Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers, Vent Your Spleens!
(About Customer Service in Hyattsville, College Park, Greenbelt, Laurel, etc.)
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wal-Mart is Trying to Steal My Christmas Joy!

Read one more reason to hate the country's largest retailer and never shop there again. Poor lady.

Friday, August 03, 2007

This is What Happens When You Take the "C" Out of "KFC"

This one, ladies and gents, is such an example of a complete and utter failure to communicate or use the common sense that God gave a chicken strip that I've abandoned the usual structure of my entries and will just give it to you straight free-form. Can we just chalk this one up to comic relief?

The place is the KFC on Rte. 1 in Beltsville, MD. The date was yesterday, 8/2/07, around 5:30 p.m. The following is the paraphrased conversation that took place between my wife (Mrs. Vent) and what had to be the "special" order taker on the other end of the drive-thru intercom connection:

KFC: Hello and welcome to KFC. May I take your order, please?

Wife: Give me one moment please while I decide.

KFC: Ok, take your time...

KFC (one minute later): Are you ready to order now?
Wife: One second.
KFC: Ok.

Wife: Ok, I'm ready. I'd like 12 pieces of chicken...
KFC: It'll be a 20 minute wait for chicken. We don't have any chicken.
Wife: Excuse me? Could you repeat that?
KFC: We don't have any chicken; it'll be 20 minutes.
Wife: You don't have any chicken?
KFC: No.
Wife: So what do you have?
KFC: We have side orders and drinks.
Wife: Oh. Ok. Thanks, but never mind.

**Crickets chirping...Mouth agape in complete disbelief...Scanning parking lot for Punk'd or Jamie Kennedy Experiment cameras.Yeah, exactly. Off to Wendy's.**
This one is so altogether inane that I think I'll just leave it right there. I'm not even gonna fax it to them for comment like I normally do before posting a story. I mean, what could they say?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Track "Officials" in Booth Hit Foul
Hip-Hop Note at C. H. Flowers Meet

"Business": Mr. Franklin and Miscellaneous Fat (decidedly not Phat) DJ in the press booth at the Maryland South Regional Outdoor Track and Field Championships
Location: C.H. Flowers High School, 10001 Ardwick Ardmore Road, Springdale, MD
Date of incident: Saturday, May 19, 2007

Quick Hit
Grab a sandwich and a frosty beverage, and put your feet up for this one, people. It's a doozy.

So, how can we expect our up-and-coming generations of youth (black, especially, and you'll understand why I single them out as this lament unfolds) to behave like they have at least a modicum of the sense that God gave them if the adults charged with governing and guiding them have lost their minds?

To begin, let me pose this scenario and some questions to you, my intelligent, sensible, responsible 13 loyal readers: Imagine that you're the head guy or gal in the press booth at a high school track meet. Your job (apparently) is to announce everything relating to the events as they unfold (where and when athletes should report for their events, who's running in what place/position during a race, results of the different events, etc.), and to generally make sure things run smoothly inside the booth. The fan base populating the bleachers includes babies, toddlers, adolescents, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, and traditional grandma/grandpa types.

So, to the queries: Given the nature of the thing, would you consider it pleasurable, would it lend to your enjoyment of the event to have a DJ blasting music—any kind of music with lyrics—pretty much during the entire five to seven hour meet, even while the announcer is sorting out for you what place the person you came to cheer is currently running in a race? Or would that quickly become an annoying distraction? Ok. Now let's say the music is of the Hip-Hop variety. What's your reaction? Now let's imagine that said Hip-Hop is espousing lewd and lascivious bedroom behavior and cheating on one's significant other, and is blithely tossing around that notorious "N" word, is generally denigrating and disrespecting our mothers/sisters/daughters, and is arbitrarily touting the "freaking" of this and the "working" of that (as this genre of music is wont to do). How you feel about it now, keeping in mind who's in your audience?

(As a point of reference before you read on, feel free to sample the video from the meet. Don't worry, the most offensive stuff has been edited out.)

That's what I thought. You'd never let something like that occur on your watch, because you're of sound mind and have a strong sense of decorum, and you got scruples (else you'd be reading some other rag of a blog). Well, read on to learn how two gentlemen (and I use that term quite loosely in this case, especially when it comes to the younger, thick-necked culprit in this tome) seemingly completely lost touch with reality and any sense of responsibility as they ran the show at a high school track meet back in May at C. H. Flowers High School.

