Life Behind the Medical Badge by Tiffani Trybom

Every second across the world one person takes their last breath and in most hospitals across the country the mortality rate for a patient in the average Intensive Care Unit is 20%. I work in such a unit that takes care of these patients on a daily basis; we nurse the ones who have a chance back to health, while the other 20% are given comfort care. My like-minded group of three techs and ten to thirteen nurses spend our nights together in a unit that is clouded in shadows, covered in linoleum, and barren of all lively color. We work long, excruciating, twelve hour shifts together taking care of someone’s family member, loved one, and hoping for the best outcome. The eclectic group of people I work with come from all backgrounds and walks of life; nurses from Africa, India, and the Philippines, young and old, male and female; but we all share a common interest in helping those who need it the most. Our lives are in a thirty bed unit closed off by locks needing a badge to gain entrance. We work to the cadence of bells and beeps from every direction each indicating a different vital sign on the patient monitors. But, no matter how hard the job gets and how many patients we lose, we are still a family brought together because someone else’s family needs us.

My work family is the toughest group of people I have had the honor of knowing. They push themselves every day to be the best they can be because the best is what saves lives. We deal with irate family members who don’t want to accept that their loved one is dying, we deal with aggressive patients who are coming down off a drug addiction or alcoholism, and yet, through it all, remain positive about the work being done.

Based on how full the unit is, we can have ten to thirteen nurses and two to three techs. I am a tech; I take vitals, draw blood, give baths, and do a lot of charting on the computer for the patients. A nurse will have one to three patients while a tech will usually have ten sometimes more. We work together side by side with the nurses to get things done; but lately we have been extremely understaffed. I find myself putting in a couple days of overtime a week. My job has become my life; it feels odd when I’m not there.

Spending twelve hours with a small group of people over and over makes us close. I know Nurse Daniel, a thirty-three year old married Hispanic man with a one year old son is having marital problems, and our older day tech Babbie recently lost her oldest son to suicide. There are no secrets in our unit.

There are a lot of amazing positive things about working so closely with medical staff. They can help you when you’re sick, and give you advice on what to take to make yourself feel better. And they can emotionally strengthen you. I was comforted when I had to go to the bathroom and lock myself inside to secretly cry for a couple minutes after being with a patient when he was told he only had two months left to live. You don’t forget the look of anguish and sorrow in someone’s eyes in that very moment that their life has been given an expiration date. My nurses are there for me and everyone else when we all need a moment to ourselves to be emotional about our patients.

I watch Nurse Megan, a young single mother of a nine year old daughter, who put herself through nursing school after her late husband was arrested for possession of child pornography. She is so strong, willful, and there isn’t a day she regrets becoming a nurse. She sits beside me some nights at our desks and will talk to me about stories from our childhood and stories of past patients, and I know that when I have a problem I can go to her because she has become more than a coworker. Like the rest of the ICU we are family, bonded over our love of helping others and saving lives.

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Life Behind the Medical Badge by Tiffani Trybom

The Supply World by Joshua Howard

“The one percent”. That phrase alone was embedded in my mind while going through basic training. Drill sergeants unknowingly ingrained it in my DNA, constantly reminding us trainees that only one percent of the total population has what it takes to be in the military. It’s their job to weed out who belongs and who goes home. This very process is the reason the military, as a whole, feels like a family.  In an average profession, you commute to work, enjoy a cup of coffee (or two), do your job and retreat back to your home “safe and sound”. Being a part of the one percent is not just a job. When you make it past the initial torture better known as basic training and AIT, it is a community of people that actually cares about the lives of others in it. You have to be closer than just co-workers to be willing to take a bullet for someone. From going to the field every other month, training exercises, and deployment, you begin to make lifelong friends, and meet people that change the very course of your life.  I’ve been in a total of two units, the 82nd Airborne STB in North Carolina and 1 CAV Division in Texas. While my experiences in the two units varied widely, my interactions with the people I was stationed with made me who I am today.

Most people join because of incentives like free school, healthcare, and free housing, but for me it was being robbed at gunpoint while working for Brinks armored trucks. I figured if I’m going to have a gun pointed at me, I might as well do it for my country. May 15, 2012 was the day I signed over my freedom to Uncle Sam, for the freedom of others. I did not know what to expect when I arrived at my first duty station. I was a “fuzzy” which meant I had no rank, an E-1. So everyone with something on their chest, “rank”, could tell me what to do and when. Walking into the office/ supply room was nerve wrecking, but I was greeted by my Supply SGT, a tall woman with a voice that put my anxiety at ease. I would later learn that all noncommissioned officers “SGT and above” are bipolar. Our job was being in charge of ordering, inventorying, and maintaining equip for our company. Needless to say, forty million dollars’ worth of equip involves a lot of paperwork and knowledge of the inventory system. I came to work every day eager to learn my job, but every day she would disappear for hours while having me clean and run miscellaneous errands that had nothing to do with supply. This went on for about a month till one day I showed up to work only to be told Sgt. Andrews had PCS to another duty station. Not only did she not tell me she was leaving, but she hadn’t taught me the first thing about my job. As an E-1, this was my biggest fear. I knew my job involved people with high ranks asking me questions about equip they signed for, wanted, or needed. I didn’t want to look incapable of doing my job.

