Thursday, November 20, 2008

Less Than Human

Note: The following is an article that I wrote for the Casey County News as part of my ongoing attempts to encourage people (myself included) to turn their backs on the corporate giants in favor of small town businesses. Green River Builders & the Casey Print Shop are the local hardware & office supply stores here in Liberty, KY. The Lowe's & Office Depot mentioned are located in Danville, KY, 25 miles away.

I have a confession to make, and an apology to give.

Not too long ago I needed some odd sized PVC fittings for a project. Green River Builders didn’t have the pieces I needed in stock, but even though I knew they would have gotten them for me, my own neglect & procrastination had made waiting a luxury that I could no longer afford.

So – for my first sin – I went to Lowe’s, and yes, in their smorgasbord of “everything” they did indeed have the fittings that I needed. I was feeling fine. Until I went to checkout.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to Lowe’s, and somewhere in my absence they have installed four new “self-checkout” machines. Maybe I think too much of myself, but the thought that a store would present me with a machine so that I can check myself out is degrading; almost as if I’m not important enough for them to provide me with a living, human being to assist. Apparently Lowe’s doesn’t feel the same way though, because other than the four machines, there was only one register open that was staffed by an actual person.

So I got in her line intent to wait – as much to show my appreciation for her as to show my disdain for the automated devices – and the first thing she did was tell me that I could check myself out on one of the new machines. I said “no, thank you”, and continued waiting in line. Then, as she was waiting for someone to approve a check for the customer she currently had, she offered to help me use the self-checkout machine.

I had to digest this for a moment. Then I got it: She didn’t want to help me; she wanted me to use the machine, even if she had to help me do it.

Completely disenchanted with her reaction, I walked to the other side of the store and stood in line for 5 minutes at the Customer Service desk to make my purchase with the only other living person I saw standing next to a register.

Obviously not content with how badly I’d been treated at Lowe’s and apparently determined to sin yet again, I then went next door to Office Depot. As before, what I was looking for was not something that I couldn’t have bought from the Casey Print Shop, but I knew Office Depot would probably have it in stock, and I was right there after all.

This time I had a real person to check me out, but as I started writing the date on my check, she told me that to “save time” I didn’t have to fill it out; at all. Not a single line.

Curious, I handed her my blank check, she ran it through the machine, asked me to sign on the little computer screen (on which I made an unintelligible scrawl), and then handed back the blank check along with the receipt. It’s important to let you know that she never asked me for any form of ID at all. All she needed – or wanted – was my blank check, which, by the way, could have belonged to anyone.

Granted, Elaine Wood doesn’t check my ID at the Casey Print Shop either, but that’s because Elaine doesn’t have to; she knows who I am. The blank check I gave to Office Depot could have belonged to anybody. It could have been yours. Maybe it was.

Through the combined efforts of Lowe’s and Office Depot, it took them less than 20 minutes to make me feel a little less than human – a machine at one store; an account & routing number at the other – and despite myself, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling that I was the one who had done something wrong.

In truth, I guess I had, because I’d never even given my own hometown businesses a chance. My mother had a corny saying when I was a boy; “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

I should probably listen to her more often.

But in the meantime, please let me express my sincere apologies to both Green River Builders and the Casey Print Shop. Both of your businesses always treat me as if I have value. I should do a better job returning the favor.


MamaHen said...

Excellent article.

keeperofmyhome said...

I try to give my business to the little guy first, but that's really difficult in our big city of Phoenix. There is hardly anything but chains here. Great article!

By the way, please tell Mrs. Catherine that she is missed. I sure loved her blog and the encouragement I got from it.

Keeper of my home, Wife to Randy,
Mom to Noah, Zachary and Jesse