Things Are Not Working

Hey! I’m dealing with insomnia again. So, daytime sleepiness combined with perpetual paperwork to get Ian into the community college system and day trips with the autistic kid are conspiring to keep me away from blogging. Which is annoying, because I have a lot to say.

Sometimes I feel like we’re at the end of the world. Nothing works right.

Just getting Ian enrolled at the local community college has been awful. Their pointlessly confusing online enrollment system required assistance from a real live human being. Because nobody answers the phone, I had to go down to the college to get answers from workers who are pissed off at being back at work. It took hours.

Ian still needs an ID, registration with special services, and an appointment to take the English entrance exam. That’s many more hours. I don’t even know what to say about all that. People who depend on public services, like education and welfare and housing, are totally screwed.

Ian needs to take the written part of the driver’s test. The earliest available test is on October 1, two hours away in South Jersey.

Our neighbors just came back from a week’s vacation. They said that it took three hours to get through baggage area to security at Newark airport. They told me that they were worried that someone was going to get violent. Amanda Mull at The Atlantic talks about recent airline horror stories. She said that people are indeed awful right now, but that American customers have always been rude.

My friends in retail and small business like to delight us with stories about awful customers. One friend who worked at Banana Republic told me that a woman came up to her with a micro-mini and said that she wanted my friend to turn it into a maxi skirt for her. A BFF who owns a local ice cream shop talks about people coming in demanding dairy-free ice-cream from her neighborhood shop. So, yeah, customers are always rude, but right now, people are angry.

People are on a very short fuse right now, because simple everyday tasks take longer, cost more money, and aren’t as good quality. I expect that the process for signing up for a college class at a community college should take ten minutes or less, not weeks. I expect an hour wait at the airport, not three. I expect to pay $20 for dinner at a restaurant, not $40.

On top of that reduced quality of life, there are never-ending questions: Do we mask? Is that back again? Who isn’t vaccinated? Why aren’t they vaccinated? Do we need to carry around cards? Are the kids going back to school? Will I be able to work, if my kids are back at home? How far behind did my kids fall last year? Will they get extra help in the fall? Will I have enough money to get my car fixed?

I am trying to not be angry, but I have to admit that there are times when I think back fondly on those months when I only directly interacted with my family. Hermits don’t find themselves waiting on line at the community college admissions office.

33 thoughts on “Things Are Not Working

  1. I was flying a bunch in May and June. It wasn’t that bad, but I never check luggage. There were two problems: most of the dining/coffee options were closed and rental cars were just horrendously expensive or not available. I mean, nearly every flight was late too, so it wasn’t that bad considering that.


  2. I’ve had to quit drinking because of gastric pain, but I’m not very good at it so I was out twice last week. The one restaurant was running like nothing had happened since 2019. The bar couldn’t get a cook so they had no food. But an employee bought out the owner during the shutdown, so I’m hopeful for the next year after the ownership switches formally.


  3. I’ve not noticed a 100% increase in the price of eating out. I’ve noticed an increase but it is more like 20-50%. Things that cost $10 before now cost $12-15, etc. But I am not sure this is a bad thing. The reason for the increase is somewhat due to increased ingredient cost, but mostly because restaurant owners are having trouble paying line cooks $9/hr and dishwashers $6/hr off the books. Instead, they have to compete for labor and so the rest of us have to pay the real cost of a restaurant meal.

    Restaurant owners are saying that they can’t pay a fair wage and compete. Maybe so, but then perhaps they should close. If you can’t afford to pay your employees then maybe you shouldn’t be in business and, correspondingly, if you can’t afford to pay the true cost of a restaurant meal then perhaps one shouldn’t eat out.


    1. Yes. I think you need to pay $10-$12/hour to get people here now and I think that’s worth the loss of businesses with models that require $8/hour labor to turn a profit.


    2. Jay said, ” If you can’t afford to pay your employees then maybe you shouldn’t be in business and, correspondingly, if you can’t afford to pay the true cost of a restaurant meal then perhaps one shouldn’t eat out.”

