One of my long-term goals for ushering is never to become bitter and cynical as so many long-time ushers seem to become. They expect the worst of people and are given no end of opportunities to see their expectations met. I do my best to remember that for every angry, demanding, selfish, or entitled patron that I encounter, I meet at least a couple who are friendly, kind, funny, and generous, and there are of course hundreds that come and go without ever drawing my attention at all.
While eating my breakfast before heading to work this morning, I read some old blog entries about ushering, including this one, a meditation on the sentiment, the pride and the poignancy, on display at high school graduations.
Today, though, was not one of those days.
I know that for so many of the families in attendance, graduation is the culmination of years of work, both for them and for their graduates. I know that parents of graduates often feel quite literally like participants in these events. In fact, some of our signage outside the building directs "participants" one way and "public" another; when I'm outside helping get people to the proper spots, I always call them instead "graduates and faculty" while pointing one way and "family and friends" while pointing the other, because mothers especially, in my experience, truly believe themselves to be participants in this triumphant moment.
Still, it's amazing to me to see how many family members will behave as if their child's graduation entitles them to specific benefits that other families, celebrating the exact same achievement by their own children, are not entitled to. People set up tripods for their video cameras on stairways and landings, blocking other people's views and access to whole rows of seating. One thoughtful young man once even set up his tripod across three mobility-impaired seats, which are in high demand for grandparents at these events. Some people will "save" three and four rows of seating, upwards of 40 individual seats, for their friends and family who are "parking the car" when other families who are here, now, with only minutes before the start of the ceremony, have nowhere to sit. Entire families fill the mobility-impaired seating sections, bristling indignantly at the suggestion that one of their party sit with grandma while the rest sit in regular seats a dozen feet or so away from grandma so that another family's grandma, who is also in a wheelchair, may take advantage of the mobility-impaired seating sections as well.
Trying my best to resolve such a conflict today, I told the Hatfields and the McCoys, who appeared on the verge of coming to blows over a half-dozen seats they both wanted to sit in, that "we're all here for the same reason. We're all part of the [insert school's name] family; let's all behave in a kind, courteous, and loving way toward each other." Two people involved in the conflict actually snorted in derision at my suggestion.
I called the police to one of our vendor's concession stands today, too, because a woman, dressed to the nines and there presumably to show her pride and to celebrate the achievement of a close friend or family member suddenly decided that this place and this time were the appropriate moment to engage in a dispute with that vendor over payroll money she felt she was owed; presumably she had worked for or with that vendor at some previous event. She was screaming with such force and gesticulating so vehemently at the vendor that I was afraid she was about to start throwing punches. When I approached, she turned her venom on me without missing a beat. The spittle was flying. The police were called. The vendor was visibly shaken. I thought, how delightful it is that this patron has stolen this day from the graduate she was there to honor, turned the attention from the graduate to herself and even involved the police.
So, as much as I love ushering, and as much fun as I have, and as much gratification as I get from helping people enjoy our events and helping them in other ways whenever I can, sometimes I can't help walking away feeling that people, in the broadest, most general terms, suck.