People Watching – Coffee and Cake

 I believe that when watching the people that pass through an airport, you can usually tell when someone is, or isn’t, an experienced traveler. In most cases, an experienced traveler will have a minimal amount of “stuff” with them and is prepared with all the important items that they need. Smartphones make it easy to check-in without having to go the the counter, unless of course you need to check a bag, and you have your boarding pass on your phone. One less thing to carry…awesome! While on my last trip I was gifted with quite an array of characters to watch, with various temperaments. But more on that in a bit.

 I just got back from a recent trip to Las Vegas, one that definitely gave me all the people watching I could take. As I mentioned, you can always tell a seasoned traveler. Most time the first-timers have a distinctive cross between apprehension and excitement. One of the many first-time fliers I saw was a rosy-cheeked little girl of about 5 or 6 years of age. With supreme gusto, she pulled her child-sized green Hulk SMASH luggage behind her, trying to race ahead of her mother. I respect her choice of luggage, it was easy to spot.  The mother, with her own luggage and a large shoulder bag, kept telling her to slow down, and that they would “get there soon enough”. Mom clearly was calm and had her stuff put together quite well. The same could not be said for the young lady.

 “Come ON, mom!” the excited little voice kept urging her mom along, clearly determined to get to their destination.

 It happened that their flight was departing from the gate right next to mine. While I patiently waited for my own plane, this little girl could hardly contain her energy. She constantly flitted between her mom and the windows, looking for the plane. Mom would call her over, telling her to sit down, which she did. For almost a full minute. Then she jumped up to chat up a stranger sitting near by.

 “I’m going to Seattle!” She announced to a salt-and-peppered business man in a suit, who was relaxing with a newspaper. “I’m going to see my grandma and we’re going have cake. Does your grandma give you cake?” To the man’s credit he just smiled and nodded his head. “Well, my grandma makes me chocolate cake, does your grandma give you chocolate cake?” Another head bobble from the man was her answer.

 “Anna!” Her mother called her over again. Anna said her good-byes and sat back down in the delightfully uncomfortable gray seat next to her mother. This time her mom gave her a book to look at. By the time the book had been causally set aside, the plane had taxied up to let the passengers disembark from the plane. Anna jumped up and nearly slammed her little body onto the glass to look at the plane.

 “M-O-O-O-OM! It’s he-e-e-e-e-e-ere!” I could see her little faced smushed up on the glass. Someone would be taking Windex to that soon enough, I’m sure. Mom wordlessly walked over to pull her back to the seat. “Can we go on now? I get to sit in a grown-ups chair right?”  Anna got a sigh and a confirmation from her mother, who was getting their items put back into their bags. I was beginning to think that Anna wasn’t going to last long confined into that seat on the plane.

 Understandably, when the call to board came, bouncy little Anna tried to run up. “S’cuse me. S’cuse me please. Please let me in. I have to get on the plane.” She said to those around her as Mom quickly and carefully pulled her back. When the all familiar early boarding call for servicemen and women, or families with small children came, Anna’s mom stood up, raised her arm and walked her to the door.  

 “Mom I need my paper!” she implored, and her mother obliged, handing her the boarding pass. The attendant smiled at the mother knowingly. She probably sees this all the time.  Anna mustered up all of her height, standing on her tippy-toes to hold the pass up to the scanner. She struggled a little, and when the attendant offered to help, she was informed by Anna, that big girls do NOT need help. The scanner seemed to sympathize with the little girl’s plight and beeped loudly as if to say there you go kiddo. And with that, she disappeared down the ramp, off to devour grandma’s chocolate cake.

 As I mentioned before, temperament while traveling can always be…uhmm…interesting. Part of my return trip involved a 5-hour layover in O’Hare Airport. Not my idea of a rip-roaring good time, but there are worse things in life. When I initially landed in the Windy City, I was prepared to find my terminal, get a coffee and get settled in with my latest book find. I was able to locate the Starbucks in my terminal (cue the heavenly music) and I stepped into line behind an older man, who was perhaps in his 70’s. Nothing seemed amiss as we waited our turns, and he even said hello to the barista. But when he asked for a Tall decaf Amerciano, the barista informed him that they were temporarily out of decaf and asked if there was something else he would prefer. The man thought that this was completely unacceptable.

 “What do you mean you’re out of decaf?” he yelled. “I need my coffee to be decaf!” 


 The barista suggested that perhaps one of the other Starbucks booths might have one, he stated that he wasn’t going to walk all the way to another terminal just for a coffee. She offered to call one of the other booths and have them bring some, but he told her that he wasn’t waiting that long just for a coffee.   She offered a smoothie or a tea instead, he said he wasn’t going to drink that weak stuff.  Aaaaaaand that is when he told the young lady “Now here’s what you’re gonna do…”. That’s the moment my head jerked up from my phone, Candy Crush was going to have to wait. Having worked in retail for a number of years, I can tell you that this kind of reaction will get you either one of two things: kicked out, or exactly what you want. Please though, don’t test this. Really. Just don’t.

 “You’re gonna give me a Venti Americano for the price of the Tall.” Credit to the young lady behind the counter, she calmly told him that she will need to get her manager to do that for him. When she went to get the said manager, the grumpy old man turned to me and said “So much for customer service.”

 Now, I would like to preface this by saying, I believe fully in the customer service experience. I work very hard to get my own customers the best that I can, not only in products, but in my attention and service.  And giving the benefit of doubt, sometime they are having a bad day and you happen to be the face they take it out on. Okay, I can handle that.  But there are times when I draw the line. And this guy just jumped over the line into my sandpit.

 “You sir, are getting no sympathy from me.” I told him. His face slackened. “You are acting like an entitled child and they have every right to tell you to take a hike. She gave you several reasonable options and you turned your nose up at them all. You’re expecting a Cadillac for the price of a Pinto. Frankly, if they give you what you’re demanding you are getting far better service than you deserve.” The manager apparently caught all this because he suddenly appeared, the corner of his mouth tweeked a little.

