People of Panda Express: An awesomely ugly promontory from which to observe the fall of the American Empire

As I write this, I’m preparing to return to my vineyard job (on payroll because #WINNING!) in Lane County, which is home to probably the most vibrant diversity of white people (and White People) I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. But at the moment I’m in North Medford, and as far as the constituents of Whitey in these parts are concerned, oh dear. It ain’t good, y’all.

Understand that I eat quite often at Panda Express. Why? That’s easy: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Bless me, Father, for I have–Father, I have to recommend that you try the Honey Sesame Chicken Breast (TM), available for a limited time only (TM). Panda Express is a den of inherent vice, especially for those of you (nah, those of  us) who enjoy gluttony, avarice, and sloth. I go there even though I know it’s wrong, and I do so only in part because the farm where I’ve been staying has a more psychotic vibe that I care to enjoy. (Last night, I finally got a good sense of the syntax used by the psychotic guy who lives in the shower room, including the words “identificational” and “constituation.”)

But only part of the problem with Panda Express is that it’s Panda Express. The other part of the problem is that it’s located in North Medford. The downmarket parts of Jackson County are truly barfworthy, in a way that even Creswell is not. (So are some of the upmarket parts, for that matter: Ashland Co-Op and Market of Choice FML, although the latter has bitchin’ hot food to go.) There’s an ambient environment of whinging servility combined, quite bizarrely, with “Our Valley” preening on the part of the poors here that I rarely find in Lane County. Maybe it’s just that I run with the wrong crowd around here, but I don’t think that explains all of it. To understand what North Medford and White City are, combine the ass end of Creswell with the ass end of industrial West Eugene, and add inversion layer smog. And understand that this bullshit goes on for miles and miles up the Crater Lake Highway. Also realize that West Medford, which is a different kind of ugly, was where a Mexican landscaper got worked up about visa problems, broke out his Bible, tweaked it up, stayed up all night spending Quiet Time in the Word, and went out at daybreak with a chainsaw, laying waste to a number of trees in the neighborhood.  There are a few places around here that are legit wack.

So this makes it easier to understand, if not to grok, how a woman can end up in Panda Express with a tattoo of a cross running down the length of her back, framed by a cutesy profession of faith in Italic font reading, “Saved by Grace Through Faith.” A white chick: this will be relevant shortly. No member of the public would have been able to see this confession of sola fide Christianity without paying her fee, of course, had she not been wearing a halter top. Why do I insinuate that she’s a whore? The better question is why I defame whores by associating them with women who tattoo crosses down the length of their backs, crosses fashioned in classic  evangelical style to resemble four-bladed swords. As I expected, homegirl was also showing mad cleavage. I saw this yesterday, on a Sunday afternoon, but I’m not trying to insinuate that this young ladywent to church dressed like a whore; rarely have I known a rub-and-tug masseuse to dress so revealingly.

Homeskillet had with her a boyfriend, also a loyal friend of the ink, who had a jungle growing up each arm, although his was a more tasteful scene than cutie’s cross and laurel branches and shit. Surprisingly, these crackers both seemed quite sane and mentally stable. I figure that somewhere along the line they must have chilled the fuck out; it’s hard to imagine people getting treacly expressions of low-church sentimentality tattooed all over their own backs when they aren’t mentally disordered in extremis.

The other silver lining, if you want to think of it this way, is that both of these inked-up slaves to Christ were right-sized Americans. At 5’10” and 230 pounds, I’m fatter than either of them by a long shot. I won’t go to the trouble of describing the differently sized liposuction prospects who darken the doors at Panda Express; if they aren’t there, try looking for them at Walmart. The description is too pedestrian to be worth the bother, but the prescriptive corollary is easy enough: stop eating so much fucking Panda Express.

Obviously the customer base at the North Medford Panda Express has descended into a death spiral of decadence and stupidity, and I doubt it’s limited exclusively to Medford, as disordered a town as it is. These people aren’t just one-off losers. They’re legion. But their recurrence in the customer base raises a troubling question about the staff:

Where my crackas at?

In this case, the North Medford outlet is one of the least of the offenders, since it doesn’t discriminate against the white meat. Many Panda outlets in Southern California seem to have none of Whitey’s constituents at all on staff. That said, even the North Medford location employs a disproportionate contingent of Latinos, some of them speaking poor English, and a hugely disproportionate number of Asians for a non-family chain restaurant operating in a county with a tiny Asian population. (Ownership by a family in Pasadena that also owns hundreds of other restaurants in the same chain doesn’t count.)

Whom else does Panda not employ? Cliven Bundy’s less-than-faithful helpmeet, the Negro. It’s always a bit of a holy-shit moment when I see a black guy working at a Panda Express. If memory serves, the Panda at Orangethorpe and Harbor in Fullerton has a black guy working as a line cook and a pasty white chick at the counter, but that kind of thing is so rare, especially in SoCal, that it’s like coming into a diner and seeing Mr. Ross stirring his coffee with his third hand while Mr. Grayling takes off his cook’s hat for a better look. Almost without fail, Panda locations in SoCal are staffed entirely by Asians and Latinos. This is much less often the case in Oregon, where the white working class has generally made it into the new millennium without being aggressively brutalized in a high bougie-wetback pincer attack. It’s also much less often the case at In ‘N Out, which has some of the best entry-level pay scales in fast food. This is probably not a coincidence.

Or maybe I have cause and effect backwards. Maybe Panda doesn’t discriminate against white and black employees, but ends up hiring a bunch of Asian and Latino automatons because they’re the only people who will take such shitty jobs. It can’t be hard to find tenth-generation black food service workers, people whose ancestors were working as house slaves centuries before my grandfather and great-grandparents made it out of the Pale of Settlement. Starbucks has lots of black employees. It’s also renowned for treating its employees exceptionally well for dead-end food service peons. Again, this is not a coincidence. One of the most reliable ways to get rid of one’s black employees is to insinuate that one is running a sort of antebellum plantation or Jim Crow deal. African-Americans have reasons, mostly very good ones, for getting prickly over whiffs of slavery, and cracker please, you are not going to change this by suggesting that they get a work ethic like the good ones.

It’s quite amusing, though, that one of the most notoriously dehonkified and denegrified workplaces in the United States today is named after a rare bear covered in distinct patches of alabaster white and charcoal black. It is fitting, in a truly sick way, that Panda Express has panda-beared the American food service workforce.

Confucius say, welcome to Panda, where brown workers keep company in the black.


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