The notion of emotional support and work in American society

Yesterday left me thinking a lot about the notion of friendship and emotional support. As I continue to navigate the death of my father, the gestures I see from those around me touch my broken heart in ways I never imagined possible.

And recent events, from how Stitch Fix handled the recent shift change to how they handled my father’s death, shows me that successful businesses— even American ones with an international presence and millions of clients— don’t have to be jerks.

The dog and I were sitting on the sunporch yesterday waiting for one of my crazy cat lady friends to stop by. She wanted copies of my novels to give to her sisters for Christmas (and I need more fans) and she once cared for Mars and Minerva while they were on their pet store tour.

(Speaking of Mars— he has the prettiest purr. Check it out here. And maybe adopt him. Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.)

While Bean and I were waiting, an older man pulled up in front of my house and starting rooting around in the hatch/cargo area of his SUV. And he gets out a big bouquet of flowers.

Did someone send me flowers? Who do I know who is fancy enough to send flowers?

They came in a big glass vase with white roses and baby’s breath, and these lovely periwinkle filler flowers that I know I should know the name of because I did take high school horticulture.

I struggle to unfold the card. And I discover it’s from Stitch Fix. So I know I have a warehouse job. I know I fold clothes with everybody else. I am considered an unskilled worker, over educated for my position.

But I feel like Stitch Fix is the first company I’ve worked for to treat everyone of us like we are people, and not just interchangeable bodies in a process.

My warehouse job has paid the same amount of money as my last professional job— and removed so much stress and feelings of inadequacy from my life.

Professional positions or even common retail positions have controlled my life— constantly making it clear that “they” feel it is my privilege to work for them.

When my cat Opie had cancer I went into the computer system and requested to use some of my accrued paid time off so I could be at home after he got his leg amputated. I was working for Target at the time, about 36 hours a week so of course I didn’t qualify for medical benefits or anything because I was “part-time.” I had worked for Target for almost a decade.

They didn’t know it, but I had already accepted a professional position at a local non profit, but because of Opie’s surgery and other home circumstances, I had asked to start on the first day of the next month.

Now, after Christmas a few months prior, a guest had called the store and accused me of a racist act the day prior. This person of color had gathered all of the remaining food from the cafe, set it aside for 20 minutes, and not paid for it. She spent the entire time on the phone. I finally asked her if she was ready to pay for it and she left the store angry. Her husband called the next day. She never went to a supervisor, never said anything to me, just went home.

And the investigation determined that because I talk with my hands, I was angry and threatening with her. Despite witnesses saying the contrary. Despite almost ten years with the company.

So I got written up. This means if I did anything else wrong in the next year they could fire me. This meant I couldn’t apply for any promotions (despite the fact that my supervisor had left and I had been running my department during fourth quarter).

This is why I finally had enough and looked for a new job. And my marriage was in trouble and I needed to make more than $12 an hour.

I mention this because one of my Target friends just got fired for a similar incident where a customer was clearly out of line, and Target took their side. Even though this employee had been with the company since 2009. Just boom— fired.

And do you know what happened when I requested off? My manager denied it. I was too important to take time off.

But not important enough to pay a living wage.

But not important enough to defend when a customer was out of line.

But not important enough to provide medical insurance.

I went back to the computer and gave my two weeks notice. Except the store manager begged me not to go. And we agreed I could have the time off and I would work Saturdays to help train my new supervisor. Who turned out to have no interest in our department, ignored our breaks and wouldn’t listen to anyone but herself.

And when I called her out on it, because my peers wouldn’t do it because they needed the job, the same manager that denied my time off tried to fire me.

It didn’t work, but I never worked another day at Target, so they “got their way.”

And don’t even get me started on my experiences in “professional” employment.

If you have a job where you like going to work and your boss is a human, treasure it. It’s getting rarer.

So, yes, even though Stitch Fix is metrics driven and can be physically taxing, I have felt more like a person in their employment than I have in years.


More to come on the definition of “friend” later. So many generous acts have happened since my father’s death.

Le Creuset: A broken skillet and a whole lot of memories

Last week, my Le Creuset skillet affectionately known as Baby fell off the kitchen counter and the handle snapped off the pan.

For our tenth anniversary, my husband and I bought each other Le Creuset at Williams Sonoma in lovely Marseille Blue.

