Saturday, June 25, 2011

Customer Service - A Dying Art

I have become my mother. I find myself all too often referring to how things were “back in my day.” I guess I knew this time would come, though I swore for many years I would never be one of those people. But apparently it is a requirement of the aging process to get that way. It is part of the grand scheme of life for things we took for granted to start to lose their luster, thereby forcing us old fogeys to make comparisons.

For six weeks now, I have been “communicating” with my insurance company over hail damage to my car. I have been with the same company for many, many years and I have always been more than pleased with their service. But the ball got dropped on this one, actually, it got dropped three times. It was on my mind while driving this morning because I had a voice mail from a manager wanting to discuss the claim. 
I decided to pull into Mickey D’s for an iced tea. In the south, sweet iced tea is the equivalent to the nectar of the gods. It is one of my many vices, so I try to limit myself to one or two a week on special occasions. I was headed to my daughter’s to help her get the house ready for my grandson’s first birthday party this weekend. I knew that big, old 99 cent iced tea would taste good while cleaning house and working up a sweat. Indeed, this qualified as a special occasion.

I pulled my car flush with the ordering speaker and waited for instructions to speak. “I’ll have the 99 cent sweet tea please,” I ordered politely.
“Hdahiw wkhcowb aschowdho shbcia,” was the response I heard. I sat there stunned, not knowing if I should ask her to repeat it, say my order again, or just drive forward. It was just a tea, nothing complicated. So I decided to drive to the payment window and hope for the best. I gave the cashier my one dollar and eight cents, and inched forward to the pickup window.

A nice young man gave me a wide grin and handed me my tea. I looked at him a little confused and he said, “Do you need something else?
“A straw please,” I replied.

“Your Egg McMuffin will be right up,” he said as he handed me the straw. Now I got a really confused look on my face and he knew something was wrong. “I didn’t order an Egg McMuffin,” I said.
“What was your order?” he inquired. Now he had the confused look on his face.

“Just a tea. But I ordered the 99 cent large tea,” I explained. He took the small tea back and grabbed the correct sized tea from the counter and handed it to me. I noticed something dripping down the side of it. It looked like milk.
“Can you wipe this, there’s something dripping down the side,” I requested.

“Oh my gosh,” he said as he took it back and grabbed a napkin. “Sorry about that,” he apologized.
“No problem,” I lied. I smiled at him, told him to have a nice day and drove off.  It was not a day of good customer experiences for me so far. But hey, I am working hard on not sweating the small stuff. After all, I live my life as a turkey sandwich now. So I got the wrong tea, he exchanged it, he wiped the dripping foreign matter off the side, he smiled and told me also to have a good day. Move forward, go enjoy my grandson and the rest of my day. Besides, a good long sip of this yummy sweet tea is going to taste great.

Imagine the look on my face when my mouth filled up with unsweetened tea! Yuck!
And that’s when I started mumbling about how customer service today is not like it was “back in my day.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Father’s Day never held much meaning for me. My parents divorced when I was two years old. I have no memories of my father living in the same house with us, and few memories of weekend visits that halted abruptly when I was still very young.
I never felt as if I was missing something by not having a dad around. My mother somehow managed to play the role of both parents. At times she worked two jobs, making sure we had a roof over our heads and food on the table. She put me through college and gave me my first car. She was disciplinarian enough for both parents, but also provided double the love and comfort when I needed it.
I had a bevy of wonderful uncles – my mother’s five brothers. Uncle George was always chewing gum. I knew when I saw him, it wouldn’t be long before he would offer me a piece, which I always accepted. He would remove that slender pack of Wrigley’s from his pocket, and he had a way of presenting it with one stick slid in front of the others so it was easy to retrieve. It was like the ultimate magic trick to me. Uncle Allen worked behind the bar at my grandfather’s place. I saw him a lot when I was younger because I spent many weekends and summers with my grandmother. I would walk downstairs and stick my head into the bar. We were not allowed to walk into the bar unless we got the “ok” nod from grandpa. Uncle Allen would pop the top off a cold green-glass bottle of Coca Cola and hand it to me, along with a kiss on the top of the head. Uncle Arthur was the youngest of the brothers, staying busy with three children of his own. But he was never too busy for a hug for his sister’s children. Uncle Bob was always special to me as he was my godfather. With no children of his own, he had plenty of love to share and often spared no expense for holiday gifts. I will never forget the tape recorder he bought me for my birthday. It was the best, and probably most expensive, gift I ever received as a youngster. Uncle Eddy will always be remembered for his dry sense of humor and wit. He assumed a patriarchal role in the family early on.  He was quiet and unassuming, but a tower of strength and knowledge. We grew up knowing that Uncle Eddy was the one you consulted if you needed advice. I didn’t have to think twice about asking him to walk me down the aisle when I got married; he was simply the natural choice.
I also had a plethora of substitute dads on our street. Russ Goss lived next door and had five children of his own. He was the dad who would play catch for hours with us, tossing it gently to me in between firing shots to his four boys. Richie Vancott was the ultimate dad who would pile all the neighborhood kids into his station wagon for a trip to the drive-in movies or the ice cream parlor.
Though my mom never remarried, she did date a few men who impacted our lives in very positive ways. Our favorite had to be Charlie, a gregarious gentlemen who had more energy that the Energizer Bunny. He would show up at our house early on Saturday mornings, ready to tackle a weekend project. This annoyed my mother to no end as she viewed Saturday mornings as a day to sleep in after working all week. But Charlie did amazing things to our modest home including a backyard patio with hand-laid bricks and the assembly of our three-foot swimming pool complete with filter and ladder. He mowed the lawn, painted the shutters, put up a fence and organized the garage. But the straw that broke the camel’s back of my mother’s patience was the day he cleaned out her junk drawer, rendering her incapable of finding anything.
I grew up without my biological father, and though I sometimes felt the flutter of the loss, I really had no particular emotions about it. I didn’t hate him, I simply didn’t know him. He passed away several years ago leaving behind six girls, three from each marriage. His death culminated in a barrage of communications among us, flooded with the few, but meaningful, memories we did hold from the early years when there was still visitation.
My half-sister, Pat, resisted the initial coming together. She and I were each the youngest of the two families, and probably felt an obligatory loyalty to our respective mothers. But apparently dad was manipulating things from above, and eventually she and I found our way to each other. I went to visit her and we instantly became the sisters we were meant to be all along. We sat at her kitchen table until the wee hours, drinking wine, looking at pictures and sharing stories of our own children. And then she shared stories of our father, including his bout with cancer and details of the day he died. She made me see him in a new light and I left there with a completely different attitude about my father. I now have feelings that have filled a previously empty space.
To all those uncles and neighbors and friends who played pieces of dad roles in my life, thank you and Happy Father’s Day. And to my dad, thank you for five sisters who each have affected my life in their own special way. I know you because of them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vicarious Living

