And now for something a little different

I’m going to veer off my normal course here for a minute and take part in a time-honored and under-appreciated form of expression, the RANT.  And, maybe in the course of writing it, it will become less of a rant, and more of a commentary, but I can only hope.  I will also be mentioning names of businesses, but only because they will be obvious anyway; nor do I wish to hide the identity of the guilty/offending parties.  I should also mention I am writing this stream of consciousness style, and will only edit for spelling before posting.

My wife and I drove to San Antonio today to attend a memorial service for my uncle (who died of (complications from) lung cancer.  It basically wasted him away to a shell, much as it did to my grandparents.  So, if you’re reading this and smoke cigarettes, knock that shit off, cause right now the reaper has taken 4 of 6 longtime smokers I know, with the other 2 lined up in the hopper and already exhibiting signs of joining the others soon).  Back to my story now, because this isn’t intended to be a rant about smoking.  The service was nice, with much of the usual platitudes exchanged at these times, and ne’er a bad word spoken.  I found out the minister actually had met my uncle, albeit while they were children, but at least he HAD met him (unlike my mother’s service, where he had not.  I get a little annoyed at people telling ME about a person whom they had never met, when they basically are repeating words I told them.  ya think?).  Of course he used part of the time to lay down a recruitment spiel (religious in nature, invoking Jesus one too many times I think), at a time when people are emotional and fearful, which I did not appreciate, as it borders on what I would consider unethical behaviour.  However, in his favor, he didn’t do it for long and did not hang around after to drum up business, so will consider it the nature of the beast, so to speak…it’s probably so ingrained and a part of his nature that it is hard to turn off (and besides which, this is his vocation and training).  RIP Ronnie. After the brief service, we headed back home.

On the way home, we passed by the outlet mall, and we decided to stop, as we needed a diversion (while I wasn’t close to my uncle, I was still a bit saddened by his passing.  He was always good to me, and while he was a bit of a black sheep in the family, he tried to do the right thing and worked hard to provide for his family).  My wife has been trying to get me to buy some Le Creuset (I really wanted to write Le Crüe-set – ha ha!) and they had a store there, which happened to be a few stores down from the Rockport store.

So, into the Le Creuset store we go, and wonder of wonders, there is a 25% off sale on certain colors, and we end up with 2 round pans, a mortar and pestle and a measurement conversion magnet.  Service there was good.  We took our pans and put them in the trunk of the car so we could go to the Rockport store unencumbered.

