Treating people right

I’ve made it a mission in my life to praise people for doing right.  Especially employees in stores that give exceptional service.  I’ve worked in service industry jobs too long, and know that all too often the managers only hear what’s wrong with their employees.

So, many years ago, I started asking to talk to managers when I received exceptional service.  This created a very humorous occasion when I asked to speak to the manager about excellent service a gentleman gave me when I was trying to pick out a camera, only to find out the gentleman who gave me the excellent service was the store manager!  In that case, when I arrived home, I wrote a letter to corporate to give credit where it was due.

So, in that spirit, I want to talk about two recent interactions in stores I’ve had.

The first one was a local Target.  I hardly ever shop at Target.  It’s not that I have anything against them, just I never go there.  However, this last week, I needed to pick up a couple of things at a store, and the Target happened to be in the parking lot I was already in.

I’m having issues with walking and breathing (or talking and breathing, or standing and breathing, or really, doing anything and breathing) right now, due to the air quality we’ve had for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve seen a doctor, and it’s just a matter of resting and healing now.  :\

Walking around a big store, and the Target I’m talking about is a Super T, is just not something I can handle well.  However, I feel very self-conscious about using the carts some stores provide for people to use.  I’ve seen too many comments of “That fat person is keeping those carts from people with REAL disabilities” or “Being fat isn’t a disability” or “If you’d exercise, you wouldn’t need to use that cart!”  So, I do my best to never use one of those (not even when I was on crutches after the surgery in ’07).  This time, however, I had to use the cart.

Since this was a brand new store to me, I had no idea where anything was.  So I was zipping all over the store, looking for the things I needed, and things that interested me (because, hey, shopping, amirite?).

The first time I saw a store employee, he asked me if I needed help with anything.  I thanked him and said no, and kept truckin’ on.  I was astonished by the offer because I was in two invisible demographics at this point:  fat, and using the mechanical cart (showing some sort of disability).  But then I thought maybe he had a family member who was disabled, or he’d been temporarily disabled at some point, and was more conscious of it.

But then it happened again, with a different employee in an entirely different area of the store.  And then, yet again by a third employee, in yet another area of the store.  At one point I actually did need help (to find Conall, who’d gone looking around someplace else, and whom I couldn’t find since I was shorter than I usually was), and the lady I approached did not try to avoid me, walked towards me when she saw I was driving towards her, and started to walk me to where they could page Conall (as she didn’t have a way to page over the intercom system herself).

It became obvious to me that the employees are trained to not discriminate against ability factors in their offers of help.  Seriously, I’d go back to that Target again, even though it’s a bit more expensive on some stuff than even my regular grocery store, because the service is excellent.

I don’t know if this is a Target wide policy, but I will sure be calling Target home offices and complimenting them on the helpfulness of the employees there.

The other place is a store I go into semi-regularly, and is Whole Foods.  There are two stores near me, and depending on what side of town I’m at, I make use of both of them.

Now, I know  Whole Foods does discriminate against fat employees.

In a letter to employees, Mr. Mackey claims that “Supporting Team Member Happiness and Excellence is a very important core value.”   While there is certainly evidence that generally suggests that high cholesterol, high BMI, and cigarette smoking are detrimental to a person’s well-being, there are many happy, healthy, active, fat people that are conscious of their food choices that do not fall within the prevailing acceptable range for BMI that Whole Foods will use to determine health.  There are not, however, many truly happy people that suffer from self-hatred, body dysmorphia, unreasonable expectations of beauty, or working against a body’s biology to comply with over-generalized definitions of health.

So, yeah.  I know.  And usually, I won’t give my money to a corporation that tries to punish it’s employees for being fat.  However, it’s the only place in town I can get a few things I need (like fair trade baking chocolate).  I’m in a Catch-22 here.

Even though the company CEO seems to want to punish it’s fat employees (also those who smoke), I’ve always been treated well in both local stores.  Considering that the “earthy crunchy” type (at least, many whom I’ve talked to in real life) tend to treat me as if I am at best exaggerating and at worst outright lying about my exercise and eating habits, when I first started going to the Whole Foods stores, I expected bad service.

I can say 100% that I’ve never received bad service, or felt like I was inconveniencing an employee for just being fat in their store.  I once even had a manager at the north store offer to hire me because I found the product I’d asked for help in finding (he’d taken me to the correct area, but then he couldn’t find it in it’s cubby, and I did).

Last night took the level of service up another notch.

I’d gone to the doctor for a follow up to the smoke inhalation issues I’ve been having, and was basically told that there really isn’t any more that can be done.  If I can get out of the area to where there isn’t a bunch of smoke and particulates in the air, I will probably do better, but just about all of Colorado has smoke from either local fires or from the wind pushing the smoke from other states to us.  Denver has bad air quality right now from the fires in Wyoming.