 The old man grumbled something about “damn kids” to which I answered. “Actually, I’m an adult. What’s your excuse?” The young barista politely and professionally completed his transaction and then took my order, a Venti Mocha by the way, after which I put a $5 bill in the tip jar. “You earned this” I told her.

 It really is the strangest thing, but my coffee came up right away. I picked up my drink from the end of the counter, thanked the barista, and then as un-sarcastically as I could, told the grumpy old man to have a nice day. I admit, it was not one of my brightest moments. But getting upset with an employee because a business has temporarily run out of something is like getting mad at the weather man when it snows in June. There is only so much that one can control.

 I spent much of my layover enjoying the printed words in front of me, slowly sipping my coffee. Well, not too slowly. Because I’m pretty sure they also gave me a bonus shot or two.

People Watching – Trivia Players

If you are coming back, you know that I like to travel. There is an exhilarating feeling in sampling new foods, getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things. So why not try it in a fresh setting? If I had my way I would visit a new country at least 4 times a year, and a new state each year. My heart whispers to me to grab my comfy shoes and follow the road until it ends. Of course, most days my wallet tells me I can travel as far as the back yard. And your own bed is one of the nicest places you can be. Yeah, call my Dorothy, but there is no place like home. Lucky for me I live I a pretty nice small town that offers a lot of goings-on and local delights.

My little Midwest town isn’t a grand cosmopolitan landscape, but it is a reasonable drive from a few. Both Minneapolis and Chicago are within a half-day drive, so if I ever hunger for some professional music, theater, or art I can fill my tank for a mini day trip adventure. Both of these cities have a pulse, a heart beat of their own. 

My little town has a beat of it’s own too. Spring time brings the beat of the stir-crazy, been cooped up in the house all winter, good grief when will the cold end, why is there still snow on the ground kind of rhythm. As soon as that thin red line on the thermometer hits 40 degrees, many of my Midwestern neighbors slide into shorts and dust the flakes off those grills. No sir, the winters around here are not for the weak. But when those glorious greens start popping out of the snow, you can’t hold us back.

I moved to this little town several years back and in my first year here, my roommate, Paul, introduced me to several local treats. The local community theater being one (yes, slightly shameless plug here), a wonderful collection of family-run shops and restaurants that seem to sprinkle every town. And then there was the annual spring event, an event that I will actually be missing this year because I’ll be visiting said friend this year. It is THE annual spring event. This event will completely confuse any newcomers, it will leave families and friends huddled in dark rooms, muttering the strangest random words into a phone for 54 hours. It leaves in its wake several hundred or so people completely sleep deprived, fumbling around parking lots in the brisk and damp morning air looking for clues. Grocery stores have nearly empty snack shelves, food delivery places run full force, and local cheese factories run out of cheese curds. Yes, it is….Trivia.

What is Trivia you ask? And what does it have to do with the pulse of a town? The brief answer is… ell, there really isn’t a brief answer. It started as a fundraiser for the local university over 40 years ago and over time it has become so much more. It has become a reunion for old high school and college friends, and an economic boost to the local hotels and restaurants. For me it has become a way to spend time with some close friends from the local community theater (not-so shameless plug).  

If I explained the full details of the game we would be here a while. But basically you put together a team, find a house with ample room, plenty of soft fluffy furniture, and a kitchen full of supplies.Throw in a few cuddly pets for good measure while you’re at it. Charge up those tablets, phones and laptops, then break out every almanac (yes, people still have those) and reference book you have. You and your team will listen to trivia questions read by a student on the local University radio station, then you and your team of screwballs will call in your answer to gain points. You have the length of two songs (in most cases) to call in the answer. Did I mention that this goes for 54 hours straight? And that there are usually around 400 teams. And that teams range from 2 to 50 players? There’s more to it, but any outsider who witnesses this will generally have one of two reactions. The first being “hey sounds fun” or “so where are the straight jackets?” 

I love my team. We have a smaller team that consists of an age range of about 8-years-old, to “mostly-grown-up”, to “there is no way I’m telling”. We converge in the host family’s home, take over the living room, dining room, and kitchen. If you came into this home at any given point over Trivia weekend you will find people curled up under cozy quilts, and likely holding a glass filled with coffee, wine or beer, haunched over computers and such. Charging cords will trip you at every turn as you maneuver over and around the people on the floor, trying to follow that amazing aroma that is coming from the kitchen. Because no one goes hungry in this Trivia house. We have a magic mama who cooks up a fierce bean chili or homemade pizza. There are various plates filled with fruits, veggies and an assorted selection of baked items on the dining room table supplied my team members. Oh yeah, and coffee. No sleep-deprived Trivia train is complete without coffee. And more coffee. Did I mention the coffee?

Usually on Friday evening at 6pm everyone starts out strong and energized. The house is loud and full of energetic excitement. People come and go as they are able, some will find a dark spare room to nap, telling a teammate, “wake me up around 2am for the Trivia Stone”.  Saturday you might observe us going on a second wind, perhaps straddling that fine line between spastic energy and Oscar the Grouch.

If you ask people in town how they feel about this annual spring event there are mixed thoughts. Personally, I love it. Mostly because it lets me enjoy the company of my friends and for a little while we get to have our own little wild party. I’ve invited family members and friends before but they either politely decline or inform me that their team will consider an alliance. I also like to be the person who covers those sleepless hours when the rest of the team is down for the count. If you were to come looking for me at 3am Sunday morning, I will have a coffee close by, my tablet will be casting a faint glow upon my face, and my phone will be close at hand. My pup, Charlie, would be curled up at my feet and I would be speaking in a hushed stage voice to my two or three remaining teammates. As it happens,most of the others on the team would have fallen victim to sleep deprivation by this point.

An exchange at this time of morning might go something like this:
“But was the question looking for the actor’s name or the character that he played? Read back the question.” A yawn may escape me as I ask. When discussing our answer submission the details are important. Painfully important.

