Just to prove I can unload invective as well as sweet reason, as long as my targets are anonymous idiots, I had a fun time today going to pick up a leaf blower (having discovered that our relatively large new yard and its many maple trees is pretty much a Sisyphean job to rake this time of year).
1) Idiot #1: the high school kids who were weaving in and out of traffic to collect money for some worthy cause. I hate it when anybody does this, but these kids were especially dumb about it: the one kid with his bucket was actually standing in front of a line of cars in a busy main road waiting for some pedestrian off to the side to get out his wallet.
2) Idiot #2: the guy at the video store next to the place I got the leaf blower who insisted on running through the whole spiel about how I should join the $30.00/annum membership club at the store to get discounts. Me, as soon as he started: “I’m not interested, thanks.” Him: “You’ll save lots of money every year.” Me: “I don’t shop here except once in a blue moon when I have to come down to this mall to get something else.” Him: “Membership is only $30.00! You’ll get back the cost of membership in no time.” Me: “No, I won’t. I mostly order DVDs from Amazon.” Him: “Along with your membership, you’ll get our exciting newsletter.” Me: “CAN I PLEASE PAY FOR MY MERCHANDISE?” Him: “I haven’t finished telling you about the membership policy!” Me: walks away.
3) Idiot #3. Leafblower bought from dying chain store. Guy who rings me up: “Your leafblower comes with a two-year warranty, but for a mere…” Me: “I don’t buy extra warranty coverage, thanks.” Him: “I haven’t finished yet.” Me: “I’m not interested, thanks.” Him: “It’s only $30.00 [about 25% of the purchase price] for an additional two years of coverage, with free replacement of your blower in the last two years of coverage if anything goes wrong.” Me: Silent stare. Him: “So shall I add the protection plan?” Me: “No.” Him: “It’s a great deal.” Me: considers walking away again, but that would really be a wasted afternoon.
4) Idiots #4 and 5: Narrow lane in parking lot outside. Extremely elderly woman in giant boat car blocking my car from getting out. Extremely elderly woman #2 who is evidently a friend of #1 blocking the opposite direction. They are chatting with each other through the open windows of their cars. Cars are backed up behind them in both directions: difficult for anyone to back up, and five cars back they can’t tell what the hell the problem is anyway. Me: waits patiently. Considers posting a very reasonable blog entry addressed to the two old women recommending courses of action that would help preserve civil public discourse. Me: tries to ethnographically imagine their frame of reference and sympathetically see things they way they see it. Me: I’m fucking lying, I honked my horn. Old lady #1 briefly glances in my general direction, keeps talking. Other cars join in the honkage. I finally get out and yell at them. Lady #1: “FUCK OFF!” I get back in my car and try to remember whether my insurance will cover me if I back up at 45 miles an hour into them. Decide it will not. Wait. Four carefully counted minutes pass and they finally end their grand summit meeting.
The thing with the stores especially annoys me, though. Our local bad supermarket is like that, too: infected by fourth-rate B-school middle management jive. Their big thing is to greet customers by name when they see your name on a debit card or credit card receipt, which I’m sure some consultant says makes people feel at home. Me, it just creeps me out vaguely. It’s the supermarket, it isn’t Cheers. They also ask everyone if they can help you out to your car, which is insincerely pro forma–the first time I saw someone actually ask for help (a guy in a wheelchair) the cashier put on a big martyr act with eye-rolling, and so on. All of this is evidently judged to be a better way to work on customer retention than stocking the goods that many customers want. Middle-management nostrums are not going to save this market and others from getting squeezed out by Wal-Mart (or Trader Joe’s) on the discount end and Wholefoods or similar chains on the quality end, any more than they’re going to get me down to the mall more often or get me to drop money on a pointless warranty extension. I’m sure all this looks like it’s helping on the bottom line in the extremely short and constrained short-term, but equally sure that in the long-term it’s just pavement on the road to losing market share. Big companies are no different than most bureaucracies: the guys at the top can only see a big picture, the guys at the bottom have no say, and so the guys in the middle get to run around doing a fine imitation of Dilbert’s boss.