      Because it’s so much better if everybody sits home indefinitely and gets a check paid entirely by taxpayers, as opposed to providing a service to the public and getting paid something by an employer (even if they taxpayer winds up making the difference)…

      I was listening to the radio in the car a week ago, and a Central TX Walmart was advertising $23 an hour jobs. I might have misheard that, but man.


      1. I agree with Jay.

        I’m not sure it’s as simple as people sitting at home. Office workers don’t seem to be reluctant to work. It’s the people doing physical labor, who by the way come into close contact with the public, who also frequently are required to wear masks while doing said work, who are in short supply right now.

        There are also supply chain problems for restaurant supplies.

        Meat, fish, vegetables, grains, etc., all depend upon hard physical labor to grow, harvest, and deliver to restaurants (and to the rest of us.)

        The increase in the minimum wage might play a part, as if you are used to getting by with two adults working the previous minimum wage, an increase in the hourly wage might allow the other partner to invest in education, or to take care of family members. If you’re leery of Covid, daycare is a risky thing.

        I wonder how many of the physical jobs were being done by older workers, and even by older workers moonlighting, in which case, one person deciding to retire could cause two or more vacancies.

        Covid’s affected different social groups differently. I recently saw that a waitress at a local restaurant passed away from Covid this year. She was in her mid-50s. Of course, as she worked two jobs with frequent contact with others, she was far more exposed to risk than office workers.


      2. Yes. Supposedly it was the cooks who died in the restaurants last year. Takeout-only provides some protection to the front house (those not just laid-off), but a mask in a crowded kitchen for a full shift isn’t much protection. I think those that could switched fields.


      3. The July report says that the unemployment rate dropped unbelievable in July — to 5.4%.

        Taxes paying people to “sit home” and take care of their children, home school, develop skills, . . . . doesn’t seem like a terrible thing in trade for the consumption described in this article:

        “A new thing rich people are into: absolutely enormous crystals ”

        “They have these giant amethyst geodes from Brazil — I’m talking the size of an efficiency apartment or an SUV — and they break these things in half.” . . .

        The pandemic turbocharged the craze. Stuck indoors for much of the last year with fewer opportunities for discretionary spending, many well-off homeowners went on lavish redecorating and renovating sprees or bought new properties in need of furnishings. There was a treat-yourself mentality”

        I don’t like telling people what they can spend their money on (including other people telling me — we have an amethyst geode we’ve had for many years, including when we didn’t by soft drinks, though not the size of a SUV). But, I’m happy to support tax structures, minimum wages, . . . that mean people are more deliberate about their spending.


      4. And yet, $23 / hour is still a tough income to survive on for an individual, let alone a family, especially if there are few/minimal benefits. That’s less than 50,000/year full time. I was in my mid 30s when I made that amount (20 years ago) and I can’t imagine doing it now. I made it work by not having a cell phone, a computer or internet or cable, or a car. Most people can’t do without a car.

        Gabrielle Hamilton wrote an excellent article about how the restaurant business model is becoming unsustainable.


      5. Crystals as home decor: Ok, that’s weird. Whatever. I wouldn’t spend money on that, but if they’re collectible, it may not be as spendthrift as it looks. It’s certainly more durable than a car. It won’t die, as an expensive pet might. The big ones would be too heavy to easily steal.


    3. We went to Jonah’s fancy restaurant last night. My nephew wanted to order the dessert pizza, but Jonah wouldn’t let us. He said they raised the price from $12 to $18 over night and the staff all thought that was crazy. It’s just dough with some Nutella on it.

      There’s an hour wait to get a table for those fancy $20 personal pizzas. The owners of Jonah’s restaurant are rolling in the money right now. Jonah is benefitting, too. He’s making crazy money this summer as a bus boy.

      IDK. It’s a lot for us. The four of us walk into a restaurant and it costs us at least $125. We are being a lot more conscious about our dining budget now.


      1. Things are lurching back unevenly, like with lumber prices going through the roof then settling down, but I hope the long-term effect of the extra unemployment and stimulus is higher wages at the lower end of the scale. It seems likely. But obviously the adjustment will take longer to stabilize than lumber prices.


      2. That’s pretty cute.

        But, was the desert pizza worth $12? Some dough with nutella on it seems like it’s worth even less.