My first day was the equivalent of being thrown in a pool by your dad to learn how to swim, but let’s just say I never came up for air. I had no filing system together so I could find paperwork, my supply room was a mess with equipment everywhere, and I just stopped checking my emails because most of the questions asked I didn’t know how to answer. I got to my breaking point about a week in. I knew that in my unit there were five more supply rooms with seasoned vets in the supply game, and I needed help! I figured I could visit each supply room, one for every day of the week, asking different question to each one so that no one room would get tired of me bugging them. I scheduled the meetings between me and the supply rooms and followed through with it. This went well until Thursday. I showed up on time to the scheduled supply room for that day, notepad and pen in hand ready to learn. No one was there and the door was locked. Feeling discouraged, I made my way back to my office. The door was cracked open and I could hear people talking inside. I opened the door and there my CPT “boss” and all five of the supply SGT’s were talking as they cleaned my supply room. In shock, I asked why they were here and what they were doing. With a smile on his face, one of the Supply SGT’s told me that they found out what I had been doing and decided to take the time out to help me organize and learn how to become a Supply SGT.

They let me know that I didn’t have to be afraid of asking questions when I didn’t know answers, or asking for help every once in a while. In the military the supply world can be overwhelming and not looking out for one another could go south fast. That’s why I am glad I sought out friends to help me along the way. I had been under the impression that I had to do ever thing on my own, not knowing that the day I arrived at my company I had become a part of the supply community.

The Supply World by Joshua Howard

The Cart Pusher by Demetre Foster

I rode in the backseat of my parents’ car trying to enjoy the routine fifteen minute drive. I pulled on my plastic name badge and made sure my shirt was tucked in. It seemed like it would not stop raining, and my dad was constantly talking; which makes it a typical day before my eight and a half hours of servitude.

I had only been a Howard E. Butt (H.E.B) employee for about month and after three calls and talking to three different people finally they got my schedule right. However, I did not know what I was going to be doing since I transferred, and ever since my transition it had been flexible to say the least. I hoped for something simple and fun. We arrived ten minutes early like always. I said my goodbyes and went to clock in and stashed my coat and lunch in their designated places. I walked with a positive attitude and spoke to the CSM (Customer Service Manager). She looked at her little device and scrolled through everyone’s schedules and stopped. She looked up at me with that uncaring and unconcerned look only managers can give and spoke.

“You’re PLA (Parking Lot Attendant) today. Have you ever done it before?” She reported.

I shook my head.

“Well, you’re going to need a poncho. Go outside and find Gary or Joel. They will… Oh, here is Gary. He will take care of you,” she concluded.

I stuck my hand out to Gary and told him it was good to be working with him and he just touched my hand but didn’t grasp it. Normally, I would feel offended but he had this far off look that permanently stayed glued to his face, similar to the kids I use to see at elementary.

“Okay, Demetre you just push the carts and come inside to help customers if they need it.”He sounded like his teeth were clenched together.

He showed me the only poncho they had and it was on the wet concrete stuffed in a dirty little corner. I picked up the miserable yellow poncho and brushed off some its tears and hung him up on the Cart Pusher’s closest and went back inside to get a better one. After my short adventure inside, I came out wearing my fresh dark blue poncho suited for God’s rain. So I thought…

It was raining lions and alligators and I walked into that falling flood and shivered at the cold drops. I hesitated and realized what I was doing and thinking that my CSM would come out and jokingly tell me that I could be a bagger and she was just playing. Unfortunately, no one ever came. I went to claim my first few carts from the cart stations and when I placed my bare wet hands against the plastic and metal, and grasped as hard as I could but my grip slid back and forward. I pulled back the carts and turned them as if they were dancers at a fancy ball. The wheels let out that familiar screech and I pushed against the weight. I looked like a toddler trying to reclaim a ball. As I pushed, customers were running to their cars and unloading their groceries as if they were in a competition. I constantly had to readjust my trajectory of the carts – they favored leaning more to the left. I wrestled them to the right and then right and right again. I finally made it to the cart lot and struggled to turn the carts to face the same way, as customers carelessly walked in my way or just stopped and stared at me struggling. When I got them positioned, I just needed to push them backward into the other carts and I was finally through. I stopped and caught my breath. I lifted my poncho and removed my phone and looked at the time. It was 12:30.

