I recently found myself in a local Target store looking for something I thought they may or may not carry but it was on the way home and figured I would stop and look. I was thinking about picking up some of what I was looking for many years and this day seemed to be the perfect day to find out if the store had them or not.
The store was nearly desolate for a weekday evening. Normally the place is busier but so be it. Better for me. Except I didn’t know exactly where to look. Hardware, luggage, shoes? There were a couple places I thought of and there was not a Redshirt in sight. Finally, a Redshirt appears from an aisle and around an endcap. We will call him “Richard” because that is what is name tag said. Richard told me to look in the shoe section. Long story short, I found what I needed, almost in the correct quantity but telling me to look in shoes was about as helpful as saying there are shoes in the shoe department.
The experience reminded me of something I witnessed about 30 years ago when my father would have been about the age I am now. Out of nowhere one cold January Sunday, my father decides he is going to build storm windows for every single window of the house. The house I grew up in was built in the 1920s but was flipped in 1980 so it had ghosts but the kitchen backsplash was updated (in 1980 terms this meant stainless steel, not rock and marble with embedded diamonds like today). But we had a microwave which was a big deal on our block in 1980.
Anyways, there were a lot of windows and my dad decides he is going to build storm windows for all of them against the January wind chills that plague Chicago through April sometimes. Or May.
The next thing I know is we are in Courtesy Home Center in Forest Park, IL to get everything we need. The roads are desolate and so is the store. 30 below wind chills apparently kept some people inside that day but not my father.
The first “retail associate” my father and I encountered was someone who couldn’t have been much older than me at the time, perhaps 16 or 17. The acne and braces would fit with his chronological age. He proceeds to ask this associate for parts and equipment that if they were invented, the store might carry, but since they hadn’t been invented yet this young man was a little confused.
My father wanted a left-handed, 90 degree, ratcheting screwdriver that could drive not only screws but perhaps nails and bolts as well. He had envisioned a system to mass produce these windows using a single 13-year old and asked for parts, that again, if they haven’t been invented yet, someone is missing a huge market opportunity. There were more pieces of wood and aluminum and Plexiglas that were cut to such odd shapes, they wouldn’t fit any window, let alone ones designed during Harding’s presidency.
Eventually, after running this high school junior all over the store for imaginary equipment and parts, my father gets irate, screams at the kid while standing over him with his 6’8” frame, leaves the cart with probably a ton of stuff we already had and didn’t need any more of, for this project or any other and we drive home without any storm window parts or tools.
After a few minutes in the car, I asked my father why he was so tough on the kid in the store. He remarked that when he goes somewhere, he wants the people who work there to know their product(s), their inventory and be able to assist. He said the employees should be expected to know everything about what they have and do. He was the same way in restaurants now that I think about it. He expected the server to know if they had any rye bread left or the soup of the day or if the pie was made today or yesterday.
It’s probably okay he isn’t alive today to see what we have to deal with – ordering for yourself in a restaurant on an iPad to find out that item is sold out 10 minutes later or “self-service” checkout standing behind someone who doesn’t know the code for the bananas is 4041 and hitting the “help” button. Or Home Depot or Lowes that may have replaced this store and deal with someone who doesn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver, let alone where either one may be found. Or United Airlines “customer service” or someone asking you for your phone number and e-mail when you check out – not that they are going to do anything with it – it is just for their records. What happened to just asking for your zip code like at Disneyland?
That Spring, my grandfather, who was a retired glazer by then, built several dozen storm windows without a left handed screwdriver.
But I understand better what my father meant now.