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Nothing works, and everyone is resigned to this
Covid broke us. The pandemic era has challenged – or completely obliterated – people’s ability to think for themselves and assess their own risk, for one. Isolation has brought a host of other issues, including the tendency for some to see others as disease vectors rather than humans. The human toll is an important one, but there’s been another casualty of the last two and a half years – everything.
I’m exaggerating, but barely. Virtually every system and process around us is broken, and we’re either too broken to realize it, or we’re so grateful it’s not 2020 that we’ve stopped striving for 2019.
One of the most visible examples of this is the death of customer service. Earlier in the pandemic we were all implored to be patient. Businesses had to lay off staff because of the financial pressures of restrictions and lockdowns. Shops that could stay open had to drastically modify their operations overnight. It took time to get things right.
Many of the obvious hitches were smoothed over, but the service of 2019 has never returned, and I don’t think ever will.
A colleague of mine returned to Canada from overseas four weeks ago, and his bag still hasn’t made it. Air Canada managed to put it on a flight to Montreal nearly three weeks ago – or so the airline claimed. Repeated calls to Air Canada’s baggage line, which often take up to an hour to be answered, have yielded nothing but assurances it must be in Montreal, despite no one being able to find it, and no one caring to follow-up.
He isn’t alone in this, though knowing others are dealing with the same unpleasantness is hardly a consolation prize.
Admittedly, the decline of airline service predates Covid, which provided a convenient excuse to cut back even more ‘frills’ than previous service revamps did. But I don’t consider getting a piece of luggage less than a month after departure to be an extravagance on par with a hot towel and bowl of warm nuts before a meal.
Air travel has been in the spotlight this summer, but the problem isn’t limited to this domain.
There’s a takeout place my wife and I generally enjoy that somehow manages to make the same mistake on our order roughly half the time. It’s not a special order or modification – it’s an item from their own menu that they forget to include the sauce with. The manager offered me a gift card when I brought it up – of course, when we used that gift card a few weeks later, the order was wrong again.
Just last week, I was trying to buy something in a glass case at an electronics store. After 10 minutes of trying to find someone to unlock it without success, I left and ordered it on Amazon.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a rental car reserved at the airport. When I landed, received a notification that my car was ready and I just had to pick up the keys. Unfortunately the express key pick-up line was closed, so I had to wait for an hour and a quarter in the regular line – a wait that pushed me past the point to which they’ll hold a car for you (or so I was told). I then had to wait for them to find another one.
I was raised with the wisdom that “good things come to those who wait.” It doesn’t seem all that true anymore.
Each of these events might seem like an anomaly or just an unpleasant incident I should shrug off. A comedian I worked with once told me that there are no bad experiences in life – just good experiences and material. Unfortunately I have far too much material to work with lately.
I can no longer view seemingly minor inconveniences in isolation, when it seems nearly every interaction with the world involves something that, in some way, doesn’t work as it’s supposed to.
A lot of people will blame these sorts of issues on the labour shortage. This is a real problem: Covid pushed many people out of the workforce who simply never returned.
No one should take out their impatience on the workers who do show up. They too are victims of the broken systems we’re all encountering.
That said, it’s too simplistic to not look beyond these staffing issues, which I suspect are a symptom of society’s brokenness as much as they’re a cause.
The biggest driver of our society-wide malfunctioning is that the population has largely accepted this is normal, or at least the best it can be.
People are so grateful to have places to shop, the ability to travel, and restaurants to eat in that they rationalize away these issues.
I understand this. Gratitude is important. I’d rather have a restaurant with slow service than another lockdown banning indoor dining altogether. I’d rather have a chaotic airport experience than experience a world that is once again closed off to travel. I’d rather have a store that’s still open than one that had to shutter its doors, even if I can’t find someone on the service floor.
But nothing will ever improve if we don’t believe things can get better. This means accepting that the world of 2019 doesn’t need to be gone for good, even if we can barely remember what it looks like.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this newsletter, consider joining the mailing list. A hearty thank you to our paid subscribers, whose generous support keeps this in publication. My book The Freedom Convoy: The Inside Story of Three Weeks that Shook the World is available for purchase through Amazon, Indigo, and Sutherland House (where a few signed copies are still available).