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DIY Has Its Limits

DIY Has Its Limits

Until I read “Bye, Bye Bathroom Attendants” in The New York Times yesterday - it’s actually an old piece that’s getting new life online -  I had no idea that swanky restaurants and clubs still employed people to stand sentry at the sinks.

There are very few restroom attendants left, as it turns out, even in Manhattan. Bad news for folks who find it exhausting to grab their own paper towels. 

I can’t remember the last time a maid-like person greeted me in a ladies’ room and looked expectantly for a tip. Not that I’ve missed that bit of awkwardness. Nothing’s more annoying than digging around in your purse with wet hands, looking for a buck to pay someone for a simple task you’re perfectly capable of performing for yourself.

I dry my hands at least 10 times a day, unaided. I do not need assistance when out in public.

Besides, I worry about the health of the few remaining attendants who seem unaware of the dangers of “toilet plume.” 

Look it up. It’s a thing. Imagine breathing that all day. No wonder there aren’t many bathroom workers left.

The Times piece set me thinking about other jobs that have evaporated in our DIY world.

Elevator operators, for example. I’m not sure what was going on in those old metal cages with their levers and the way the elevators floated up and down before coming in for a landing, but clearly it wasn’t safe for a layperson to operate an elevator back in the 1950s and 60s.

As best I can tell, those were manual lifts and the person manning the controls was actually driving the car. In the 1970s automated elevators appeared and the operators were out of work. 

I do not need anyone to press a button for me. (Besides, I live in Virginia Beach. Most buildings are only two stories.) 

Gas station attendants are dinosaurs too. Except in New Jersey. Last time I checked, it was still illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State. As a child, I can remember pulling into a Sinclair station where a guy in greasy coveralls would fill-er-up, check the oil and wash the windshield while a car filled with able-bodied adults and kids sat like royalty and watched through the windows.

Now it’s me out there, in Virginia’s sleet, rain and scorching sun, pumping my own gas, washing my own windshield and checking my own oil.

This is progress?

There’s one service job that still clings to life, thank goodness: Supermarket cashiers. You know, those pros who know exactly where the barcode is on every item and who have memorized the price of bananas. (Handy when the label falls off.)

For the past 15 years or so, grocery chains have been trying to phase out these workers by installing self-pay lanes. They tell us self checkout is more “convenient” for us.


It’s a way for supermarkets to save money by employing fewer checkout clerks. Period.

What would really be convenient would be to have an abundance of cashiers at the full-service lanes.

Self checkout is fine when you’re in a hurry and have nothing more than a quart of milk and a bag of Oreos. A chimp could quickly scan those and be on his way.

Problem is, at least one of the self-checkout machines is always out of order, meaning there’s often a mob in the crowded little aisle. I usually find myself behind someone with poor eyesight who can’t find barcodes and whose cart is loaded with label-less produce. I have to wait while they try to identify their veggies by poking pictures on a sticky computer screen. Meanwhile, the lone attendant who’s in charge of the self-checkout aisle is usually busy teaching some octogenarian how to use a credit card or getting ID from some kid trying to buy beer.


I wrote about this unpleasant development in 2008 and my opinion hasn’t changed. If supermarkets want me to ring up and bag my own groceries, give myself a receipt and wish myself a nice day, they damn well ought to give me an employee discount.

I don’t mind being my own restroom attendant, elevator operator and gas pumper, but if I wanted to be a supermarket cashier, I’d apply for the job.

Watch “Chernobyl.” That’s All.

Watch “Chernobyl.” That’s All.

Selling Cities: Roanoke and Virginia Beach

Selling Cities: Roanoke and Virginia Beach