        We ate inside 3 restaurants in the last couple of weeks (spouse and I on lunch dates). All provided good service and good food. They were higher endish. We paid $31-$42/person (I think the difference was drinks for one or 2). Pizza was $$20/person. I feel like it’s the relatively less expensive restaurants that really were trying to pay their workers 5-10 dollars an hour that are seeing the toughest market in hiring (and in seeing their prices go up). Drinks and rockfish in a hip restaurant seems like $42/person, but omelettes at your local diner for $25/person seems steep).

        The place we saw broken was a sandwich bar at a local “commons” (bookstore, a few counters, it’d be called a food court in a mall, but this space is a trying to be a bit more like a village). We came around 11, and they hit a limit where they said it would take 30 minutes to make a sandwich, which was broken. We ordered elsewhere.


      3. I’m off in door dining again, and will presumably be spending my going out budget on flowers again. I’d consider crystals, but they are too permanent.


      4. Laura said, “The four of us walk into a restaurant and it costs us at least $125. We are being a lot more conscious about our dining budget now.”

        Our family of 5 has trouble getting out of any kind of sit-down place for less than $60. I think the last time we went out together it was IHOP and that was about how much we paid, including tip. Good carry-out for 5 runs around $40-$45.

        Sit-down restaurants cost a lot, so we don’t do it very often. I do spend a lot in drive-thrus, though, and we take the kids out for ice cream, and husband and I go out for dates from time to time–topping out at around $30 for Tex-Mex or similar. Our family of 5 can do dinner at the campus cafeteria for $17 total with my husband’s employee discount, so we do that a lot, and breakfast and lunch are even cheaper. You see a lot of young college families at the cafeterias, as the cafeterias don’t charge at all for little kids.

        We’re probably going out to a downtown Vietnamese place after our oldest finishes her hard summer math course. A lot of their entrees are $9.99, although their swankiest beef dish is $19.99.


    4. Our minimum wage is $15/hour and I am hearing stories of people offering $20/hour for bus boys. Labor costs are going up and that does mean going out costs more.

      I remember a child hood where going out was a tremendous treat that we did rarely — say <6 times a year. I also remember years when spouse and I wouldn't order soft drinks at restaurants because it cost too much and we drank water instead. I think we've gotten used to more amenities (food, clothes, . . . ) that ha depended on low paid labor and if labor costs really go up, we'll have to pay more and some people will have to do with less (though the rich will still get what they want).


  4. We can either insist that businesses pay a living wage or pay more benefits to people because they can’t survive on what little they can make even in a full-time job. Businesses that claim they can’t make a profit at a living wage are essentially supported by tax dollars anyway-the tax dollars paid to their underpaid employees in various social benefits like rent and food assistance.


    1. Yes, the McDonald’s budget (which required two jobs) and no fun (or some form of assistance) and the advice given by low wage employers on how to access benefits like food stamps & medicaid.


  5. The October 1 date for a knowledge test & the community college issues you are facing are another kind of broken and I am worried about what you’re describing (including the issues with accessing libraries, parks, schools, courts, . . . .). I voted for the “JumpStart” levy in our city, which promised youth programs including childcare. But if the child care is going to be online? I’m not going to be happy.

    I’m also worried about the brokenness of our democracy (Texas government concentrating on making it harder to vote rather, and the insurrection at the Capitol and the about face of Republicans about it, . . .). But, I’m trying to calm myself about those concerns.

    Also spending time reading about the depression and world war II (mostly fictionally) because I do think we catastrophize what we are experiencing and we need to put our times in context.


    1. bj said, ” But if the child care is going to be online? I’m not going to be happy.”

      I do wonder about the wisdom of doing a big federal push for childcare, when we’ve all seen what happens to blue state and urban schools and public services during the pandemic.

      You could easily wind up with the same thing happening to childcare and other children’s programs that has happened to schools–you pay for it, but you get almost nothing.


  6. If the market will bear $20 personal pizzas, then good for the restaurant owners and the workers. I won’t go out as often, but that’s not a tragedy at all. It’s an inconvenience, not a tragedy.

