Two Reports from the Customer Side of the Counter

Story 1: Rent-A-Responsibility

I was renting a car last week, which given my previous life as a traveling consultant, is not something that is new to me. However, I rented from a different rental agency this time around, since The Company tells us who's giving us the best deals.  This rental agency (let's call them the Happy Fun Agency!) apparently provides copious quantities of mood enhancers to their employees, so much so that when you're greeted by a beaming agent who is holding the door open for you, you secretly wonder if it's five minutes to five on a long weekend, and if they have any drugs they can share with you.

Happy Fun Agent makes an inordinate amount of small talk while trying to get through all my renter's details, and eventually shores everything up and says something which makes my sphincter clench:
"So, we've got a PT Cruiser for you. Will that be alright?"

I visibly wince, and wait. I've learned a little trick in dealing with people: If you give them the time to speak, rather than prattle on about your view of the problem, they'll usually come up with a solution, or at least think about it. So I waited.

HFA says, "Unfortunately, sir, with all the snow and ice we've had this week, we've been renting all our cars out for insurance cases"

I nod in silent acquiescence, still not happy about the situation.  HFA shrugs understandingly (and empathetically), his broad chicklet-white grin not wavering. Just then, I see headlights as a car pulls up to the store front.

"Unless you want this guy's car!", says HFA

I briefly consider that I'm nearly late to get home to take over with the kids but I'm far too excited about NOT getting the PT. I gladly accept the offer of the Toyota Corolla, sacrificing cruise control. This means, of course, that I've got to wait another ten minutes while they clean and prepare the car for the next rental. Which means: more small talk with HFA.

HFA: "Where are you off to?"
Mike: "Oh, just to [place that is about an hour away]"
HFA: "Sure hope the roads are clear!"
Mike: "Uh, yeah."
HFA: "Who'd you say you were with again?"
Mike: "[The Company]"
HFA: "Ah. Fun!" (It should be noted that just about everything that came out of HFA's mouth had an implied exclamation point.)
Mike: "Heh. Sure"

And then, amid the chatter, HFA crosses an invisible line.

HFA: "So what are you in charge of?"

I stop. I blink. And then consider how to answer this question. In charge of? Apparently worth as a worker is defined by what one is in charge of. I suspect HFA was in charge of the Windex and the mouse pad, but I chose not to go there. I played the "this conversation is over" card by saying, "Oh, I'm an economist. I work on policy stuff." [Ed. Note: This line works equally well at parties, bars, funerals, or anywhere else you're faced with people you don't really want to talk to.]

And that about ended the conversation. A few minutes later I rolled out of the lot in my rented Corolla.

I think next time I'll say I'm the Head Mouse, in charge of All the Cheese. If nothing else, HFA's head may explode trying to process that.

Story 2: Checkout Girls Should Have a Fitness Program

While shopping for some necessities (granola bars, deodorant, oranges -- I tend to flit around the grocery store when I'm shopping alone) the other day, I very nearly missed the opportunity to go through the Express Checkout, which meant waiting behind some check-writing octogenarian or chatty Cathy or snot-nosed darling who is trying to taste all the gum through the packaging and playing with the display newspaper and wiping ink all over everything. This time I hit the jackpot. The Checkout Girl and the woman in front of me were going on and on about "their rings". Happily, they were not discussing facial piercings, but engagement rings. Or, perhaps given the personality of Checkout Girl, it was only a promise ring.

They went on and on about how long they were with their fianc├ęs and boyfriends (they each used different terminology) and when the weddings would be (Unlike the customer, Checkout Girl could offer no timeline.) and some four or five minutes later, I was up to bat.

Now, there's something you should know about me. I, too, can be a joker and a chatter when it comes to cashiers and wait staff, but only when it seems fitting (i.e. they seem friendly and interested) and they're not horribly busy or that the combination of work and small talk will cause them to throw a lobe. Okay, sometimes when they're complete curmudgeons I'll try to annoy them with conversation, but rarely. Anyway, this time I really had nothing to say, mainly because I did NOT want to open the door to talk about boyfriends, weddings, and rings. I could estimate that this girl was in her early 20s (the customer was probably closing in on 30), so clearly she and I would not have much in common unless she happened to be an O.C. or Gossip Girl fan. But I digress.

With relative efficiency, she worked her way through my 14 items (damn you, extra four items!) without having to consult the little flip-book with pictures of vegetables in it before landing on the box of Huggies size 5 diapers. She took one look at the side of the box and said, "Is that how much it weighs? Because I can't lift 27 lbs".

I admit, I wasn't really paying attention to what she was doing, so I adopted a rather stunned look.  What exactly was she asking me? She pointed at the corner of the box. I looked closer to where it said, "Size 5. 27 lbs / 12 kg." Did she not realise that was the weight of the child who wears the diapers, and not the weight of the box of diapers?

I said, faking a laugh, "Wha? Uh, no. That refers to the kid, not the box."

She adeptly feigned airheadedness: "Oh, hee hee. Yeah, I don't know these things. I'm too young for that kind of stuff." [Implied: Unlike you, middle-aged customer.]

Seriously, folks.

And with that sentence, so many thoughts came rushing to me at once that I had to just look away and bite my tongue. How a I replayed the conversation over in and over in my head on the short trip home, and The Lovely Wife agreed that this was about the funniest thing we've ever heard in the four years we've been buying diapers.

(To those of you who didn't clue in, that's okay. You're probably not buying diapers regularly.)

Posted bythemikestand at 8:46 AM  

4 stepped up to the mike:

meegiemoo said... 10:14 AM, February 15, 2008  

Heh. I work in the mystical land of "policy" too. I find that once I tell people I work in the policy realm that pretty much ends the conversation.

Anonymous said... 10:45 AM, February 15, 2008  

I am one of those weirdos who would actually ask about your policy job. Really. I think I'm a bureaucrat at heart. Or dictator. Whichever.

There's a certain male cashier at an unnamed grocery store whom I want to punch in the throat. I will stand in the longest line in the store, with the slowest trainee, with my three items behind the change counting octogenarian, just to avoid this guy. There is something about his sh*t-eating grin and idiotic small talk that makes me insane. I think he might be the first person I've ever met that makes me feel that level of violence.

Megan said... 12:17 PM, February 15, 2008  

Story 1) I doubt that if it was five minutes to closing time on a long weekend Happy Fun Agent would be so happy- I think he would be more like "Get the heck out of here so I can close up and go enjoy my weekend."
Story 2) Dang, wouldn't that be a LOT of densely packed diapers to be 27 lbs worth? Hey, that sounds like a fun father-son weekend science experiment for you to do!

richgold said... 5:13 PM, February 16, 2008  

I would have responded with a lobe-throwing comment like - "Nah. That's how much they hold before they explode!"

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