Westway to the World: UKRAINE CALLING

With the Swiss having dropped their treasured neutrality to join sanctions against Moscow, events in Europe are feeling more like lyrics to a CLASH song every day.

The last time average people coming together made my chest swell this much was when we Angelenos gathered to watch a Space Shuttle fight LA traffic following the Endeavour‘s 2012 goodbye aerial tour of the Southland. (Out on the sidewalk, the unity was breathtaking, trust me.)

And now I’m feeling inspired, uneasy, and thrilled to see organizations, executives, soldiers, civilians, and nations showing character in the world despite countless excuses to turn away. The global outpouring of support for Ukraine is a true marvel. The roar of crowds in world-wide protest of anti-democratic aggression is filling my heart the way Clash frontman Joe Strummer’s conflict-romanticizing lyrics have for decades.

Turkey is closing off strategic access points to the Black Sea. Ballets and concert halls are shunning pro-Putin conductors and dancers. The EU and Canada have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft. Brexit Europe is collectively buying Russian-made jets to give to Ukraine’s air force pilots. Berlin is sending weapons to Ukraine knowing they well may be used by accountants, taxi drivers, dentists, teachers, and teenagers (talk about playing with fireworks!). Anonymous is threatening to expose Putin’s secrets and target Russian infrastructure. Oligarch jets and super yachts are being tracked and seized. Energy conglomerates are divesting, and in Moscow a hacked car-charging station blinks, “Out of Service. Glory to Ukraine. Glory to Heroes.”

Because big banks can freeze all the funds they want, Strummer was right: “Without people you’re nothing.”

So the world is now conducting its first-ever plutocrat guerrilla war, turning off the Russian economy like a light switch. Risking retaliatory cyber strikes, the collapse of its own markets, and even a nuclear temper-tantrum, it has made a ground zero of the Russian Central Bank. As of this writing, even China has agreed to serve as mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine, an important hub in their own Belt and Road Initiative.

Political tablecloths in nearly every nation are being ripped from under dinner plates. As Paul Massaro, Senior Policy Advisor at the US Helsinki Commission for Security and Cooperation (and human Russian corruption alarm) observed, “It’s a weird feeling to see almost every policy recommendation you’ve ever made implemented within the span of a week.”

This stopped being a David and Goliath tale as soon as it began, instead becoming Goliath versus all the Davids. It has galvanized the globe in a way even COVID couldn’t, for the time being even relegating our own neo-Nazis to their Florida sandbox to chant support for authoritarian dictators amongst themselves. We don’t even know yet how huge this is, but as with all lessons, “knowing” comes after feeling, and today we’re feelin’ it like I’m feelin’ the Ukrainian woman who posted instructions on how to pilot Russian armored vehicles captured (or towed away by farm tractors). If he hadn’t died in 2001, Joe Strummer would already be singing about her (and the discrimination reportedly on display at refugee checkpoints.)

In the early days of the Clash, the band metaphorically referred to London’s elevated highway, The Westway, as a means to reach out to the world. Ukraine is reaching out today, reminding us of how precious and worthy democracy is. Thankfully there are road signs to help America find the way she has lost.

And speaking of the United States, where is America in all of this? For the most part, right where the world needs her, in the passenger seat, using her mad coordination skills, kickin’ down big cash as well as “those Washington bullets,” and enjoying her favorite pastime, rooting for the underdog.


For your consideration…

1. Want to support the people in Ukraine? International Medical Corps is on the ground in Ukraine
2. Ukraine Humanitarian Fund
3. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
4. The Clash: Westway to the World

2021 Excuse of the Year: Moving Goal Posts

Expect an answer, get an accusation. Request specifics, get whataboutism. Ask for sources, listen to the claims of invalidated media. Try and catch even a hint of responsibility, and reach the end of the discussion hearing none.

We zig-zag, rather than discuss. We dodge debate like an NFL quarterback running for the end zone.

Sharing information is less about reading, considering, and proposing than about tossing headlines and social media posts at one another. We might as well bestow “Blame” and “Me” with special interest group status.

This has been the experience of many Americans lately, whether discussing restaurants, mandates, or Covid common sense. Co-workers, family, friends, and every other swingin’ TikTok in between argue over justifications and resentments, all of which leap from a narrow “yes” or “no.”

Agreeing to disagree isn’t what it used to be. Rarely are so many so proud of being so obstinate. It’s as if someone started a rewards programs for foot stomping and blindfolding. Trying to get a straight answer from a devout anti-vaxxer, for example, is like debating a barking dog.


Maybe we’re lazier now. It’s easier to follow a politician who exists on Likes, baiting, and tantrums than to read policy, and maybe frequently renewed health and science data has normalized our being unable to keep up. But someone’s got to, and too many Americans seem tired of caring: about public health and safety, about equity, and frankly, about each other.

Such a degeneration of discourse has worsened one of America’s current perfect storms. It has enabled our individual-obsessed, consumer natures, making it easier to anticipate less, expect more, and attach conditions to rare concessions.