    The long lines and problems with processing an application at the community college make me really sad. I suspect that lower level office workers in public bureaucracies, like social work and public education, are upset about their stagnant wages and being forced to return to work. The people who are going to suffer are the people who need those services the most.

    Look at schools, the test scores of kids in places like Newark are awful. Their learning loss from the pandemic is horrifically high. Rich people just bought tutors or private school education last year.


    1. We were getting $24 personal pizzas for a couple years before covid. Probably comparable to a $20 pizza regular because the place included tips in the cost. It was really good pizza. They didn’t come back after shutting down.


  7. I am having the opposite of the “nothing works right” on vacation in NH and Vermont. A few things have shut down (a clothing store, for example), but the mid-range restaurants built sturdy tents, I assume with some covid relief money, and they are fabulous in the perfect summer weather we’ve been having. Some cut back hours a bit but the prices are comparable to previous years. We are not doing the really swanky restaurants, but the ones where sandwiches/big salads are $10-15, so we get out of there for $60 including a nice drink or two. Went to a great nature center yesterday, mostly outdoor exhibits and an entirely masked (even for the vaccinated) gift shop. Lots of swimming, kayaking, and walking. I am ready to retire here tomorrow. Unfortunately I have a good ten years until retirement.

    My state school cut tons of positions doing exactly the sorts of things you and Ian need. Our department had a full time secretary three years ago, cut to half time two years ago, and then last year she was involuntarily reassigned to be split between two other departments, including the very large and unbelievably dysfunctional English dept. She was lovely and helpful with students and highly competent and is now miserable and way overworked. Oh, and she makes $28k after about 15 years of service.


    1. Outdoor dining is one good thing to come from the pandemic. I hope it lasts.

      NH doesn’t have a mask mandate yet, does it? I wonder if the labor shortage is due in part to mask mandates. It’s one thing to wear a mask in front of a computer. It’s a totally different burden to wear a mask while working at physical jobs that make you sweat.

      The people imposing the mask mandates on workers are generally themselves not subject to such mandates. I notice many retail and restaurant workers wearing their masks nose-free. I don’t blame them, and I’m not seeing other customers hassle them.


      1. Cranberry,


        Note also that a lot of us, when we say that masking is no big deal and people shouldn’t be babies about it, are referring to our own short visits to stores, as opposed to an all-day shift.

        There’s also the possibility that workers are wearing masks when on duty and visible to the public, and then peeling them off in the break room when out of sight–I’ve heard at least one anecdote to that effect from a NE transit worker.


    2. Not sure who is Anonymous, but I was just in NH, too. I often felt like I was the only one wearing a mask indoors (I keep mine around my neck on a lanyard). One of my sisters ran into an anti-vaccine protest in town (White Mountains area), and while I was in a used book store (looking for older, out-of-print Regencies), some older man came in and was chatting with the store owner and going on about how awful vaccines are. Then, one night my 3 sisters, my husband and I debated 2 of my BILs about whether vaccines should be mandated. At one point, I yelled “That is not how an economy works!” They couldn’t understand how people (like me) being reluctant to go to risky venues with unmasked and/or unvaxed people would have an effect on the economy. “Well, you have to make food at home, so that’s basically the same thing.” And then we had to go through the argument about how COVID is just like the flu and thus COVID vaccines are just like flu vaccines. Thankfully, my sister-the-nurse was there to knock that argument down.

      Btw, very good thread by Ashish Jha here:


      1. Yes, I’m just avoiding anything that looks like it would attract lots of antivax types. I figure it’s best I can do. They clearly don’t want to hear my opinion, but it does look like watching their family members get really sick is persuasive, so I’ll just wait this out.


      2. Sorry, Anonymous is me, af. Somehow I can’t get this to default with my identification.

        NH (population 1.36 million) has a 7-day average of 144 new COVID cases, and zero deaths. I will wear my mask indoors when I travel and am back in the midwest but am savoring my mask-free life while I can. Of course I wear it when the store policy is to wear it.

        One of my friends talked to an epidemiologist friend who said to plan for a 5-year pandemic and enjoy whatever freedom you have while you can.


      3. af, where were you? We were in a house in Lincoln.

        I don’t think I am up for a 5-year pandemic. *sob*


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