My leery-eyed teammate, cocooned in his or her own blanket, will sluggishly lift up the ragged team notebook. “This small screen amateur detective spends a lot of time playing in his home office. He decorates his office with his favorite art including a print of a bird’s-eye view of a winding staircase. What is the name of this fictional detective?”

“The answer is Richard Castle, it has too be.” I’ll say, to which there will be some discussions and a sluggish frenzy to find video or photographic proof. 

“See?” I’ll say as I turn my tablet to show my friends a Youtube link and point to the screen. Then after a few mumbled affirmatives, we reach for our phones and feverishly dial and redial until we hear an annoyingly perky and caffeinated voice answer “Hello, Trivia ID number please?” We will give them our ID number and our answer before we take a break before moving onto the next question.

By Sunday evening, reinforcements will arrive and we make a final push to correctly answer as many questions as humanly possible. We have a haggard look to each and everyone of us, but at this point none of us care. Right up until midnight, with the last few questions, we search through the internet, books, DVD and music collections for those precious answers. We hope that we are able to get the answer in on time.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is how we spend one deliriously, sleep-deprived, caffeine-infused, food overloaded weekend each year in our little town. We look like we are straight out of a TV sitcom, but we don’t care. We are surrounded by good people, good friends and by Monday morning, good memories.  

So, do you think you are up for a little Trivia?

People Watching – Retail Math

Oh autumn! My favorite time of the year! The calm before the holiday storm. Having worked in restaurants and retail since high school, the months of November and December have always been the busiest time of year for me. It is also the scariest. There is so much pressure on people these days to make the holidays perfect, to find the best gift, all that jazz. Individuals get so caught up in the holiday craziness that they take our their stress on people around them, often on the very people who are trying to assist them.

When I decided to start this blog I had decided that I would not write about my customers, not only for their privacy but also because I would like to keep my job. But I do see and experience things from the other side of the retail counter that are similar to scenes that I see often in my work.

Common sense says if you pay monthly for some type of service, such as cable or internet, you would expect that you need to pay the bill monthly, right? I have had to explain to many a customer that if you fall behind three months on your account, that service will be suspended until the bill is paid. We are one of the few companies that give you that much time before turning off services, and we try to work with you because we know that sometimes things happen. Medical emergencies or a change of address are just. A few examples. 

But sometimes people just lack common sense.

Let’s do some retail math: John signs up for a service that cost him $50 per month. However, John decided that he doesn’t want to pay that much so the first and second month he only pays $25, and on the third month he doesn’t pay at all. How long does it take for John to blame the local sales rep for his services being turned off?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been blamed for someone’s inability or rather, refusal, to pay their bill. I will gladly and happily go over options or help you, or try to find a way to make your bill more manageable, but I do not have the magic power to cut your bill in half while giving you twice the stuff. If I could, I’m fairly certain that I would be a billionaire by now.

And this is what I witnessed when stopping in to pay my bill at my local internet company. 

I had run out of stamps and decided that since I would be in that neck of the woods that I would pay my bill at the local office. The moment I stepped over the threshold and took my place, the flannel covered curmudgeon in overalls who was waiting in front of me was mumbling under his breath. When he was called up, he slammed what looked to be his bill on the counter in front of the young lady. She looked to be barely out of high school.

This young thing, who I’ll call Amy, greeted him in a high chipper voice “Good morning! What can I do for you today sir?”

“Who do you think you are messing with my stuff!” was the delightful reply that she received. Clearly it flustered her a bit.

“W-what do mean sir?” Amy was trying her best to stay professional, despite the fact that this man kept trying to lean further over the counter, pushing past that invisible line that encompasses a personal bubble.

“You turned off my internet! That’s what I mean.” Curmudgeon had a powerfully loud voice. He should have been in theater.

 I really felt badly for Amy, I’ve been through similar situations and it can be hard not to get defensive when a 6-foot plus man is trying to bully you into something.

Amy calmly asked if she could see his statement so that she could take a look at the account and see if she could figure out what’s going on. This reasonable request was answered with “You can read cantcha?” as he threw his statement at her, the papers fluttering in the air. I have to hand it to her, she handled Mr. Curmudgeon with patience and firmness.

She calmly picked up the papers and pulled up the account on her computer all while being blasted with profanities about how it was her fault that his service was interrupted. She calmly told him that she could only help him if he refrained from using that language and calmed down. Now this was answered with a loud “I AM!” 

After a few moments she calmly turned to him. “Well, Mr. Curmudgeon, (okay, that’s not really his name, but I bet it made you smile a little) it looks as though your service was turned off because your bill is two months past due.”

“So? Since when does that give you the right to turn off my internet?”

Oh, Amy. Beautiful, brilliant Amy…..

“Since you signed a contract stating that would would received services as long as payments for said services are being made in a timely fashion. As the payments have not been made, the company considers the contract terminated and no longer provides said services.” Amy stood there a moment to let this information sink in for a moment. When she didn’t receive a response she gently offered that if he paid the bill in full she could resume service.

“You expect me to pay you money when you won’t give me internet?” Amy smiled at him and firmly replied that she expected that if he paid his bill she could turn it back on. 

Have I mentioned that I like Amy? The man eventually paid a portion of his bill, telling Amy that he would have to come in later with more and she told him that as a courtesy she could tun it back on, and that it would remain on if he paid by the end of the week.  

I go through interactions similar to this with my customers from time to time, I try to be a respectful as possible, and offer options whenever possible, but why do people think that by yelling and screaming at me that I can change something. Believe me, if you are yelling at me because you are unhappy, I would much rather press a magic button and turn on your service so that you will leave. And screaming at at messenger just makes you look foolish.

So this holiday season, as you get pushed around and stressed out by the season, remember this: Amy is my hero. She is the patron saint of retail workers.