After a fruitless and disheartening confrontation with the two men in the booth, I e-mailed everybody in the county and state I could think of (and their mommas) who might have even the slightest bit of oversight concerning this incident, and the Washington Post and Gazette Newspapers (neither of which followed up or followed through), and others. I've included the e-mail (mainly directed to Earl Hawkins, Prince George's County Schools Director Interscholastic Athletics) that I sent, and many of the responses we received (or I've indicated how they chose not to respond).

All I can say is, if these are the men who are officially charged with policing our young people and enforcing the county or state guidelines governing them, then we've got a much more pressing, in-our-face issue to be concerned with over and above Al-Quaeda and the price of gas. Appalling. Read on.

The Beef (C. H. Flowers High School Athletic Director), (Principal, C. H. Flowers High School), (District 3 Prince George's County Board of Education), (John Birkhea, Principal, Bowie High School), (Head Track Coach, Bowie High School), (Superintendent of Prince George's County Schools): Just a sampling of movers and shakers to whom I sent the following e-mail on 5/19/07.

Mr. Hawkins, even though you were in attendance at Saturday's Regional Track and Field Championships at C. H. Flowers High School you may not be aware of the unfortunate situation that I am about to describe, due to the lateness of your arrival at the event (I came up and shook your hand as you entered and mentioned the athletic awards banquet at High Point last Monday). It involves Mr. Franklin—the only person in the press booth/box whose name I got—and the rather large gentleman in the booth who was at the controls of the music being piped through the PA system at the meet. I'm sure Mr. Franklin can identify this individual. And if these two gentlemen were operating in an official capacity for PGCPS or Flowers High School, then a grievous mistake was made in allowing them to perform in their meet capacities, and at the very least it would seem that a reprimand is in order.

Also, please know that an article is in the works for publication at, and I'll be copying the Gazette Newspaper on this e-mail.

The Incident
So this is probably the 10th or 11th P.G. County High School outdoor meet I've attended this season, and, notably, the first where the officials have taken it upon themselves to "provide" music for the entire fan base during an event. The fact that the Hip Hop music blared much too loudly, making it difficult at times to make out what the announcer was saying, was the least of the problems with the music. What was most disturbing was the content of much of the music, and the irresponsibility demonstrated by Mr. Franklin and the stout DJ when they were confronted with the issue. The large gentleman chose to offer replies such as, "I ain't apologizing for nothin," to a lady who complained, and "you ain't even gotta be here," to me. Mr. Franklin himself chose to make excuses and focus more on how he thought that my intrusion into the booth demonstrated disrespect towards him (rather than recognizing and addressing the more pressing, real issue at hand). My entry into the booth went like this, after I knocked and was bid "enter," I stated in a very calm tone: "But for real, that music you guys are playing is very inappropriate. There are children out there, and they don't need to have lyrics such as 'freak you,' 'in the bedroom,' 'make you scream with pleasure,' and the like, forced upon them." Both Mr. Franklin and the large one immediately took offense, and, as I said, began to make excuses and/or harass me.

Mr. Franklin, who, based on his announcing of the events, I assumed was a reasonable, intelligent track and field patron. I would not assume to make any such characterizations about the DJ, as all of his actions demonstrated just the opposite in terms of character and public relations skills. I must say that I was completely surprised by Mr. Franklin's childishly absurd reaction to my complaint.

There are so very many issues at play that manifested themselves during this circumstance, many of which I think speak volumes about what is at the core of many of the problems with the P.G. County School System: our irresponsible adults. How is it that these two presumed employees assumed that it would be acceptable to play this type of music in a public setting where children of all ages, parents and grandparents would be in attendance? Are there no guidelines in place that speak to what is and is not acceptable at PGCPS-sponsored events? I know there's a code of conduct that the students are supposed to adhere to and be subject to, but why should they when those who have charge over them don't demonstrate any sense of public decorum. Is there no screening process for the personnel who work such events? I realize that the meet itself was very short-handed in terms of help on the track. Did that extend to the announcing booth, as well? (And if it did, that's still no excuse.)

