Category Archives: Customer Service

Misadventure At Jason’s

Misadventure At Jason’s

Having a horrible experience at a restaurant is a first-world problem; that, I acknowledge. Covid doesn’t factor into my latest mess. Few people working or visiting the eatery in question wore masks yesterday. That’s okay by me. Having survived attempted strangulation by my bowels makes it hard for me to throw stones at external threats beyond my control.

Yes, Tammy, I should have opted for Sam’s rotisserie chicken. : ) Now that I’m out of the hospital, I wanted to enjoy a calorie and flavor-rich simple meal prepared by a restaurant that c-a-n make delicious food. It was to be my first post-surgery restaurant experience. It was late enough past the post-lunch crowd that the most significant impediment would be circumvented. Or so I thought. After realizing that Renzo’s was closed on Sunday, my friend and I immediately agreed on Jason’s Deli. We used the app to simplify the process and paid online. I took a large cash tip with me to reward the employees involved. Curbside pickup would make it easy for me to avoid unnecessary strain and bypass any covid issues. (Not that I’m worried, as so many vaccinated people are getting breath-through cases.) I wasn’t in a hurry, and I left to go pick up the order.

Calling the number on the Curbside pickup sign, I immediately knew that I might have a bad experience. The employee answering the phone lashed out. My response was both surprise and a little laughter. I tried to picture what Hell she’d already experienced by 1 p.m. to motivate her to practice that degree of insult. Avoiding any humorous snark, I answered her as best as I could. The details don’t matter. I called my friend, laughing, telling her what the Jason’s employee had said. Since I work in an environment where customer service often morphs into malicious compliance when an employee gets angry, I easily recognized that the employee in question would have gladly jumped off a building to get out of there. I lowered my expectations and waited.

After 30+ minutes past the initial “order-ready” time, I went inside to the to-go area. I wasn’t upset, just confused. At this point, I was still laughing a little at the unlikely outcome I’d got myself into by choosing Jason’s. I called my friend who was going to share the meal with me. I apologized for laughing. It was so ridiculous I didn’t know how else to respond. I sent a picture of the lop-sided layout; 99% of employees on the dine-in side and one lone guy attempting to keep up with the to-go/curbside/driver end that comprised at least 50% of the business.

People were waiting, frustrated. A lone male employee was manning the entire ‘out’ portion of the long prep bar. He was hustling against piles of half-prepared sandwiches, missing items, and dozens of order tickets thrown and stuck everywhere. A dozen employees were helping dine-in customers get their food quickly.

A couple of food delivery drivers expressed their frustration and walked out. One announced, “Okay. I don’t want any of these orders. I don’t care about the money or the food.” And he left.

Twenty minutes later, I finally got to the to-go register. “Can I speak to a manager?” She looked at me, angry. “No. She’s working the line for dine-in.” And she answered the phone, ignoring me. I stayed in my spot. The woman looked back up to see me and walked off, leaving her spot. Another employee came up a minute later, and I said, “I’d like a refund, no harm and no foul, and thank you.” She rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time to issue refunds. You get what you get.” I’m paraphrasing. “Wait, ma’am, I’m sorry it’s so busy, but I’m tired and stressed. I need a refund.” She walked off.

Customers and delivery drivers watched and listened. For the second time, I thought maybe I was on an episode of “What Would You Do.”

When the first woman came back to the register, she didn’t make eye contact. “Move. I can’t help you. The manager is working the line and can’t come up here.” Stunned, I stepped slightly to the side as the employee helped someone else. I’m omitting things that would make this encounter worse. You can imagine the other words said to me and around me. Each time the phone rang, the workers recoiled and had an epithet to utter.

I waited a few more minutes. Order tickets, half-prepared food, and boxes continued to pile up as the single male to-go person fought against a tide of orders. Another driver said, “Hey, you’re supposed to treat this like a drive-through and process us out. I’ve been here an hour and have orders sitting in my car getting cold/hot/old.” No one listened.

