It was a brutally hot day on the Poland trails, so naturally by the time I rolled back into civilization, the first thing I wanted was a steaming hot cup of coffee. 

Mark LaFlamme

I wheeled into the Dunkin parking lot, poured myself out of the helmet, and headed for the doors, whistling. 

But the doors wouldn’t open, not even a crack. Baffled, I went through that whole process of trying the door again in case I’d missed something the first time around. 

Nope. Locked. I stared at it. Glared it. Tried gawping at the unyielding door with my head tilted to the side because sometimes that helps to reveal mysteries.  

But there was no mystery here, as it turns out. It was just more of the same old lunacy in a twisted year that just keeps cranking it out. 

“Due to a staff shortage,” the sign told me, or words to that effect, “our lobby will remain closed. Sorry for inconvenience and/or heartbreak.” 

A few days later, back in Lewiston, we’re off to KFC to pick up an order already placed online. Very convenient, those mobile orders. What a time saver! 

But at KFC , instead of convenience and finger-licking goodness, we found — you guessed it — that the doors to the joint were locked up tight. I don’t recall what the sign said, but I know what it SHOULD have said: “What? You thought you were so smart you could breeze right in here and pick up your chicken? Ha! None of that for you, schmuck. Lobby closed, staff shortage, blah blah. Seriously, how did you not see this coming? Have you even MET 2020-21?” 

Those who had been smart enough to order in advance STILL had to get back into their cars and take their place in a drive-thru line which by that point snaked out of the parking lot, into the road, and back a block. 

Roughly a week later, when we finally got to the window to pick up our grub, a very tired looking KFC worker told us what the problem was. 

“We don’t have enough employees,” she said.  

This workforce shortage is mystifying to me. Not just mystifying, an absolute puzzle. The kind of goofy stuff that only happens in Backwards World, a place which, until recently, existed only in the weird landscape of my imagination. 

Too many jobs and not enough people who want them … Is this the worker’s paradise we’ve heard so much about?

The reason for this madness is debated, although once you get around the usual political finger-pointing, it’s not that difficult to understand. 

After COVID hit, big brother set up American workers with some pretty sweet unemployment benefits. In a lot of situations, a person could take in significantly more moolah simply by staying out of the workforce. To go back to work would be to take a pay cut, and who’s going to be tempted by THAT? 

Those benefits, I’m told, continue until September, so what we have now is a whole lotta people kicking back and taking the summer off instead of serving delicious cups of coffee and chicken in buckets. 

You can’t even get traditionally money-starved teens to come in for an interview, apparently. Not without offering exotic perks like signing bonuses and inflated salaries. I’ve heard of restaurants and other businesses who are offering quick cash to people just for coming in for an interview. Cold, hard cash just for sitting in the chair!

Madness. In the world I once knew, teenagers were so desperate for money to increase their social standing, they would take, literally, the first job that came their way. If you were lucky, you got to flip burgers and mop floors for your weekly scratch. If you were not so lucky, you ended up shoveling poo somewhere, or walking some mean old lady’s dog at all hours. 

Now nobody wants even the decent jobs, which to me seems like quite the opportunity for someone with a little long game planning and at least a shred of work ethic. 

We are living in the kind of economic state that could allow a person to take giant leaps in status by simply showing up. You don’t need a sparkling resume or high-caliber recommendations to land a job right now. You’ve just got to be there. 

“Young man, exactly what do you feel qualifies you to become our Executive Supervisor for On-site Property Management Including Pest Control, Underwater Ceramic Maintenance, Non-Arboreal Gardening Services and Tenant-Related Easements and Liens?” 

“I’m willing to show up on Monday.” 

“You’re hired. Here’s a bag of money. Collect your company car on the way out.” 

Of course, a person may go the other way, as well — why stick with that high-falutin’, soul-sucking, ulcer-inducing, life-shortening stress bag of a corporate gig when you could make close to the same mammoth salary stocking shelves and sweeping floors in some rinky-dink market somewhere? Rinky-Dink Mart needs you, man, and they’ll bend over backwards to get you on the payroll. 

Plus, another bonus if you stick around for two weeks: You get your own smock. It’s a no-brainer, bruh.  

Where do we go from here? I’ll let the economic egg heads try to deduce how long this worker shortage will last and what the consequences will be. Is it all just another economic bubble that has to burst sooner or later? Come October, will we find a complete reversal, with millions of people suddenly desperate for work but with no jobs to be had? 

Stay tuned and find out, lads. Me? I think I’ll ditch the rat race altogether and give independent wealth a try. 

I hear good things.

When Mark LaFlamme isn’t pondering the merits of unemployment, he’s the crime reporter for the Sun Journal.

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