OPINION: Why a generational coffee shop exchange left me fuming

Marg Johnson

Something happened at the Tim Hortons on Exmouth Street near Front that left me amazed and dismayed at the same time.

My sisters and I meet there every Thursday at noon so the staff and customers recognize us as regulars. The crowd at that time is a mix of city and construction workers, young people, couples and singles, but mostly young people of the grey-haired variety getting caught up on their week.

I have the honour of being with our large group of teens that meet weekly at our church, Central Baptist, so it was with a surge of pride that I observed what happened.

A trim, smartly dressed woman (see grey-haired variety above) was having trouble with the Tim Card payment process. Behind her was a well-dressed young man with a red cap and an open, dimpled smile. I watched him as he quietly moved forward and calmly demonstrated the process to her.

I couldn’t tell whether she thanked him at the time, but his smile remained “open” as she moved on, and he stepped up to the counter. I remember thinking, ‘This kid should be in customer service somewhere!’ After that, my focus was on the lady.

She did not seem at all affected by what had happened — not embarrassed and faintly blushing, not flustered — just an odd calmness as if nothing unusual had happened, and maybe for her it wasn’t unusual.

But in my considerable experience as a retired Ontario Certified Child & Youth Worker, I can see both sides of our older generation-younger generation problems. People my age say, “These kids today don’t show respect.” “These kids today are self-centred and don’t care.” “They are part of the entitled generation.” And they are right.

But these same kids hear all of the “tsk-tsks” and they don’t understand because they haven’t been taught.

This young man, with such a simple gesture, reinforced in my mind what I have always believed, that every child is worth the time and teaching, because somebody obviously “raised him right.”

And the lady? With neither a gesture nor a smile, she left the shop. And the kid waiting for his food shrugged and looked a touch crestfallen, and for a moment the smile dimmed, and that made me angry!

So I made a decision. I got up and went to the kid. I excused myself, put my hand on his arm, looked him in the eye, and said, “Hey, Bud, you impressed the hell out of me back there! I saw how you helped that lady and she just left!”

He said, “That’s OK, man, it’s just people.” I responded, “I hope you’re around when I have a problem, because it could be next week!”

The wide smile was back. “I’ll be there for you, man, I’ll be there!” and he left on his bike.

Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant for 15 years at the York Catholic District School Board.