I was sorry for everyone, workers and customers alike.

All the energy and enthusiasm I’d had evaporated. My body just wanted to sit down, even if I had to eat slices of bread for a meal.

I cut through and walked around to the dine-in register, now empty. The lunch rush was well over by then. No one wanted to come to the register. An employee walked up, exasperated. “Can I take your order?” I said, “No, I’m sorry. Look, I need a refund. I’m sorry.” I’m editing this portion, too. The employee, a young female, didn’t quite know how to do it.The long to-go order person walked up, answered the phone, and said, “#$#@ I’m working on it!” before I said anything. He threw a piece of paper at me. It said “$0” on it. It wasn’t a canceled receipt. “Sir, I’m sorry, I need a receipt cancellation, something indicating my order was voided.” Angry stare, followed by angry words. He waved me off, telling me to leave and shut up. Incredulous, I repeated, “Sir, I apologize it’s so hard here, but I need just a second…” He said something bizarre to the caller, held the phone against his chest, and screamed down at the manager working on the prep line, “Come take care of this asshole! He won’t shut up.” He shook his fist in the air in front of me. It was not a polite gesture. I took a breath. I remained standing there, waiting to give it one more try.

The to-go order employee screamed at the manager again. I won’t cite words here, either. Whether you believe me or not, I felt sorry for him. Work shouldn’t push anyone to that point. I’m pretty sure a few people in my position would have thrown a punch.

The manager walked up and said, “It’s always this way.” I said, “The details don’t matter. I just want a refund. I know it’s busy, but your employees have been rude, cursed at me, and treated me and others like we’re not human. I wasn’t in a hurry. I feel bad for everyone. Is this a receipt?” She looked at it. She gave me another explanation.

And I tried to make a human connection: “You know how you never know what someone else is going through? I’ve been respectful, calm, and patient. I waited 30 minutes outside and well over an hour here inside. I apologize that everything is impossible in here, I truly do. Let me show you that we have our own issues.” I lifted my red t-shirt and showed her my long, jagged metal staple wound. “I don’t think I’ll follow-up about this visit, but if I do, please remember that I was polite, didn’t raise my voice, and my only crime was trying to get food and celebrate. I’m so sorry for all of us.” I meant it.

She apologized. I felt terrible for her, the workers, and everyone else who found themselves in an unexpected retail Hell.

I left, feeling like I’d been at Jason’s for the equivalent of an entire afternoon, even though it had been at most two hours. Another Uber driver spoke to me outside. I told him a ten-second recap and wished him well, knowing his afternoon had already crashed. “I’ve got orders in the car, ones I’ve had over an hour.” I smiled. “I’m so sorry. There’s no fix for this.” And there’s not. The corporation won’t staff adequately, and the employees don’t know how to go from incredible anger to communicate the mess effectively.

I drove back to the apartment.

Within a little over 30 minutes later, a local Chinese restaurant delivered a mountain of dishes. I ate like a king. But the mess and melee of Jason’s stayed in my head all afternoon. More than anything, the most significant realization is how a retail encounter put so many people in the position of being lesser than any of us should ever be with one another.

I treated everyone I came into contact with kindness and regard. It was supposed to be a simple meal, one to celebrate being out of the hospital.

Instead, it was a reminder that staffing is too low everywhere – and that it’s easy to use stress as a lever to be hateful.

I’m not sure I can indict Jason’s Deli too harshly. But it now holds the title of worst retail restaurant experience of my life – and that’s quite the feat at my age.

Did I go too far showing the manager my surgery incision? Maybe. But we always hear that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life. I put myself into the shoes of every Jason’s Deli employee during and after the mess of yesterday. Except for the manager, none of them imagined why the soft-spoken guy in the red shirt looked so forlorn about humans being unable to stop the madness and reset.

I haven’t processed some of these same lessons from being in the hospital last week. People are stressed, understaffed, and unmanaged. Many of us don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to respond to situations that force us to forget that we’re just momentary flashes of life and need to do better.