I laughed and told myself it had only been thirty minutes and I wasalready tired. I put my phone away and noticed my shoes and bottom of both pant legs were getting pretty soaked. I did not think much of it until the sixth time I walked out and I saw Joel, my coworker. He wore a long rain coat with fat work boots and thick black rubber gloves. He looked like a murderer in a horrible movie. I envied his ensemble. I track him down as he trudged through the waters when I noticed his pristine chinstrap beard. He looked like an Amish raincoat killer. We introduced ourselves, which was unnecessary considering how large our name badges were. I had to learn more about how I could obtain more equipment, so I ask him a couple of questions.

“Hey, how did you get those amazing gloves? Do we have any I can get?” I asked.

“I brought these from home but when I first started I tried dish washing gloves but…” I could not understand what else he said.

I shook my head as if I heard everything and told him I will be back. I went inside the store and was happy I was out of the elements. I went to aisles ten and eleven to see if I could find any gloves. I looked long and hard, hoping they weren’t out. I dug into the open containers and pulled out one pair of yellow gloves with excitement. I went into the self-checkout, where one of my coworkers asked me what I was doing. I reported my business redundantly and she gave me her sympathy. I went out into the wilderness again with a new sense of purpose. I walked confidently and grabbed hold of the carts with the extra grip and the water just slipped and dropped to the ground. Joel found me doing my duty and asked me what kind of gloves I had bought and I confidently told him the price and he retorted that extra-large gloves would have kept out the cold, which I was feeling at the moment. If only I had listened to him, I would be just a little warmer. But I endured.

To my surprise, the rain had soaked its way into my shoes and was devouring my socks. It even managed to coat my pants legs with heavy moisture. I told Joel I was taking my break, which is one of the many perks of being a PLA. I went inside to use the restroom and removed my socks and bought them to the hand dryer. I was trying to be as secretive as I could be, but the other men in the restroom were overly curious of what I was doing. I stepped away when they were done washing their hands. After my embarrassing drying session I relaxed as best I could in the break room and spoke to my supportive girlfriend. Those fifteen minutes felt like heaven, but my nirvana could not last forever. I picked up my wet cold corpse and dragged myself to one of the cashiers to steal a few plastic bags. With one last trip to the restroom, I fastened the small plastic bags around each of my feet. Again, I emerged a new man with plastic bags on my feet and dish washing gloves on my hands and my trusty poncho. I exited the comforts of the inside to suffer again. My first few steps felt strange as I felt water around my bags on my feet as if in a fish tank. A few more steps were all it took for the bags to slip off my feet and into the tip of my shoes. But a few minutes later, it stopped raining. It was 2:30 and I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I remembered a joke a customer had told me in the rain.

“This is perfect for weather for a duck, huh?” he had said with a smile on his face.

“Or a fish cuz I wish I could swim.” I had joked back.

Now thinking back, I think why not perfect weather for a man to make him think on his feet and encourage him to rise to a challenge? I had faced this challenge. I had endured and overcome all the rain had to offer and it had built me into a tougher individual. I was just waiting for a simple and fun day at work and I had it. Now I have a story to tell of how I didn’t give up, and how I finished out the remainder of my shift with a smile and a sense of accomplishment.

The Cart Pusher by Demetre Foster

Vietnamese Nail Salons by Mandi Green

In the United States, it is customary for young girls and women to attend nail salons routinely with their friends, mother, aunt or grandmother. Regulars start to feel a part of the Vietnamese culture when they attend the nail salons.  For the last twenty years, I have routinely gone to nail salons and there are things about my nail technicians’ culture that I have observed and felt curious about. The thing that always intrigues me is why are all my nail technicians Vietnamese? I have become a part of my nail technicians’ lives, but I want to know so much more about their culture and how they live their everyday lives. I am lucky enough to be a regular at a nail salon and the owner, Mrs. H, is a friend of mine. Mrs. H has agreed to let me dig deeper into the Vietnamese culture and interview herself and her employees.

When interviewing Mrs. H her point of view of how Vietnamese people started taking over the nail industry in the United States and Mrs. H told me a very interesting story.

“Forty years ago, Tippi Hedren, an American actress, traveled to a Vietnamese refugee camp in Sacramento, California to meet a group of women who fled from South Vietnam. Mrs. Hedren wanted to help these women learn a trade or skill to be able to support themselves in America. Mrs. Hedren brought in seamstresses and typing instructors, but the women weren’t catching on, but she did notice that the women absolutely loved her manicure. Mrs. Hedren enrolled 20 of the refugee women into a local beauty school to receive a license to do nails services. Within the next couple months, the refugee women were offering nail services cheaper than the American salons, it quickly changed the face of nail salons immediately in California, and later the nail salons all over the United States”.

