Remember the Little Guy

February in Ohio is bleak. The once beautiful blankets of snow now lay in plowed heaps, scarred by hundreds of footprints, and stained black and grey by the mixture of cinders, salt, and gravel that helps us all keep our footing on the now ice coated tundra. The sky is grey and overcast, the temperature is below freezing, and the unployment rate is the highest this area has seen in over 30 years. Most of those who are lucky enough to still have a job have had their hours cut back. Familes are struggling to pay the bills and many are losing their homes, their cars, and their dreams. Add to that the arrival of the height of flu season for many without adequate health insurance, and you get a picture of what my neighborhood is like.

Nearly every person you pass on the street is potentially a ticking time bomb. People are stressed, overwhelmed, desperate for work, and without hope for relief anytime in the near future. They exisit simply by putting one foot in front of the other, until something better comes along; until a miracle arrives.

A Simple Trip to the Post Office Gets Ugly

We trudged through the icy streets, fighting against the bitter wind and stepped into the slightly warmer foyer of the post office, where the  loud hiss of the old steam radiator fought to take the chill out of the air. It was failing miserably.

We waited our turn in line and I surveyed the two clerks behind the counter. One was younger, had a pleasant smile, and a soft voice. The other was nearing retirement age, looked as if she had sucked raw lemons for breakfast and desperately wanted to be anywhere but working behind the counter at the Post Office. I was hoping we would get the pleasant clerk- no such luck, Betty.

I placed my pile of envelopes on the counter and smiled warmly. “I need postage for these, please.”

She met my smile with a blank stare. “Are there any valuables, sharp objects, or fragile materials contained in any of these?”

I tried the smile again, “Well, there’a a computer disk in a hard plastic case in this one, is that ok?”

She frowned and looked disgustedly at my little one peeking over the edge of the counter at her as if she were a child-eating monster. “I can’t guarantee it will arrive intact. Items like that must be packaged in a padded mailer. This type of envelope,” she held up my clasp envelope in disgust, “is for paper products only.”

Ok, so I’ve never claimed to be a stationary expert and I don’t often mail packages through the USPS, I prefer UPS for packages. I also prefer UPS because the clerk doesn’t try to make me feel like an idiot.

I smiled again, only a shade cooler this time and prayed that I wouldn’t say something I shouldn’t. “Do you carry padded mailers in this size that I can transfer it to?”

She slapped one on the counter and began sorting my other envelopes. I removed the disk from the old envelop and picked up the ugly black pen on a chain to print the addresses on the new mailer.

“I think your pen is croaking,” I said without looking at her.

“What? How can the pen be broken?” I didn’t bother to try to correct what she thought I said.

“It doesn’t write. I think it’s out of ink.” I held up the mailer so she could see the barely visible first few letters I had printed.

She grabbed the pen from my hand, slapped a sheet of paper on the counter, scribbled furiously, then tossed the pen in my direction. “You just have to press harder.”

I chewed the inside of my cheek and avoided making eye contact, lest she see the fury that was building. I finished writing my information on the mailer, making several holes as the pen poked through the “padded mailer” in an atempt to lay down the last drops of ink in the well.

I folded up the old envelope and looked for a trash can. None in sight. “Could you put this in the trash for me, please?”

“Absolutely not! ” she yelled. “That would look like I tampered with the mail! There is a can in the foyer. You can put it there.”

I sighed. There was no winning with this woman. She could suck the shine from the sun.

I handed over the mutilated mailer and waited as she calculated my total. There was an ad on the counter for print-your-own stamps with an adorable dog on the cover. “What a neat idea.” I said, pointing to the ad as I handed over my five bucks.

Instantly, her demeanor changed. “I know! I print off stamps with pictures of my dog. He’s a Chihuahua and as cute as a button!” It figures, her dog is king of the world, but people are scum in her book.

I asked her a couple of questions about her dog while I put the change in my coat pocket and collected my kids from the far corners of the room, where they were dicussing how to break into the post office boxes to get the pirate treasure that was surely hiding there. I wanted to leave on a positive note.

Fresh Air

As I walked to the car, I realized that my interaction with the lemon-sucker had dampened my mood considerably. Maybe it was my personality, maybe I cared too much about others, maybe I was a little emotional about visiting the post office, where my father worked for 30 years before he died. Perhaps it was a combination of all the above, but I knew that I would not be doing business at this post office branch from now on, regardless of the source of my discomfort.

So what’s the point of all this drivel? When you’re dealing with your customers, always remember the little guy. He has feelings, he deserves to be treated with respect, and he may turn out to be your most valuable customer- or your worst enemy. You see, I asked around. I talked to another postal employee about customer service and without providing any names, he mentioned a particular clerk who was in danger of losing her job because of customer complaints. One more write up in her file would mean a thirty day suspension. There were plenty of others waiting in line to take her place.

I didn’t file a complaint. But I could have.

Treat every customer with respect. You never know what the future will bring.

6 Responses to Remember the Little Guy
  1. Writer Dad
    February 6, 2009 | 6:09 pm

    Wow, Jamie. That was awesome. Not the experience, just the way the tale was told. My favorite part was, “she could suck the shine from the sun.” That gave me a snicker snort.

    Writer Dad´s last spectacular blog post..Building a Bridge

  2. Writer Dad
    February 6, 2009 | 1:09 pm

    Wow, Jamie. That was awesome. Not the experience, just the way the tale was told. My favorite part was, “she could suck the shine from the sun.” That gave me a snicker snort.

    Writer Dad´s last spectacular blog post..Building a Bridge

  3. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)
    February 6, 2009 | 6:52 pm

    I hate to drag anyone down further, but everyone who works at our post office is exceptionally crabby. Consistently. I brace myself every time I go there, and later, I typically have to vent to my husband about “government employees” and “customer service” before I feel better.

    But moving on…your ultimate point is such an important one. It reminds me of the answer I gave to my blog reader who asked what my one wish for the world would be: Compassion. Pure and simple, I think seeing others with compassion can do more to change the world than anything else. Just think of the ripple effect!

    Kristin T. (@kt_writes)´s last spectacular blog post..25 questions part III: Love, family & community

  4. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)
    February 6, 2009 | 1:52 pm

    I hate to drag anyone down further, but everyone who works at our post office is exceptionally crabby. Consistently. I brace myself every time I go there, and later, I typically have to vent to my husband about “government employees” and “customer service” before I feel better.

    But moving on…your ultimate point is such an important one. It reminds me of the answer I gave to my blog reader who asked what my one wish for the world would be: Compassion. Pure and simple, I think seeing others with compassion can do more to change the world than anything else. Just think of the ripple effect!

    Kristin T. (@kt_writes)´s last spectacular blog post..25 questions part III: Love, family & community

  5. Lance
    February 7, 2009 | 4:46 am

    Hi Jamie,
    If you love what you do…it shows…

    And to Kristin’s point – it we all showed just a little more compassion – a real caring for those around us – that goes a long way too.

    Everyone counts….

    Everyone.

    And here’s to finding that pirate treasure somewhere…it’s out there! Somewhere…

    Lance´s last spectacular blog post..Smile!

  6. Lance
    February 6, 2009 | 11:46 pm

    Hi Jamie,
    If you love what you do…it shows…

    And to Kristin’s point – it we all showed just a little more compassion – a real caring for those around us – that goes a long way too.

    Everyone counts….

    Everyone.

    And here’s to finding that pirate treasure somewhere…it’s out there! Somewhere…

    Lance´s last spectacular blog post..Smile!

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