Love, X
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It’s Safer To Get Killed In Traffic (Subtitle: Don’t Use Off-Brand ATMs, Even At The World’s Largest Retailer)

I get zinged for my love and use of index cards. They are both practical and whimsical. I can take notes, make card houses, and draw. I can also use them to quickly leave notes everywhere, sometimes to the disgruntlement of almost the entire planet.

Due to momentary insanity, I opted to use the ATM at Walmart. The fee was low – and so was enthusiasm for driving across traffic to my bank. I knew better but did it anyway. Some people define that as wisdom.

I watched as the machine scrolled through the prompts, indicated it was dispensing money, and then the red light near the bill dispenser flashed. Uh-oh. I took out my phone to record, despite the Fort-Knox number of cameras in the register area. If you didn’t know this secret, Walmart and most stores experience sudden camera failure when YOU need them. A UFO could fly across your head and they’d just shrug. The machine gave me a card, a receipt, followed by zero money. The receipt indicated I’d been had. I meant charged.

It was at that point I realized I had not, in fact, recorded anything. Murphy’s law was somewhere behind me, watching with an evil grin.

I flagged one of the six managerial types standing in the dead limbo zone between the self-checkout kiosks and freedom. You’ve seen them. They evidently don’t do checkout anymore – they instead employ people to leer at us while we do it for them and then act invisible when our kiosk needs attention. He ambled over. “Oh, we don’t own that machine.” (Which turns out isn’t true. They do. They rent the space to the company on the face of the ATM.) He then said the strangest thing: “Yes, it’s been broken for at least a couple of days.” I looked at him with a mixture of incredulity and confused mirth. “Uh, you think an ‘Out of Order’ sign might be needed here? If that’s the case, you are needlessly stressing your customers,” I said, trying to be patient and calm.

We traded comments, me for fascinating information to use later, and he, because he read the wrong side of the customer service training cards when he was hired.

I called the number on the ATM. It went as well as you’d think. Yes, they knew it was broken and likely out of cash, the woman allegedly doing customer service told me. Yes, multiple people had angrily called. “Can you take my information? I’ve had this happen before and I got screwed worse than ________.” You’ll have to insert a colorful analogy there. It was very funny but risque. I could tell immediately that the person on the phone was as interested in helping me as someone who wants to push someone else down the stairs so they’ll get to the bottom faster.
No, she wouldn’t take my information. In her case, she learned her company’s motto: “We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied.” I asked about the camera in the front of the ATM, having been through this scenario previously. “Oh, there isn’t one,” she said. She told me that Walmart or corporate owns the machine and her company rents the space. “Who owns the accountability?” I asked. Insert “blah, blah, blah” here. She told me that no one was coming to service or fill the machine – nor to put an “Out of Order” placard on it. Walmart employees wouldn’t do it either, because “it was their job or their machine.”

Before hanging up, I informed the woman on the phone that I was trying to take out $300 for both groceries and meth. That’s how I confirmed she was the most humorless person in the world. I told her I loved her and that I wanted her to have a good weekend. Plot twist: she hung up.

I will admit that because I carry permanent markers, I ALMOST wrote directly on the face of the ATM monitor. I had to really control myself. Instead, I wrote on several index cards and put them everywhere. There ended up being one inside the money dispenser that you can’t see in the picture. You’d be surprised at how often I use my stash of index cards to let everyone else know that something is broken, their tire is low, or that their face reminds me why I don’t ever want to be in a Turkish prison.

As I was leaving, two people were at the Money Center complaining that the ATM was broken.

At least a kind soul took the time to let everyone know the ATM was potentially robbing customers.

Wait! I’m that person! 🙂

But did I die?

No.

So help me, if my money isn’t put back into the account, I am going to be really irritable. I’m not going to do as I did years ago and rant and fight either the ATM company or Walmart. That just wastes my life. No, I’m going to squirt super glue into the card slot every time I go in there. Extreme? Yes. But you only say that it’s extreme because you’ve never had a bank or ATM ‘take’ $400 of your money (twice) and then say it was you who screwed up. By the way, thanks Arvest for the valuable lesson a few years ago. They weren’t wrong: I had screwed up by staying with them after the first mistake.