I found articles online that support Mrs. H’s story. Ms. Tran wrote a whole article for the Chicago Tribune about Vietnamese people coming over to the United States to become nail technicians called “Vietnamese Nail Niche Business”. Muy-Thuan Tran’s article about the nail business argues that Vietnamese refugees started doing nails because of Tippi Hedren. Mrs. Hedren did in fact help a group of women refugees who left South Vietnam with nothing after they had lost their families in the fall of little Saigon. Mrs. Hedren helped these women enter beauty school to become nail technicians, so they could financially support themselves and build new lives in America.

In some nail salons, I have observed the interaction between the nail technicians with their parents, grandparents, and their children. The nail technicians work long very long hours and that results in them bringing their culture and family life into their salons. I had the same question for all the nail technicians, and that was “What is most important to Vietnamese way of life?” Mrs. H told me that Vietnamese culture believes that in life it is not about a person’s accomplishments but, the importance of their duty to their family and society. The nail technicians explained to me that in their households the man is the patriarch and the wife is the caretaker of her husband, children, home and of their elderly parents. Now that the women work in nail salons, they still are expected to complete all those jobs at home along with their nail technician job. They also believe that when parents grow old, their children are expected to take care of them to compensate the gift of birth and upbringing. While the parents are working, their children are encouraged to study and excel in education. Vietnamese value education over material success. Linda, a nail technician I interviewed, told me that her parents are still over in Vietnam. Since she cannot physically take care of them, she sends money to take care of their needs.

Vietnamese parents put a lot of pressure on their children to do well and make their family proud.  A writer for the Washington Post, Anne Hull, wrote an article about a Vietnamese immigrant teen named Amy Nguyen. At a young age Amy and her family moved from Vietnam to America. Amy’s mom, Lisa, works as a nail technician for 400 dollars a week and her dad, Tony, fixes windshields for a living. Amy’s parents push her very hard to do good in school. She is expected to get good grades and it’s not a celebration when she does. Her family is a very traditional Vietnamese family. The Nguyens expect their children to work hard in their education and to become doctors. There is no time for Amy to date. In fact, her dad said, “She’s not allowed to date until she is 26” (Hull). Vietnamese also have a strong belief in honoring family, and Amy does not want to be an embarrassment to them; she does as she is told and works her hardest. Amy’s parents insist that Vietnamese is to be spoken in their home and on Saturdays they have a traditional Vietnamese dinner. Amy’s parents try to keep Vietnamese tradition and expectations in their family life.

In every nail salon I have ever been to there is always an altar with fresh food offerings. I always thought it was strange, but I’ve learned that it is to honor their family that has passed away. Tam Giáo, the three teachings, is the majority religion of Vietnamese culture. It is a combination of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Every nail shop I have been to has an altar. Mrs. H told me that the altar is used to pray for their ancestors. Mrs. H says that if they fail to perform rituals for their ancestors, it will cause the ancestors to become a hungry ghost. A “hungry ghost” is believed to do evil deeds and cause bad fortune. Each of the nail technicians told me that they all have altars to honor their ancestors in their homes too. Vietnamese people believe in life after death. They place their altar in the most solemn location in their house with a photo of their ancestor and daily replace fresh fruit, traditional Vietnamese food, candies, and gifts.

At the end of January, I had come in to get my nails done and the salon was covered in beautiful flowers, red paper decorations everywhere, and the ladies were wearing beautiful dresses I have not ever seen them wear before. The nail technicians were celebrating Tet Nguyen Dan, also known as Tet and the Vietnamese New Year. It is the most important holiday the Vietnamese celebrate.  Tet falls on a different day every year, but is usually around the end of January and beginning of February. The Vietnamese families get together, have large meals, decorate Tet trees, and eat Tet food and forget their troubles from the past year and hope for a better new year. The nail technicians were wearing their traditional dress called Ao Dai, a nationally recognized attire that women wear during special occasions and holidays. In an article from the Los Angeles Times reporter Tran Mai states that “Tet is a special family gathering and it’s a rare occasion, because in America, families are too busy working to survive to celebrate anything else” (Tran).

The second major holiday is called Tet Trung Thu, which is also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is celebrated in late September to early October with a full moon at night. Family and friends gather together to make meals, give thanks, and they pray for good fortune, babies, a spouse, or longevity.

