a big drive-through for Uber Eats drivers.

And really " that's okay. The future does not belong to me, or those of my generation. It belongs to our young people. So if this method of service meets their needs, it will be standard until someone comes up with something even more automated, if that is what people like.

I only eat fast food when traveling, and I surely won't pay someone else to go get it for me; but I do value a responsible teenager when I need a pet-sitter; something I don't think will get automated in my lifetime. I think pet and child sitting will remain unautomated for the rest of my life. Thank goodness.



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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