It’s Friday and if I don’t get my meth, I don’t know how I’m going to watch Masterpiece Theatre.

PS I don’t use meth. That’s just crazy talk. Heroin is cheaper.

Love, X

I Am Witness

Joyce Street in the day is a hideous mass of vehicles; people are hurried and tempestuous. In the early hours, deer often scurry past, often oblivious to my passage. Sometimes, like this morning, they stop in the road and look at me. I slowed to a stop, turning down the radio. The world at that moment contained only us. After a few seconds, the spell was broken and they scampered away. Later, as a I return, I’ll slow down a bit and try to imagine that such a corridor of traffic is another world before the sun makes its visit. Then again, so am I.

Though you wouldn’t think so, when the deer greeted me, “Let Go” by Brothers Phelp played on my usb. If you haven’t listened to the song in a while, give it a listen. I needed its advice this morning.

Preconstruction Pictures

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Once again, having pictures of my house during the stages of construction saved me a lot of heartaches today. If you own a Rausch-Coleman home, these pictures can quite literally save your life. And also a lot of time, if that sort of thing is important to you.

The other morning, my wife texted me to tell me the cheap wire shelf in the laundry room had broken free from its mooring on the right side. When I got home, I remembered that not only was the shelf cheap, but only one undersupport was installed for the entire length. Per the manufacturer, 3 were recommended for that length. When one of the people in charge came to visit me to address some major concerns that weren’t addressed, I mentioned this to him. “We take that sort of thing very seriously.” They took it so seriously that houses built after mine had the same horrible wire shelving – and insufficient supports on their shelving too.

I couldn’t find the screws that attached. There’s a reason for that!

Before starting a massive overhaul, which it needs, I opted to fix the loose end. I bought toggle bolts of varying sizes. I climbed up unsafely on a small unstable stool and pushed my screwdriver through. It was solid behind both holes, which puzzled me.

I took out my cutters and clipped off the two plastic protuberances, expecting a lot of resistance from the screws or broken screws inside. Surprisingly, they cut easily. Still no screws.

Just as I was about to screw a replacement through to push through the toggle bolt, I had a flash of caution.

I walked around and exited to the garage and confirmed my suspicion.

I came into the office and found my picture file from 2015, the one containing a couple of hundred pictures from various stages of the house being built. By the way, we didn’t get permission to do this. By the second visit to view the progress, I decided to do it. I wish I would have caught them doing the groundwork and pipes, too, because we had some strange issues with that, as I wrote about before. One of our delivery drives discovered the sinkhole in the front yard by running directly into it. I imagine this dampened his urge to shortcut through people’s yards for a while. Especially Rausch Coleman homes.

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Behind that wall was the main electrical panel for the house.

Worse yet? The installer didn’t use screws at all in the connector for the wire frame to sit in. He made holes about 1/8″ of an inch deep with a screwdriver and just pushed the small protuberances into those tiny holes. Nothing was holding the connector holder up, nor supporting the weight of the rack.

I shook my head, not in surprise, but in confirmation.

It’s a small thing but the person taking a dangerous and simple shortcut like that could have caused a really large problem. Everyone who notes such things can’t help but wonder what else they skimped on and especially those things out of sight.

 

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By the way, every time we visited, we found alcohol in the house. It’s not uncommon for subcontractors. No one is watching. An employee of the company who came and ate lunch with us a few times told us that it was very common and that they were constantly being told to hide the evidence. (Instead of not to drink while working on houses.)  I saw contractors drinking while working on houses, too.

Having access to people who will tell you the literal truth was refreshing. One of the project managers told me a bookful of stories before leaving his job.

I still believe that if you buy a house, the contractors and builders should provide pictures of all the stages of construction. It helps everyone. When you need to repair, install, or modify anything, these pictures give you an immediate view of what is lurking.