Pho with basil, jalapeño, bean sprouts, cilantro, and green onions

In the salons I have visited, I observed the nail technicians cooking and eating all the time. Their food did not look like normal American food that we eat. I always have wondered what it is that they were eating and why they did not eat every day American food. Brenda told me that she has lived in the United States for nine years, but she still eats the Vietnamese diet she grew up on, she says American food is very fatty and causes her to gain weight (Le). The Vietnamese ladies visit the grocery daily for fresh fruits and vegetables. In an article written by Deidre Betancourt for the Family and Consumer Sciences she states “ In their home country, Vietnamese either grow food or purchase it daily. There are few refrigerators” (Betancourt). They usually have Pho for breakfast, which is a broth-based soup with rice noodles and thin sliced meat. Rice and boiled eggs are incorporated in their daily diets as bread would be to Americans. Brenda also stated “we rarely eat anything that is heavy in dairy or cheese because most Vietnamese are lactose intolerant” (Le).

From the many conversations I have had with nail technicians through the years, I have learned that they all live a few blocks from downtown Houston in an area called Little Saigon. Houston’s Little Saigon is full of Vietnamese families, stores, restaurants, and culture. I asked all the nail technicians why they choose to commute from such a long way, driving 60 miles one way in Houston on highway 45, is nothing to joke about. Brenda told me that she wants her children to grow up around other Vietnamese people and enjoys the locally owned Vietnamese shops and restaurants in the area. Linda said that she wants her children to grow up around other Vietnamese children because they have the same core values and American children are raised differently. The rest of the nail technicians also feel the drive is worth it, so that their children are being raised around Vietnam culture standards; and it is as close as they can be to living in Vietnam culture. It is a norm for Houston’s Vietnamese nail technicians to travel to nail salons far from their homes. Through my extensive research, I have learned that there are Little Saigons in many large cities across the United States. In Orange county, California the largest Little Saigon community in the United States exists. Ms. Tran reports in the Los Angeles Times “Orange County’s Little Saigon remains the hottest spot in America for the Vietnamese to congregate for Tet. The business and cultural hub is home to more than 3,000 shops and the epicenter of the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam” (Tran). This supports my point that Vietnamese people want to stay surrounded by Vietnamese culture in the United States.

The nail technicians at the salon know very little English. Usually, the boss is the one to translate what a customer wants to the nail technician. I have always had small and limited conversations with my nail technicians. Linda stated that they speak their native language in the nail salons because they like to talk about the news, their kids, music, customers, and romance during their long shiftsThey also only surround themselves with other Vietnamese people, so they don’t feel the need to learn English. Ms. Tran states in her article “Vietnamese immigrants come to America with intentions to do nails because it is fast and easy to receive a nail technician license, and they don’t have to speak much English to be able to do nails” (Tran). I do not understand why you would come to an English-speaking country and not learn the language. In an article on the Migration Policy Organization website, writer Ms. Zong states

“in 2014, about 67 percent of Vietnamese immigrants (ages 5 and over) reported limited English proficiency, compared to the 50 percent of Vietnamese immigrants spoke only English at home, compared to the 16 percent of overall foreign-born population. Approximately 8 percent of Vietnamese immigrants spoke only English at home, compared to the 16 percent average for all immigrants” (Zong).

Mrs. H also told me that the Vietnamese Nail Technicians feel like their traditional Vietnamese names are too hard for their customers to pronounce, so they have chosen Americanized versions of their name for the salon. Ms. Hull supports this fact in her article “the Nyguyen family changed their names to easy traditional American names when they moved from Vietnam” (Hull).

Americans put a prominence on being pleasant in interpersonal relationships, while Vietnamese focus on respect. In Vietnamese neighborhoods, almost everybody knows everybody by their names, whereas in American neighborhoods we often do not even know what our neighbors’ name are. Mrs. H told me that Vietnamese have four major values in their lives. First is their commitment to their family, second is to have a “good name” for themselves, third is the love of learning, and fourth is the concept of respect. All the nail technicians have repeatedly stated that their culture isn’t about material possessions. It is about honoring and respecting your family, ancestors, and yourself.

Why are the Vietnamese people leaving Vietnam for the United States? In my interview with Brenda she states, “It’s because of corrupt government, low standard of living, poor education, and unable to provide for their loved ones.” Mrs. H states, “Vietnamese have come to the United States to make a better life for their family and chose to become nail technicians, so they can quickly start earning money. The women that I interviewed revealed that they have brought their family over from Vietnam, or that they are planning to bring them to the United States. The nail technicians don’t dream of painting finger nails and scrubbing feet when they are children, but they do what they have to, to provide for family.

Vietnamese citizens have a great respect for their culture. Even though they do not live in Vietnam anymore, they are preserving their way of life and teaching their children the importance of their heritage. The nail technicians that I spend a couple hours with every two weeks, when getting my nails done, have so much knowledge to offer. I am very grateful for their ability to be transparent about their daily lives.