“Yeah but..”

“Yeah but..”

“Yeah but..”

It’s no way to get anywhere and there’s no excuse for it, but such is the result of becoming a calculating, self-congratulatory, sound bite society.

I can only separate myself from the obscuring of accountability and the grinding down of fellowship when I remember to get character or become one.

It’s the Abuse, Stupid.

Increased benefits or not, the past 15 months have exposed what little regard Americans have for waitstaff and retail help.

The entitlement of the Paid Not to Work narrative pales in comparison to clip after clip of retail and restaurant employees being yelled at and assaulted. Whether due to COVID protocols or the public’s general lack of coping skills, no wonder strip mall manpower isn’t rushing back to fill these domestic abuse scenarios disguised as employment.

I know a few hireable candidates who couldn’t care less about their old gigs, and it isn’t because Biden bought ’em a piece of Easy Street.

Relocation and career changes play a part, as do schooling, childcare, eldercare, and job applicants who remain unvaccinated. Clips of customer tantrums are the new Cops!, and all that viral phone footage plays an arguably bigger part in why 42% of restaurants and small businesses report an inability to fill job openings. Tik-Toks showing rage and verbal harassment reinforced the service-business dread of countless grocery workers. Infrared depictions of how our sneezes end up in Alaska don’t help.

From fast food to gourmet and everything in between, no food service employee is free from questioning whether or not it’s worth going back.

According to a server-friend at a popular LA eatery, neither do efforts to match pre-COVID efficiency while being met with insults and accusations of laziness — including from one’s own employer or corporate overlord. 

Even the energy of those thrilled to finally be out and about can contribute to a lack of awareness about the many new obstacles to rapid service waitstaff now face. With a longer journey from grill to street table, this includes taking steps to ensure dishes remain piping hot for as long as possible. Says my friend, “If the food’s not hot, forget a decent tip.”

Ditto when a customer whose starting pointing is mask resistance instructs you to “go tell the chef to,” and you try to explain why you’re no longer allowed to do that.

There was also the post-Covid discovery that waitstaff had been assigned additional duties like busing their own tables (this was once the job of a bus staff). Wiping down the walls was a new one, and in between seatings, it’s now mandatory. So far the employees agree: this new “side work” eats up the time it would take to serve a full table, effectively eliminating at least one potential tip. “And when you don’t have a lot, you count on your tips – a lot.”

Welcome to Restauranting, post-COVID. For my friend and colleagues, being spoken to contemptuously has been yet another bonus, especially when managing the line of patrons waiting to enter an establishment. All staffers now get to help with this cattle call. “And out there,” I was told, “the insults are quicker, louder, and fueled by a mob.”

Further fun add-on expectations include: 

  • Filling to-go orders, which have exploded in number for most restaurants
  • Prepping to-go condiment and utensil packets with all the usual landfill waste; never to exclude card-stock event promos and specials
  • Preparing bins of pre-wrapped table settings 
  • Napkin folding and the resetting of street tables and fake plants
  • Answering phones using approved post-COVID etiquette
  • Navigating client demands related to food allergies and the substitutions the restaurant is no longer willing to make (all while car exhaust wafts across the “patio”).

It’s a post-COVID world, after all, and if the “undeserving poor” would just put down the Netflix and get back into their low wage boxes, everything would be so much better for everyone else’s 401k. Besides, some employers are even paying more than minimum wage, you greedy shirkers, and others are offering a handful of benefits. Not, like, sick days or paid family leave, but beggars can’t be choosers!

Or can they?? Can even underpaid people dare to dream that the supply and demand magic of capitalism might one day work for them, too? That the high demand for their labor might command a higher price paid in the form of livable wages and better working conditions?

Veteran waiters learn to take a lot in stride, like patrons who leave their dentures on the table, or a full diaper. Stuck ay home at the height of the pandemic, they may have even begun miss cranky regulars known for sending orders back, but that will sure disappear fast!

Of course some of these realities were present before the pandemic, but c’mon. After a year away from waiting tables and given the current climate, wouldn’t you be looking elsewhere, looking higher, or cozying up to connected friends and family? Wouldn’t you be digging at the dirt for a better environment to work in than a slop-trough with 16 televisions and a bunch of sniping customers?

So some are slow to go back. Duh. Many others are hesitant to put a target on their backs as first-timer restaurant employees. People do request interviews and then don’t show up. Is that because they’re on the white water rafting trip Congress gifted them, or did something better become possible?

Sure, there are those out there collecting and coasting on the government’s dime, middle fingers held high at this nation of chokehold apologists, oligarchs, sex-crime politicians, and groveling, racist swine. But it’s not the free ride the American way of life is paying for that’s keeping you from your bacon burger: in no small part, it’s the abuse, stupid.

Shaming someone back to your sports bar isn’t gonna work. But if you think it will, bring that burger over here so I can lift the lettuce myself and hock one for my friend.