THIS JOB MATTERS


 In a Starbucks somewhere at Sea-Tac, I’ve seen an older man, around my age, working the counter. I go through Sea-Tac annually, if I am lucky, because I am on my way to Alaska and to the remotest country I know.  When I come out of the Brooks Range, I take the red eye back to Seattle, get 3 hours’ sleep, and head straight for a bagel and coffee, before the next flight south.  I’m getting a bit old for these trips, but there is a lot of country I still want to see.

Noatak River, looking east, some of the most remote country in North America.

Noatak River, looking east, some of the most remote country in North America.

Dall Sheep above the headwaters of the Aichilik River.  This was one of the most beautiful areas to hike that I have ever been.

Dall Sheep above the headwaters of the Aichilik River. This was one of the most beautiful areas to hike that I have ever been.  This is in ANWR: to those who say this is a desolate place, I simply reply: “Hike the 120 miles there I have, and see what you think.”

 

The man works with many younger people.  He could be their grandfather. I know nothing about him: he could be lonely, a millionaire, and wants to be around people. Or he could be lonely, poor, needing every quarter people put in the tip jar.  I put in bills, because the workers divide the tips.  Divisors are fixed, but if the dividend increases, so does the quotient, a dividend in another meaning of the word.

What I do know is the man is dead serious about his job. He takes my order, and I sense I would be doing him a big favor if I were clear what I wanted and paid promptly with little hassle.  He doesn’t say this, of course, but his demeanor is no-nonsense.  He has a job, considered menial by many who walk through Sea-Tac catching a plane, but it is clear that doing the job well matters to him.

When I enter Hirons, a local drug store, I am greeted by a woman who recognizes both me and my wife.  “You back again?” she says, cheerfully.  Hirons is the only drug store I know where I had to ask directions how to find the pharmacy: I once got lost in there, overwhelmed by the inventory.  Just in time inventory doesn’t work in Hirons, and B-school students ought to visit to see how a place ought to run.  You don’t go online, like Amazon, you go there.   You walk in wanting Advil, you come out with it, a pair of lights to make walking at night safer, an Oregon shirt, maybe a mug, a dust pan, and a holder for soap in the shower. That’s how you move inventory, by having it available,  I once asked if they made keys.  That was stupid, but hey, I was new in town.

I called Hirons, because I need to move my Part D drug benefit pharmacy: three guesses what the answer was, the first two not counting.  Stupid call.  Now I can walk over there to buy a lot of other stuff along with the meds I need to pick up. Companies need to value employees who can remember customers.  It has no dollar value, or maybe it does, because people like to be remembered, and they will return.  I will of course use Hirons in the near future, like when I need a Dutch Brothers fix, at the kiosk nearby, at the EMX stop at Walnut.

Yeah, Dutch Brothers, with the red white and blue flags flying.  I don’t know how these places survive.  They do, in all likelihood, because when I arrive, there is music playing I normally wouldn’t listen to but end up liking.  There are two or three college students in there with personalities I wish I had been born with.  They could care less how I look.  They greet me warmly; people like this make me ask how they are, too, which I haven’t done for most of my life.  Not only do I ask them, I get a reply.  I get hot chocolate or coffee, and there are about 10 different kinds of both.  They work quickly and efficiently, their banter is interesting, they stamp my card, which means after 10 trips there, I get a free drink, so I will come again.  Think I tip them well?  Duh.  I go on my way, along the Willamette River, under the tracks, over Knickerbocker Bridge into Alton Baker Park, checking out the birds in the river.  My wife has never seen me so happy.

Autzen Bridge, over the Willamette River.  Hat reads Kobuk Valley, the most remote National Park in North America, and a real gem.

Autzen Bridge, over the Willamette River. Hat reads Kobuk Valley, the most remote National Park in North America, and a real gem.

Foggy night; bought the light at Hirons, behind me to my right.  Think it was $7.95.  They should charge more.

Foggy night; bought the light at Hirons, behind me to my right. Think it was $7.95. They should charge more.

Maybe later, I will go to Evergreen’s, where they serve north and south Indian food.  I usually have a Nikasi Beer with dinner.  Yeah, for a dollar more, I get something brewed in Eugene, and I really like it.  A waitress and the owner herself recognize me, both knowing what I want.  I know the owner’s son’s name, birthday and age.  We were once immediately recognized after an absence of 9 months.  That’s impressive.  Think they get good tips from me?

Everybody knows places like the ones I described.  My late father-in-law went to Asquino’s, an East Providence institution with incredible Italian food.  They knew him, and if he had ever forgotten his wallet, I bet he would have eaten for free.  Asquino’s is no longer there. The world and families change.  These businesses are worth a great deal to customers, worth that doesn’t make the bottom line.  That’s the problem with bottom lines: they measure money, which people must make (teachers can’t eat “satisfaction,” my father, an educator, once said) but not customer satisfaction, ability to recognize repeat customers, and to have things the customer doesn’t realize they want.  I would bet much that “happiness” and “ability to recognize faces” is not on ExxonMobil”s bottom line.  Damage to the environment isn’t, which does have a dollar cost.

No money can buy good service and a pleasant person who remembers me, helping me have a better day.  I saw happier people in Ely, Minnesota, who worked half time, than my former partners, who made a half mil a year.  It was a rough life in Ely, but they were a lot nicer.  The average wage at Costco is double that of Wal-Mart.  The net worth of the CEO of Costco is 10% that of the CEO of Wal-Mart.  Throw in the rest of the Walton Family, and it is 1.3%.  The salary ratio between the worker and the CEO is still too large; when I practiced, the ratio was 1:7; 1:3 when hours worked were factored in.  Call me a socialist, but I lived comfortably.

I hope the man at Sea-Tac works to stay busy, but these days, that’s not likely.  I hope the Eugene places stay in business for a long time, along with Track Town Pizza, which hosts German Stammtisch Tuesday evenings. The whole lot are a 30 minute walk from my house.  I wonder how I got so lucky.  

Salary ratios ought to be on the bottom line; important things that can’t be measured ought to be mentioned, too.  Not everything in life has a dollar value.

Designed in 2003:  Follow your heart; it will lead you home.  Hirons charges more for this.  I really didn't need it.  No, I really did need it, for I have done what it means.

Designed in 2003: Follow your heart; it will lead you home. Hirons charges more for this. I really didn’t need it. No, I really did need it, for I have done what it means.

My footprints in the sand dunes at Kobuk Valley NP. It was one of those things that really is too expensive for the time spent, unless one factors in how much it meant to me, which was priceless.  What a lovely, quiet place.

My footprints in the sand dunes at Kobuk Valley NP. It was one of those things that really is too expensive for the time spent, unless one factors in how much it meant to me, which was priceless. What a lovely, quiet place.

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