The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Saturday afternoon with Phil Gibbons

Phil Gibbons swipes a P-card in the Dining Hall on Saturday morning. Mr. Gibbons has worked weekends as a checker for Dining Services for about six years. - Aaron Barker
Phil Gibbons swipes a P-card in the Dining Hall on Saturday morning. Mr. Gibbons has worked weekends as a checker for Dining Services for about six years. - Aaron Barker
During the week, students rush into and out of meals in the dining hall, herded through as quickly as possible by the efficient register workers, more commonly known as Cheery Checkers. For those who consume the majority of their meals in the dining hall, the faces of Cheery Checkers are as familiar as those of classmates or old family friends.

But on Saturdays, in the slow-moving limbo between morning and afternoon, students invariably run into a face and name-tag—not to mention conversation and exceptionally slow P-card swiping—rarely encountered during the week. “He’s always really interested in what you’re doing even though we haven’t done a lot because it’s…
Saturday morning,” said Maya Ruiz-Stanbary ’11. “I like Phil. He has a nice polo.”

Phil Gibbons, known to some students as “Slow Swipe Phil,” is something of an anomaly as a Cheery Checker. His excessively slow swipe seems to raise the question of whether the crucial art of efficiency is fully lost to him. His initiation of conversation on Saturday morning, as the weary masses begrudgingly drag themselves towards cheeseburger pizza, might seem in vain to the casual observer.

Still, Gibbons continues to maximize his speaking time with students, becoming the face of Saturday afternoons in the same way that Director of Security Stephen Briscoe is to icy mornings or Dick Clark is to New Year’s Eve. “I enjoy meeting the students, talking with them when I can,” Gibbons said. “When you’re busy you can’t do much more than just say how’s it going? How was break? How was your week?”

Gibbons began working with Dining Services only five years ago, originally as a checker at Cowles Dining Hall, prior to the construction of the JRC. Gibbons has noted a difference in students’ Saturday morning attitudes since the consolidation of dining services.

“Back in those days, probably 50 percent of [students] that came in had some form of pajama attire,” Gibbons said. “Maybe now you might see, oh I don’t know, I might be stretching it to say 25 percent.”

Still, in the face of tired and sometimes cranky students, Gibbons carries on with conversation. Gibbons said it is a rarity to come across students who are dismissive of his elongated greetings.

“I think that it’s no different than if I were out walking down the street saying hello to people,” Gibbons said. “The vast majority [of students] are very responsive, and some maybe don’t have much to say. Still, you can tell they appreciate someone saying hello.”

Gibbons, remarking that the nickname “Slow-Swipe Phil” is accurate, said that his lethargic method is not due to a lack of agility or strength, but is instead a chosen practice. “I try to spend time visiting with the students,” Gibbons said. “But when I have to swipe fast, I’m pretty fast.”

In addition to his three-hour stints as “Call-In Register,” Gibbons commutes during the week from his home in Grinnell to work with mortgages at Wells Fargo in Des Moines. Gibbons said that working with brokers and harried customers “is a little different gig” than his job at the College.

“I’m wearing several hats up there too,” Gibbons said. “Can I compare them? No, not really. I suppose that’s why I kind of like [the dining hall].”

A Grinnell resident for “the past 30, 35 years or so,” Gibbons grew up in Pennsylvania, and while attending what is now Bloomsburg University there, Gibbons said he decided to “take time off from college to just kinda do what I wanted to do.”

From working at a ski resort in Colorado to living and volunteering in North Carolina’s Appalachia, Gibbons roamed the country, making what he calls “enough money to get a little apartment or what have you.” Gibbons estimates that he spent over a year and a half volunteering and working at various sites.

During a push westward, Gibbons found himself in Grinnell. It was there that he met several people in town and through the College who were “very interested in opening up a bar.”

After traveling to California, Gibbons, then 22 years old, began to drive back to Pennsylvania. However, his journey didn’t exactly go according to plan. “The next plan was to get back to Pennsylvania and reenroll and finish my education,” Gibbons said. “But I made one last stop here in Grinnell and that was that.”

Soon after landing in Grinnell, Gibbons opened up a bar, Tracks, with several of the people he met during his first visit. Soon, he met and married his wife, born and raised in Grinnell, effectively securing himself forever as a Grinnell resident.

The decision to stay was not hard, as Grinnell persuaded him in its classic ways—interesting people and idyllic Iowan life. “I grew to like Grinnell and got to know the people at the College, and I got to like the college atmosphere,” Gibbons said. “I liked the quietness, the people were very nice … I was here and decided to stay.”

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