I’ve never worked in retail or the restaurant business. I’ll admit it. I have no idea of the anxiety that checkers, clerks, and waiters must put up with but that doesn’t keep me from noticing the oddities in their profession.
Last week…a Morton Avenue fast food joint. I pulled up to the voice-garbling speaker and placed my order. The gal on the other end of the transaction took my food request then said, “Is that for here or to go?” Hello? I’m in my car! Here or to go? And just where in the heck is here? Are you inviting me to drive my Nissan through the front window then sit there calmly amid the broken glass and senior citizens to eat my cheeseburger? Perhaps the stress of fast food is just too much.
Beardstown’s Wal-Mart had just installed its new security system and I was one of the first patrons on the day of its inauguration. I purchased bag of Hall’s Cough Drops and headed out the door when the alarms went off, a sound just short of the Second Coming and the cause for much flashing of light and dashing about of Wal-Mart employees . . .rather, “associates.” The associates came running to watch the nabbing of their first shoplifter so to oblige them I threw my hands in the air causing the Hall’s Cough Drops to scatter all over the electric door, went spread eagle and splashed myself against the wall shouting, “You got me copper! But it’s a bum wrap!” The Wal-Mart security team needed further training for instead of tazing me then wrestling me and my cough drops to the ground they simply stood there agog. “Agog” is not the proper response to what appeared to be a blatant felony. This was back in the days before Wal-Mart put all its famed “greeters” out to pasture and on this particular day an elderly friend of mine was working the front of the store. She shouted, “Oh my God, no! It’s okay! That’s Ken Bradbury!” Now that was just dandy. In addition to being caught red-handed my name was now being announced for all the early-morning shoppers to hear. But let me be straight on this: if you catch a crook it shouldn’t matter who he is. (See: Richard Nixon.)
All of this confusion and lack of training makes me appreciate a store like Staples where you’re greeted with a “Can I help you?” as soon as you enter the place. And. . . wonder of wonders. . . the employees at Staples actually know where to find things. The only downside to this efficiency happens on the days when I have ten minutes to kill so I stop in to look around and I’m forced to come up with some wimpy line like, “No, I’m just a vagrant.” Actually, I’ve tried the vagrant line and it doesn’t work so well, causing the employee to surreptitiously follow me around the store. I’ve found it’s better to simply lie and say, “No, I think I know where it is,” then hope that they don’t notice when I walk out without “it.”
I guess that if I had one wish of the Magic Fairy of Retail is that the gal behind the cash register would simply look at me. It’s such a small thing really. Just look into my eyes. I promise that I’m not on the make, I’m not a stalker, I don’t want her phone number, and I know nothing about hypnosis. I’d simply like to see the eyes of the person I’m talking to. After all, a lack of eye contact is the secret symbol for “I really don’t care. It’s just a job.” Hey! My cough drops are important, dog-gone it! Wanna hear me sneeze?
Sometimes it’s my own consternation that causes me problems, like when I went through the drive-through at a Springfield Starbucks and they gave me a senior citizen discount based on my voice. Come on! Gimme a chance! At least take a look at me!
And okay, this is getting picky, but please don’t call me “Honey.” It’s patronizing…or rather, matronizing. I feel stupid enough on most days without giving me a moniker that somehow brands me as an eight-year-old buying his first tank of gas. “Sweetheart,” I can abide. It makes me feel a bit like Clark Gable or George Clooney. Whenever I’m called Sweetheart I feel a bit like asking when they’re getting off work although that would probably set off the Wal-Mart security alarm as well. I always want to say, “I’m much too old to be called Honey. After all, they give me an automatic senior discount at Starbucks.”
My most traumatic restaurant moment came last month in Jacksonville’s Pizza Hut. I’d gotten up to look at the sports pictures on display and a waitress thought I was staring at a blank wall. She said, “Could I help you sir?” Two of my students, John and Erin, heard her and motioned to me saying, “Come on, Grandpa. Time to go to your room.”
Oh well. . . have a nice day.