February 28, 2010

And a Side of Black Beans, Please

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I was late to class the other day because it took me 20 minutes to order a quesadilla at Trillium. However, this is not an article complaining about the long lines at the dining facilities, this is an article about the immense effort required to get a side order of black beans, and what that says about us.

It is just before 3 p.m. and Trillium is empty. I approach the quesadilla guy and order a quesadilla with chicken, cheese and black beans. “Can’t do that,” he replies.

“I’m sorry. The chicken, cheese and black beans are all right here, I see them.” I point to the ingredients.

“I can only make what’s on the menu,” he says as he signals up.

I look up and see two options that are very similar to what I want. One is a chicken and cheese quesadilla, and the other, beans and cheese.

“I understand that my specific order isn’t on the menu, but could you just give me a side order of black beans?”

“No register button for it. Can’t do that. Chef’s orders.”

Now is the point where I can either let it go, or battle on.

“Can I talk to the Chef?”

“He ain’t here, but you can go on ahead and talk to the manager if you want.”

He points me to a door that leads to the Trillium management offices. All of the desks are empty. I come back out and ask the lady at the register for the manager. She summons the assistant manager, and I explain my dilemma.

“There is a lot more that goes into it than you know. We’ve got specific orders from the chef, plus our registers don’t have a button for it,” she replies.

By now I am already late to class but refuse to leave sans quesadilla.

“Don’t you think there is something backward about that system? The register buttons control the menu and the food. Shouldn’t the available food create the menu, which should then dictate the register’s buttons? Don’t you think the logic is warped?”

“Listen, I’ll file a complaint. We can make an exception for you just today,” she responds, and leads me back to the quesadilla station. “Give this man a side order of black beans just for today.”

The quesadilla workers are ticked off to say the least. The man shakes his head and begins to make my quesadilla. As I wait, the quesadilla guy (omelet guy pre-11 a.m.) laughs and activates wise man mode, “You just don’t get it do ya?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Wait till you’re out in the real world. Wewf, I’d like to see you out there in the real world kid. Black beans are gonna be the least of your worries. Goooood luck.”

“No but it’s not the black beans. Don’t you think the system here is flawed? Don’t you think if the food is there in front of me I should be able to order it?”

“Rules are the rules kid. We have orders,” he says as he sprinkles on the chicken.

“I know, but aren’t some rules wrong? You’re the one making the quesadillas, not the chef or the manager. Only you have the power to place the ingredients.”

He places the beans on the side, and I brazenly ask, “Could you just throw the beans in the quesadilla? I’m gonna do it in a second anyway.”

“The manager told me to put it on the side. I’m gonna put it on the side. You just don’t get it kid. I’m following orders.”

I decide to stop before pushing him overboard. At this point I detect the piercing glares from every single Trillium worker. He hands me the box, the register charges me $1 extra for the “bacon,” (substitute for beans button) and I escape, well-aware that this may very well be my last Trillium quesadilla.

The quesadilla cooks refused to stop, investigate and reform their personal views. They followed instructions and didn’t ask questions. Here, human reasoning was replaced by a blind adherence to orders. They have become cogs in the machine that is Trillium.

Although the battle over a three-ingredient quesadilla may seem gratuitous, what took place here is in fact a synecdoche for a more serious, even endemic, issue at Cornell. We Cornellians surely recognize the illogic at Trillium, and even laugh it off. However, are we able to take a step back when it comes time to apply for our own internships or full-time jobs? Or are we also merely following orders and sticking to the menu provided us?

For some reason it has become standard for Cornellians to believe the highest paying jobs are the best. Even after the recent financial debacle, which revealed just how greedy these Wall Street weasels are, investment banking interview slots and info sessions remain jam-packed.

Contrary to what Alpha Kappa Psi or Delta Sigma Pi may tell you, people aren’t meant to network, leverage, gain exposure, optimize, streamline or synergize. That’s what machines do. Real humans talk to people. They read about, learn or “expose” themselves to things not for the sake of getting ahead, but because they posses an authentic interest in those things.

I worked on Wall Street for two summers. Why? No actual reason, or perhaps because I didn’t stop to think. I saw my fellow Cornellians doing it, and without second thought, I followed suit. Seriously, there is a reason why the toughest part of a finance interview is fabricating an answer for the question: Why do you want to work on Wall Street?

We owe it to ourselves to look beyond the menu and register buttons. To forget what our peers and parents deem successful. Stop following orders and ask yourself what you believe in and where your passions lie. You and I both know your desire to work for Goldman Sachs or (insert intellectually vacant investment bank name here) did not develop organically. Wall Street is a large button on the Cornell register. It is inscribed in big red print on the menu. But before ordering it, stop and look at the ingredients you have. Look past the leverage. Maybe you are able make a quesadilla with not just chicken and cheese, but with black beans as well.

Hugo Genes is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at hsg22@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Hugo Genes