Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Service? What Service?

Civility in politics has taken a nosedive, and so has civility in everday life. This past week, I took a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, from Minneapolis, for a conference. It started off all right-just two incidents that cost me money. The first happened on the ride to the airport. A ramp was shut for road upgrades that led to a detour and a $10 boost in cab fare.

The second was at the airport when a polite bag handler informed me she had to charge $15 to get my bag on the plane. I immediately wondered why she didn't weigh me and my bag and if I racked up less than the average weight of individual passengers and their bags then I shouldn't have to pay. But that wouldn't pass muster because such policies would discriminate against overweight people, even though such a strategy is consistent with charging for bags because of their weight.

At the hotel, I found someone also attending the conference to share a room with, but to cancel the reservation, I had to pay for a full night's stay even though I could not use the room. I did the calculation. I would not save a cent if I cancelled the room and moved in with someone else. No matter what, they would get their pound of flesh, even though I would never stay with them again and will tell everyone about them. The Peabody Hotel in Little Rock. Their duck parade is cute. Everyday they herd ducks to and from a small pool in the lobby.

Back at the Little Rock airport on my way home, I checked in to get my boarding pass. The kiosk demanded $15 for my bag before it would give me my boarding pass. I slid in my credit card that has worked all over Europe and the US. The machine would not take my card. It gave me the message, "See the attendant at the counter."

An attendant had been at the counter for the five minutes or so I tried to persuade the machine to give me my boarding pass. During that time, she had had no customers. I walked the few feet to the counter and said the machine told me to talk to the attendant. She said the attendant would be right with me. Wasn't she the attendant? I waited a few minutes. No other attendant showed up, and the attendant who was standing there ignored me.

I thought I should try another credit card. I walked the few feet back to the machine and slid it in. It worked. I got charged $15 and the machine printed my boarding pass and receipt. I pushed my bags back to the counter. I handed my driver's license and boarding pass to the attendant who had been standing there the whole time. She said, "That will be $25." I said, "I just paid $15. You want $25 more?" She said, "It costs $25 per bag." I said, "The machine charged me $15. I paid $15 in Minneapolis." She said, "Show me the receipt." I showed her the receipt.

She tapped on some keys on her computer. She said, "Ok." She put a luggage tag on my luggage and left it where I had placed it. I stood there waiting for her to put my luggage on a conveyer belt. She tapped a few keys. She must have noticed me standing there.

"You can bring your bag to be x-rayed," she said, as she motioned with her head to a machine about 20 feet away. I pushed my bag to the designated machine. The handlers said nothing when I said, "Hello." I sighed.

I got through security. As the wait person at the fast food joint, handed me my fries and blackened chicken sandwich, I asked for salt. The wait person pointed to a box containing hundreds of little packets. I looked through them. Every packet was stamped "pepper." I said to the wait person, "I looked. There isn't any salt in there." A man next to me said, "I saw one packet." The wait packet reached in and grabbed a packet and slammed it on the counter. Indeed it said salt. Then I saw a second salt packet among at least 200 peppers.

Her impatience annoyed me. I said in a loud and sarcastic voice, "Thank you very much for the excellent service." She smiled. She was genuinely pleased. She said, "You're welcome. Come again." She meant it.

Fiona Speaks is a pseudonym of Jane Gilgun who likes to laugh and talk. This blog is a way for me to connect with witty people who like to talk about ideas and how to connect with what's important. To do this, I want to examine and demystify the blocks I see to building connections and community with other people. Join me.

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The blog is for witty people who want to build community. In this world that seems to be so full of witless efforts to self-aggrandize, I want to promote the simple idea of human connection.