SERVICE WITH A SMILE

We’re still learning and often amazed by episodes of kindly behavior in this state of Minnesota. I’m talking about brings-a-tear-to-your-eye, out of the blue, acts of kindness. There is the neighbor who showed up on his snow plow and apologized for not regularly clearing our driveway the first winter we were here. There are the many friends (you know who you are) who go out of their way to give me a ride when needed. There is the electrical auto mechanic who, after working on the van all morning, declared “no charge” when he failed to find and fix the problem.

And now there is the nice man at Service Foods. Last week we came home missing one bag. It wasn’t immediately apparent until days later when The Chef needed an onion and we searched the counters and trash, scoured the van, and said repeatedly, “Oh Darn!” a lot. Or something in that vein.

The next time we went to the market we approached a person who looked “in charge” as he conversed with another customer and when he was available we mentioned the lost bag. He cut us off before we got through “Three yellow onions at 39 cents a pound …”, directing us towards the produce section while stating emphatically – “Get whatever you’re missing!” I started to say, and ground ginger and … but he waved us on. Not – who was your checker? Or even – let me check my records. Give me your list and I’ll have a clerk pull the items for you.

So we shopped and filled our cart to the brim, putting the yellow onions and ground ginger and smoked paprika in a separate plastic bag in the kiddie seat. When we got to the register the “manager” was suddenly there, taking the bag ahead of the checker saying “Good, I hope you found everything you were missing?”

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Service is a medium size local store. They don’t allow shopping carts in the parking lot, so every check out line has a box “man” ready and waiting to carry out your bags. And most of them do it with a jolly joke and a hearty happiness that is real. And this time of year there is a conveyor belt which is the other option. Your bags are loaded inside and they run along a track to the outside of the building where you can drive up and load. Probably not uncommon in the great state of Minnesota, but new to us.

I drove away from Service Foods that day with a cheery feeling and resolve to not be tempted in the future by low priced specials from that big box store at the edge of town. Can you imagine going up to the service counter there and whining that you believe you left a bag behind the previous week? Do you really believe the response would be, “Oh just go through the store and pick up anything you missed.”

No. I’ll be happy to buy my Dakota Maid (millers since 1922 in the Red River Valley) flour, and my Thousand Hills 100% grass fed beef summer sausage, as well as Freddie’s lefsa in a pinch and Falls Bakery bread on a non-baking week. And all the other usual supplies.

I’m certain the manager fellow calculated his policy on building customer loyalty and thus, overall sales. Good for him. I followed the same guidelines over the years in the retail business and now at our local farmers market. However this incident went far beyond a positive shopping experience. It actually made the sky seem bluer, the day sunnier and my mood near ebullient. If I didn’t actually “pay it forward” on the spot, I was definitely so inclined.

How might this work in the greater world? I don’t think I’m alone in feeling discouraged when I open the Star Tribune each morning. Or tune into national news on TV. Is it just me? Is it because there is so much media blaring around the clock that it appears we live on an increasingly hostile and dangerous planet? There have always been hot-spots, troublesome areas, wide-world travail. In my childhood it was the Second World War which certainly encompassed populations and countries far and wide. But then it was Korea, and then Viet Nam and the first Gulf War, with many travesties here and there and in-between. A famine here, a border dispute there.

“Al-Shabab slays 28 in Kenya. ISIL toughens tactics. Global crisis tests U.S. Afghan bombing kills 40 plus. Dozens killed in attack on Nigerian. Islamic fighters battle forces in Baiji. Two blasts hit Kabul.” Borders are broken, the bees are dying, our oceans are polluted and global warming is real and here. Now.

It seems overwhelming to even consider the possibility of healing our planet Earth. And is it too late? Have we morphed into hatred and division and ecological amnesia so that, like a child who goes into a tantrum and gets caught up in the furor and can’t stop the momentum, we have passed some disastrous turning point?

We need a manager guy who waves us on and ministers to our complaints. We need to listen. And Care. And allow for mistakes. And accept those who are different.

I know that this is most likely too much to ask of our world. Yet given that one kind act can make the sky bluer, the day sunnier, is it possible that there might be a larger trajectory on a world-wide scale to somehow stop the madness? I’m likely dreaming, but I vote for universal service with a smile. For a start.

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