The Union Worker and The Sex Worker

Photo by me.

Yesterday, commenting on the omelet blog, Karen Louise Boothe wrote on LinkedIn, "Some of your most profound observations come when you're waiting on a food order." 

Today it happened again -- before, during and after.

We were headed to the breakfast area early, even in Las Vegas time, because we had to be up for an activity.

On the way there, on the left, we see a couple. She is dressed in last night's clothes, last night's hair, and rumpled. He is all over her. It is literally 6 a.m. 

Know that I haven't even had my morning coffee yet, which I buy from the Starbucks for $4.05 (!) because the hotel version is so bad. And these two are waking me up.

I turn to my older daughter and make a face. She makes a face back, as if to say, I guess we're in Vegas now.

My husband and younger daughter are walking up ahead. Ever the bearer of drama and good gossip I inform them of what we have seen.

They turn around briefly, and my husband shakes his head as if to say "Oy vey."

Onward. We walk into the breakfast cafe and are seated by a waitress wearing a union pin. 

I notice the pin because none of the other wait staff have worn one. Also, this waitress has an air of quiet self-confidence, versus some other employees - who are either disengaged, overly deferential or angry. 

(One food server, frustrated that people kept leaving the spoons inside the food trays instead of on the spoon rests, kept slamming the lids shut, over and over again.)

It is so early. And who should walk in but the couple we had seen in the hallway. 

I had my back to them. I was eating the scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese and smoked salmon on top. This may sound good but it was absolutely gross. (Being hungry and impatient, I did not wait for the custom-made spinach, olive, mushroom, jalapeƱo, salsa and onion omelet that would have appeared by 6:15.)

My husband said, "Look."

There they were by the homemade granola.

"Quick," I said to my husband. "Let's get a picture."

"Mind your own business," he said, shaking his head. "You are crazy."

"Oh my G-d," I said, "this is a great blog. Take the shot!" Now I'm like a SWAT team leader in an action movie.

I start to take a photo in reverse iPhone mode, like I will pretend to be taking a selfie but get them instead. 

"Stop," he said. "Really."

I leaned forward conspiratorially. "I wonder if this is like that show 'What Would You Do' and they're testing us to see how we react."

"That's funny," my husband said. "And then the guy walks out..."

Meanwhile the kids are watching all this.

Then my husband says, "Wait a minute. She's a prostitute."

It hits me that he is right. "Ohhhh," I say. "Oh." 

I turn around. There she is at the omelet station. With another guy. They are embracing.

"There are two guys?" I say. I feel so stupid. Or, not stupid but clueless. Like a five-year-old, ignorant about what adults really do.

I can't figure out what the story is here. The first guy comes back, again with the PDA (public display of affection). He seems drunk or high or something, or like some social filter is off. 

Meanwhile, many of us in the room are eating some damn good French toast. It is piled high on our plates. (Bleary-eyed as we are, we are shoveling it in.)

There goes the waitress with the union pin again. She seems so crisp and dignified. I look at all the wait staff around the area and again wonder at how dejected they seem.

I think about the contrast between her and the other woman, who seems very clearly to be a sex worker.

I think about the fact that the (likely) sex worker is a young African-American woman and that her companions are Caucasian men. I reflect on the systematic exploitation of the former by the latter and frankly, start to feel enraged. A woman is not a thing. A person is not a trophy, like an innocent deer shot and hung on a wall.

"This is wrong," I say out loud. "It is just wrong."

"It is wrong," echoes my older daughter.

I decide that I want to take a picture of the Union waitress. And write about the contrast between her and the sex worker. Both women, both in bad positions in the system, one protected by a support network much bigger than herself.

But I hesitated to ask for a photo. First of all I didn't want to further annoy my family by turning breakfast into a social media opportunity. Second I didn't want to annoy the waitress or more subtly to exploit her or or pit her against the sex worker in some way.

I decided to write about it either way. Because it showed me how contradictory my own values are. On the one hand I believe in protecting the weak - this requires state regulation, frankly. On the other, relatively unfettered freedom - which means, keep the state out of our lives.

It's like when we went to the Grand Canyon last week and I saw it had no guardrail. The tour guide simply said, "Don't die."

Mayor Bloomberg would put a guardrail on the Canyon.

Or when we went to the food fair with its deep-fried Oreos and Red a Bull vodkas. I saw people piling their plates up at the food court with the three major food groups of Chinese food: sweet crispy chicken nuggets, fried rice and lo mein.

Honest to G-d, my first thought was, "What would Michelle Obama say?"

In the end I did take a picture of the waitress with the union pin. My husband forgot his jacket, and I saw her, and decided to trust my gut and ask.

She smiled enthusiastically. "Go right ahead, our union contract is up soon."

Remember the movie "Office Space," when Jennifer Aniston's character worked at a Chili's type restaurant and was forced to wear "flair" pins and smile?

Unions give the people back a power they can't seize from the System individually. They make working conditions better and provide a source of camaraderie and support.

This is true for everyone. They say prostitution is illegal but in some places this just means "we look the other way."

Sex worker or food server, all employees should have the option to join an organization that looks after their interests.

* All opinions my own.

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