I place more of the blame on Mr. Franklin, who was clearly the elder statesman in the booth, and to whom the large guy deferred on one occasion by saying, "You need to talk to that man right there" (pointing to Mr. Franklin, when the woman complained directly to the DJ). Instead of taking the situation personally, Mr. Franklin should have taken it upon himself to gag the music when it first began. But he did not. In fact, the excuse he offered to me and the woman had to do with, "the kids gave us those songs, and we haven't had a chance to listen to them," and similarly inane arguments. I ask you, what grown man plays a list of songs submitted by P.G. County Public High School students in a public forum without first checking the songs themselves? The only answers can be, "an incompetent" or "a deaf person." And I ask you, what child would be able to offer up the excuses Mr. Franklin uttered and expect to be taken seriously or get away with it? It really concerns me that Mr. Franklin responded as he did, and makes me wonder in what other official school-related capacities he serves and whether he operates as a puppet to the whims of the students, as he apparently did here, in all cases?

But even after offering these excuses, Mr. Franklin did nothing about the offending music still blaring from the speakers. He and the thick-necked gentleman angrily shooed me from the booth as if I was the one in the wrong for pointing out truth to them. I could tell from our exchange that one was belligerent and the other was simply ignorant and that I would be getting nowhere with either of them, especially the ignorant one, so I sought a higher authority. (It should be noted that before I actually entered the booth to voice my complaint I did speak to the stout white gentleman who I noticed moving in and out of the booth. I only note his race for identification purposes in case you need someone to corroborate my version of the event. Besides Richard Andrulonis—whom I trust you recognize as Bowie High School's head track coach—there were no other white men who I saw in or around the booth during this period. This other booth worker said to me, "Yeah, I know what you mean. I'll say something to them but it won't do any good." And I'm not making this up!) Back to seeking a higher authority, I went back to the front gate of the facility to inquire as to which person on site was ultimately in charge of the event. I was told (reluctantly, I might add) that it was Mr. Andrulonis. So, I spoke to the coach of our team who pointed out Andrulonis to me across the field, and then volunteered to speak to Mr. Andrulonis on my behalf. A few minutes after he tracked him down I noticed Mr. Andrulonis heading for the booth. And then suddenly, sweet silence (in terms of the music). We could then hear every word the announcer, Mr. Franklin, so eloquently spoke concerning the races, and our senses were no longer being assaulted. Thank God for at least one responsible grown man in authority (Andrulonis)!

It is very disheartening to me that this incident even unfolded. I had decided to hold my tongue on the matter when it first began on the first day of the meet, Friday, in hopes that maybe they'd leave out the music on today, Saturday. And I may have even let it go on Saturday had they not slipped in the very vulgar and suggestive songs. But in my opinion, having any music with lyrics playing while announcing is going on is counterproductive. (It flies in the face of everything I learned in my radio 101 class 25 years ago.) I trust my complaint will be taken to heart and acted on judiciously.

The following are some of the e-mailed responses (and/or non-responses) and dialogue resulting from my complaint. We heard from government officials (many—like P.G. County Councilman David Harrington who took the time to call me and left a voice message but never responded to the voice message or numerous e-mails I replied to him with—offering simple lip service or empty gestures, IMHO) and other concerned parties (e.g., community activists, parents). We even received a (pretty anemic) letter from the governor's office just this past Friday. Special thanks to stalwart Prince George's County activist and entrepreneur (and my HU '82 classmate) Arthur Turner for his support in this matter and for getting the e-mail out to a much wider, much more influential audience than we ever could on our own. To the responses (not necessarily in chronological order):

July 6, 2007

Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers]
Dear Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers]:

Thank you for your email regarding inappropriate music at the Regional Track & Field Championships. It is disappointing to learn that offensive music was allowed to be broadcast over the public address system at a Regional Track Meet. At the same time, it was encouraging to learn that the music was discontinued once the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Associations (MPSSAA) Regional Director requested its cessation.

Regional meets are qualifying events for the State meet. Those meets are conducted by local school personnel on behalf of the MPSSAA. As a member of the MPSSAA, each school is asked to provide support for State programs.

It is my understanding that this fall the MPSSAA plans to unveil a sportsmanship initiative entitled “Respect the Game.” The purpose of the campaign will be to heighten sportsmanlike awareness and address similar issues as the one you described.

Thank you again for your email and for sharing your concerns on this very important issue. If you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Edward F. Sparks, Executive Director, MPSSAA, who may be reached at 410-767-0555.
Mr. Sparks will be pleased to assist you.