 

Works Cited

Betancourt, Deidre. “Cultural Diversity: Eating in America- Vietnamese,” Family and Consumer Sciences, 8 June 2010,  https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5258

Hull, Anne. “The Weight of a Family’s Hopes; Parents Dream Leaves Little Room for Being Average American Teen.” The Washington Post, 10 Dec 2002, https://searchproquestcom.lscsproxy2.lonestar.edu/docview/409465499/43D9E42EE4F24D13PQ/9?accountid=7054

Tran, M. “Vietnamese Nail Niche Business.” Chicago Tribune, 2008 May 12,  Newspaper Source, http://lscsproxy.lonestar.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.lscsproxy2.lonestar.edu/docview/420692478?accountid=7054

Tran, Mai. “Lunar New Year is Time to Bond: Vietnamese community prepares to usher in the Year of the Snake with festivities to celebrate Tet.” Los Angeles Times, 21 Jan 2001, Newspaper Source, https://search-proquest-com.lscsproxy2.lonestar.edu/usmajordailies/docview/421757632/3F0A6318FC4F4FD9PQ/7?accountid=7054

Zong, Jie. “Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Organization, 8 June 2016, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/vietnamese-immigrants-united-states/#English%20Proficiency

Vietnamese Nail Salons by Mandi Green

Yardhouse by Christopher Barnett

Bars, pubs, and cantinas have been around for as long as humans have cultivated alcohol. These establishments are an important part of the social structure of large communities. The city of Houston is composed of a large mix of people from all walks of life, which in turn reflects the people within the bar I work at. There’s Ben the stereotypical businessman, the homeless man that comes in for a few beers, and even a bartender trying to make more of himself all under one roof. Inside the bar, it is a loud boisterous place where everyone comes to talk about the day’s events.  As you enter there are TV sets that jut out every which way, and the smell of cigarette smoke and beer permeate the air. A hundred different beer selections wrap around a forty-seat bar. This ensures that there is something to drink for everyone.

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Figure 1 Bar Taps

The people that come into the bar, and work there are from many different backgrounds, including social class, work, gender, religion and ethnicity. These people are able to put these differences aside and see each other as equals while having a great time.

The people that visit the bar tend to be well off, for the most part. Many of the customers at the Yardhouse live in and around City Centre, which is a pricey place to live.  A couple of the apartment complexes that are in City Centre are The Alexan, The Lofts, and The Domain at City Centre.  The price for a one-bedroom at one of these complexes ranges from $1300-$1500. Not only are the apartments pricey, so are the restaurants in the area.  There is Ra Sushi, Tasting Room, Texas de Brazil, The Capital Grille, and many others which are walking distance within City Centre.

To better illustrate the social class of Yardhouse and the other establishments in the area, City Centre holds a Lamborghini Festival yearly, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. For an entire Sunday, all the streets are blocked off and are piled up with Lamborghinis of all different colors and makes.  This may be fun for festival goers, but not for the people who work there, since we will have to pay to go to work that day. All parking is pay only, regardless of if you are a wealthy festival-goer or a mere worker in City Centre.

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Figure 2 Yardhouse Lamborghini Festival

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Figure 3 Yardhouse Normal Day

Working pays well at Yardhouse because of the inherent wealth of the surrounding area.  The money makes it very hard to leave an industry where you make anywhere from 25-30 dollars an hour without having to get an education, which is what happened to people like Mark and Saira [names have been changed], who both have degrees. They work here instead of getting another job.  When I asked Mark why he works here, he says “The money is real good, man. I don’t work 9-5 all the time, but I can give up shift if I want and someone else will work it. I couldn’t just do that at my old job working for an oil company.” Kelly responded when I asked her this by saying, “I don’t have much of an education, you know. This pays well and I don’t have to go to school for it.” Though a lot people do this until there 40’s and 50’s, most do not because the work is taxing on the body and the job itself is viewed as a young person’s in this industry.

Now, just because the surroundings are middle upper to upper class does not mean that everyone who comes in is rich. There are families that come in and eat who are, for the most part, middle class. The regulars that I talked to are well-to-do, but there is a homeless man that comes in from time to time and orders two beers. He always asks for Mark and lets Mark pick him a different beer each time. When I asked why he does this he said, “You can’t really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes man, I like to think this is the highlight of his day when I pick the beers out for him.”

There is also Avery and her boyfriend Derek who both work at Seasons next door. They are not in the socio-economic class like the other regulars.  Avery and Derek get 25 percent off their meals, which they get for working for the same parent company Darden, which brings the entrees down from 20 dollars to 15.  They come in after work and order food and beer and are servers at Seasons 52. Avery is black and Derek is white. Many workers from the other restaurants come to our bar after work because we stay open late which brings in a mix of varying economic classes.