People Watching – Kids Gone Wild

I am not blessed with children of my own, but I love the kids in my life just the same. I have an incredible nephew (no bias here) who I adore, and my cousins have started their own beautiful families too ( nope, no bias). I also have several friends who have equally beautiful children whom I enjoy spending time with as well. I understand that this gives me a very limited view on parenting children, but sometimes I have to wonder. I have had a couple of experiences that make me think that some parents could benefit from a refresher course.

A while back I was waiting patiently in line at the grocery store, my purse over my shoulder and my hands resting on my cart. I feel a not-so-gentle tug on my shoulder. As I turn around, I’m greeted by the face of a 5 or 6-year old boy who has his hands around my wallet and is attempting to remove it from my purse. I look up and see his mother who is busy talking on the phone. I started to take back my wallet from the little boy just as she turns around towards me. 

You would think, most parents would be surprised, perhaps they might scold the little boy. Nope. Not this mom. Rather she glared at me as I took back my property, never once stopping her conversation.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Your son reached into my purse and took out my wallet.” I though that maybe she was upset because she had thought that I was giving him something. 

She told her phone friend to ‘hang on’ and then addressed me. “So? Then deal with it.” 

“Pardon me?” Color me surprised, I wasn’t expecting this.

“Yeah, it’s your problem not mine.” She then proceeded to go back to her call. I looked down at the little boy, who by now had reached over to the candy section and was trying to open a newly captured candy bar. 

I could have responded with something about how I could call the authorities, but who is going to arrest a 5-year old. So at the time I let it go. Looking back I wish I had raised a fuss. This little boy, within a span of about 5 minutes, had tried talking my wallet and proceeded to snatch a candy bar. Not entirely his fault, but clearly his mother wasn’t giving him the guidance that he needed. I imagine that when he steals his first car, his mother will blame the victim. She will probably say that person shouldn’t leave it unlocked in their locked garage if they don’t want it taken.

Being an aunt is great, I can learn so much from the parents in my life and I get to be someone that the “nieces and nephews” can have fun with. My nephew will pretend to be upset (“you make me learn stuff in the summer!”) but we both enjoy each other. I love his enthusiasm and his energy, though I admit, sometimes it exhausts me. I admire how my sister and brother-in-law can run after him. But at least they look after him.

Several years ago I managed a restaurant. Despite the long days, it was actually a really fun job. My boss was awesome, the staff were great, and our regulars were always fun. One evening I was running around as usual, helping were I could. Our kitchen had swinging doors so that you could easily go in and out, and I am guessing it looked fun to someone who was small.

I was in the kitchen when a little boy of about 4-5 years old suddenly was standing in our kitchen. I started to approach him but he dashed out onto the floor through the swinging doors. I went to follow him, making sure that he was getting back safety to his parents. Not so much. My hand was almost on the swinging door when the rosy little face popped back in. I tried to coax Junior into going out, but instead came in and out, over and over. Finally I picked him up and began making rounds to the tables to find his family. After about 10 table visits l came to the table where his parents toward the front of the restaurant, starting up at one of the TV’s that we had around the restaurant.

“Excuse me folks, but do you know this boy?” Both parents turned their heads around eyes wide. Both mumbled an excuse as I explained where he had been found. I made some reply about how he was safe and sound now and told them to enjoy the rest of there dinner.

Guess who came to the kitchen for round two 15 minutes later. Hello Junior.

This time I picked up the little boy and took him to the hostess station up at the front of the restaurant, a mere glance away from his parents table. I sat there with him, coloring and listening to him explaining his drawings to me. It was close to 25 minutes before his parents came up to get him. Juniors’s mom and dad thanked me for watching him while they enjoyed their dinner.

Now, I consider myself a non-confrontational person, but this was unacceptable. I calmly explained that while it was a family establishment it was not a babysitter or day care provider, and that the only reason I sat was him as I had, was for the safety of my staff and other guests. I let the know that they missed their child’s presence for nearly 45 minutes and that they were lucky that I found him, not some creep. They quietly left and the next time that we saw them, Jr. was seated on the inside.

We live in a time we can’t always treat our kids the way we grew up. Many summers were spent walking over to a friends house a delaying past dark before walking home. We drank out of water hoses, played in mud puddles and rode our bikes across town to swim in the local pond. We had respect for our neighbors because if we did something naughty the neighbors made sure my parents knew about. And my parents knew that the neighbors weren’t to blame but their own children. Frightening as it is, we can’t always do that anymore. And it is such a shame, because it was a great way to grow up.

People Watching – Those Summer Nights

Oh summer! Sweet, sensational summer. Packed full of events and goings on, keeping us all extremely busy, and thusly making it fly by far to quickly. Camping, road trips, the random small town festivals and the ever present free concert in the park. Aaand, oh, oh those su-uh-mer nights. Wella, wella…..

I find that they are good place to hang out with friends and enjoy the day. Recently my mom, who tends to be an introvert, asked me to join her for a concert in the local square. This was something a little out of her comfort zone I think, so of course I was willing to be her wing-woman. Besides, if I didn’t like the music, I could enjoy the sweet summer air.

The concert was held in the historic downtown area of the city, within a meandering stroll from the mall. An old stone street lined with small locally owned mom-and-pop stores and eateries led to the venue, which was a large modern amphitheater that overlooked the green. Well, it is green when it isn’t covered with folding chairs and a mass of bodies laughing, dancing and swaying to the already wailing musicians.

We arrived a few minutes after the band was scheduled to start and the large city-block sized space was standing room only. We managed to find ourselves a little unoccupied corner on the sidewalk, just behind the ornamental waist high fence and to the far right of the stage. Stage left for my theater folk…..We settled into our chairs and attempted to let our ears take in the sound. Sadly, our locale was not conducive of a true listening experience, lyrics were difficult to make out over the vibrating beat in my chest from the bass, but we had our to-cool-for-school shades on and we wouldn’t let that discourage us.

As it was difficult to observe the band from our location, my mom and I took to a favorite past time. People watching! Yup, it’s hereditary.

