Soon my sister-in-law will be in the country, and I’ve been busy arranging every detail. Booking hotels, planning routes, and making reservations. I called this restaurant yesterday, one of my all-time favorites, to ensure that we had the best possible table. And then I had the most offensive, surreal customer service experience of my life.
Firstly, let me just say, that if I call you–to order pizza, check on my student loan, ask a question at the bank or immigration office, or even to make a reservation, I’m going to ask you how you are. People seem to struggle with this.
They’re like: “Thank you for calling blah, blah, blah, this is blah, blah, how can I assist you?”.
I’m like “Good morning/afternoon, how are you?”
They’re like…(significant pause)…..”Fine?”
There’s this level of disconcerted suspicion, my asking how you are. I’m just trying to establish a bit of friendliness, acknowledge their humanity. Perhaps they’d prefer not to be reminded that they are a person. But in all my years of work in the customer service, I appreciate politeness. I appreciate kindness, compliments–“How are you today”, “Thanks for the great service”, what have you. My husband rolls his eyes in embarrassment whenever we go out for a meal, I’m always cleaning up the table, stacking plates nicely and thanking the server profusely. In every hotel we ever stayed in, he always implores me to not clean up the hotel. But, I’ve done these jobs, and it’s just nicer that all the towels are in the tub. I’ve occasionally stripped the bed , but then I stopped out of fear that the housekeeper would think something freaky had happened on the sheets, when it was just a girl with a colorful job history, who understands your pain…and is probably being a little too helpful.
When my husband and I were living in Australia, we did a big road trip up the Western coastline over Christmas holiday. On New Year’s Day, we were driving along the highway in the blistering sun, holding take-away lattes and sitting in comfortable silence, when a zippy little compact car passes our lumbering camper-van at extremely close range. Rocks and pebbles pelt the vehicle. It takes a couple minutes for us to notice the fist sized hole in the back windscreen. When we do, we both gasp and gape, and Ben immediately pulls to the side of the road. Amid the black flies and t-shirt drenching heat, there is not another car within sight. The entire screen is shattered, and making this horror-movie type groan.
My husband, being part Macgyver, springs into action, immediately running over the glass with the duct tape he always insists you bring on holidays. “This is why you always need duct tape”. he says before getting to work on saving the day.
When the glass is moderately secure, we get back on the road in search of a roadhouse.
No, not that kind of Roadhouse, sheesh, if only!
Of course, in Australia, you can travel for many, many miles without seeing…anything really. There may not be a roadhouse for a very long time. Okay…one more.
Jeez Louise would you look at those jeans! That fly goes on than longer the legs on that blonde in the bad wig, who’s trying to get a piece of the Swayze action. Ahem, my apologizes. There’s just something about Patrick Swayze that makes me digress. At long last, somewhere in the middle of nowhere we find a payphone, and fresh rolls of duct tape.
While Ben tries to fashion something out of the tape, a cardboard box, a Swiss Army Knife, I call the rental agency. Of course, I greet the person who answered with warmth, acknowledging humanity, and explaining the information in a clear and detailed manner.
“And what exactly do you want me to do about it?”.
I look over at Ben, who has his ‘project face’ on, and see that he is fashioning a rather fortress-like facility out of tape and shattered glass.
“Well…I guess we just wanted…to tell somebody”. He grumbled about not being able to do much, on account of it being a holiday. He could not have sounded less interested and seemed even less impressed by the sound of my voice on the phone. “It’ll take days to sort this out” he says, and I try to interrupt: “”It’s okay, we can make do, we just wanted to let you know that it happened…(you jerk off)”.
When we returned the vehicle, the back end wrapped in cardboard and duct tape, we brought photos of the damage. I even brought the offending rock in a small plastic bag. In the end though, it was all unnecessary, our insurance covered it, and they didn’t seem to care much at the rental office. What did I want from that grumbling voice on the phone, while huddled in a smelly pay phone, being attacked by flies like I was Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption”?
“Is everyone OK? Is there anything I can do?”
That’s all. There really was nothing that he could do. I appreciate that there’s nothing worse than working on a holiday. I would be grumpy too. But not grumpy enough to not give a shit about someone possibly stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
Okay–“Where is she going with this?” You wonder. “Whatever happened to the restaurant reservation at the beginning of the story?” You implore. “Will she show more pictures of Patrick Swayze in ‘Roadhouse’?” You query.
Well…I’m not entirely sure where I’m going either, but I do know one thing is for certain.
I call the restaurant, and when someone answers, there is an inaudible mumble. And then silence.
“Oh, I’m sorry? Is this BlahBlahBlah?”
“Okay, how are you this afternoon?”
“(clears throat) Um, I was hoping to make a reservation”.
“No, for a few weeks from now, but I wanted to get a great table with a good view”.
“On this date, for five people at seven pm”.
“Okay…so I’ll just confirm the name, date, the time and the guest numbers”
“You got all that?”
“Well thanks very much”.
And then I literally had to hang up on the sound of passive breathing. I was totally rattled by the experience. If I had to put money on it, I reckon it was a teenager working in the kitchen and no one else was around to answer the phone. But it bothered me enough to call back this morning. Not to complain, but to let them know, as so no one else would get that treatment. I’m glad I did call, because he had made a reservation for seven people at five pm, there was no mention of specific seating, and no name. We would have shown up that night, on my sister-in-law’s first holiday in Canada, and I would have had to go all Roadhouse on their asses. And I’d hardly be dressed for the occasion, and that would pick me off even further. Because if you don’t know the Roadhouse policy, I’m going to only say it once: ‘be nice, until it’s time not to be nice’. It’s not time to not be nice yet…and if you cross me after I have been considerate and polite…I will high-kick you in the face, right through the phone, and you will not see it coming.