So, I decided I’d done Conall’s way, now it was time to do my way.*

Do you know there are a lot of supplements out there?  And that even doing your homework before going and searching for products doesn’t always help when none of the products you are looking at has the ingredients you’ve seen mentioned a lot when doing your homework?

Yeah, it can be confusing, even when you attempt to educate yourself about what has been shown to work and what is just snake oil.

After looking at things for about 15 minutes, I found an employee (department manager of the herbal supplements department) and explained what I was looking for.  I was a bit nervous, because, you know, fatty can’t breath.  And while I’ve always been treated well before, I’d also always asked for things like almond meal (for baking for gluten free friends) or where they get their honey from, what city is their “western slope” honey out of (for the honey caramels I make).

The employee last night was wonderful, talking about how he was having issues due to the air quality as well (and he was the tall, naturally skinny kind of guy).  We talked about options, and then he said, “Just a minute, I’ll be right back.”  He went around a corner and came back a couple minutes later with a bottle of “respiratory help” herbal treatment.  It’s made of an herb I’d researched a few months back (because Conall’s boss started to sell some coffee made with this stuff, and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to hurt Conall to drink it), so I knew the basic properties of the herb.

The employee told me he was going to give me the bottle (over $25 retail cost) because it was a brand new product they had, and he had no feedback from people taking it, only what the company had sent.**  I asked him if he was sure, because that’s a lot of product to just give away, and he said he was absolutely sure.  He didn’t even ask that I come back and tell him how the product worked, although I offered that immediately.

Actually, what I said was, “What kind of input do you want me to give you about this, since you are giving me this product for free?”

He didn’t ask, and so still doesn’t know, that I write a blog.  So me talking up this product online wasn’t even something he thought about.

He was just being very nice, and trying to help a person struggling with a situational health problem get better faster.

I always try to give credit where credit is due.  Both of these things happened at chain stores, where I’ve come to expect bad service as the norm.  Not because I’m fat, but just because many chain store corporate headquarters seem to think that “customer service” starts and ends with the customer having to find an employee, and then still being lost when the employee says, “Oh, that product is down that aisle” (pointing vaguely towards the middle of the store).  And yes, I’ve had that level of service all too often.

These two local stores have distinguished themselves in my book.  As always, your mileage may vary, but I’d be interested to hear if this level of service is consistent with other places around the country (for Whole Foods) or world (for Target).

*Conall is much more traditional medicine than me.  I am much more alternative medicine than him.  It can be an interesting balancing act sometimes.

**I am (obviously) not a celebrity, and so never expect to just be given items for free.  Matter of fact, I had to ask the gentleman 3 times if he was sure, because, well, you know, unasked for semi-expensive FREE item. This just never, EVER happens to me.

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Each One Thank One (or a dozen)

I’ve written a post over at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties this week that touched on my struggles about the fire inhalation I’m dealing with from the Waldo Canyon Fire that was here in Colorado Springs.

The fire started on June 23, about noon.  At least, that’s when many people in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas saw the plume of smoke.  I happened to be out, buying supplies to make the caramel I was supposed to deliver the following Friday to a local store I’m in.  I’d stopped at a McDonald’s, and in the time it took me to order, obtain my food and drink, and sit down, the sky to the west went from perfectly clear to a plume of smoke that appeared to be about a yard wide.  Considering the distance the fire was, I knew that was a big fire already.

As the afternoon went on, the plume grew so big, people at the grocery store were stopping and looking.

Yes, I called the fire department.  Along with many, many people.  I was told they knew about it and were working on it.  Even so, it was concerning that the plume of smoke kept growing.

When I arrived home, I turned on the tv, and found the area my mother-in-law lived in was under voluntary evacuations.  So I called her to get her to leave.  It took her a while to believe there was a danger.  She didn’t finally start to be serious about it until just before the authorities changed the voluntary evacuation to a mandatory one.  She left the house about a half hour after the mandatory evacuation was called.

That was the last time she ever saw her house standing.  (This picture shows my mother-in-law’s neighborhood as it is now.  This is a small portion of the affected area.)

Tuesday, June 26, the perfect conditions happened for a firestorm.  At that point, 32,000 + people were put on mandatory evacuation, with many more on “pre-evac” status.  Whole towns (Manitou Springs, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls) were evacuated, with other towns (Woodland Park) partially evacuated.  For a while on Tuesday, I-25 (a major north-south highway through the west) was closed through Colorado Springs southbound.  SH 24, the only direct route up the mountain to the towns listed above, was closed for over a week.