As the mid evening sun cast a fading light onto the facades of the lovingly restored historic stone and brick buildings, we watched the crowd move and breathe with an array of characters. We even commented from time to time to one another, making note of some specific characters. The kids are some of the favorites, they dance like no one is watching. Completely care free, paying no mind to anyone around them, letting the feel of the music drive them. Arms out, spinning a circles and lifting their eyes upwards toward the sky, they didn’t have any qualms about appearances. The littlest ones simply bouncing in their diapers and tiny jumpers. I miss that feeling sometimes. 

We watched as women and men, some with the standard mid-west gut, resting from a long work day on folding chairs, sunglasses resting on their faces, and beer in hand. Others were dancing and moving, clapping their hands to the sound of the notes that flitted through the air. Not as fancy free as their much younger counterparts, but happy nonetheless. There was also the typical high school crowd, girls wearing Daisy Dukes and midriff bearing shirts, and guys wearing T-shirts that were a wee bit too tight. 

Out of nowhere came the aroma of popcorn and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure who had it or where it was coming from, but it smelled to me like a summer carnival. My mind instantly filled with memories of the little local carnival that would come through town every year. As kids it marked the midway point of summer for us, and was a reminder that we needed to savor every last warm ray of sun.

My mom and I listened to the music and murmur of the crowd around us for sure me time. But as the sun started to dip lower, we decided it was time to leave. Weaving in and out of clumps of people, we made our way back to the parked car. It wasn’t an overly dramatic evening, but it was certainly was enjoyable. And those are the ones that should fill all of our summer nights.

People Watching – Drive Thru or Walk In

I’ve always tried to be nice to people. When I was a kid, my sisters and I would stand outside of church and open the doors for congregants as they came in. Or we would shovel the driveway for our retired neighbor. I believe that if you treat people kindly and respectfully things will go smoothly for you. Also the individuals that you speak with and make contact with tend to be more considerate that way. This is not always the case.  

As I mentioned in my last post I have one of those faces. You know, the kinds that people say “I think I know you”. It can be a lot of fun, you have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Or you will wish you just stayed at home that day. Well, it happened again. Yup. However this time it wasn’t as nice as the last time.

My retail job allows for a 30 minute break if I choose and one day I just really needed to get out into the fresh air and answer my serious craving for some McDonalds fries. I opted to take my break and the very short, two-mintue drive to the restaurant. Because it was a beautiful afternoon, I decided to go inside rather than going through the drive-thru. 

That was my first mistake.

I was waiting patiently in line, not really doing much of anything. After all, what can you do while waiting in line for anything? A senior gentleman in front of me happened to turn around, taking in his surroundings. He looked at me a bit, I smiled politely in his direction before he turned forward agin. After a few moments he whirled around back to me and declared “you sold me a broken laptop!”

I certainly wouldn’t have expected this. I would have thought that a civil person would have asked if I worked someplace or asked if I had a certain profession. Not this guy.

“Excuse me?” I asked him looking around, “Are you talking to me?” This is news to me. Mostly because I don’t sell laptops, and certainly not broken ones. If I did I probably wouldn’t be in business for very long.

“Yes!” and as I stood there in stunned silence, he proceeded to tell me agin that I sold him a laptop that worked for a few days and then it just stopped. Of course, people around us started looking our way.

“Sir, I don’t sell laptops for a living. Where did you buy your laptop from?” I figured that I may not have sold the computer to him, but I could try to help him I was sure. 

This, ladies and gents, was my second mistake.

“You now where you work!” He was getting a delightful shade of pink on his cheeks. I smiled and told him that I certainly know where I worked, but that clearly he didn’t. Okay, so that probably wasn’t the right response, but could you blame me? He answered that I worked over at —— store and that I had sold him a piece of junk. I answered with a silent stare and pointed to my work attire, which very clearly was NOT the previously mentioned store. That delightful shade of pink on his face was turning red very quickly.  

Now by this point most people would admit their mistake, apologize, and then move along. Nope. Not this guy. This guy proceeded to tell me, again, that I had sold him something that worked for three days and then stopped. Just stopped. It wouldn’t even power up. I sold him junk.

Being that I am from a generation that have worked on or with computers nearly every day, and knowing that the tech knowledge that most people of his generation have is fairly limited, I still thought I could provide some help. Why I did this, I still don’t know.

“Well, I don’t work for —- but from the sound of what you told me, The battery must have run down. Have you plugged it in and charged the battery?”  

This was my third mistake. Big, huge, mistake.

The man’s face proceeded to develop a shade of purple that I can only describe as “royally pissed”. “WHADJA MEAN CHARGE THE BATTERY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO GO ANYWHERE ANYTIME I NEED IT TO!!!! Well, if people weren’t looking yet, they were now.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back I probably should have simply told the man that he was mistaken. I could have told him I didn’t live in the area, or heck, feigned a British accent. I don’t know. But no, I had to try to be helpful. Stupid me.

At this point I reminded him that while I didn’t work for the previously named company, if the device worked for three days and then suddenly died, the battery likely needed to be charged or he should probably take it back. And then I let him know that it was his turn to order. Mr. Royally Pissed turned around muttering something under his breath about returning the laptop to an uncomfortable area of my anatomy. Charming.

When I got up to the counter for my turn I actually apologized before placing my order. The annoyingly perfectly-clear faced teenager behind the counter told me not to worry about it. 

So is this the worst thing that can come from a face that is so interchangeable? Not at all. But I can tell you one thing that it did teach me. From now on, it’s the drive through for me.

People Watching – Celebrity Look AlikeĀ 

I must have one of those faces. One of those faces that everyone feels remind them of someone else. Often people whom I have never met will mistake me for someone else. Usually it is for an old friend or classmate. More often then not, the conversation ends with a “oh, sorry, you look just like….” However, there are those occasions when it ends in an unexpected way. Heck, it can begin in an unexpected way.

