How to be a Good Customer

…also known as How to Behave as Your Mother Taught You!

Monday morning, I experienced how being a good customer (aka PERSON) can lead to much more than a good cup of coffee.

At the breakfast buffet, I sat quietly while my very beautiful waitress poured me a cup of coffee. I observed her accent and asked her where she was from…

“The Ukraine” was her answer. I was intrigued and asked her if she missed home. She said that she’d been here a year and was here with her fiancee, so it wasn’t so bad. I agreed and smiled as she left to serve other customers.

There was a less friendly lady near me that believed she was entitled to a free buffet, but had no card saying so. She loudly discussed this with our server; who quietly asked her manager to verify. The manager continued the discussion and then checked at the front desk for the woman. It turned out, her group rate didn’t allow the complimentary breakfast. The woman still loudly insisted. To which the manager calmly explained that she could take it up further with the front desk. She stormed off with her laptop, “It’s on the website”!

When she came back, she explained to her companion that she indeed was wrong; that the group rate didn’t allow the free breakfast. She laughed it off, saying the print was so small. No apology to either our server nor the manager about the scene she’d caused.

After that, I noticed that no one went out of their way to do extra for her. They served her well, but not extra.

In the meantime, for me, the server kept my coffee topped up and warm and asked me where I was from. I asked her more questions each time she came to my table. I learned these things about the beautiful girl from the Ukraine:

  1. She’d been here for a year and was here with her fiancee
  2. She also modeled sometimes as another job
  3. She used to dance ballroom dancing in the Ukraine and missed it
  4. She is too busy working to have fun with her dancing
  5. But, she does have a cat and that makes her happy
  6. She’s been to Calgary once before and found it very beautiful there
  7. She works here every day and likes coffee too 🙂
I tipped her well as I left. Partly because I wanted to truly say Thank You and apologize for that other woman. Partly because I believed that this was a hard-working young woman, trying to make her way and I could help a little at least. Partly because I felt so good getting to know that this server also happened to be a person with hopes, dreams and a gorgeous smile.
The lesson about being a good customer? Take the time to see that the person serving you is just that; a PERSON who deserves courtesy, respect and a friendly smile. You’ll be surprised at the affect it has on them, and most of all, the affect it has on YOU!
UPDATE: and this morning I learned that she rides the bus to work and that the weather outside wasn’t as nice as the day before.
And my coffee NEVER got cold…and I started the day by saying “Hello” to a new friend 🙂

Pajama Bottoms at the Buffet – The Art of People Watching

These are the people I observed today in my quest for being alone and just being in the moment:

  1. I saw a young guy with a fuzzy beard go through the buffet in his pajama bottoms; twice. I’m pretty sure he still had his slippers on too. I wondered if he was just heading up to do tree planting or some other environmental job. He had his black toque on, ready to go into the bush!
  2. I noticed a family excited about the buffet. The little girl squealing in delight about the strawberries while her Daddy got her some. Mom went up there three times, but I noticed that it wasn’t until the third trip that she was getting food for herself
  3. There was my beautiful Ukraine waitress that deserves a post all her own…
  4. The woman that was full of entitlement. I listened as she claimed all that was her right. I wondered if she ever had any fun.
  5. I met the friendly house-keeping staff that kept calling me “Maam” and put my stuff daintily on a face cloth and gave me a complimentary bottled water just because I said hello and how are you and stopped and listened to her answer.
  6. Two young people, obviously on their lunch break, discussed the woes of work and of a manager that wanted them to make her look good and that she needed to be honest with them about that. They claimed they would think more of her if she just came out and said that instead of the bull that she had told them. It was interesting to hear their point about how that would motivate them more – her honesty – interesting how so many managers miss that one…
  7. I spoke to the hotel “handy man” in the elevator as I was heading down to workout. I learned that his knees can’t take running, but he walks as much as he can. He laughed about his belly and told me his son had his bike and he hopes to get a new one. Then, he pointed me in the direction of the gym and wished me well. I saw him 3 more times throughout the evening. He really does walk a lot.
  8. A fellow people-watcher; an elderly restaurant hostess sat me at the table so that “You can watch people like I do” and smiled knowingly when I told her her I was enjoying my alone time. I wondered if she was alone. If she had a smiling retired husband waiting for her at home or if she was working because she lost him…I thought of my own sweetheart…
  9. The boisterous table of ladies, likely conference delegates that were enjoying their “girl time”; talking and laughing and barely touching their food, everyone talking at once. We sure have fun when we do that.
I caught myself smiling several times throughout the day. I’m sure the casual observer of me was wondering what I was up to. My iPhone was beside me, but I didn’t bury my nose in it (like so many others – even an iPad at the breakfast table!) It was much more fun unplugging and just watching.
When was the last time you paid attention to the people walking by or standing beside you. Have you looked in the eyes of your server and genuinely smiled? You never know where it will take you…

Don Williams

The summer sun flashes through the trees as the big green “Super-Cab” bumps along the back-country road. Three gangly-legged kids “lounge” on the back bench with their knobby knees around their ears, while the sunshine blonde sits up front with Mom and Dad! 🙂 The 8-track tape skips occasionally, depending on the ruts in the road. The freshly washed and packed Skylark trailer is now covered in dust as the old truck climbs.

