Slater's Grand Exit a Dream for Some

Investigator says flight attendant "simply snapped"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    MySpace.com
    A picture of Steven Slater from his MySpace page.

    Hasn't everyone thought about doing it?

    When the cubicle started to feel more like a prison than a calling? When the bossiest boss had a smile that was just too smug? When the piddling wage seemed not to be worth the aggravation?

    Defying the rules, telling people off and walking off a job isn't usually a launching pad for public acclaim and admiration. But few have fulfilled that particular working man's fantasy in such grand fashion as JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who left his job via the plane's emergency chute, beer in hand.

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    It was enough to set America's heart aflutter.

    Slater's sudden exit has rekindled memories of workers' liberation — and sparked wistful excitement among workers who have long fantasized of choosing pride over pay.

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    Samuel Rodela still remembers the morning a decade ago when he spent his 1.5-hour commute contemplating how he would make his exit from an office that had turned oppressive, with building resentment and stifled creativity.

    In the end, the web designer went with a simple approach: He walked into his office with a box and immediately started packing his belongings. When his hated boss asked what he was doing, he turned to her and uttered a few words usually not printed in newspapers.

    Then he walked out the door.

    "A lot of people are not happy in their situation — the best thing you can do is just quit," the 30-year-old from Dallas says. "Life's not supposed to be that way. It's way too short for that."

    Rodela still believes that even in a daunting economic climate, professional opportunities will arise for those who refuse to settle.

    That's what Mary Phelps found. After being scolded for the last time by a boss she believed was treating her unfairly while sleeping with the other waitress on her shift, she seriously considered knocking over the giant pot of tomato sauce sitting on the Italian eatery's stove.

    Instead, she walked to the front of the restaurant and took orders from six tables sitting down at the beginning of the dinner rush. Then, before bringing anyone so much as a drop of water, she left.

    "It felt fantastic. It was a great feeling," she recalls. "It was absolutely no regrets, absolutely. And it was a feeling of just letting go of something that wasn't working."

    Now, nearly 30 years later, the Columbia, Ky., resident credits the experience with helping to build her career as an equestrian journalist.

    It "forced me ... to give myself the courage to put my energy into the riskier part of my life," which was freelancing, she says.

    But for many, pragmatism and self-control mean the fantasy of walking off the job will stay just that.

    Waiter Matthew Kennedy has dodged punches from belligerent drunks and fought with unruly customers displeased at being cut off at the bar. He's far from the first person in the service industry to be tempted to just walk out.

    "Honestly, I wish I could tell people off like he did," the college student from Radford, Va., said of Slater's expletive-laden tirade over the airplane's public address system. "But I would lose my job, and I think that's why no one does it.

    "Especially with the economy the way it is, people out looking for work, if you lose your job it will take you forever to find another one."

    In recent years, the foundering job market has left many workers effectively stuck in unhappy situations. That has let their imaginations run wild thinking about quitting.

    Behind the scenes at the airline where she worked before retiring in a recent involuntary furlough, Jacquie Kendall of Norfolk, Va., said she and her fellow flight attendants would often swap stories of what they would like to do on their way out the door. One had an elaborate plan to get pre-addressed, embossed comment cards printed for her last flight, just to make certain the airline would hear about what poor service she would deliver on her last day.

    Stories of dramatic exits — both true and false — keep many disgruntled workers inspired.

    The day after Slater's airline escape made headlines, theCHIVE.com made an Internet splash with a series of photos supposedly e-mailed by an irate assistant to her co-workers. "Jenny" used scrawlings on a whiteboard to quit her job, embarrass her boss and expose him as an online game addict. A day later, the site revealed the entire thing was a hoax.

    However satisfying they may be, such dramatic exits may not be good career moves.

    Unless someone is being sexually harassed or suffering similar abuse, anything less than two-weeks notice might come back to haunt him or her in future job searches, said Roberta Chinsky Matuson, a human resource consultant and writer on workplace issues.

    "It doesn't matter if you're a bus boy or a marketing manager. There are protocols," she said.

    That hasn't stopped Chris Carter.

    Out of the nearly 40 jobs that the 30-year-old has held, he's walked out of more than half. One time when he was working as a cook at a chain restaurant, he was handed a recipe book in Spanish and told to figure it out. Another time, a cartridge-refilling business assigned him to work with new machinery but refused to send him for training.

    Without a college degree, he's worked mostly in retail and food service, where he says he's found that "people don't want service, they want servantry."

    Even after so many repeats, the Knoxville, Tenn., resident says he still gets a thrill of victory every time he walks out the door.

    "When you're not making more than $10 an hour, there's certain things that are not worth putting up with," he says. "I've never allowed myself to get to that point where I feel like I have to put up with this and I have to be somebody's slave."