A majority of individuals would probably enjoy being told by others that they resemble a celebrity. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t love to be told that they look like an attractive and highly talented person. As an example, I am often told by my friends, customers, even strangers that I resemble Anne Hathaway. I am certain that I don’t. Long face, darkish hair, sure. But that is where it ends in my opinion. Other people feel differently, evidence of that was presented to me once before.

Several years ago I was in Chicago with a small group of ladies for a bachelorette party. The day was sunshine filled, with the heat of the sun and the breeze off of the lake surrounded us. You couldn’t ask for better weather. The weekend had brought out a large volume of faces. It was the perfect day to laugh, window shop and sample ice cream. (Oh such delicious ice cream!) We had just finished our alfresco lunch and had plans to see a touring acrobatic show at the amphitheater near Navy Pier. We arrived and found that there had been a problem with my ticket. I told the others to go in and that I would catch up in a minute after taking care of it. That way they could get good seats in the general seating space.

Navy Pier is a great place for tourists and local families to enjoy themselves. Also a perfect place to see a variety of people from all walks of life. Cyclists and joggers weave around gawkers with cameras and phones in outstretched hands, before those selfie sticks became popular. So while I was waiting in line I took in my surroundings from behind a pair of perfectly large and dark sunglasses. I’m not a particularly fashion-forward person, but my slim fit jeans and cute tank top that day made me feel quite attractive. You know that feeling I’m talking about, that perfect outfit that makes you feel amazing. You stand a little taller and carry yourself differently. The sunglasses just topped off the feel. So I took in the day of relaxing and celebrating, overall feeling pretty good about myself.

As I was busy looking around I had completely missed the young girl come up from behind me. She had perfectly luminous black hair and one of those tour bus lanyards around her neck, so when she patted my arm I was a little surprised. I am embarrassed to say that I could only decipher that she spoke an Asian language and with a very excited tone uttered a broken “Anne Hath-way! Pwincess Mia!” Uh-oh.

She was speaking very quickly, and calling her parents and two brothers over. I was trying desperately to make out what she was asking until she gestured to her parents to raise the camera as she squeezed in close for a picture. This is about the time I realized that she thought I was in fact THE Anne Hathaway. Without my friends nearby I was cornered and without anyone to help explain that I most certainly was not her. I tried as best I could to explain this, that I was just some regular, everyday tourist like them. I was failing. Miserably.

The little girl started crying and her mother was becoming visibly upset. The last think I want to do is upset a little girl so I took off my sunglasses to show them that this was an honest mistake. I thought that it would solidify my case. 

It did not. I was wrong… very wrong. 

Instead the family got even more excited, likely thinking that I had agreed to take a photo. What could I do? Upset a little girl who was thrilled at the thought of seeing a famous actress in what was likely a favorite movie of hers, or go with the flow. So I bent down onto my knees, put my arm around her and smiled as largely as I could as her father raised the camera. Oh, but that wasn’t the end of it. After a few loud clicks, her mother had produced a pen and a map of downtown Chicago. Oh jeeze…..

I scribbled a rounded “A” followed by an indecipherable scribble and a large “H” and a flourish in the bright blue of Lake Michigan. I handed it to her, her tears had completely evaporated and a huge smile had appeared on her face. Wrapping her arms around me and speaking rapidly, she was clearly elated. Her parents uttered broken “thanks you’s” and waved to me as they proceeded to look at the map clutched in their daughter’s hand.

Meanwhile, I replaced my sunglasses feeling like an absolute fraud. At that moment I wished I could have just become invisible. The woman behind the ticket counter had witnessed the whole affair, her amusement was evident in her face. She laughed as I approached the ticket counter. She told me that I shouldn’t feel bad. She said that in the years that she worked there, she often saw tourists mistake random people for someone famous. As she corrected my ticket, she told me that I should take it I stride.

“After all,” she told me, “that little girl will be on cloud nine for weeks and will be very popular with her friends. You’ve given her a treasured memory.”

When I returned the the ladies of the party, they questioned me what had taken so long. I could feel my cheeks brighten as I opened my mouth to explain my delay. Of course they were amused when I explained what had just transpired. And a good teasing followed.

So somewhere out there in the world, is a young teenage girl who once traveled with her family to Chicago and thinks that she once met the beautiful and talented Anne Hathaway. And at this keyboard is a someone who, even seven years later, still feels a bit guilty about it.   

People Watching – My Usual Please

Wisconsin weather in the spring is always been interesting. One day it can be a bright sun-soaked 75 degrees and the next it will be a chilly 42 degrees with a soaking drizzle mix of rain and snow. So needless to say once the sun starts peeking out behind her winter veil, we tend to embrace it around here. We will use any excuse we can to get outside. 

This past Sunday I was scheduled to work a shift and I decided to run a few errands before going in. I was able to complete them quickly and found that I had about 30 minutes before my appointed start time, so I took the opportunity to stop in at a favorite local coffee spot.

Like every good coffee place, it is an eclectic mix of stereotypes that you would expect to see. I really enjoy and relish this spot, and have stopped in on a few occasions just to take in the atmosphere. On this particular Sunday, I was not disappointed. I viewed a variety of people, all of who, had an agenda for the day.

The experienced baristas are training a new employee, taking the time to explain the process while cheerily greeting customers asking them “the usual?” Doesn’t it seem both delightful and depressing that we have “usuals”? But more on that thought in a bit. The newest addition to the morning crew was trying to keep up with the energized flow of the other baristas, who themselves didn’t seem to need the supply of coffee. Nodding her head, eyes widened, carrying a fistful of cups, she tried to follow the blur of energy that was her teacher.

The slightly cliche light acoustic guitar notes filled the room, flowing into our ears. We come to expect it in our coffee places. A mellow balance of energy and chill that comes with our grande peppermint white mocha extra whip. 