A familiar clearing opens up in front of the caravan; a winding stream along one side, mountains looming close by. Indian paint brushes line the clearing among the dead fall. There’s a dirt “road” leading back further into the bush, two deep ruts that the old Super-Cab won’t be attempting. The perfect spot for the yearly camping vacation.

There is the usual parental “discussion” as the trailer is parked and leveled – the four kids stay clear and explore to see if anything’s changed from the previous year. The stream has cut a deeper groove into the earth. Fresh moose “terds” along a new trail. A few more old campfire embers in varying spots across the clearing. Their “secret” spot no longer as secret.

Days out there are filled with exploring. They hike up the nearby mountain, to the top of the tree-line. Even the little blonde one makes it all the way up! The climb on the hot summer day leaves them anxious to get back into the coolness of the forest. The freckled one notices her sweater is missing when they arrive back at camp. Dad considers and allows the two oldest to go back up and get it. They are excited that he trusts them and believes they can get their faster on their own. It is a big step for those two – not treated as children. They recover the now-marmot-chewed sweater and beam with pride.

Rainy days mean board games around the tiny square table in the trailer. Chocolate puffed wheat squares and hot chocolate are eagerly devoured. The small furnace in the trailer and those 6 bodies crowded together make the windows fog up as the rain comes down. The summer storm doesn’t last long, and by early evening, they are tromping through the wet grass in rubber boots that Mom is always wise enough to bring along.

Evening campfires mean roasted marshmallows and stories of camping days past. As the sun goes down, dark shapes flit through the sky, gathering their insect breakfasts. The oldest one scrunches down in her lawn chair as low as she can, melting the bottoms of her running shoes when getting her feet too close to the fire.

As the stars come out and the yawns get bigger, Mom heats up a pan of water and they each take turns washing the day’s dirt and sticky marshmallow away. Dad kicks up the furnace as they climb into warm pajamas. The two littlest climb up on the bunk and are instantly asleep. The two oldest make way as Mom converts that table into a bed just big enough for the two of them. Mom notices that soon, those two will be sleeping out in tent on these trips, they’re almost too big for that trailer now. When did they get so big?

The oldest, as always, falls asleep with a song playing over and over in her mind:

Swiss Family Robinson

These cold winter nights, my thoughts turn to summer days at the farm. There was a time when the four of us were able to “play” together. There was no sitting around in the house during those days. Mom wouldn’t have it! Besides, we were industrious kids and couldn’t wait to head outside…

We’d made many tree houses before, but this one was going to be the best yet. We’d seen part of the movie “Swiss Family Robinson” on the soundless home movie reel (you know, the kind that had actual reels!) and we’d seen the amazing treehouse Mr. Robinson had built. That’s what we wanted!

Dad had given us access to the scrap lumber and scrap nails from his various projects. My brother and I had a “plan” of how we were going to build it – trap door and all to keep the tiger out! This one wasn’t going to be close to the house. We were big kids now – we were going bigger and further away!

There was a path through the trees out behind the house; tractor width that Dad cleared out at some point. The forest was cool and dark, mostly leafy poplar trees with a sprinkle of spruce in between. The cows used that path as well, so we had to watch our step as we hauled stuff out to our spot. It wasn’t unusual to step in a “pie” or two and if you had flip flops on….

We selected four sturdy trees, poplar, that formed an almost square. Another first for our tree house building days: four walls instead of three! For days, my brother and I carried and hammered. Our little sisters helped where they could, but they lost interest in the process at regular intervals!

We used the blue handled bow saw to cut up those rough boards. We “measured” with the tape sometimes, sometimes we just guessed. Dad’s heavy fiberglass hammer was occasionally out there with us, whenever we thought we could sneak it out there! Normally, we used the lighter hammer that was “ours”.

We’d learned to create cross braces for our floor so the boards had something to hold onto, plus, it allowed us to create a square trap door in the middle of the floor. We built the floor and left that part open. The tricky part was keeping the boards at the door even. We got smart and lined up the edge to the hole and then cut off the overhang out there at the wall edge.

The walls were easy – just kept adding boards on top of each other. For windows, we’d either line up shorter one to leave a space or we’d skip a board to leave a full wall length “firing” space (for keeping watch for potential pirate attacks).

The trap door – well, that took a few attempts. Originally, we wanted the door to be on hinges and lift up, but that didn’t work without hinges! Then we had to build a frame that FIT in our not-exactly-exact hole. Plus, it needed to be safe enough to be part of the floor so that no one (a.k.a. little sister that would tell on us) would fall through!