My husband got a tea pot, as we had struggled to find a decent one for his evening peppermint tea and my Traditional Medicinals Valerian Nighty Nite.

My daughter melted the tea pot.

The skillet means a lot to me. Always has. This skillet was one of those purchases that I splurged on and wondered if it would be worth it.

I also have some Lodge cast iron cookware I picked up at Target for a fraction of the cost. Is Le Creuset worth the extra money? I honestly don’t know. But I do know my Le Creuset skillet never disappoints me.

I’ve been cooking in it since 2009.

So I filed a claim with Le Creuset. They got back to me and said the injury sustained by Baby was not a manufacturer’s defect and therefore not covered under their warranty.

But they offered to send me a new one if I destroy the old one.

And I realize… one can’t destroy a cast iron skillet and it seems very wrong to relegate to a landfill. And I can’t throw it out. I can’t.

Some of the best times of my now defunct marriage revolve around that skillet and I told the customer service rep that.

Your claim does not fall under our Limited Lifetime Warranty coverage. Our warranty only covers manufacturer defects. The damage to your item was caused by falling onto a hard object or hard surface. What we would like to do as a one-time courtesy is to offer to replace the item for you at no charge.

Samantha, customer service, Le Creuset

She says a new one is in the mail. I am so surprised at how upset the idea of “losing this one” makes me.

Owning up and ripping Sheetz a new one

First off, before I even start this entry let me give my poor customer service representative Justin a shout out for his professionalism, patience and calm.

Second, before I get too far let me admit that I have now reached my heaviest ever weight, about ten pounds heavier than my natural set point with no muscle tone left. Push-ups, planks and heel-touch crunches used to be my jam– I could do 20 push-ups, a sixty-second plank and 100 heel touches without feeling tired or compromised.

At one point I had visible abdominal muscles, then I had abdominal muscles like stone beneath a layer of fat. That is now done. I struggle to walk up hill. I have no muscle tone. Where I once used 25-pound dumbbells for my bicep curls, I now huff and puff with ten.

This past year has been cruel.

This is the owning up portion of today’s blog. Yesterday, I woke up exhausted and hot but still motivated myself to do an ab workout. But then, I didn’t quite meet my step goal. And ate half a Papa John’s pizza and an order of their jalapeno popper bread bites. I meant to share them with the teenager but they were way too spicy. And I ate them all, even though they were kinda gross.

Jalapeño popper bread bites

I blame Dominos for the pizza binge as they sent me a push notification that they had two new pizzas–chicken taco and cheeseburger–but both turned out to sound boring and the $5.99 promotion seemed unavailable so rather than order my free two topping I spent $26 at Papa Johns.

The Zesty Italian or Tangy Italian, or whatever pie it was, was delicious in that trashy kind of way (though I hate Papa John’s tomato sauce I am reminded now). And the meal has led to a type of intestinal distress I don’t normally experience. I also gained 3 pounds.

The teenager tells me the pizza was good, but Dominos is better in her adolescent opinion.

Speaking of adolescent behavior, the teenager went back-to-school shopping with the paternal grandparents. She wanted a milkshake from Sheetz for lunch and her grandparents vetoed that and took her to a diner she does not like. I will withhold the name here as it is a fairly popular spot.

So she came home a little upset over the meal situation as she had just had “the worst quesadilla of my life.” She pined for that milkshake as it is 90+ degrees outside and she has marching band tonight.

“Mom,” she said. “If you buy me a milkshake at Sheetz, I won’t eat anything else today.”

I told her to throw in some extra chores and we could talk. She agreed. I downloaded the Sheetz app as these days, I don’t go anywhere without looking for coupons. I went to create my Sheetz account. Now, my husband has the Sheetz card. I have the Sheetz key ring.

The Sheetz card has a security code that the key ring does not.

You need the security card. The app forces me to call customer service.

Customer service tells me I have to find my security code, have my husband call them and say it’s okay, or use the general random Sheetz card.

To which I say, “If I use a random card, I won’t get the points. Isn’t that the point of the loyalty app?”

I launch into a fiery tirade. Because our Sheetz card/account is in my husband’s name, I cannot log into the Sheetz app. I find it odd that a loyalty app would have such strict security. I merely want to look for coupons and then go buy my daughter a milkshake.

Well, poor talented and patient Justin the Customer Service rep tells me, some people have credit card information in the app.