What coffee place doesn’t have fresh faced college students getting their Sunday morning fix. They are everywhere, hunched over the lit screens of their laptops, sipping lattes and iced green teas wearing their faded T-shirt and Converse shoes. Both men and women with hair pulled up in a messy bun that still looks the perfect blend of put together and “just rolled out if bed”. 

Of the college students at the table next to me, one tall athletic blond (ugh, aren’t they all tall athletic blonds?) was chatting with her study partners about her recent track meet and upcoming final papers. The young woman had forgotten her laptop cord while visiting her parents on Saturday. She told her friends that when she got back to the dorms she found her dad left message on cell phone that she had forgotten it. She called him back and he told her that he could simply drive to meet her. So on a early Sunday morning her father drove two hours in order to meet her half way saying “we gotta do what we gotta do”. This young women told her friends that she felt both grateful and guilty that because of her study and work schedule, she could stay only about five minutes. Her father gave her a hug, a fresh coffee and two chocolate bars before wishing her luck on her final projects. It was a reassuring sound, a young person doing what we have all done for generations. We balanced studies, family, friends, work, and perhaps extra curricular activities that could earn us a precious scholarship. Reassuring because it reminded me that I had at one time had it that stressful, and it had taught me many things that were NOT related to my field of study.

 Beyond them, a sweet old couple were reading a paper together. Decked out in that typical brown sweater and fedora combination that makes you feel both cozy and classy, the gentleman held the paper folded done into tiny rectangle . His reading partner had a perfectly styled coif, and held her paper wide open. There was evidence that she had to work to unfold each section of her paper as it was filled with tell-tale marks. Silently sipping coffee and trading sections of the paper with out any words passing between them. They sat there, relaxed and at ease, enjoying the soft leather chairs. 

In the corner two excited young mothers, dressed in dark yoga pants, gesturing with fluid movements between their two young girls and the story they were sharing. The rosy cheeked little girls, mirror images of their mothers, excited to have steamed milk so that they can be like “the big girls”. The point at which I noticed them fully, was when one of the young girls, had been at the counter with her mother and asked the barista for “my usual please”.

How does a 6-year-old have a “usual”? For me a stop at the local coffee house is a treat. Okay, I admit it is treat that I have about three times a week, but not enough that I can request a usual beverage. And how is it that a child can have a usual? Do we indulge too frequently? Maybe it is because it is such a comfort to have something familiar close at hand. I have a morning routine to fill my cup with coffee and have a snuggle with my dog. However, why must be cling to these same-old, day to day things? Exploring the new, stepping out into the “wild” is what makes life so interesting. It is the same reason I enjoying trying new restaurants or styles of food.

The advantage of experiencing something new outweighs the apprehension of trying it in the first place. We can discover a new pleasure for ourselves that we may have otherwise left unexplored. Perhaps we find a new passion. It also grants us an appreciation of what is to come. Until then, however, I will settle for my daily “cup with my pup” while waiting for the sun to join me for my next adventure.

People Watching: Right on Target

Hello again, sunny face! Hopefully your spring has been treating you well. My hometown has been slowly waking up. We had a few more flurries and snow storms than normal, but those glorious green blades of grass are peeking through. And my back yard! Oh, the wildlife menagerie of deer, rabbits and squirrels was recently joined by a muskrat! 

It is spring weather that made me think of this people-watching experience. In my first post, I mentioned briefly a person who had assumed I was someone else. An honest mistake I guess. I’m going to tell you right now, that I’ve made assumptions before. In most cases if you show me that I was wrong, I will admit it. I really wish sometime that other people would do the same.

I was out for the afternoon, running errands and getting some shopping done. When the spring weather gets warm, I tend to wear a light jacket, a soft pastel pink peacoat. You know, because it’s spring, and there is something about bright colors that amplifies the spring joy. On this particular sunny and mild day, I was wearing a light coat and khaki jeans and sneakers. I know, you want to know why this matters, and you’ll see soon enough. Because when running errands and just generally enjoying the day, you may have a plan of attack. You plan to get your things, pick up the groceries and cook something delicious before settling down to a book. You don’t plan on explaining yourself.

Thankful for the radiantly warm sun and the fresh spring air, my plan was to first stop at Target for a few items, then head to the local farmers market for some ingredients for lunch before sitting at the park with a book. So I headed into the store doors, picking up a hand basket and started to make quick work of my list. I was shopping for a shower gift, trying to make sense of the registry among the fluffy soft towels she she stopped me. An older woman with gray hair and a shopping cart had sharply tapped my arm.

“Where are the light bulbs?” She demanded, with her face quite scrunched up.

I turned slightly toward her, my purse slipping a little on my shoulder. “I’m not sure, maybe we could ask someone.” I told her as I scanned the aisle for an employee and adjusted my purse. This only served to upset her a bit, because she put her hands on her hips.

“That’s why I’m asking you!” Her eyebrows became one very angry line across her face. “Don’t they train your here to know where everything is?” That’s when I realized she saw my khaki jeans and assumed I was working there. Never mind the fact that I had a jacket and a purse and a basket of my own. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, and try to be as helpful as I could. It couldn’t be that hard to find light bulbs and I imagined it shouldn’t take too much time.

Fully turning away from the fluffiness of the shelf I answered her question. “Well, ma’am, I don’t work here, but I’m sure that we could find some one who does.” 

“This is what you call customer service? I want to speak with your manager!” Mmm….I think that we have a communication problem here.  

“Sure, but my manager doesn’t work here either.” Whoops, that just got a bit snarky. But after offering to help despite my lack of Target employment, I wasn’t expecting this kind of exchange. So as you can guess when she made her next demand I was a little put off.

“I want to speak to your manager right now!” I think that if she could have, she would have stomped her foot and cried. 

Without saying a word I proceeded to step around her and walk down the aisle. I know that they usually have people near the electronics department, so I figured that they could help. That is, help this wild woman find her light bulbs and in doing so, help me escape light bulb lady. As I figured she would, she followed a few aisles over the whole time badgering me with a lecture on my terrible work ethics and customer service. She couldn’t understand how I still had a job here, and frankly neither could I.