Also, just because I’m weird, I think that if I were a builder, I’d include pictures of me, too. And probably in costume.

 

 

What Exactly Are They Sending You?

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I wrote the draft of this post years ago, precovid.

Years ago, I remember watching a “60 Minutes” segment and seeing a railroad car carry chemicals to one destination and then refill with apple juice, without being cleaned between fills. When I worked at a dairy, I was surprised to see that clumpy, black, clotted milk would be put in the holding tank to save money, because as long as the main tank passed inspection, it didn’t matter if someone shoveled manure into it. It’s true that pasteurization awaited the milk.

To frame it another way, though, you likely wouldn’t eat a bowl of ice cream if you knew it had 1% manure in it, no matter how safe it might be to eat.

I saw other things which were more troublesome while working in the poultry industry, which is plagued by food-borne illnesses and contaminants, even though they constantly assure us that every conceivable measure is being taken to ensure a safe food supply, even as they speed up processes, reduce costs and USDA inspectors, and reduce human intervention. If human beings are involved and profit is a primary consideration, it is no stretch to imagine all possible scenarios where corners might be cut. People inevitably cut corners, especially people who are pressured into working faster, with fewer people, and whose profit margin shrinks as they take the time to do their job more safely.

PSA: You’ve all seen the delivery drivers throw packages in and out of their trucks, across fences, or into swimming pools. If you haven’t witnessed it personally, the internet has probably shown you a few examples of packages being tossed like beanbags all through the delivery process. Even when they don’t throw or mishandle packages, they are constantly falling over, rolling, or upended during handling and transport.

I won’t mention any companies by name, of course, but some bring you clothes, electronics, food, and toys for your children. It’s convenient.

You don’t think twice about it, I’m sure.

Without being specific, a huge range of things is shipped by carriers. They can send diagnostic samples, clinical samples, blood, human tissue, and about a 1,000 other things you’ve never thought about. I’m surprised how many people assume that such things are segregated on other carriers or trucks. They are not. Also, it’s important that people know that the classification systems used to determine what can be shipped are a little dubious. Some items are recycled medical devices which are treated as highly infectious inside their point-of-use, yet are packaged and transported on the same trucks as your personal items.

The same drivers you see throwing packaged from across the yard are often the drivers transporting the things I’ve mentioned.

Whether they are hazardous or not is at times subject to opinion. Many times, no one knows what is inside the boxes. Even if they do know, speed demands that the packages be handled quickly, not carefully. The packaging is at the whim and mercy of anyone who took the time to ensure it was sealed properly or not. Anything in the distribution chain, however, is subject to the same treatment that you’ve watched on YouTube videos. You can Google the issue for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what can be sent on the same vehicles as your children’s toys, clothes, and food items.

It’s a small leap in logic to assume that these unmarked packages sometimes containing hazardous materials spill, going out onto your food packages, baby toys, or laptops. You then touch them without ever realizing that they have been exposed to waste products.

Many delivery and shipping companies use contractors. These contractors control their own processes, pay for their own vehicles, and so on while using the logos of the respective companies. Speed and efficiency are prized factors at every step of the delivery process. If you didn’t know, many drivers often resort to urinating in containers in their vehicles, no matter whose packages they are handling. Think about it the next time a driver hands you a scanner to sign your name.

Although I have not expressed my point very well, it can be summed up this way: if you receive anything shipped, you should assume that careless people handled the items and that anything you receive might have been contaminated accidentally or negligently at any point in the process. Further, reducing costs tends to drive what processes and training are in place to protect us.

Those videos of drivers throwing your packages are simply the visible consequence of our poorly-managed distribution system.

 

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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Meet Wally Weasel, The Ineffective Customer Service Helper

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Meet Wally Weasel, The Ineffective Customer Service Helper. He can’t help you, no matter how trivial or serious your issue is.

I created it for one of our local multi-billion dollar corporations, the one with a tangible public relations problem on its hands.

