(Note: The following are the events as I saw them. I have added my own impressions and interpretations and the whole should not be taken as a statement of record by those who might wish to sue me for my opinions.)
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Yesterday we had an enormous thunderstorm over our town. There were three lightning strikes within 100 feet of the house. We lost two TVs and two modems. (Plus with all the rain the stupid grass won’t stop growing.)
The power never went out, but the second strike was so close and so loud that Guinness, our dog who normally sleeps through such affairs, actually rose to his feet to stagger groggily across the room and settle on top of mine. Feet, that is. You could feel electricity in the air, and all the hair on my arms and legs was standing on end.
Several hours later we were trying to figure out what all had gone out and what still worked, and Lena asked me to go get her something to eat. We had a coupon from Burger King for a free Whopper so she asked me to go there. (It was about 3:00 PM on Sunday the first of July, 2007. The date is important.)
Now I freely admit that there was once a time when I really liked Burger King. This was well before I found myself living so close to store number 1951 at 1020 King Street, Jacksonville Florida. It’s about a quarter mile from our home, and once every six months or so we decide they can’t really be as bad as we remembered and we give it another try. Invariably, it is just as bad.
I started to list all the things that had happened to me while trying to give these people my money, but looking back over it I decided it was pretty boring reading as well as making me look seriously stupid for continuing to go back there. We’re talking about a dozen or so trips in an eight-year span, every one of which was disappointing, maddening, or insulting in one fashion or another.
So anyway, in I go, coupon in hand, through the downpour to get Lena’s hamburger. As I wait in line, the couple in front of me orders their meals, but the guy wants his burger without the sauce. The girl behind the counter explains to him that the sandwich he has asked for comes with sauce and that’s just how it is made, sorry, nothing can be done. (In my head, I start humming the “Have it Your Way” jingle in the Burger King commercials.) He tries a different tack, becoming Mr. Super-Friendly and asking, pretty-please and sycophantic smile, (he actually said pretty-please at least twice) was it in any way possible, to simply not put sauce on his burger?
The counter-girl, obviously irritated, said she’d see what she could do. She turned her head and began yelling, full bore, (making both the couple and myself jump) back to the kitchen from where she stood behind the register. She asked if they had already made the burger. They couldn’t hear her. Incredibly, she increased her volume and asked again. The couple backed away from the counter as the “conversation” wrenched back and forth with the kitchen misunderstanding at least half of everything said and our counter-girl making a spectacle of just how much trouble this was for everyone involved. Finally, when it became obvious that the sandwich that had already been made would have to be thrown away and a new, sauce-less sandwich made again the guy threw up his hands and said never mind, he’d take it with the sauce, he no longer cared, just please let him leave. Suddenly, in a completely normal tone of voice, (startling for it’s quiet) the counter-girl said, “It’s okay, he’ll take that one.” To which the girl who had been yelling from the kitchen replied in a regular and utterly understandable way, “Okay.”
Then it was my turn.
I walked up to the counter, holding out the coupon so she would know to ring it into the register as a coupon sale. I didn’t want to cause trouble.
“I’d like a…” I began.
“We don’t take those no more.” I was curtly informed. I looked down at the small piece of paper in my hand, thinking maybe I had read the expiration date incorrectly. She intuited my response and continued in a tone that let me know she had been through this plenty of times before and wasn’t about to be bowled past by the likes of me or my “facts.”
“I know it ain’t the date but I got rules an’ we don’t take that coupon no more so don’t even try it.” It all came out in a rush, and left me standing there blinking, as I assembled the pieces of what had just been said for meaning. I looked at her, hoping that possibly some further light might have been shed, but she just stared at me, much the way I imagine I must look while I watch the cat throwing up a hairball on a pile of new, unscanned comic drawings. The stare said “Move on Buster, I’ve got better things to not be doing than getting your stupid order.”
I moved on. Lena got no burger that day.
Maybe seven miles further there is a Chik-fil-a restaurant on Roosevelt and Wabash. We have never had a bad experience there. The place is less than five years old and we average about once a week. In that time I’ve had two meals that they messed up, and both times they immediately made it right with smiles and apologies. I’ve met the managers, they’re kind, competent people. I’ve never seen a manager at that Burger King — but I can tell you what I think he might be like. (Or her, I don’t really know.) He might be neither kind nor competent. He might be capricious and closed-minded, and he might have no respect for those who work under him. Employees reflect directly on the people they work for. Happy, eager employees work for imaginative, energetic bosses. Bitter, defensive and lazy employees work for childish A-holes who live to deflect blame and avoid work. The captain may be in charge of the ship, but he’s on the same boat as everyone else, and that’s no less true if the boat’s sinking.
In case you’re curious, the date on my coupon was July sixteen, 2007.