It must have been quite the sight when we approached the electronics counter. A kind but bewildered face greeted us. In a few short sentences I explained to him that she was looking for light bulbs and assumed I worked there, and if he could please help? Bewilderment turned to dread as this woman slammed her hands on the counter and began expressing her disgust I my service. She demanded to see the manager and that I should be fired on the spot. 

Mr. Electrics looked over and gave me a knowing look and nodded. As I walked away Mr. Electrics was assuring the lady that he could help her. Bless Mr. Electrics.

I was able to finish my shopping and savor my lunch at the park with a few savory items from the farmers market. I was able to enjoy the soft breeze and the sounds of the people and animals around me. And I did it all while walking around in my comfy sneakers and khakis. Luckily for me no one else asked me to find any light bulbs.

People Watching – Snowflakes falling on my head…..

Oh, hello beautiful! Yes, you, the person who is reading this. This is a friendly reminder that you are beautiful. I thought that you may have forgotten.
And don’t roll your eyes at me. I saw that.
Now, I’ve shared with you an experience about meeting a surprising new friend as well as a person who just boggled me beyond comprehension. While I enjoy watching people in various settings, there is one observation that I can not leave out. Myself. We are all individual stories waiting to be told and if we are going to study people in general we must also remember ourselves. I will admit that I have done some bone-headed things before too, none of us are immune. Despite this inevitable truth, we can often surprise ourselves with some kind of cosmic good karma. 

I work retail, so my hours can be hectic, particularly during the holiday season. Add that to a busy family and friend schedule, throw in a dash of volunteering, a pinch of house stuff and top it off with a dog to walk and snuggle, it leaves you with a pretty packed schedule. In other words, a schedule just like everyone else, just like yours. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I’m a social person, but every now and again a girl needs her introspective moments. Her quiet time, maybe in her jammies with a pizza and a good book. Time to stop and smell the snow. Yes, I said snow.
 I actually like working retail, you get to spend your days talking to some really cool people. On a particular late December day, I had just finished a chaotic day at work. I had already been kept there over an hour past my scheduled time, which is not an uncommon thing for me. But on this day I was drained, and unusually cranky. My day had ended with a perfect example of supply and demand. I didn’t have a supply, but they still demanded it. A lot of people tend to get upset when your stock is out of a particular product. Especially around the holidays. They tend to take it personally when you inform them that you will have to order it and it may be a few days. Because, yes, my sole purpose in life is to ruin your day by selling every last one of ______ just so that you can’t have it. And yes, yelling at me about how I have now ruined your brother’s Christmas will magically make it appear in my back inventory room. And yes, the voice in my head is being highly sarcastic despite that fact that I calmly and politely tell you that I will do everything I can to get you that item. Because I will. Because when it comes down to it, I know that it is the holidays and you are just as stressed as I am. Because you waited until the day before to get his gift and I know you are unintentionally taking it out on me. And because frankly I’m like a freakin’ Disney princess. 
So you can imagine after a very long day at work, I was ready to go home and finish the other dozen or so things I needed to get done. But first I had to stop at the grocery store, not exactly something that I was looking forward to. Ah yes, the grocery store in the week before Christmas. Almost as much fun as paying taxes. People rushing around trying to find a list of ingredients (where do they keep the PLAIN peppermint?), trying to juggle children who are tired and restless (but I want a cookie noooooow), and just trying to get out as fast as possible. Sure. Right.
So with as much patience as I could muster, I headed into the store, bundled up in my wool pea coat, mummified by my hat and scarf. I really only need a few things, milk, flour, butter, maybe bottle of wine for myself. With my little hand basket, I try to carefully maneuver around families pushing carts already full with supplies. I wait patiently behind the little ol’ silver haired lady who can’t decide if she wants the name brand flour or the the store brand to save 3 cents. I wait in line, holding my heavy basket while the gentleman in front of me writes out a check. I pay for my things and as quickly as I am able, I grab my two bags to make a hasty exit.
But when I get to the exit, I’m halted by one of my favorite sights. While I was inside, it had started to snow. Glorious snow flakes. Big, fluffy, flakes. The kind that seem to perfectly quiet and still the air. In the bright lights of the parking lot they were a calming sight. I stepped off to the side, so as not to be in anyone’s way, and just took it in. Watching the soft fluttering swirls in the air, slowly and silently swaying to the ground. They landed gracefully on my shoulders and head, gradually taking away the stress and sounds of the day. 
I was so hypnotized by the sight that it was a few moments before I realized that two people had stopped next to me. A bright looking young woman, her cherubic baby bundled up in a stroller, and an older gentleman, with heavy boots and a walker. Both of whom had turned their faces upward as I had. We stood there for a while. Quite a strange sight was our little Christmas quartet. Most people just scurried past us. Not that I blame them of course, they had things to do, places to go, cookies to bake. The baby cooed happily in her stroller, and her mother took this as a sign to get moving. As for myself and the gentleman, we stood there for several more minutes, gazing up at the glittery fluff falling from the sky. After a bit my companion let out a long relaxed sigh. Laying his hand on my arm, he thanked me, saying “I haven’t done that in a long time. You have a Merry Christmas.” Then he adjusted his coat and shuffled off to his car. This grinch felt her heart grow three sizes that day.
Those few minutes in the falling snow was enough. Enough to de-stress, give a silent thought of thanks. I may have had a rough day at work, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I just needed a reminder.
I firmly believe people are stories waiting to be told. We knit and weave ourselves into the lives of those around us forming a beautifully grand quilt. Each colorful piece is a person, directly touching another equally colorful and vibrant piece. Occasionally our quilt gets jumbled up, maybe thrown onto a heap somewhere, so we have the opportunity to touch another square or person that we wouldn’t normally. Yup, we’re all just a jumbled up mess that has been tossed half-heartedly on the sofa. So tell me, you, the beautiful person reading this. What does your quilt look like?