Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Demoralizing Lunch Break

You've either seen it or done it: hunched over a to-go box or brown bag on a bench or in the car, all business-casual, checking the wristwatch to see how much of your 30 minutes you have left. This is perhaps one of the greatest casualties of our 9 to 5 lives. We completely quantify, dehumanize, and rob of all pleasure our mid-day meal in an attempt to keep from going over our allotted time and avoid the ire of like-minded coworkers and watchful supervisors.

I've had no less than ten jobs, and maybe two of them had a lunch break I actually enjoyed. The worst are those with timeclocks, because god help you if you don't swipe back in less than 30 minutes after you swiped out (timeclock jobs never give you an hour). My first, Toys R Us, was particularly rough because I was young and hadn't learned the wisdom of bringing your lunch with you. So I had half an hour to get in my car, drive down the street to Wendy's, order my meal and eat it with enough time to get back to the store. Then I got tired of Wendy's. OK, Taco Bell. But that was a bit farther down the road, past a few lights. Pushing it.

By the time I began working at the library at UT, I knew enough to bring a lunch. However, I didn't much like going to the staff break room and sitting across from my supervisor, who would take five minutes to eat and spend the next 25 staring into space. You think I'm exaggerating. He didn't bring a book, there was no TV, he just sat there so he didn't have to work. So I started going down to the public study room on the first floor. Well, sometimes I couldn't find a seat. What's sadder than a man on his lunch break hunkered down in his car finishing his lunch? A man sitting on the floor finishing his lunch.

Probably my least favorite job has been working at Dillard's, the department store. It wasn't the worst job I've had, but it's the worst job I had the longest. Their break room was stereotypically depressing: fluorescent lights, a burnt coffee carafe, 13" TV with rabbit ears halfway tuned in to depressing daytime television. So I started going to the food court with my box lunch. I'd get a free water from Taco Bell, where the guys started to know me, and I'd find an empty seat under a skylight and read. Not so bad really. But as the job progressed, and I began hating it more and more, I found myself stretching out my time. We could take an hour if we wanted, but I tried to save money and keep it to 30. That lasted a couple months. By the time I left, I was taking an hour and a half lunch break at least once, if not twice a week, punishing the company by making less money. Wait, what?

I can think of one lunch break I enjoyed, at one of the only jobs I've enjoyed. It was a construction/renovation job for this classy women's boutique on the Upper East Side. I got it through a theatre friend whose dad Sam was the makeshift foreman. I worked with friends and acquaintances, pretty hard-labor stuff sometimes, but Sam felt more like a coworker than a supervisor so it didn't feel like we had to answer to anyone, and we got done what we needed to get done. We'd all take lunch together, grabbing sandwiches and coffee or bringing out the brown bags. We'd sit by the corner windows of the unfinished store, listening to the radio and watching passers-by. We didn't watch the clock. We ate, finished, digested, and got back to work. And the job didn't move any slower for it.

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Mark said...

Interesting. I don't think I've had any amazing lunch breaks. Definitely my worst one was the clock-watching type that you mention, which was at ClientLogic in Oak Ridge. Currently, I can take lunch however I'd like for as long as I like. long as I still do roughly 40 hours of work each week. We have a break room with lots of windows and a TV with cable, but I usually end up eating in my cube and surfing the net, catching up on email, etc. And then of course sometimes I go out to lunch with coworkers. Lots of restaurants in the south Denver area. My favorite is probably Thai Basil, which has a great vegetable/tofu pad thai dish.

Amy H said...

I didn't know you worked at Dillards - I did, too, so I agree, it was the worst job I had the longest, but definitely not the worst job. My worst lunch break was working for a company that scored standardized tests (which may be the worst job I ever had), where I had 30 minutes to spend eating quickly and listen to everyone complain about the job. Thank goodness for banana split day - "bring 50 cents and your own banana" - seriously. That closely rivaled "wear your favorite t-shirt day", which was oddly presented as a perk at a company that had no dress code.

Jayne_Incognito said...

i agree lunch breaks are hideous! that why i work through mine and go home early... the best ones are when you leave work to have lunch with a friend! i wouldnt mind trying out a lunch break as pictured above.. wicked! love that pic!