It was brought to my attention, just the other day, that I do not have a right to some things I was convinced I had every right to. You see, for the longest time, I was at liberty to make free and merry with the condiments, plastic-ware, coffee creamer, and napkins supplied by the cafeteria at my workplace—regardless of whether or not I ordered anything. Recently, the cafeteria was relocated and expanded, and a notice was posted stating in no uncertain terms that use of amenities is limited to paying customers. And, like, they’re watching: scribbling down names, alerting the managers, delivering personalized warnings.
Why? “To keep costs down, to keep prices low.” As if.
The advantage this cafeteria has over its customers is simple: we work in a federal building encased in a steel gate and guarded by dudes with side arms where you have to send your belongings through a metal detector to gain entry, the closest restaurant is a mile or two away, and the corporate culture frowns on lunch breaks longer than half an hour. Instant, captive Edge City patrons, in other words.
So suddenly the lunchroom—a place where I don’t spend much time anymore these days since I’m in overtime mode—is a less welcoming area to de-stress in a workplace where anxiety levels routinely rocket sky-high, and it’s as though a huge swath of the space is off limits to me unless I’m able to cough up at least $1.40 for Starbucks.
(I should note that in a decade plus of post-collegiate toil, this is the first building I’ve ever worked in that doesn’t offer free coffee.)
Now, if I bring lunch from home and am broke, the only things I can legally do in the cafeteria are refrigerate my lunch, heat up my lunch in one of several microwaves, eat my lunch at a table, watch cable news, or talk to other people—which I never do unless decorum demands it because I already spend all day talking to other people.
Given all of that, I’ve started to seriously question whether I even deserve a lunchroom, or the very idea of one, or to be able to breathe the air that circulates through that lunchroom. Why should I be allowed access to appliances or CNN? Heck, why do I even get to have a desk and a PC, you know?
Call me irrational; go ahead, I can take it, and I get it. But at a time when life is becoming increasingly austere and viciously expensive, the idea of a whispered confrontation in a lunchroom because, of all things, I used some creamer in my brew-at-home coffee is beyond ridiculous: it verges past insult and into something like indignity, and it has the effect of undermining the much-trumpeted idea that every person in the building I work in is part of one united and important mission, with a patriotic twist. I don’t have much money, but the next time I find myself with some, I’ll find a way to spend it off-site.