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Sep 20 2021September 19, 2021
This commentary is by Rama Schneider of Williamstown.
Connor Dermody ends his commentary Sept. 13 — “I have never felt so afraid for my own well-being” — with an invitation to discuss. This bit of mine is an acceptance of that invite. (Go back and refresh yourself with Connor’s piece — it will help with the discussion.)
First thing I want Dermody to understand is that I empathize and sympathize with them. Many years ago, I made my living as a bartender, and my working experience included family-type after-dinner aperitif lounges to Elks Clubs to some quite rowdy bars. I’ve done this in Montana and right here in Vermont.
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One day at bartending work, I called my boss and told her I was done. The collection of straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back were quite a few and somewhat varied, but I can point to the final one that completed the job: A customer came in around noon, and because he was already intoxicated, I refused to serve him, at which point he started to become belligerent and physically aggressive.
To keep the story short: I did get this guy to leave, but not before I had to dodge a glass and face down the threat of someone coming over the bar to do some severe damage to me. This individual was well-known in the community as someone with a short fuse and violent temper that he would physically act on. Like Connor Dermody, I felt exposed and, yes, afraid that I was about to get the worse end of a physical assault.
That day, that very moment, I decided I was sick and tired of a job that required my emotional and intellectual levels to be on consistent high-danger alert. It’s a screwed-up feeling. Period. And the little better than pittance I was being paid certainly did not compensate for the internal damage that was being done to my psyche. This incident was nowhere close to being my first nor my worst, even, but it was the breaking point.
Over the years since, I’ve come to some conclusions, among which is that the establishment, not the community police, are responsible for a bar’s security. If an establishment’s owners are intending to turn a profit off serving a product that is known to exacerbate unsocial and violent behavior, then that establishment and owner is responsible for not only who gets served and how, but also for the safety of the employees who have to face down the irate, often enough armed customers who pay the boss’s bills and provide the profits. Connor should be taking his employers to task as it was they, not the Burlington police, who failed him by not having appropriate security on hand.
If bar owners cannot control their premises, they should not be bar owners. Fact.
My simple suggestion to bartenders is you take advantage of the current employment situation and get a different, better-paying job. I’ve worked in low-end and high-end alcohol-serving establishments, and my experience tells me that, while the customers may dress differently, they are the same human base when stripped naked. Being a bartender in a high-stress bar simply isn’t worth it.
If one really wishes to continue being a bartender, however, I’d argue one should find a location that takes direct and immediate responsibility for the safety and well-being of customers and staff instead of relying on the outside public agencies. That is certainly an important illustration of owner priorities and where the difference will lie. Waiting for public police backup will never be sufficient for a bartender’s physical, emotional and intellectual wellness — I know; I’ve been there; I’ve done that.
I want to repeat: Connor, I empathize and sympathize with you and your specific plight as related in your commentary. Think well.
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