Yes, I say, but this one does not, because this account has never downloaded the app. So it does not have anything in it. I added that I can tell him my husband’s birthday and his social security number and probably the password he used if we ever tried to set up an online account. But he still needs my husband’s permission.

So I tell him that I refinanced my car over the phone the other day, and that I stayed on the line while the previous loan holder talked to my new financer. That I gave them my permission to share my account information with my new bank.

If I can do that over the phone, I should be able to buy a damn milkshake for my kid.

As a compromise, he called my husband at work and asked if he was allowed to give me access to our Sheetz loyalty account. My husband, of course, said yes.

He told the teenager via text that the customer service people didn’t verify his identity. They asked for no proof that he was indeed my husband.

Now let me add that if I were vindictive, because after all my husband and I have been separated for 14 months, why would I go to the trouble to steal his Sheetz loyalty number which is 16 digits, hack into his account, and run up his credit card with Sheetz purchases? Perhaps I would go squander his non-existent stockpile of reward points.

The app apprised me that we had 523 loyalty reward points and Sheetz requires 500 for a free regular milkshake.

I bought myself a pretzel with nacho cheese sauce and while the cheese sauce had a barely perceptible layer of spice to it, it had no flavor whatsoever.

The teenager enjoyed her milkshake.

Their mobile order system is very convenient.

The ups and downs of DQ

I originally started this blog post intending to lambast my local Dairy Queen.

But literally as I was debating what to title this piece when either the owner or the manager of our local Dairy Queen called to make this right.

So as you read this long-winded tale of technological failure and questionable customer service moves, let me say that while it’s not 100% resolved now, I have the cell phone number of the person who can fix it.

The story begins with a mildly inconvenient family matter that still hasn’t been resolved. It kept me out of the house last night until almost midnight. I was lucky to get six hours of uneasy sleep.

And I had a dream that a good friend had come to stay for a couple days to help me deal with some of the things in my life, so I woke disappointed and tired.

The teenager is staying with her dad. She stopped by for her wallet and to get some items she needed to pick up some strong medicine at the doctor.

I ended up leaving work in late morning because of fatigue, and the personal text messages I kept receiving.

The teenager left around 12:30 to head to the doctor.

I hadn’t eaten yet and I saw that DQ has a new Blizzard. Frosted Animal Cookie. Doesn’t that sound interesting?

So I thought I’ll get a 3-piece chicken strip meal deal and the Blizzard and a cheeseburger. A little naughty but it’s been a rough day.

I very carefully selected what I wanted— and left the house at 12:50. The order was submitted, I received a confirmation email and a notice from my bank that $11.25 had been deducted from the $27 left in my account.

DQ’s mobile app has this feature, that you tell them that you’re “here.”

I pulled into the drive thru. So I hit the button.

Now traditionally, in the pre-Coronavirus universe, I hate drive-thrus. I worked for five years at a McDonald’s, much of that in the drive-thru. It was so stressful, but it was my job through college. Drive-thru’s contribute to our anxiety and laziness as a country. We’re all too busy to get out of the car.

Now with Covid-19, I am using a drive-thru once a week. I’m in the line at DQ.

My order disappears.

1:10, I arrive at the speaker. I very professionally and clearly say, “I had a mobile order, but it seems to have disappeared even though I was charged.”

The mysterious voice in the box apologizes but says there is a problem on their end with mobile ordering and she can’t give me food.

I ask her, “May I read you the order and show you it on my phone?”

No, she says.

But you took my money, I said.

You need to call corporate, she said.

May I have the phone number? I asked.

It’s in the app, she replied.

And I had to sit in the drive thru for 20 minutes to not get food.

At 1:30 I pulled into the parking lot to search the app for a phone number. Found a comment section in the app. Gave them 1 star.

Who can’t give $10 of food or a phone number?

I found a comment form and started filling it out and after I got it half way done and the form automatically submitted itself.

I started over.

Then I finally found a phone number.

I called.

Waited 10 minutes.

Had a really skillful customer representative named Jeremy who laughed at my jokes and sympathized with my plight. He filed a report and asked me if I wanted to add a complaint against my particular store. Jeremy asked if they were rude, and I said no but I just felt like they could have handled it differently.

So, that done, I ordered a burger from Wendy’s and Vanilla Frostyccino. It was 2 pm and I still hadn’t eaten.

