Thursday, October 31, 2013

Great Moments in Customer Service

(Sorry about the delayed posting for those of you that saw: "Placeholder".)

Today we present another episode of Great Moments in Customer Service.

A few weeks ago, after getting home late on a Friday night, St. Pauli Girl and I decided to order Chinese food for delivery. We called our favorite establishment
(which also has good Chinese mustard ).  Thirty minutes later our food arrived, although we had already realized they never asked for our credit card number on the phone. So St. Pauli Girl presented the credit card to the deliveryman who, not surprisingly, told her he couldn't process credit cards.

No problem,” St. Pauli Girl said, “I'll just call the restaurant back. Wait here.

A few moments later the man on the phone told her, “We cannot process your credit card right now.

But we always use a credit card when we order. We're good, loyal customers.”

No, we cannot do that right now.”

Oka-a-ay. How about I give the driver a check?”

We don't take checks.”

But we don't have any cash,” St. Pauli Girl reasoned.

No checks. Cash only.

We handed the food back to the driver who apologized and left, all the while wondering why they didn't tell us "cash only" when we called.

In short, the driver lost out on a tip, the restaurant had to throw out perfectly good food, and they lost a loyal customer forever . . . all because they wouldn't bend a no-checks policy even under unusual circumstances. (A broken card reader? Cancelled bank account? We'll never know.)

Not to be outdone, an "upscale taco shop" we visited for the first time last weekend made us question the sanity of yet another restaurant management team. After ordering at the counter, the cashier handed us our “chips and salsa” receipt which we were instructed to take to the food window a few steps away.

We stood on the right side of the window in front of the four people working on the other side. No one even looked up. Then we saw the sign on the left side of the window which said “Pick up food here.” So we moved over to the left side of the window and waggled our receipt in the air . . . where the four workers continued to ignore us.

St. Pauli Girl held the receipt up to the window. The four workers continued to plate food and talk among themselves, still refusing to acknowledge our existence. Lucky for them I had a beer in my hand or I would have been forced to take some kind of action.

I glanced through the window and saw a huge metal container with a couple bushels of chips just waiting to be scooped into a basket. I'm sure the salsa was nearby. It would probably take about five seconds to load up a basket of chips and a cup of salsa.

Do you think we're supposed to walk back there and get it ourselves?” I asked.

St. Pauli Girl pulled on the locked door next to the window. “Guess not,” she said.

I've already decided I'm never coming back here. Even before we get our food,” I said.

Finally, one of the worker bees grabbed the receipt from St. Pauli Girl's hand, looked at it, then wordlessly set it on the counter. He continued doing other things. When we had just about reached the breaking point, he glanced up, spent about five seconds filling a basket with chips, grabbed a cup of salsa, and set them on the window counter. He still didn't say anything. Without asking, we grabbed the chips and ran.

Later, our number for our tacos were called and I went back to the window to get our food.

Both of those trays are yours,” said the guy behind the window.

What? You mean you guys actually speak?” I said, grabbing the trays.

I brought the food back to our table, and St. Pauli Girl realized she forgot to ask for sour cream. Easily remedied, you would think, and you would be wrong. She had to wait in the main line behind a crowd of people to order a side of sour cream. After paying, the cashier gave her a receipt, which then had to be presented at the food window. This all came with the now-familiar ticket-waving and getting-ignored ritual.
Meanwhile I finished my tacos and tried to imagine the business plan pitch for this establishment: “We're going to make really big tacos with interesting toppings but then we'll make it very big city, upscale by providing the kind of service you can expect in a prison cafeteria... except worse.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bears Everywhere

Back in August, St. Pauli Girl and I went to visit the mountain cabin of her brother and sister-in-law in the mountains of New Mexico. The rocky dirt road leads to a location so remote that the only area inhabitants are people that don't wish to be found or are up to no good.

“Have you ever thought of building a still out here?” was the first question I asked my brother-in-law.

But it is a very nice cabin, built completely by hand, which is why I refer to my brother- and sister-in-law as Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly. We spent the day hiking around the 25-acre-mountain lot where Mr. Grizzly pointed out the decades-old bear trail and all of the rocks bears had recently turned over looking for grub. Or in this case, grub worms.

Later that night, Mr. Grizzly started grilling some sausage. “Supposedly bears can smell grilled hamburger meat from two miles away,” he noted.

