GULF SHORES, AL -- It’s always been an American way of thinking that things will get better.
Progress and advancement are as big a part of our culture as cheeseburgers and Sunday naps.
The stock market has its ups and downs, but generally moves in a forward direction. Vehicles last longer than they once did. A few days ago, four civilians rode a rocket into space.
But the last couple of years are an anomaly, and I sometimes wonder about one particular area that may be forever on the decline.
Customer service almost across the board is growing worse. I’ve seen it in Target where I couldn’t break up a gaggle of four young people on the payroll to help me find some earbuds recently. Though finally repaired, the ordering machines at our local Sonic were broken for what must have been a year. Wal-Mart now allows you to come in and invest an hour shopping for a basketful of groceries after a long day at work only to tell you at the backed-up self-checkout they are not accepting cash. Have only cash? Too, bad. Your time’s been wasted, and nobody cares.
But an experience earlier today surpassed my wildest imagination. Here’s how it went down.
Dana and I are on vacation. This is not just any vacation. We are a couple who enjoy going places and traveling together and seeing new things, and the pandemic environment just hasn’t permitted travel for the last two years. So, we’ve really needed a vacation.
Our go-to spot at Perdido Key, just east of the sugar-white sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, seemed like the perfect, safe place to begin traveling again. Catch it right, and the Gulf is spectacular in the fall. You may dodge a tropical storm here and there, but details, details …
Our Friday drive to the beachfront condo seven-day getaway had us practically giddy. We were bound for a week of naps, reading good books, beach and pool lounging, and some of the best seafood you can find. And we’d do some touristy stuff, too.
That brings me to Monday. We were more than happy to visit a big touristy spread a few miles inland called The Wharf. If you know Gulf Shores, you know The Wharf is landmarked with a giant, slow-turning Ferris wheel rising high above dozens of overpriced shops with the top brand names – Yeti, Southern Marsh, High Cotton, and more.
We arrived at 10. Most stores didn’t open until 11. Not a big deal. No commitments. I’m on beach time!
As we strolled the sidewalks one store caught my eye with its window displays of outdoor wear and a particular brand worn by many fishermen. I was intrigued enough the wait for the store to open didn’t bother me at all.
This is apparently a very dog-friendly assembly of commercial shops. There are signs to that effect everywhere. People are out walking their dogs through the limited green space with the requisite pooper scooper.
At 11:02 a friendly young woman turned the lock and welcomed us to the store. Here’s the summary of how it went:
I walk around, drawn to the long-sleeved T-shirts – the kind you wear to look so cool while fishing in the fall. It’s all about the look down where the river bends at Round Bottom Valley.
The young lady asks if there’s anything she can do to help me.
“Just looking at shirts in the big boy section,” I reply.
“I love that shirt you have on, by the way,” she said, selling me up.
I decide to play the game, but it goes nowhere fast.
“You know, I got this shirt at…”
And before I can finish the meaningless sentence in this meaningless conversation, the young lady’s eyes catch a glimpse of another woman her age walking in with a dog. It was a dog she obviously knew, had a personal relationship with, and was more important to go hug than to make a sale with me.
She drops me cold in conversation and runs to the dog to do just that.
It’s like I’ve just been jilted at the Homecoming Dance for a better looking, more popular guy. Except it was a dog.
It is astounding how quickly this turn of events plays out. And since I am a guy who believes in customer service, all thoughts of a purchase vanish. As I’m walking toward the door, a six and a half foot, over-tanned bald man in a tie-dyed shirt, who is clearly the owner, makes a really dumb remark.
“You mean with all the stuff in this store you couldn’t find a single thing you wanted?” He’s clearly had one too many Red Eye Coffees.
Should I, or shouldn’t I? The urge to make a tacky retort surges up into my throat as my spirit tries to keep my lips from moving.
“No, but I’m sure that dog over there will buy far more than I could ever afford.”
Bad Steve – 1.
Good Steve – 0.
Back to the beach where the cool breezes and the rum punches await.
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at email@example.com)