I brought my Wendy’s home, fed Nala (my cockatoo) her French fries and some apples, watched some Gordon Ramsay and prepped to blog a scathing tale of DQ.

As I finished my meal, I got a phone call from someone in charge of my local DQ. I didn’t catch his name, but we had a lovely conversation.

Addition to original post: I texted him this blog post and he told me his name was John and that he owns both the Easton and Bethlehem DQ stores.

I told him I worked for almost a decade selling icees and making Pizza Hit pan pizzas in the Target on Rte. 248. And I would have been able to give my customers a phone number and I would have given them the food.

I had an $11.25 order, for goodness sake.

And he said he would have handled it differently and that he’d like to make it right.

This is a summary of what I told him:

I’m glad you called, because even if I never see the $11 again, just knowing that there are business owners that care and want to provide a good experience matters. The virus makes it hard, we don’t have those face to face interactions. People are tired and aren’t prepared for some of these issues.

So I get that. But he called. And I appreciated that.

And I would let him know if I didn’t get my $11.25 back.

He thanked me for being understanding.

And he told me if I ever had a problem to call him— on his cell.

#customerservicewin

He dealt with my complaint within an hour, over an $11 sale. He didn’t have to do that.

Thank you.

And John’s response to my blog entry: “Thanks and again, so sorry again about the inconvenience. My name is John and I own the stores in Easton and Bethlehem. I have great crews at both stores but this incident could have been handled much better. I will be using this and sharing it with my crews as a learning experience to 1) do the right thing – take care of the customer and 2) when mistakes happen or problems occur take ownership and let the customer know that you are sorry and that you care. Have a great weekend!! John”

Passport Panic

Normally before vacation, I pack and unpack. I rehearse exotic languages. I google and read books. 

Not this time.

This time my 12-year-old daughter and I, with my traveling companion, will head to Paris for the day Saturday and then Russia for a week.

Today we had a lil “come to Jesus” meeting about her room. And she was told to clean it before we started packing. My plan was to get her packed (after seven years of summer camp, she got this) and take her for a one mile or so walk around the neighborhood as training for navigating airports and subway stations.

She organized her bags like a trooper. And then I asked her to pull our travel paperwork. Money, passports, notarized documents from her father saying she could travel with me, vaccination records…

“Mommy, your passport isn’t here.”

What?!?!

We checked my purse, the car, ripped the drawers out of furniture. I checked under the bed. I checked lunch boxes. 

I had it out to use it as identification when I needed fingerprints last week, for my position as a graduate assistant at West Chester University. I called the fingerprint office.

After an hour of ransacking my house, my friend reminds me that we stopped at the grocery store 15 miles from my house so she could buy sesame oil.

I call them. A nice young man named Jeff tells me they have a passport and he thinks it’s mine. 

I drive out.

It is.

Business feature: Why do people love Wegmans? (2006)

This story ran on the front page of The Bethlehem News in 2006 after Wegmans had made the Forbes list of the 100 best places to work. Again. They always end up on this list. As a fan of Wegmans, I thought I’d do a feature. In ran in all of the Lehigh Valley News Group papers. I wrote the story, took the photos and did the artistic lay out. (Really how artistic can you get with so many columns and rules. I tried.)

In recent days, I’ve noticed lists circulating the internet of why Wegmans is basically a Play Place for grown-ups. I’ve noticed that most of my friends do the bulk of their shopping at Wegmans. People meet at Wegmans. They get coffee at Wegmans. They drool at the cheese at Wegmans. So, why?

For me, it’s a combination of customer service and the goods they carry. When my daughter was two, I tripped and fell in the parking lot of the Wegmans pictured in this story. I’m a clutz. It happens. I got my kid and my groceries into the car. Turned on the car. My arm was killing me. I had fallen on my elbow. The air conditioner whooshed on. I started to black out. At that exact moment, my phone rang.

I couldn’t see. I rummaged through my purse with my hand. Found it. Somehow answered it. It was my friend, Gayle. I told her what had happened and that I thought I was passing out. She called Wegmans. I managed to get out of the car. That’s when a Wegmans “Helping Hands” cart attendant found me, and a manager right behind him. They brought me and my daughter and my groceries back into the store. My in-laws came to get us. They asked if I needed anything. I said no.

My daughter asked for ice cream, but no one heard her. If they had, the staff probably would have given some to her.

wegmans wegmans2