15 December 2009
A Christmas Rant
(Photographs copyright 2009, all rights reserved)
I have a confession to make. The photo on the bottom is from LAST Christmas. Yes, that's Sarah up there in that tree (slightly blurry because the tree is moving, of course) and she's a lot bigger now. We ended up with just lights on that tree because decorations seemed fated to hit the floor no matter what we did. Also, you'll notice that there's no topper on the tree. This is because the only one we have is glass. It's gorgeous...and I refused to allow it to be anywhere near tiny paws.
This year I was smarter about it. I got shiny plastic and tin decorations that are unbreakable and if they do fall, no kitty will be harmed. They can't climb the tree any more because the branches are too close together, which is a good thing. Maybe next year I can use the glass ones....However, the second photo is hot off the presses - my improvised disco-fabulous tree topper. It's all plastic all the time, and I fully expect The Boy to pick on me no end because of it. I think it's cute, so it stays.
I have to confess, I love Christmas. If you know me, you know it's not for religious reasons. We have no children and not a ton of family, so it isn't about family for us either. Generally we spend Christmas on our own. I happen to like it that way. The Boy doesn't work in the week leading up to the holiday and he certainly doesn't work between Christmas and New Year's, so we get that time to ourselves - the rest of the year, he's out of town all week and home on weekends only.
I'm a sloppy sentimentalist at this time of year and only this time of year. Even Christmas shopping is fun. Finding the perfect gift is something I love doing. I adore getting the tree and decorating it. I LOVE putting up the outside lights, and I usually do that on my own, too. None of these things are terribly important to The Boy, but I suspect he likes watching me have fun, so it's all good.
I'll grant you that for many, this is the MOST stressful time of the year. If that's true for any of you out there, I highly recommend spending a quiet Christmas. Tell the families you're staying home and relax! Take away all the pressure of travel, cooking, family fights, etc. and opt out. Even if you only do it for one year, it will help you reconnect with the holiday and truly enjoy it. It's lovely and you can visit anyone you WANT to see AFTER the day.
However...this was a rant.
Every year, my mother sends a Christmas box. It's full of The Boy's favorite jam cookies, a book or two and things like fuzzy socks and kitty toys. Nothing fancy, just some ordinary and useful things. She wraps the box in brown paper, covers it with Christmas glitter stickers and tosses it in the mail in early December. However, by the time she's done (and haven't we all done this), it's not such a small box. In fact, it used to be the size of an apple box - now it's reduced to about half that size.
Our postie is great, but there's a size limit to what she's allowed to put on the truck, so this package is invariably left at the post office for me to pick up. I never thought of this as a big deal, and the actual picking up of the box is never really out of my way, usually just a quick stop on my way to somewhere else.
But then we moved....here. And our local post office, the Ravenswood Station in Chicago, is a disaster area. It's a big station with only a tiny frontage. There's space for only four cashiers at a time. No big deal. The staff have been there at the same station for a long time - that's a potential problem. Now, post offices in Chicago have been rated as some of the worst in the country in terms of service, speed and accuracy in deliveries. This was last year, and they're supposed to be working on improving that. I haven't seen a lot of problems, myself. Like I said before, our postie is a wonderful lady who's generally in a great mood and the station where I go to get stamps and send things out is wonderful.
That Ravenswood office, though. Yeesh. Put it this way. One year I was picking up the Christmas box. At that time, you were meant to go to a door and ring a bell, whereupon a postal employee would take your orange ticket, look at your identification and hand you your package. That's pretty standard. THAT year, I went to the box and rang the bell and....nothing happened. I went to move to the regular line after I had waited about 15 minutes with no response. It was 9:00 in the morning and the line was already out the door, because there were only two people in front, but I figured this was better than standing in front of a locked gray door...
No dice. One of the cashiers pointed at me and said, "You don't get packages in this line! If you line up here, we won't serve you!"
So I went back to the door and rang the bell again, whereupon the woman sang out AGAIN, "We know you're there! The more times you ring that bell, the more time you'll have to wait!"