Finally, we came up with a solution that worked, complete with a ring that we could attach a rope to and be able to lift it up. But, we realized that we couldn’t open it from the outside with the rope and just ended up pushing it up and over from below. It was pretty cool from the inside as long as no one dropped it on you as you descended down through the hole…

The roof…hmmm…tricky. The top of the walls were at least 15 feet above the ground. Also, we wanted it weather proof because this was the Swiss Family Robinson tree house you know! No access to shingles, but, we did have a couple old cut up tin barrels that Dad had used at on time on a pig shed or something. We built the slanted frame so the rain would run off (pretty smart, eh!?) and give us something to nail the tin too. We hauled those barrels out there, avoiding most cuts from the rusty metal – tetanus be damned.

They were a lot heavier than we thought! We only managed to get one up there. Pulled and pushed with ropes and hands. That was enough for us! There was no way we were going to haul another one up there! We nailed it down and added boards in the open spaces. There, it was kinda waterproof!

My sisters enjoys the next part: decorating our new house! There were bits of scrap carpet and we built “furniture” with scraps of lumber – stools and little tables. There was even a shelf that we built!

We made a ladder that we could lift up when the trap door was closed. It had good days and bad days, nails were added when we needed them; even a new step or two when they broke. Each day as we worked, we’d take all the tools and nails back to the house and put them away at the end of the day. We’d be in big trouble if Dad found that we’d neglected taking care of our tools.

All summer and the summers that followed we’d go out there and pretend we were the Swiss Family Robinson. Occasionally, we’d be under attack from pirates. We had weddings and I would sing all the songs I knew for the reception. Some summers, we’d build fences around the place (that the cows always knocked down) and pretend that we were the Wilderness Family. Indians would attack those days. We’d create tools and kitchen “utensils” with bark, grasses and twigs. Other stuff would get carried out there and then taken back to the house.

Days and hours were spent in the coolness of our Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Inventing and imagining. Building and fixing.

Then, one day, we didn’t go out there anymore. I don’t know when it happened. I just realized that we hadn’t been out to the fort anymore. Sometimes we’d walk past it and reminisce about those days. For many years, it stood empty and echoing; grasses growing tall, branches and boards falling down. Dad never tore it down.

Then, another day, there were other kids out there. One, by himself for awhile until the others came along. Ones with brown eyes, some with blue; all that look a little like those 4 kids from those summers long ago.

We saw the Swiss Family Robinson tree house at the Magic Kingdom and it took me back to those days. I write this story for my children and my nieces and nephews. May their imaginations soar!

The New House – Swiss Family Robinson – 1960

The Magic

Night is falling in Florida at the Orlando International Airport. Back home, it is a quiet Sunday evening. My kids sit quietly; reading or playing video games (the 1st time in 2 weeks he’s done that!) My hubby reads on the computer. I am annoyed by the lady beside me, talking so loudly onto her cell phone; telling her kids over and over that she loves them and will see them soon. I breathe; I am ashamed at my annoyance since it’s obvious she really misses them while mine sit 2 feet away.

I scribble on a small pad of hotel paper, in between finishing the inspiring pages of “Bird by Bird“. Another family nearby is still wound up from the days of excitement in the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom.

That, it is.

Walt was on to something when he created places like this. He didn’t do it for the money, I truly believe that. He must have done it for so much more than that.

For the Dreams: The sparkle of life in the tired mom who thought she’d given up on crazy dreams. She is a little girl again. A princess. A fairy. A Pocahontas. In awe as the fireworks flash and crash. Dreaming of possibilities. Dreaming of the stars. That anything, really, REALLY is possible if you dare to dream.

For the Family: The dad that worries about not being good enough. Feeling lost and overwhelmed sometimes. Feeling like he’s let everyone down. He is alive again as he splashes and plays and explores new worlds with his children. The children who see him as the hero. Their very own Hercules. He even dares to see it too.

For the Kids: So sucked into the modern life of television, screens and Internet. Seemingly lacking in imagination and day dreams. Now, patient and ecstatic, little Energizer bunnies going mile after mile, entranced and enthralled with the world around them. Thrills and spills as they chance riding rockets to the sky. In the spirit of the moment, exploring Flick’s bug world or on Safari across Africa or soaring through the sky. Fully immersed in the day.

Walt was a visionary to see how much we would need places like this. Places to fill up again. To get in touch with ourselves. To see through a child’s eyes again – even kids don’t know how to do that anymore. We go so fast and forget to be there, in the moment. Walt’s World reminds us how quickly life will pass you by if you don’t slow down once in awhile and take it all in. Daring to dream, daring to be a hero or daring to have a little fun and get lost in the moment.

I begin again, with a renewed spirit, paying closer attention to the Colors of the Wind. Thank you Walt. Thank you my family for making this the best vacation ever!