I glanced all around. “And how far away can they smell grilled sausage?”

“That’s five miles.”

Luckily we didn't encounter any bears. That’s especially lucky because the only restroom was an outhouse necessarily situated some running distance from the cabin.

Last weekend, St. Pauli Girl and I returned by ourselves to New Mexico where we had rented a secluded cabin on the side of a mountain. A notice on the door of the cabin warned about high bear activity in the area. The flyer included a cute cartoon picture of a smiling bear wearing a chef's hat and grilling hamburgers, with a warning underneath that read: “The real bear will not look like this.”

Thank you! Yes, we were actually expecting him to wear a tie and green hat. If you want to warn people of danger, a cartoon may not be the best way to go. This would have been far more appropriate.

That notice, cute as it was, pretty much ruined my weekend as I spent the rest of the time worrying about bears. I wandered around the outside of the cabin looking for evidence of bears, just like Mr. Grizzly had taught me. Every time I entered a different room I plotted my escape, depending on where the bear might come from. And the fact the front door was a simple sliding glass door didn't make me feel any safer.

“Do you think we should close the curtains on the door?” I asked St. Pauli Girl.

“No, why?”

“If the bear can see inside, he may be more likely to break in. I mean, what if he smells the coffee?”

I then pointed out if we wanted to use the hot tub on the deck, we should do it before we grill the steaks. “I bet they can smell prime rib eye from ten miles.”

We did make use of the hot tub, but I didn't enjoy it very much. I was on the lookout for bears.

“Will you stop it and just relax,” St. Pauli Girl said at one point, noticing I looked ready to bolt at the slightest rustling through the pines.

“I think the only thing worse than being eaten by a bear would be getting drowned by a bear,” I said. “Heck, if he tossed some carrots and onions in first, he could just turn this hot tub into a big stew pot.”

But once again we survived the weekend with no bear sightings. On the last day, we wandered around the property a bit. On the hill behind the cabin, I noticed a sign that marked the boundary of the national forest.

“Oh I'm so stupid,” I said slapping my forehead.


“This is a national forest, and the government is shut down. The bears are on furlough.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Captain Amidst Majors

In honor of fall, today's post will involve an old football story:

In my freshman year of high school, we were warming up for our second game of the season. As we stretched, the coach walked by and told me that I would be a captain for the game. I nodded then he walked away while I pondered the awesome responsibilities that might be required of me.

I wondered if I should move to the front of the team to lead the exercises. But there were already two players leading, and it would have caused a scene if I pushed them aside. But I was the captain. Didn't I have the duty to take over? Instead I decided I would do some shouting to inspire the team.

“Yeah, okay, woo-hoo!” I shouted through my helmet

The player next to me looked at me and said, “God bless you.” He apparently thought I sneezed.

Just before gametime, the referee led my co-captain and myself to the middle of the field for instructions and the coin toss.

The referee said, “Now when there is a penalty, raise your hand so we can find you and go over the possibilities. We don't want you looking at your coaches for assistance. This will be a good learning experience.”

He then flipped the coin, and I called, “Heads.”

The coin came up tails and allowed our opponent to get the ball first. As we jogged off the field, my co-captain said, “You idiot! We always call tails.”

“What? Since when? Nobody told me that.”

He just sighed.

When we got back to the sideline, I saw him talking to the coach who then glared at me. Apparently I had missed the super secret captain's meeting where such matters were discussed.

“It's not like the coin toss is going to decide the game,” I told myself in a little pep talk.

Five minutes later, we came off the field after the other team had taken the ball and driven right down the field for a touchdown. I noticed the coach frowning at me again.

Later in the game when were down 20 – 0 (and reducing the importance of the coin flip), the other team was flagged for a penalty. The referee grabbed me by the shoulder and steered me away from my teammates and away from my coach on the sidelines. He started explaining my options, but having played and seen enough football, I already knew the correct decision.

Regardless, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my coach practically doing backflips trying to signal me what to do. Meanwhile, my teammates followed the referee and myself as we seemed to dance around the field trying to avoid coaches and players. My teammates yelled at me to accept the play and not the penalty which I had already decided to do.

“We'll decline,” I told the referee while motioning my hands in the normal referee decline signal.

“What?” asked the referee as if he were a novice.

“We don't want the penalty.”

“So you want the play?”

“Yes, that's what I said.”