I was seething. It took ANOTHER 15 minutes for someone to answer the door. Finally I heard the lock...and it was the woman who had been barking orders at me (and by this time, four other people). She seemed furious and delivered a long lecture to all of us in line that we were "mean" and that she didn't have to do anything for us. She looked me in the eye and informed me that if I ever rang that bell again, my package was going back.
Now this is only one incident with these people. I have been in there several times, and I have NEVER ONCE seen any of them crack a smile unless it was to a family member or friend. Several times I've been there during business hours and all four cash desks were closed at the same time. Seriously. ALL of them. On one memorable occasion, about half a dozen of us in line phoned the Post Office to complain at the same time. When someone finally opened their register 20 minutes later, we were all on the phone.
This brings us to today. I started the day in a terrific mood. All I had were a couple of errands to do, namely pick up the Christmas box and hop to Target to get one last present for a friend. No, I won't tell you what the present was. She reads this. There's some other stuff that needs doing - I have to make some cookies and do the big grocery shop for Christmas Eve dinner (game hens), but none of that needs to happen right this red-hot second. I actually had a really fun post to put up here this afternoon. Sigh.
But I went to the post office first.
As always, I went early enough so as not to hit the lunch rush - it was about 10:30 a.m. by the time I'd parked and got in the door. Again as always, the line was out the door, but there was a glimmer of hope because three people were there and they were actually taking clients. I went to the door right behind another lady who had already rung the bell. We waited for a minute or two, then the lady that I like to call "The Yeller" shouted that we had to get in line because things had changed. I took this as a positive development because the line seemed to be moving.
The three cashiers were talking to each other as always, and I've learned the hard way that they just don't exert themselves to push the line through. It was slow, but moving. There was an older Hispanic woman in line about three people ahead of me and when she stepped up, all hell broke loose.
Now this woman was obviously taking care of two grandchildren while their parents were at work. One of them was about six months old and sound asleep in a side-by-side stroller which was parked in a back corner out of the way. The other was a little boy of about three or so who was so bundled up that he could hardly move (think Charlie Brown). He was standing beside the stroller, waiting pretty patiently for a little kid.
When their grandmother got to the cashier, she had an orange tag like about half of us that were in line. The cashier took the tag and brought back the package, then demanded that the older woman sign for it and show some ID. This lady had no English, so it took a minute to get that across to her. It WAS a big thing to the cashier. She demanded, in English, a driver's license. Repeatedly, and getting louder with each repetition. Finally another fellow standing in the line translated, but it took a minute for them to get organized.
And this is where the fun starts. See, the grandmother, who had no English and was illiterate even in her own language, made her mark on the clipboard. She signed with an X. Signing with an X is perfectly legal. You can even sign a will that way. At one time, it wasn't even that uncommon. I clearly remember taking credit card slips that were signed that way. No, I'm not that old.
The cashier went skyward. She was demanding in English that this poor lady who didn't understand a word she was saying write her name. This cashier kept repeating "Write your name!" louder and louder while everyone in line looked on, getting more and more uncomfortable. She was oblivious. This was an inconvenience to her and everyone was going to know about it. It was obvious that she was starting to get out of control and didn't give a damn who knew it.
Meanwhile all the grandmother saw was a woman three times her size yelling things she couldn't understand. In about three minutes, this cashier, who was given a perfectly legal (albeit unorthodox) signature managed to reduce an elderly lady to tears. Finally the gentleman who had translated before stepped up to help. He somehow managed to get the ranting cashier to hand over the package and get the woman and her grandkids out the door without further incident.
The cashier settled down to take a few more people, muttering all the while about green cards and illegals (and if anyone wants to have this debate, let me tell you right now that it won't be entertained here). It took a few minutes, but it finally registered on her that about a dozen people would have gleefully thrown her in the snow and left her there, and she got angry again. NOW the muttering was about "doing my job" and "I don't have to take this shit" and whatnot. No apology. No acknowledgement that she might have been wrong. Nothing. She was just pissed because ... I don't know, people saw her lose it? Hard to say.