Instead of ignoring a question or problem, Wally Weasel can step in and fix it all simply by saying “Dunno” and making us forget our real problems or what we were complaining about in the first place.

I think I might be onto something here. I pity all the local global corporations.

X

 

 

P.S. Bonus points if you can guess which global corporation inspired this mascot.

An Ode To A Supermarket

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After our food misadventure on Saturday, my wife and I or my wife and me (depending on whether anyone cares about grammar) whimsically decided to go find the new Harps Food Store in Lowell, the one by Goad Springs Road and Monroe Street. The weather was cold, rainy, and windy; since we survived a visit to one of our “Never Again” eateries, we were feeling adventurous.

The newest Harps is over by the incredible trail system and the nice Workman’s Plaza. (The section of trail on both sides of this location is among my favorites of the entire trail system.)

Upon our exit, we decided to ask that Harps demolish the location in East Springdale and build a replica of the Harps in Lowell. I’m not sure if we were feeling envious or jealous.

For those of you with youth still in your eyes, you should know that finding a great grocery store is right up there with winning the lottery or being able to reach that itchy spot on one’s back.

Dawn even found her much beloved sugar-free Tampico mango punch, a drink I got her addicted to a few months ago. A gallon of it costs less than a regular soft drink and tastes delicious. We walked around this new store, making faces of astonishment and saying ‘Aha!’ with each new discovery. Due to our visit, I even grilled yesterday in the afternoon typhoon. The selections were too good to pass up.

Since our move from one side of Springdale to the other, we’ve missed the Gutensohn Harps. It’s part of the reason we are afflicted with the diabolical Walmart Market on our side of town, the one dedicated to destroying people’s hopes and dreams.

The difference between this new Harps and the one in East Springdale is astronomical, both for presentation and inventory. The fresh salad bar almost made me openly weep. After falling in love with the Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs last year, I’m more likely to cry in a great supermarket than just about anywhere else.

I know it’s unfair, but I’m going to have to ask Harps to demolish the store by my house and build one like the Lowell location. Anything short of that will be a modern tragedy.

Also, the new Harps has a great selection of beer and wine. It’s strange that our East Springdale location doesn’t have it because it’s just plain science that those of us on this side of town have more motivation to drink ourselves into a stupor.

Signed, An Old Dude With Supermarket Envy
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Note: someone wrote to me on social media to say that the East Springdale location doesn’t offer alcohol due to an agreement with a liquor store on the edge of the property.  That was probably the best decision at the time – but is no longer a good strategy. Some people, especially the older demographic of the store’s base, feel a stigma regarding liquor stores. Moving the store slightly would allow Harp’s to build a new store, one with all the amenities in one location. As much as some people despise Walmart Market, having alcohol available tilts the scales for Walmart; otherwise, people have to make two stops, which lessens the benefit of Harps being so much easier to get in and out of compared to the bigger grocery stores.

One of the best things Harps ever did was to rebuild the Gutensohn location in Springdale. I’ll never forget the last remodel or how fascinated I was by the upgrade. The time has come to do the same for East Springdale. While I don’t have access to the profitabillity for the store in East Springdale, I assume by customer volume that it’s underperforming compared to the population density of the area. When I moved from my previous house in another part of Springdale, I knew in advance that I was going to regret it in part due to the lack of an amazing Harps in East Springdale.

If Harps builds a store comparable to the new location in Lowell, I would consider doing all my grocery shopping at the new location, as well a much higher quantity of  ‘on-demand’ shopping for lunch and quick meals. I’ve heard many of my neighbors say the same thing.

I also want to clarify that I have seldom had issues with rudeness from Harps employees, unlike the behavior I’ve suffered from Walmart Market across the street. Even when I encountered a malfunctioning pump that bathed me in gasoline or encountered critically out-of-date refrigerated products, Harps didn’t argue with the the details; they simply wanted to fix the problem. Also, Harps doesn’t have self-serve registers, something that seems stupidly obvious to everyone except Walmart.

