Friday, April 11, 2014

Receptionists Have Shotguns

Would you like buckshot with that?

I haven't seen any violence but I've heard of some. A friend relayed a story, second-hand, about a man taking a shortcut home through the park at around 7 p.m. one evening. This would set the scene at roughly full dark, sunset being at 6:30. The sky fades fast here.

The man woke up on the ground, stripped of all his valuables, including a ring that didn't come off his finger anymore. His attackers found a way, and the man just barely kept the finger, after several reconstructive surgeries.

So things happen.

There are subtle clues, and you don't need to look far for them.

Every one of the "fancier" or more "important" businesses like department stores has guards out front. These are normally armed with shotguns. Western Union has one. He stands in the doorway all day with the 12-gauge slanted across his torso. Coral, a major department store chain, does. All banks do.

Even a pharmacy I went to has a guard with a nightstick. No shotgun needed there, for some reason. I had just come from SuperMaxi, a grocery, with cheese in a brand-marked plastic bag. The guard stopped me as I blithely traipsed in, and indicated that he needed to have the cheese. He got it.

I'm sure he could take me even without the nightstick, but regardless, when you encounter a guy in uniform, wearing a bulletproof vest, and carrying a stick, why make a fuss? And in truth I have to confess that I didn't look to see if he also had a sidearm, which would definitely tip the balance of power even more in his favor.

The bank I go to has three or four guards, outside. It has a parking lot to one side, and a sort of long plaza leading up to the door. One lot over there is another, associated building, behind its own fence, and one of the guards stays there. The ATM is what I go for, and there are two of them quietly waiting, outside. That is as far as I go. Coming in, I raise my hat to expose my face, pull out my bank cards, get my money, and leave. No loitering, no fussing, no wasted effort. I don't want to get a bad reputation. Not surrounded by uniformed firepower.

Overall, in my extremely limited experience, the guards seem to be at their posts to indicate that there is someone there, on alert. It's like having a sign. Many guards are quite young, and it is hard to imagine a man in his early twenties, probably married, and with a child or two, getting into a shootout along a street chocked with pedestrians, over a bag or two of paper currency. I guess that isn't my line of work.

But good jobs are not common here, where labor is cheap. Even if a guard has nothing to do but stand at the ready all day, it's clean work, and the uniforms look good. No doubt many guards get to know regular customers, and the pay has to be far better than for pushing a handcart and selling ice cream cones or pineapple slices.

And in many ways it seems to be a social job. The guard at the transit center was happy to shoot the breeze for a minute or so as my friend and I came in to get me a bus pass. To me he looked intimidating, standing behind and eight or ten foot high fence topped with tooth-like spikes, and carrying a weapon. But in practice he was friendly, obliging, almost breezy.

And ultimately, what I've come to think is that these people act primarily as guides, sources of information, and...receptionists. They are there, out front, screening who goes in and watching over the public face of the business, handling inquiries, sorting out minor confusions, keeping it all running.

Isn't that a big part of what receptionists do?

Except that where I come from, receptionists can't open fire even if, some days, they really, really want to.

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