We entered the Rockport store, and I immediately noticed the lack of employees.  As in, none.  Not a single one visible.  Not a large store, maybe 30 feet wide by 100 feet deep, so I can see the entire store.  Now, the right side wall opens into the main Reebok store, but no visible employees through the opening either.  The wife and I wander about for a few minutes looking at shoes.  I manage to go up and down the 2 rows of men’s shoes, and even check the clearance section for my size before an employee arrives, so maybe 10 minutes?  That seems excessive, but hey, who knows.  My wife has found a pair of shoes by then, and of course I want to make use of the buy 2 get 1 free promo, so we try to find her 2 more pairs.  We succeed in finding her 1 more pair she likes, but she really doesn’t like any of the others enough.  Well, I only really wanted 1 pair anyway, so I decide to get those.  As I go over to the display for my shoes, the employee strikes up a conversation with one of the guys from the Reebok store, not even 2 feet from me as I search for my size.  I don’t see my size, so I say out loud “Hmmmm…none in my size”.  Keep in mind that if I step to the left I will plow into the employee in less than a full stride.  My wife is across 2 aisles on the other side of the store and asks me if I found my shoes so she could head up to the register because I am taking a while.  So I say “No, they don’t seem to have my size in this shoe” as I make motions looking through the boxes.  Again, he’s just to my left, going on about who did what last night with his bud, while I am talking loud enough to reach my wife across the store (and there are NO other customers in the store).  I was hoping this guy would get the hint, but nope.  His conversation is much more important than mine.  So I take that step to the left and ask him to check if they have any further sizes in the back (which I am pretty sure they do not, as they never have in the past, however I can always hope…).  He dutifully heads off to the back to return in the negative a short few moments later.  I ask him about the sale and he replies that they can order the shoes and have them delivered in a few weeks.  Excellent, we tell him.  We gather the 2 pairs my wife wants and he grabs a box of the shoe I want in the wrong size and head up to the register.  He then has to go next door to ask his boss how to do the transaction, so we hang out for a few moments at the register waiting.  He then returns and begins to fill out a form and explain how it works.  He’ll charge us full price for one pair, half price for the second pair today, and half price for the third pair once they come in.  Ok, seems good.  We basically are paying for 2 pairs, great.  So, he fills out the form, and rings up the total, and I hand him my card and he runs it.  While he’s doing that, my wife discovers that the second pair of shoes she wants is actually the wrong shoe, so they head over to find the right one, but it’s out of stock.  So now he has to fill out the form for the second pair, and refund the charge (which he has to go ask his manager about again).  We fill out the form and he starts packing up all the shoes, except we only bought one pair.  A few Keystone Cop moments ensue as we try to explain to him what shoes we bought/need and what he should be keeping.  He then re-rings my purchase for just the one pair of shoes. and AGAIN, tries to send us off with more than the one pair, which we again have to kind of straighten him out on.  I think he was still trying to sort it out in his head as we left with our 1 pair we purchased.  I believe we could have left with 3 pairs, having only paid for the one.  I can say without a doubt that this guy was quite green.  I’m not sure he should have been left alone in the store, as I’m not sure he quite was up to the task.  At least he was pleasant.

After that experience, the wife again expresses her desire to shop online more and avoid crowds (as the traffic, both car and pedestrian was quite heavy and aggravating) and to avoid situations like we just experienced. As we leave the outlet mall, we decide to hit Starbucks for some much needed caffeine/sugar and some water.

Now, I need to take a moment to say that Starbucks is, or rather was our place.  My brother, brother-in-law and sister-in-law and my wife (a week?) all worked at Starbucks in the past.  Our local Starbucks was like Cheers was for Norm.  We knew many of the customers (still do) and ALL of the staff, often going to their parties, having them over to our house for parties and basically making it our place.  We regularly spent over $300 a month there drinking coffee and assorted other drinks.  They didn’t have sandwiches then.  We LOVED our Starbucks.  We LOVED LOVED LOVED our Starbucks, and by extension most other Starbucks.  We loved our drinks, we loved that it was comfortable, we loved to sit and watch people.  We had been frequent patrons from 1997 onwards, but in 2000 when our local store opened, we accelerated our consumption drastically (this is when the brothers started working there).  We even loved that temperamental 3 head La Marzocco machine.  When the Barista made our drink, sometimes it was good, sometimes it was ok, sometimes it was GREAT, and sometimes it was bad.  If it was bad, we got it remade.  It also depended on the person working the shots.  Some Baristas made good shots, some made poor shots.  Some Baristas added more Mocha, or more Caramel, and some consistently made the drink wrong.  Some would suggest new ways of getting the drink and let you experiment with it.  This all to say, the drink had SOME individuality.  The person making the drink had some personality.  The combination was an experience.  It was our experience, the Barista and myself and the rest of the customers we interacted with.  And that experience would often start the day off right, and many times the evening.  And for that experience, we were willing to pay.  Recent experiences, several realizations over the past few months and the decline of customer service have led to my decline in consumption of Starbucks, and recently, my wife has followed suit.  I will share today’s experience now.

We drove to the Starbucks and got in the drive thru line.  We like the drive thru on stores we don’t frequent often, as we often are traveling elsewhere and don’t really want to invest in the experience part much, and with the more recent hires, the lack of personality/individuality seems to encourage non-loitering.  In this case, the outlet mall store is small, with limited parking and we were on our way home, so a drive thru was perfect.  We waited a few minutes for the 2 cars ahead of us to place their orders, and then it was our turn.  I’m going to paraphrase the conversation (since I don’t recall exact words).