Naturally, when it was my turn, she was the free cashier. She looked me in the eye, put up her "next window" sign and tried to leave. It didn't work. She had to take me. I handed her my orange pickup card and when she went in the back to get the box, she pretended she couldn't find it. There was yelling out of the back room - she was claiming it was never there. She continued this game until I think someone put the box in her hands.
I have to admit that I couldn't resist. When she finally handed me the box, I asked if she wanted me to sign. She paused and said no. THEN she closed her window.
This is not a rant about the Post Office in general. Working with the public is never easy. The job is boring, they're on their feet all day and I'm sure that there are a lot of nasty people in that line up per HOUR, let alone on a daily basis. I know all this. I've worked my share of retail, I've waited tables, and I know how it can be. I've been there. I also know that if I had EVER treated a customer the way that poor woman was treated today I would not only have been fired on the spot, I would have deserved it.
We've had terrific postal service for the entire 9 years we've lived in the States. I have to admit that I'm still agog that people get mail on Saturdays here, because I don't think anyone else has that. One of the ladies that works in the station near us in Texas went a long way out of her way to help us get our mail when we moved here. The station in Chicago that I go to for stamps is also amazing. The staff are universally quick and pleasant and truly nice to people. They hustle because they know that if they get people through the line quickly they'll be dealing with happy people instead of cranky ones. I've never had to wait in line there for more than ten minutes, and that's during the Christmas rush. To everyone at the Graceland Postal Store at 3024 North Ashland Avenue here in Chicago, happy holidays - you guys are great.
No, this was one person, in one station where I suspect everyone has worked together for far too long. They seem to have made a collective decision that customers are nothing more than an inconvenience to them, put on Earth to get on their nerves. I've seen that staff displaying all kinds of behavior ranging from deliberately slow to rude to (today) downright mean. There was no excuse for what happened there this morning. None.
A message to you ladies: Being polite to customer is NOT a favor. It's your JOB. Deal with it or get out. No one wants to be treated badly.
I didn't just post this out of the blue. I DID contact the Post Office about it. Eventually I got a local customer service number. The folks at that office deal with complaints like mine and worse all the time. I told the woman I spoke to there about what happened and told her that I was going to put it in this blog. She was very nice about it, took my name and number and let me know that a Public Relations person will probably be calling me. I have no problem with that. In fact, if they contact me, I'll post about that conversation right here.
(This just in. I just got a call from someone in Public Relations. He listened, he told me that the retail manager was heading over to that station this afternoon and...we'll see. Like I said I'm not holding my breath. However, he DID say one thing that's interesting. Apparently, they've started a new initiative to make it easier for customers to report problems. There's supposed to be a telephone number posted in all of the post offices in this city that people can call to report problems. Obviously, it wasn't posted in that office, or I would have called it and saved myself some work. For any Chicagoans that want it, that number is 312-983-7800. He'll be checking in to see what I've written here. I gave him the URL and let him know that I was happy to have him comment.)
At the same time, I'm a cynic. I know that nothing is really going to happen because of this. Questions will be asked, none of the cashiers will have seen anything, and the one that lost it will claim I was seeing things. There will be no disciplinary action taken, no one is going to be put on notice to behave themselves and things at Ravenswood Station will go on as they always have. I don't really care. It's not as if I have to go there more than once a year anyway. It's clearly a localized problem
I'm still angry, though. How is it that anyone can feel free to abuse someone like that woman was abused today? Who does that? What kind of twisted logic makes that all right? What's with the racist crap? What kind of society do we live in where someone in a public position can be that nasty and her co-workers watch this and do nothing? Does she get some kind of sick thrill from hurting people?
This appalling behavior is not all that unusual. I know that. My own great-grandmother never learned to speak English well, even though she was born in Canada. This sort of thing happened to her all the time. There are jerks all over the place who seem to think that they can force someone to understand them just by yelling loud enough. They don't understand (or choose to ignore) that this can be frightening, especially to non-English speakers who don't understand what they could have done wrong, but it is terrifying to someone who is elderly.
Oh well. So much for the good mood of this morning. I guess I might as well sit down and pay a stack of bills, right?