Sunday, November 7, 2010

Facing a Dying Nation

Almost three years ago, I vented about the preponderance of flakes in the world of business, commerce and retail. What scared me then - and scares me even more now - about these cretins is that not only are they useless at their given post of duty, waving money under their nose does nothing to light a fire under their ass.

Now that America's economy is totally down the toilet tank, you'd think that businesses would be bending over backwards to please the public with good service and turn out a good product. Not so. Now more than ever, I encounter rude people behind counters and cash registers who couldn't possibly care less whether you buy their crap or not.

If the manager hasn't noticed that his employees are all bored slackers who act like it's an oppressive chore to smile and hand you your change, then he's sleeping at the wheel too. And on those few occasions where I've called the manager aside for a word or two, they say the generic "sorry, sir" stuff that middle management is supposed to say, even as their eyes are telegraphing "please go away, I don't care what goes on around here either."

Witness a bank (BB&T) where recently the senior teller, who apparently had never seen a check drafted directly from the U.S. Treasury before, didn't know what to do with it, and started giving me guff as if I was trying to pull some sort of scam. I went to another BB&T where the manager there apologized about what had happened at the other branch and confirmed what I already knew - that this woman was an imbecile who didn't know what she was talking about. But she was the senior teller. I tallked to the regional manager on the phone, and he again apologized for this woman's behavior. By then I'd cooled off and was no longer demanding her head on a plate, but the question still remains: how did someone like that get to such an advanced post?

Witness a Wal-Mart where, earlier this summer, a dog was locked in a parked car on an extremely sweltering hot day. The windows were rolled fully up, and the dog was freaking out, obviously in severe life-threatening discomfort. I went in, and found the customer service counter had a long line of angry customers with complaints of their own. Some uncaring young derf was moving in slow motion dealing with them, and was talking on the phone about some other matter while holding the line up.

I broke to the head of the line, motioned for the guy to put down the phone and listen to me, which he slowly and dully did. I explained there was a dog dying of heat in a vehicle in the parking lot, gave the car's description and license plate, and told him he needed to make an announcement over the loudspeaker immediately. He nodded and mouthed "okay", continuing to stand there with the phone to his ear. I continued to stand there as well, impatiently staring a hole through him, much to his annoyance. My eyebrows said "well??" after a few minutes, and he said "I'll do it in a minute." Of course, he hadn't written any of it down and obviously was going to do no such thing. I went to an older guy who was assigned the task of watching everyone use the self-checkout lanes, and got better results from him, but by then several minutes had elapsed and the dog could have well up and died by then. (Happily, it didn't: when I went back out, I saw the owner getting into the car and the dog presumably lived on. I almost said something to him but decided I'd already been self-righteous enough for one day.)

I've tried to contact the manager of that Wal-Mart repeatedly since then, but he doesn't return my calls. Maybe he fears I'm with PETA or something.

And lastly, witness last night's attempted dinner at Hiko-a-mon, a Japanese restaurant in Louisville that used to be great - my theatre company used to hold lunch meetings there. I don't expect a restaurant to always be perfect - mistakes occur and sometimes a place just has a bad night. But at their sky-high prices, when something's wrong, I'm going to send it back, and their Orange Blossom martini sucked. It didn't taste anything like the ingredients listed in the description (it appeared to be entirely ginger ale and vodka, poured at room temperature and not even mixed.) The waiter oozed haughtiness and at first acted like he didn't understand the concept of someone sending a drink back. I opted for a bottle of Asahi instead, and ordered the Yakitori (grilled skewered chicken) to start with as an appetizer. When it finally came it was, like the drink, only room temperature. The chicken segments seemed fully cooked nonetheless, so I assume they keep bags of pre-cooked Yakitori around and just give it a quick searing. A little too quick.

I waited for the million dollar question that all waiters are supposed to ask - "how was everything?" It never came. When the waiter returned, he only asked me, unsmilingly, if there would be anything else. I said no, we're ready for the check, and at this news his face turned to one of total contempt, as if to say "you are wasting my time and my table". The bad drink and cold food isn't this guy's fault, of course. But his attitude is, and such is his attitude that he probably grumbled "the asshole left no tip" without it even reaching his brain what he did wrong.

As I stated last winter on Louisville Mojo:

The algebra of digestion: there are only X amount of hours in the day, and only Y amount of dollars in our pockets. These factors allow us to only keep Z amount of restaurants and bars thriving. Let us try harder to direct our buying power wisely in the future.

If you eat dinner out more than once or twice a week - a real sit-down dinner, I mean, not the drive-thru at Hardee's - your dollars really can make a difference. Rather than scattering those dollars around to many different places, consider focusing on a smaller handful of deserving places and being a solid repeat customer at each of them.

This principle couldn't be more vital right now, as more and more good businesses are failing. Under these circumstances, I am not inclined to give second chances to places with an erratic product and/or poor customer service. One strike, you're out. And I know I'm not alone here - I hear "we'll never go back there again" said more and more by people about places where they had a bad experience.

And many more of these places will continue to ignore this fundamental tenet of common sense, and will go out of business wondering what went wrong.

- - JSH

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