The referee then approached the sidelines where he announced, “The penalty is declined.” He waved his hands below the waist just like I had done a minute before.

The game ended shortly thereafter. But I have always been annoyed that I got blamed for something I didn't know (always call tails) and everyone else took credit for the one penalty decision I had to make.

Later that season, that day's co-captain and myself were named captains again. As we went out for the coin toss, I told him he could make the call.

The referee tossed the coin and my co-captain said, “Heads.”

I stared at him in disbelief as the coin turned up heads, and we got the ball first.

As we ran off the field, I said, “I thought we always called tails?”

“I just had a feeling.”

The coach slapped him on the back when we got back to the sideline. I guess some captains are born leaders and others are destined to be stuck in a regiment of majors.

Friday, October 4, 2013


For some reason my previous blog post reminded me of this incident from my youth:

I was 14 years old and at the mall with my dad on a Friday night. (For you younger readers, this is the equivalent of spending Friday night watching CSI reruns with your parents and not getting a single text, tweet or Facebook update.) I walked a good five to six feet behind my dad, pretending I didn't know him.

As we neared the center of the mall, I noticed a girl my age standing alone. She smiled at me. I smiled back. Her blonde hair was carefully coiffed; she wore jeans and a pink blouse pulled tight over a figure that seemed far more advanced in age than her face.

As I tried hard not to stare, she suddenly held up her hand and stopped me.

Hi, I'm Sharla! Have you been saved?”

I glanced around. “What? You mean from my dad?” I pointed in his direction then tried to be more suave. “I mean, no, that's not my dad. He's just some guy that cut me off in my Trans Am in the parking lot. Thought I'd come give him a piece of my mind.”

No, silly. I mean, have you accepted Jesus?”

Oh. I'm Catholic.”

I now know that usually that at this point she should have turned me over to her recruiter, or she should have at least said, “You're going to hell anyway.” But Sharla didn't blink. Maybe she just liked me?--my 14-year-old self hoped.

That's okay, Jesus wants to save everyone,” she said, still smiling. “Would you like to pray with me?”

Without waiting for an answer she took me by the hand and led me to a bench. She sat and turned sideways, clasped both my hands in hers, and leaned forward.

Close your eyes,” she said.

I did as instructed. Then I slowly opened one eye to see if hers were closed. They were, and I realized then that I could see right down the pink blouse. I opened both eyes. Wide.

Do you want to go to heaven?” she asked, squeezing my hand with her eyes squeezed shut.

I think I can see it from here.”

Great! If you accept Jesus as your personal savior right now, your place in heaven is waiting for you.”

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. Can you move closer?”

She scrunched her knees next to mine and leaned forward. At this point I lost track of everything she said. Five minutes earlier, I was the biggest loser on earth spending Friday night with my dad and now sweet Sharla had my hands in hers while I enjoyed a heavenly view. I looked around hoping someone from school might see me. I felt her hands tighten around mine.

Did you hear me?” she said with a frown, eyes open.

Oh, what? Sorry, it's loud in here.”

She closed her eyes and resumed praying.

I looked around and noticed four or five other pairs of kids holding hands and doing prayers on surrounding benches. A couple of middle-aged men with stylish Moe Howard haircuts walked around keeping an eye on everyone. I couldn't decide if they were ministers or sales managers. One of them made eye contact with me and glowered. I immediately closed my eyes and threw my head back as if in rapture. He left, and I refocused my gaze.

Repeat after me,” Sharla said.

I hesitated. Now she wanted me to actually pray out loud with her.

Did you hear me?” she said somewhat annoyed, jiggling just enough that I decided right then and there that I would push virgins into a volcano for her if necessary.

I repeated all her prayers, and she finally asked, “Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

I sighed, knowing it was all coming to an end soon, so I leaned in and admired the good Lord's handiwork one last time.

You bet I do.”

She jumped up and hugged me, which answered one of my own prayers. I glanced heavenward, a chill running up my back.

Sharla pulled away and smiled.

Have a great weekend,” she said.

Hey, can I have your phone number?”

What? Oh, no! Gross!

Newly saved but devastated, I walked in a fog to the record store, wondering if I could come back and get saved again the next Friday. And the one after that. Perhaps if I got saved enough I might be less gross to her.

I walked back into the mall and finally caught up with my dad who asked where I had been. I started to tell him that I met someone then sighed and said, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”