Harps is the grocery store I want to flourish, for a variety of reasons. But Harps is continuing to the lose the grocery battle over in my neighborhood. They’re losing for no justifiable reason, too.

Please bring your bulldozer over and fix the one in East Springdale.

 

 

Coffee Kiosk Crying at Walmart

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At a local supercenter, they’ve had an on-demand Rubi coffee kiosk installed near the deli for most of the newer store’s existence. I’ve decided that its presence is, in fact, a complex social experiment to test us, much like the infamous “fat-free but great taste” all of us morons routinely fall for when we buy new foods, only to curse our ongoing stupidity.

Despite the coffee kiosk being installed for almost all the store’s history, I’ve never successfully managed to elicit a cup of coffee from it. My theory is that no one has – ever.

Today, in an incident which substantiates that I do have a sense of optimism left in my old bones, I approached the machine with suspicious eyes. This kiosk is an old enemy of mine, one whose promise of delicious coffee remains unfulfilled. I fed a dollar bill into its sophisticated electronic payment receptacle. From there, I continued to select options. I noted that a strange feeling of “This time it’s going to work” grew in the pit of my stomach. I watched in wonder as the successive notifications built to a stunning notification: “Your delicious cup of coffee is brewing.” I could literally smell it doing something with some unseen exotic coffee beans hidden in the guts of the machine. Yes, my mouth watered, and I’m ashamed to admit my optimism.

Then, without fanfare, the machine said, “Enjoy!” and then “Thank you!” The coffee cup, carefully positioned under the brew spout, sat empty. I swear I heard a scream of maniacal laughter from inside the machine as I made a face comparable to a four-year-old as he tried broccoli for the first time. I quickly looked around to see if someone nearby might be recording me for his or her own amusement. “Local Moron Falls For Coffee Kiosk. Again” would be the headline on the HuffPost story.

As most of you know, I routinely carry a stack of note cards in my back pocket. I took out my marker and wrote “Out of Order” on several cards and stuck those cards in every surface with a place to squeeze a card inside it. I wanted to write something a bit more curse-worthy, though.

I walked away to resume piling unneeded items into my wife’s shopping cart. Because I had been defeated yet again by the Rubi coffee kiosk and couldn’t shake the feeling of stupidity, I returned to the scene of my bitterness and corralled an employee from the deli area.

“Oh, my manager won’t leave the Out of Order signs on the machines because they are hand-written,” she told me when I asked her why the machine wasn’t marked. “Yeah, it’s been out of order again since at least yesterday. A bunch of people has complained. I bet hundreds of people have had their money taken by this machine since they installed it.” She laughed. She told me I could go to Customer Service if I wanted to be ignored by a different set of Walmart employees.

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy,” I told her. “Is that still their motto?”

I showed her the cards I had placed all over the machine. She was impressed that I carried cards in my pocket.

“So the manager would rather customers get defrauded than see a hand-written note on the machine?” I asked, just to be certain I had a clear grasp of the managerial stupidity obviously at work.

“Yes, it’s like Dilbert minus the entertaining punchline around here all day.”

I laughed. “Tell the manager that if he or she takes my cards off this machine, I am going to get my lost dollar back in the most creative way possible.” As I said this, I placed another card on the machine, one on which I had written, “Shop at Target.”

“Nice!” the clerk said and laughed again.

Currently, the Rubi coffee machine is at least 4-0 where I’m concerned.

Fairly or not, I’ve decided that the Rubi coffee company’s brand of coffee undoubtedly must take like boiled rat doodoo. It’s the only logical justification for NEVER having dispensed me a cup of coffee on any of my attempts.

I’d like to thank the unnamed manager, the one who thinks it’s better to knowingly leave a broken machine unmarked than to simply put a sign on it. It sounds like Walmart logic, of that I’m certain.

I’ll keep trying, though. The next time the machine wins, though, I’m going to have 500 notecards in my pocket, and each of which will be autographed and personalized in a such a way that everyone will be scandalized.