Thursday, August 7, 2008


My workplace has, over the years, developed a strong culture of hospitality. As I mentioned many moons ago, we are a "first name" organization, our signage is meant to be straightforward and intuitive, and there is an expectation that you not only offer directions if someone looks puzzled but you physically escort them wherever they may be going. We are a business, but we know that if you are comfortable in our house you will have a better experience with us, even though you probably don't really want to be there. While it makes for a great work environment, it sets one up for almost constant disappointment in other business-related exchanges.

Yesterday after work I stopped by a UPS Store in the busy Shirlington area of Arlington. I was lugging an awkward 3x3 box that weighed about 20 pounds full of computer-based augmentative communication equipment to send back to the vendor through a rental program at work. We order these devices for evaluations with people with ALS, MS, primary progressive aphasia, etc. about once a month, but typically they come in sort of a big suitcase thing that just clips shut (and rolls -- hurrah), but this batch came in the smaller packaging.

It was hot out, it took 10 minutes to find parking, and this box was weird to carry. It was also open -- the top of the box hadn't been re-sealed with packing tape, 'cause I don't keep any at my office. I'm no serial killer.

I roll in all disheveled and find no customers but 2 employees, both with their heads down tapping away on computers, with one other guy doing the same thing in the visible back room. I plop the box on the counter and no one looks up.

me: (throat clear)

mousy manager-type lady (without looking up from her nuclear secrets): What do you need?

me: I just need to tape this up and put the return sticker on it (thinking rather proudly, "I'm the easiest costumer ever").

mm-tlwlufhrns: We sell tape.

me: You can't just slap a piece of tape on it?

mm-tlwlufhrns: No.

me: Grrrr. I'll be back.

So of course I didn't bring any money, bank card, etc. with me. It never for a second occurred to me that they wouldn't do that given the price you pay for shipping and the fact that it was about $.03 worth of tape required to do the job. My thought bubble on the way out to the car, which is not close by, is full of #$%^ and *&@#!, trying to rationalize that I wasn't asking for a box and packing peanuts and all that junk, just a lousy piece of tape. Now I have to buy a stupid whole roll of tape I don't want. Maybe I'll tape their door shut with it, or tape my money to the counter. Car, money, walk back looking sour. Open door, grab first roll of tape, stand by the box on the counter while a new customer makes photocopies.

mm-tlwlufhrns: (pointing behind me) You should get that kind, it's cheaper.

me: (imagining leaping across the counter and literally biting her) No, thank you.

mm-tlwlufhrns: Oh, you want this kind?

me: I wouldn't say that.

Transaction follows and she still hasn't made eye contact with me -- $5.13 for my shiny new roll of tape. I start to tape the top of the box shut and have the main strip in place along the seam of the box, but I can't rip the tape from the roll.

me (and I'm not proud of this): Do you have a pair of scissors, or do I need to buy those too?

copy guy: (stifled laugh)

The new copy customer is now finished and comes to pay for his 4 copies or whatever he was doing while I'm finishing up my now overblown use of tape, as I have not only taped it up the middle but on each end and 3 up the middle.

Mm-tl who has now looked away from her nuclear secrets to collect some money from Copy Guy rings up the copy fee: It's $.52 but just round it down to $.50.

Seriously? Was this a kindness to Copy Guy or total laziness on her part so she wouldn't actually have to count to ten to make change? My guess is the latter, and now I'm ready to tape her head to the copy machine.

I walk out with my new roll of tape and leave it in a little cubby under the cup holders of my car, thinking that in some weird twist of fate in the future it might just save my life and I'll write a letter to thank this woman.

My response should have been to show her incredible graciousness and kindness instead of the overt animosity that I did -- I imagine there is some kind of corporate "no taping" policy that this woman was bound to (pun intended), as really, where would one draw the line? One box? Three? I can see how it could crush a multi-million dollar business. Even if it wasn't a policy and was just her decision to be a pain, I should have modeled the desired behavior versus perpetuating her attitude that being hospitable simply isn't worth it, that the public isn't worth it.

But I didn't. Maybe next month I'll tape a love note to mm-tlwlufhns to the box.

The picture is from and is a symbol of hospitality, which was clearly not hanging over the UPS store yesterday. Several years ago there was a patient whose girlfriend had this symbol tattooed just below her bellybutton, I suppose as a sign of welcome :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No joke, this same thing happened to Dan--you were WAAAY nicer than he was about it. I mean, really, a piece of tape?