That Tuesday, the growth of the fire was exponential.  It went from about 6,000 acres to preliminary reports of 24,000 acres (which was later downsized, the reality was more like 15,000 acres).  The mountains were literally on fire.

At this point, the statistics are:  18,247 acres of land were consumed in the fire, 347 houses totally destroyed and an untold number will need to be bulldozed and built back up from the ground due to heat damage, 2 lives lost.  We had 8 C130s that had been fitted for dropping water, slurry, or retardant on the fire, and at least 10 helicopters also dropping water or slurry.  The cost to the city for JUST the firefighting efforts is currently at $14.5 million.  This is not accounting for the loss of property yet.

And, we had 1500 firefighters (as well as additional personnel from the military) from all over the country here, helping local fire fighters fight this blaze and keep it from doing any more damage.

Colorado Springs and neighboring communities have been amazing in this.  Over 1 ton of food and supplies have been collected and dropped off for evacuees and firefighters.  While there were many Red Cross Evacuee stations open, none of them were filled due to the generosity of friends of evacuees (or friends of friends of friends).  Water, gatorade, snacks that are easy to eat (like granola bars) were dropped off for the fire fighters use to such an extent, people were being told, “We have enough for now, we’ll have the media announce when we need more, because their is no room to store this stuff!”

Waldo fire Incident Commander Rich Harvey said that in his 30+ years of firefighting, he’d never seen such an outpouring of support and appreciation by the citizens toward the firefighters.

We’ve done well, here, showing our appreciation.  It was bad, yes.  So many homes destroyed.  So much acreage of national forest gone.  Two lives lost.  But whole towns are still standing that may not have been if not for the heroism of the firefighters.  Our water supply was NOT contaminated, even though the fire was right on our lakes.

We have a lot to be thankful for, and those of us living here know it.  It was so bad, but it could have been so much worse.   So of course we’ve been showing our appreciation.

However, the words of the Incident Commander sadden me.

EVERYBODY who lives in the US is protected as heroically as my area has been.  Everybody who lives in the US has either a municipal (means paid) or a volunteer fire department in their area.  Men and women who are willing to go into danger to protect somebody else’s home and property.  Who are willing to put their lives and health at risk to save other people’s lives and homes.

*  *  *  *  *

When I was a little girl, I had massive physical health problems. From the time I was 2 months old until I was 3.5 years old, in winter I would get “strep throat” or “tonsillitis attacks” every other month. I’d have fevers of 106*F. The fevers would come on suddenly, going from normal to “OMG she’s going to DIE” levels in 1/2 hour or less. Of course my family would call the ambulance (part of the fire department in that city, in the late 60’s). Of course they would always get me and rush me to the hospital, where they’d treat my symptoms and release me when the fever was gone (until I was three and they could operate, that is).

When I was a bit older, we had an almost house fire in our house. (Somebody had thrown cigarettes that weren’t completely out into the trash, which caused a smoldering toxic fire to start.) I remember being woken up and carried downstairs and outside the house (my bedroom, was on the second floor) by a strange man. I remember him being gentle and considerate of a scared little girl crying because a strange man was carrying her out of her bed.

Sometime after this, I remember going with my grandmother to our local fire house, the one where the ambulances always came from to take me to the hospital, the one where the fire truck came from to save our house, and our lives. One spring, at least once a month, Grandma and I would go to the fire house and drop off cookies, or apple slices, or some other baked good that my grandmother had made. The reason was to say, “Thank you.” “Thank you for saving my granddaughter all those times. And thank you for saving my house and all of our lives.”

Conall’s Mom’s house was one that was destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire. There were 1500 firefighters working the fire before it was all over (not counting military personnel), from all over the country. There’s no way I can bake goods for all the people who helped protect my city, and the towns and cities around me. However, when things are more settled, I will be going to my local fire house, with baked goods, to say, “Thank you.”

Even if you all have never had to use fire fighters or EMS services (and I bet everybody reading this knows somebody who’s either had a house burn or somebody who’s been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance), I would challenge you to take something to your local Fire Department, just to say “thank you.” Because of their willingness to sacrifice themselves, your house, your city, has protection. If you’ve ever had to use their services, I double challenge you to do something to show your appreciation.

Because these people give so much, and receive so little.  They are the reason we don’t have to think about things like what happened in Colorado Springs (where a fire destroyed a whole neighborhood and came close to destroying multiple towns and cities).

So, again, I challenge you, I *dare* you, to do something for your local fire department, to show that you, specifically, appreciate their daily sacrifice.  It doesn’t need to be a home baked good (though that’s what I’m going to do when I’m more recovered from my smoke inhalation).  It could be as simple as a “thank you” card.  Or a posted sign in your front yard that reads, “Thank you Fire Fighters!”

Just show them that you care.