Each morning, my mail bristles with epistles from consumers who've been mistreated. The stories often revolve around common courtesy, and its disappearance. Almost every time, I side strongly with Joe and Jane Customer.
But every once in a while, I get a letter from someone who wants me to certify that his outrage is justified -- when, in fact, the outrage of the businessperson is justified. So it must go with a recent letter from "Another Shafted Consumer."
ASC tells of pulling into a Northern Virginia gas station to ask for directions on a night when it was pouring rain. To summon the young man on duty, ASC whistled at him.
The young man was inside the office, but he didn't budge. So ASC moved his car from in front of the station's office to the full-service pump.
That brought the attendant out of his hut. But when the young man got to the pump, ASC said he didn't really want gas after all, just directions.
The young man "started yelling at me," ASC reports. ASC retorted that if the young man gave him directions right that second, ASC wouldn't complain to the boss. That was accompanied by a lecture about how gas station personnel are there to serve the public, and wow, son, you have a lot of nerve.
The young man "pretended he didn't know where Tysons Corner was," ASC says. Which should have ended things. But ASC wasn't through yet.
He asked for $5 worth of gas. The young man pumped it. Then ASC refused to pay until the young man gave him directions.
The young man "then pestered me for money like his family would starve if he didn't receive it." Finally, ASC paid. But when ASC demanded that the young man run inside and get him a couple of packs of cigarettes, the young man refused.
ASC ended this delightful interlude by taking the young man's name and telling him to go jump in the lake -- only in much more forceful, anatomical language. Then ASC drove away. The next day, he wrote to me to ask how I thought he should press charges against the young man.
It's clear from the tone of ASC's letter that he thinks only a full-scale invasion of the gas station by the Marines could possibly suffice. Sorry, ASC, but I think the blame lies with you, not the young man.
I will grant you that the kid didn't cover himself with glory. You never yell at a customer, regardless. And you never tell a customer you don't know where Tysons Corner is if you do know.
But let's look at what you did here, ASC, old buddy. You whistled at a young guy as if he were a pet collie. You tricked him out into the pouring rain. Then you tried to make him jump through hoops as if he were your slave.
He isn't your slave. He's a young guy making very little money whose job is to pump gas, check oil, wipe windows and collect money -- period.
I don't know where you get the idea that pump jockeys are required by holy writ to provide directions. They provide directions out of courtesy and out of a sense of good public relations. But no gas station is an extension of the state department of tourism.
I'd say ASC should take a long look in the mirror, and wonder why that face he sees was so intent on torturing a young stranger. If anyone turned the situation from prickly to ugly, ASC, it was you.
And in the same vein . . . .
Sara Fornof of Manassas writes with a tale of getting even with a department store.
Seems Sara has a friend who wanted to buy a dust ruffle for her bed. The friend called a "well-known discount department store near her neighborhood." The manager put her on hold and went to check. After a while, he came back on the line and said the store had no dust ruffles in stock -- of any color, of any size.
The friend found this very difficult to believe. So she jumped in her car, drove to the store, grabbed a shopping cart and made tracks for the bedding department. "What she found there were mounds of dust ruffles -- all colors, all sizes," Sara writes.
Instead of simply marching out of the store and never coming back, the friend decided to ram home her point with a jackhammer.
She filled her cart with dust ruffles, pushed it over to the manager's office and loudly told the manager that she hoped he had a good time putting all the ruffles back on the shelves. With that, she was gone.
Yes, maybe the manager will check more carefully the next time someone calls.
But does this customer's behavior really help in the long run? It may give the wronged consumer a momentary sense of satisfaction. But that satisfaction is tinged with vengeance -- and vengeance sours satisfaction pretty quickly, doesn't it?