The people I regularly engage with are Walter, Ben, James, and Al.  All of these people are financially well off, but that doesn’t mean they spend money on high-end liquor. Walter lives in City Centre while the rest live in the surrounding area to City Centre near I10 and the toll road. Some people might think that having a bunch a money you would drink a Martini or some high-end scotch but these guys drink mostly beer, and low end beer at that.  Walter will always drink his Bud Lite with lime. Ben will drink Hopadillo now and then but prefers Michelob Ultra. James is a drunk and only drinks his Jameson doubles till he can’t walk anymore. Al drinks Angry Orchard.

Al and Ben are friends from my best guess and if they are not it would certainly be surprising. They always sit next to each other if one is at the bar. They both have mutual friends that come into the bar. To me it seems there is a consistent group of businessmen and women that come into the bar to discuss work and network with the people of City Centre. The networking seems to be an integral part of the men that work in the area to come in and meet others to expand business or make new connections in their field of work. Ben and Al are both in the technology field and cyber security. The group that discuss business still hang out with regular people at the bar. Derek frequently hangs out with Ben even though they don’t have much in common in the way of work. They usually just talk about the day and what’s going on in their respective lives.

People like Derek and Walter are pretty cool to talk with, but the businessmen can get a big head on their shoulders. Derek and Walter just like to hang out and shoot the breeze with the bartenders while Ben and James can be very difficult. I used to manage Derek at Cheesecake Factory, so we always share old “war stories” of the restaurant business with each other, which makes for a fun, relaxing evening while I work. In comparison, having to deal with people who have money like Ben or James can be taxing at times. They are more demanding and try to act like they own the place. James will expect certain things a certain way and expect extra from because of how much he spends when he comes in. Ben likes to walk around the bar and acts like he owns the place which can be hard to deal with from time to time. Jokingly we call him the mayor of Yardhouse behind his back. When these guys get to be too much we can always send Saira, the head bartender, over to try and straighten them out.  Saira says, “These guys are big teddy bears and you just have to know how to talk to them if you want them to calm down”.

Barnett4

Figure 5 Varied mix of different people at the bar

Gender roles within the context of the bar are mostly standard by societal terms.  There is an unwritten rule that the male bartenders will deflect attention for women bartenders being handed to them by male customers if they get too “friendly”.  Women bartenders have harder time when dealing with sexual harassment from male patrons because alcohol is a social lubricant people say and do things that hey normally wouldn’t do.  There are numerous times where I have to deflect attention for Saira because men want to talk to her.  This makes it a socially awkward interaction because the reality is it her job to talk them even if she doesn’t want to. I asked Saira what she thought of male bartenders helping her out with customers and she said, “It’s fine, I actually prefer it after a long night sometimes I just don’t want to deal with those guys when I am tired. I might lose my cool on one of them if it wasn’t for you all”.

Sexual harassment in a bar is very real and takes a lot of skill to deal with efficiently without offending someone, especially when they may be inebriated.  Luckily for us, sexual harassment hasn’t come from within the company, to the best of my knowledge. Not that sexual harassment can’t happen to men, but from my own experience it is much more prevalent towards women in this industry. Luckily for us, we have a strong leader behind the bar like Saira who know how to handle it.

As far as I know, Saira is the only Muslim behind the bar and she’s also the only immigrant, she was born in Egypt. Saira being an immigrant creates an interesting dynamic for her role as a leader for the people working behind the bar. Her parents are strict Muslims and she does not let them know she is a bartender. She has lied and told them that she was only waitress because in her religion, touching and serving alcohol is frowned upon.  Her parents would be upset if she was a bartender since there is so much contact with alcohol. She realizes she is a hypocrite when it comes to this aspect of her religion because she still likes to go out and drink with the other bartenders. She also has to try all of the new drinks even though she shouldn’t because of her religion. Saira has her degree in political science but hasn’t left the field of bartending because of the money she makes. Her ethnicity or religion have no bearing for which customers interact with her. She is very smart and considerate when listening to everyone behind the bar and outside of it.

Kelly is a Christian country girl, hard headed, brash, and dislikes her job very much. The interaction of Saira and Kelly never reaches a topic of politics because they are friends and don’t want to offend the other. Kelly is conservative in a pro-Trump sort of way while Sheza is religiously conservative but not socially. I asked Kelly, since she is conservative, what she thought about peoples backgrounds in the bar she said, “I leave that stuff at the door, Chris, that ain’t gonna cause nothing but trouble and I like everyone here”.  Kelly has been a bartender for some years now and plans on leaving to a country bar when it opens in a couple of months. Kelly is married and Saira was married but is now divorced. They like to jokingly make fun of Saira’s ex-husband and use this to bond over and lament about how men can be dumb and ridiculous.

When working together these two use each other to an advantage with customers that come into the bar. Knowing full well if some hunter type country guys come in, they send over Kelly and if international Arabic businessmen come in Saira will go over. If there is a group of women that come in, they will send a guy like me or Mark to go over charm them up. In the end,we are trying to make more money through tips.

