"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Not so Trival Tuesday: sending signals

Mike and I did a job for a new customer this morning. It was a tricky one, but all went well and we were "in and out" by lunchtime. This was one of those rare customers who likes to watch but doesn't like to interfere. He's a big NASCAR fan, and so is Mike, so there was quite a bit of friendly banter--just short of the "less talk and more action" point. This customer, Jack's his name, offered us coffee and food, even beer. We gratefully drank his coffee. Jack is also one of those exceedingly rare customers who smokes inside his own home. I'm so used to stepping outside to take a cigarette break, that it felt very strange to light up indoors. (I don't really miss it anymore, though it was annoying at first when the restaurants had to ban smoking.)

As I said, the job went very well. Mike and I work well together, and there were no glitches or product defects. This was our very first job for T. McKenna Plumbing, Inc.--so the fact that it went more than OK was wonderful. The real treat came while we were packing up. I noticed that Jack was on the phone. Then I realized he was calling our new employer. (This almost never happens, except in the case of unresolvable problems.) Jack made his call in front of us, without fanfare, but in such a way that we couldn't help but overhear. He was calling to say what a fine job we had done, and to compliment our employer and us. He also mentioned several times how nice the job turned out: it was a specialty, all-custom shower door in gleaming bright brass. Any tiny error would have been glaring.

I've had compliments before, even received some very nice tips. Every now and then, a customer will send a note to the office expressing his pleasure. Anyone in any service industry knows how much we treasure these beyond-price rewards. This was, however, the first time I'd ever actually been privy to a customer's "I'm so happy" telephone call. What a great feeling!

This got us talking. Jack was well aware of the effect his call had on Mike and me. We are all familiar with the opposite phenomenon. A displeased customer makes no bones about his feelings. You can be sure his displeasure will be aired, one way or another. It's all part of the squeaky wheel syndrome, and the fact that it's much easier to be negative than positive in life. How often have you seen signs planted in someone's yard protesting this or that, with the big red circle-slash over the disliked event? It takes someone with self-confidence, awareness, and empathy to offer up unsolicited positive feedback. Of course, the very rarity of compliments in everyday life also reinforces their value to us all. If everybody was thoughtful and nice, would we even notice?

Wrapping this thought up--think about this for a moment: how do you say nice things to other drivers? We have all sorts of gestures for various road infractions. The most popular, of course, is the flipping of the bird. Translate as appropriate to the offense. We can say "what the heck?!!?" by flaring both hands in the air. Several other more specific gestures are available, depending on the occasion. Anyone who drives busy roads has seen them all, and even sent some out to other drivers, I'm sure. On the other hand, unless you want to wave someone ahead ("you go first" or the like), we lack the means to communicate friendly or helpful thoughts car-to-car.

How would you tell another driver he has a headlight out? Or that his left turn-signal isn't working? Can you think of a way to say "nice car!" with your hands? Maybe a thumbs-up would do it, though I doubt the recipient would be sure of your intent. I once spent nearly ten miles trying to communicate this thought with another motorist: "all your personal belongings are flying out of your boat and landing in the road." It wasn't until we pulled alongside him, and my son rolled down the window to yell across to him, that we finally gave him the news he really needed to have. I still laugh about that one; I'm sure it wasn't the least bit funny to him! He probably thought I was trying to get by his truck and boat--that I was in some big hurry and wanted him to move over--right up until he finally got the message.

Years ago, some enterprising entrepreneur came up with what probably seemed to be a very good idea. He or she devised a simple system of signs with messages for other drivers. It was a cute little flip-chart on a stick, with various printed blurbs: "you're hot!" or "nice car!" or "wanna race?". Stuff like that. I thought it was a great idea at the time; but I never bought one. I doubt I ever saw one for sale. Those are probably worth a few bucks now. I'm sure you can't buy them new. I think most people are happy with the current system. You always have that one particular finger handy, whenever you need to tell another motorist he's "number one." And it's free, too. Maybe someday someone will conceive a brilliant solution to this whole communication breakdown. (My youngest says we should all have electronic signs in the back window that would display assorted messages--a cool idea, but expensive and unwieldy, IMO.) Until such time, I'll continue to work on the hand signal for "your back tire is almost flat, have a nice day!" How does that one go, again?

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!

Offering some lame excuses...

I'll admit freely: I've been a bad blogger. And this isn't my first offense, either. This is my space (well, not "MySpace" or however that one looks), and I'm the one who set the standards to which I had hoped to adhere. (Yikes!) I started this personal blog with good intentions, and lots of ambition. I still have good intentions, but the ambition's been hibernating lately, I swear. So I'm dissappointing myself; I am my own harshest critic, I suppose. But I haven't been posting much lately. No Tuesday Trivia, no Friday Song, or even Monday Musings (which I was never very loyal to in the first place). Sorry to me.

We've had a strange winter here. That's my excuse. My whole system is discombobulated. It's been warm, the grass has been growing, then it got cold, then warm again, then bitter and icy. Sheesh. Welcome to New York. My old job is ending, a new one beginning. Another excuse. Birthdays, Christmas, unexpected trips to plan...more excuses. Maybe I have nothing to say. (That'll be the day!) Maybe I have too much to say, and simply can't make up my mind. That's more likely. Life is mostly good here in Upstate NY, though. I can't complain, and nobody will listen anyway. So here I am, doing my pennance by keyboard. Exercising my fingers. I promise to do better. I really do. Next time.

I'll see you here then. Thanks for listening. Have a nice day. Please come again. Your call is important to us: please continue to hold. We're from the government, and we're here to help. Oh, nevermind! Do come back, and bring a friend. (Who was that masked man, anyway??)