Shattering the Plexiglass

by FCS on

by Sarah Quezada

Drive thrus are an interesting phenomenon. I can speak to my mother-in-law in Guatemala with crystal clarity for free, but it’s virtually impossible to order a 2-piece chicken meal correctly on the first try. Perhaps Y2K only impacted drive thru intercoms, and they are destined to remain in the technology landscape of the mid-80’s.

Having lived in city neighborhoods for more than a decade, I’ve discovered that garbled conversations across the length of the building are often just the first disconnection in the urban customer experience.

One fast food chain would lead me from a fuzzy, walky-talky exchange to a giant plexiglass box. I opened the box, deposited my credit card into the designated slot, and closed the box door. Then, the employee would retract it, remove my card, and fill the box with my order, card, and receipt before sliding it back out to me to open. We really didn’t speak. We certainly didn’t touch. Based on my zip code, this process was deemed the best way to interact with me and my neighbors.

I have seen some variation of these “safety measures” in many different establishments. Convenience store counters built behind bulletproof glass. Double sided doors that open in succession only to exchange money. Turnstiles blocking entrances and exits to grocery stores.

I have lived in Historic South Atlanta, a small community near downtown, for seven years. Recently, I was checking out at Carver Neighborhood Market while the clerk asked me about my weekend plans. In that moment, “the box” resurfaced in my memory. I realized that I was interacting without plexiglass. And it was so nice.

Trust. Community. Relationship. Shalom. It’s hard to build up or promote any of these things when wrapped in a plexiglass cocoon. I understand the temptation many business leaders feel to lead with fear. But it is a choice that leads us all to nowhere.

Talking to the clerk made me proud of the work happening in our neighborhood all over again. Carver Market has been touted as an initiative to provide healthy food in our community, as a solution to food deserts in urban neighborhoods. But this conversation highlighted another benefit I’ve enjoyed there and at Community Grounds.

I am treated like a customer. Just a regular ‘ole customer. One whose business the employees desire and who they treat with general respect and humanity.

Food deserts are a real challenge, but maybe our zip codes can sometimes be “Trust Deserts” as well. I’m thankful for businesses that offer dignity and conversation face-to-face without the barriers of distortion, distance, and fear.

Sarah Quezada is a South Atlanta resident and part of our founding member's crew at Carver Neighborhood Market. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog, A Life with Subtitles.

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