Vicarious living is fun.  It is similar to day dreaming, imagining you are someone else.  It typically is harmless, unless you become obsessed with it – or them.  But for the average person, it is meant to serve as a little mental getaway when the brain goes on overload.
When I was married, I would sometimes live vicariously through my single friends.  They would be out at night, dancing and drinking, while I was home changing poopy diapers and bleaching the mildewed grout in my shower.  Of course when I was single, I lived vicariously through my married friends.  While I was struggling to support myself and discovering there were no single nice guys to be found, they were enjoying candlelit dinners in their beautiful homes with adoring husbands.  You can see from this description, vicarious living is directly associated with the grass being greener.
I actually have some friends who are living vicariously through me right now. Since deciding to live life as a turkey sandwich, they envy my lifestyle as a part-time freelancer and full-time granny who seemingly has no schedule and works in her pajamas.  Of course they don’t experience the daily fear of running out of paying jobs, rejections of hundreds of queries and the fact that my soul mate is 1000 miles away.  I must admit I no longer live vicariously through friends doing the 9 to 5, one-hour commute, sit-at-their desk-all-day stuff.  Though my lifestyle has its uncertainties, punching a time clock and ducking from a looming monthly mortgage payment no longer have appeal.

All in all, my life is pretty satisfying at the moment.  I love being closer to my daughters after six years away, I adore my grandson who gives me a reason to smile every day and I get a thrill each time I complete a written piece and see it published.  But it’s still not the perfect life and I believe I need the vicarious-living getaway on occasion. So I have decided to live vicariously through my grandson for the following reasons:
He never gets tired or bored with a simple act.  He will pull himself up to standing, wait for you to say “Go boom”, drop onto his butt, laugh out loud and start the process over again.  So long as you stay engaged in the act, he will repeat it a hundred times, laughing just as hard each time.  Perhaps this is how assembly line workers get through their day.  Sometimes we just forget to appreciate what we have and we are too quick to give up and go in search of the new fix.

He thinks my electric toothbrush is the funniest thing in the world.
He always wakes up smiling.

All you have to do is ask for a kiss and he gives it to you – no questions asked.
He watches and analyzes before making a move, especially if it is potentially dangerous – like touching the cat’s tail.

He gets to take naps twice a day and to sleep for as long as he wants. 
He gets to watch animated television programs without anyone saying, “I can’t believe you’re watching that stuff.”

He does not get accused of being drunk if he chooses to crawl into a room.
Someone else picks out his outfit every day – and it’s never too tight.  He also has really cute shoes to match every outfit.

You can see, choosing him is a no-brainer. However, I am reserving the right to also sometimes live vicariously through leggy, gorgeous, shiny-haired, twenty-something girls – just to know how it feels.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Grandma Needs a New Pair of Shoes

A little less than a year ago, I took on the proud new role of grandma.  It was a defining moment for me, and the one that prompted the decision to begin life as a turkey sandwich.  I embraced it and I have relished it, and for the next four days, it will be snapping me into reality.

The kids took off at four this morning for their first trip away from baby.  They are San Francisco bound – Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Tony Bennett’s heart.  Knowing my daughter, there will also be a long stop at Ghirardelli’s for a hot fudge sundae.  With baby closing in on a year old in three weeks, it was time for mom and dad to have a break from being parents and spending some time as a couple.
I chuckled as I watched my daughter preparing last night. There are four suitcases at the front door. Mind you, these are not their traveling suitcases; these are for me to take along with baby!  One is filled with clothes, one is filled with food, one is filled with toys, and the fourth is filled with anything and everything that did not fit into the first three.  In addition, there is a car seat, a Pack ‘n Play, a high chair and a diaper bag.  I am thinking of charging them $25 per bag to travel in my car – each way!

Lucky for me, junior mastered a new trick just this past week, just in time for grandma to endure….I mean enjoy, enjoy.  It’s called climbing, and it can be done on furniture, stairs and anything else that is in his path.  Though his house has a long, steep set of stairs to the second floor, thankfully my abode is all on one level.  Of course I do have my roommate’s poodle who tends to go a little haywire when the baby comes to visit. She’s great with him; she just enjoys licking his face incessantly.
I am looking forward to the adventure, but not without just a little trepidation.  I love spending time with my little guy, I simply haven’t come up with the plan yet of how and when I accomplish simple tasks like taking a shower, or going to the bathroom, while he is venturing through our totally non-baby proofed house and licking dog.  Oh, and did I mention he crawls at about 60mph?

I’m sure by the end of four days I will be exhausted, smelly and possibly constipated, and the soles will be worn off my shoes.  But hey, I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China (or chocolate at Ghirardelli’s).