Starbucks: Hi, what can I get started for you?

Wife: I’d like a Venti double blended white mocha frappachino, no whip (this is my normal drink, a white chocolate milkshake, basically…yeah, go ahead and make fun!)

Starbucks: Certainly. (pause).  White Mocha, oh.  What size was that?

Wife: Venti.

Starbucks: Sorry?

Wife: Venti.

Starbucks: Ok.  Anything else?

Wife: Yeah, I’d like a Venti Caramel Macchiatto with Soy, 130 degrees.  And a Venti ice water.

Starbucks: What size?

Wife: Venti.

Starbucks: Ok, I’ve got a Venti Soy Caramel Macchiato.  I feel like there was something else?

Me: 130 degrees.

Wife: 130 degrees.

Starbucks: Ok.  Anything else?

Wife: Do you have any pastries?

Starbucks: I have a lot, wait a minute. (this was pretty close or exactly what he said because it struck me as odd) (30+ second pause).  Was there something in particular you were looking for?

Wife: Something with chocolate.

Starbucks: We have chocolate chip cookies, double chocolate cookies, a brownie, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate donuts and marble pound cake.

Wife: I’d like a chocolate cupcake and marble pound cake.

Me: See if they have any danish left.

Wife: Do you have any cheese danish left.

Starbucks: No, sorry.  Anything else?

Wife: No, that’s it.

Starbucks: Your total is 14.34.

So, then we pull forward 1 car length.  And sit for the next 3 minutes discussing/wondering why the guy seemed to not be paying attention to our order.  And then move up a car length.  Another 2 minutes.  Wife suggests I go in and get it, but I expect it’ll move faster in a minute. And then move up a car length.  Only 1 more in front of us.  Another 2 minutes.  Now we’re discussing those horrible automated espresso machines that took the “soul” out of the shots. Ok, now we pull up.  My wife looks in the window and sees her water, it’s a grande.  She sighs but figures this is one of those stores that won’t do Venti waters.  We sit for a minute, no one comes to the window.  Wait wait wait.  3 guys are chatting as they make drinks, but no one has come to the window. She’s watching them make her drink, and she’s pretty sure they put regular milk in it.  Now the guy comes to the window and plops our drinks down on the windowsill. The frappachino has whip (remember we ordered no whip), the water is a grande, we’re pretty sure the macchiato doesn’t have soy, and we’ve been waiting, no joke, over 15 minutes since we got in line…my wife decides we’re going to cut our losses and not spend almost $15 on coffee/pastries and a sub-optimal experience, so she tells the cashier we’re not taking it, and leaves.  Yes, we WERE THOSE PEOPLE.  We really wanted the drinks, as we were coming off our emotional high/firewall from the service, needed sugar/caffeine, and water, and consider Starbucks a “comfort”.  But, we’ve also decided to not pay for sub-optimal service.  This clearly qualified in our books.  BTW, we never were greeted at the window.

At this point, I’ve kind of run out of steam, but the general thrust of my post was about my experiences in a 1 hour period in which I had 2 poor service encounters.  They seem to be on the rise, as I frequently seem to encounter (as does the wife) situations where either the person can’t be bothered to pay attention, or just do not seem to care.  Now, we can come off somewhat elitist, and I do tend to be negative in general, but heck, I worked retail/fast food for the first 12 years of work.  Every day, front lines dealing with a customer.  If I had a bad day, I had to fake it as much as I could.  Some days I was better than others, and I have had experiences where I was not quite appropriate to customers (very few), but feel that I always gave it the best I could.  I try to be friendly to people in retail/food jobs, since that’s what I wanted when I worked there.  I try to say please and thank you as much as possible.  I try to be efficient in expressing my desires/making my order/processing my purchase.  The general feeling I get from many places now is that the employees do not care.  Heck, even being RUDE would show some care, but the general apathy exhibited seems far out of the norm.

All right, I guess I am done for now, since I seem to have veered off my topic (not focused enough).  I will have to try and revisit this later when I haven’t been writing this long.  Comments welcome.

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