Mark is college a graduate like Saira. He even had what he likes call a “big boy job” working for an oil company before he got laid off. He started working for Yardhouse and quickly got promoted. Mark likes working at Yardhouse and says he makes as much money as he was making when working for the oil company. He has been asked to go into management multiple times but keeps turning it down because he doesn’t want to make a career out of the restaurant industry. Unlike the female counterparts Mark and I have never been married, although I am engaged.  Mark could be at another job working for oil but sticks with Yardhouse because he is looked up to, has made a myriad of friends, and has many opportunities for advancement.

Mark is a Hispanic and Catholic but is pretty liberal with his political views, while I am an atheist and when we include the rest of the bartenders the bar has all religions working together. Discussions of religion are not brought up much behind the bar or with the bar patrons. Religion and politics not being brought up is an unwritten rule like the saying “two things you don’t discuss at the dinner table are Politics and Religion” which applies to the bar.  Nobody wants to offend anyone considering that most regulars are well off and that usually coincides with being conservative

We all get along well with the regulars at Yardhouse and have a good time with them. We are allowed to give out a free drink every once and a while to make sure people stay happy and continue a feel good vibe. This courtesy is encouraged by our management team so that people will want to come back and feel welcomed. Mark has come to the bar when he’s not working and hangs out with Ben, who always ends buying any bartender a drink if they are off work. In the end we are all looking to make money and our social, gender, religious, and economic status never really stands in the way of that. In addition, we always want to have a good time whether it’s at work or not. Mark and I regularly go for runs together outside of work and Kelly, Saira, and other female bartenders went on a trip to Miami for a bachelorette party. Ben and some of the other regulars come in frequently and bring us food or tickets to events for free. There are plenty of differences between the customers that come in and the bar team but we all get along with each other and treat each other with respect. We are a large community of diverse individuals that see each other as equals at Yardhouse.

Yardhouse by Christopher Barnett

The Heart of the Projects by Jeffery Samuels

Growing up in the projects, I have seen things that would have a lot of kids traumatized. Things were always dangerous and unpredictable. I tried my hardest to dodge all the negativity. As an African American male, my choices were books, ball, or streets.

For the eleven years I have been staying in this community, I’ve learned and seen a lot. Even though my community is considered dangerous, it still has a lot of potential. One day in the PJ’s (also known as the projects), there was a drive-by shooting of one of the city’s top ranked high school basketball players. He had potential to make it out of the projects. Now he’s gone. I knew his family and felt their sorrow. His little brother who was following in his footsteps has now dropped the ball and turned his back to the court to face the street life. He shows up on the corner of the projects’ Seven Eleven with all the gangbangers now seeking revenge.

Every day I leave my house there is a different atmosphere. It’s always something new, which is why my community is labeled unpredictable. Where I live you never know how your day will turn out. Things just happen in a blink of an eye. On May 3, 2015, there was a car riding around my neighborhood that looked unfamiliar. Mind you, they were circling the block on and off for almost four hours. Then night time came. I was walking home from my cousin’s house begun, right about nine o’clock. The same car flew by me (hit the slap stick and bucked, ah, right).  Seconds later there were no telling how many gun shots rang out. Because of that incident there were change a change of plans. I decided to turn around and run back to my cousin’s house, and stay the night there. An hour later, my next-door neighbor was breaking news on TV, shot dead for gang-related reasons. It’s just wicked, because earlier that day everything was cool, and he was cracking jokes. No one knew it was going to be time to be wearing him on a shirt. “See how fast things can happen/change” is what ran through my mind the rest of the night.

That’s not the only day in the projects that I remembered as being unpredictable. There are a lot more. In our society, most black teens are targeted by the federal system or police. Where I’m from, we have a neighborhood cop that everyone knows. He’s a good cop…Well, that’s what everybody thought, until we seen bright red and blue lights and the streets blocked off, with the local officer and drug dealers in the back of different cop cars. He was fired for being charged with tampering with evidence. We found out later that he had also been getting money from the drug dealers as an exchange for jail time – a “give me money or I’ll take you to jail” type relationship. Now he’s on the other side of the gates, and no one would have thought something like that would’ve happened with that officer, but things change very fast.

In my community, you don’t see things that you would normally see in Houston’s suburbs. Where I’m from, people are scared for their lives and their family’s lives. Yet those families must deal with where they live, because we all live in poverty, and a lot of people aren’t able to move out. In the projects so many people are hurt, but we don’t show it. Instead, we pray for better days, and hope things don’t stay the same. Even though my community is dangerous, unpredictable, and also traumatizing, I will never turn my back on the projects.

The Heart of the Projects by Jeffery Samuels