Nancy S. Grasmick
State Superintendent of Schools
[The Governor's office]
On 5/24/07, <> wrote:

Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shopper], I am providing (below) the PGCPS Administrative Procedure that addresses the concern you raised in your recent email Inappropriate Music at Saturday's Track Meet. I hope this provides information as to what the system currently has in place and encourage you to distribute it and provide comments.
Thank you, Donna Hathaway Beck [P.G. County School Board, At-large member]
Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers]--
my name is avis thomas-lester and i am a reporter for the washington post. i would love to talk to you about the incident at the game. would u call me when u receive this at 202-262-0524. i have written extensively about prince george's county. feel free to call jacob and or arthur turner if you would like to ask about me or check me on or google. i am looking into a possible story on the incident. i look forward to speaking with u.
[She e-mailed initially, I called...called again...e-mailed...nothing]
Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers]:

Please forgive me for not responding to your email immediately, but I was out of town attending my Godson’s Graduation Ceremony from college.

I wish you had mentioned this to me when I met you at the track meet Saturday. It is truly unfortunate that this occurred. As you know this was a Regional track meet which is part of the State Tournament. The Office of Interscholastic Athletics does not conduct the regional meets. We do provide support if requested by the Meet Director.

I have spoken with the meet director and the athletic director of C. H. Flowers regarding the music. This will not happen again. Additionally, we will add specific language to the Athletic Handbook to address appropriate music before, during, and after contest.

Thank you for your concerns. If you need additional information, please do not hesitate to call me at 301-808-8273 or 74.


To: Mr. Earl Hawkins


I appreciate that, Mr. Hawkins, and it was actually my plan to speak to you about the situation when I approached you, but if you recall as soon as we were done with introductions and pleasantries another gentleman (who also happened to be one of the ones hanging out in the booth area, if I recall correctly) came up and interrupted. Had my daughter not been with me I may have waited him out.

But I do thank you for your response. And actually my feeling is that the issue runs deeper than mere handbook legislation. I have to ask myself why many of the track athletes make the flawed assumption that it's acceptable to call someone "N*gger," or use other foul language in my presence or the company of any who might happen to be in the stands as a spectator or simply walking on the school's track during a practice session. And I have to ask why I have had to get into confrontations with students who are cursing loudly at High Point High School basketball games and at other schools in the county when I've been in attendance with my little ones. What is it about their school (and home, probably) environment that puts them at ease with these actions?

I'm venting some here, and those are semi-rhetorical questions. I realize there's no easy solution, especially considering what goes on in some of our kids' homes. I do appreciate you getting back to me and addressing this issue, Mr. Hawkins.

And congratulations on your godson's graduation.

Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers
Good Afternoon:

There is no excuse nor apology that can nor will suffice for our children and s to be forced to endure such music. I, like Mr. Hawkins, can assure that an incident of this nature will never again occur at Charles Herbert Flowers High School.

Helena Nobles-Jones
[Principal, C. H. Flowers High School]
Mr. [Beltsville Vicinity Shopper],

Thank you for your attentiveness and proactive response to the situation you describe below. I am adding Mrs. Sylvia Love to my response for the following reason -- in the late 90's Sylvia and I were PTA President and Vice President together and had a similar concern about inappropriate lyrics at our children's dance. We, like you, were outraged that we were doing all we needed to in our homes so our kids would know we did not support vulgar dancing or lyrics but that our schools were allowing unrestricted "music". Like you, our children -- a full decade ago -- were subjected to ual lyrics and lyrics denigrating women and relationships. Sylvia, and her son Justin, were the subject of a newspaper article in the (now defunct) Journal newspaper about this issue. There was a big stink about our protest among the DJ community, however we were able to get a "DJ Contract" (at our school only?) that said the DJ would not be paid of vulgar or ual lyrics were played at events. Some DJs merely censored the offensive word/s -- that the students knew anyway -- and this drew more attention to the dilemma.

I will revisit this issue with Mrs. Love -- perhaps she has the newspaper article from years ago? -- and will research within the system to see what measures are (or are not) in place concerning DJ contracts. Simply put, I share your concern and lived this situation a decade ago. Time to do something.

Sylvia Love: please contact me!

Donna Hathaway Beck
Member, Board of Education
[Mr. Beltsville Vicinity Shopper],
I have forwarded this email to Dr. Deasy for appropriate action to curtail IMMEDIATELY the playing of "rap music" at school events. Additionally, I have asked him to investigate and take appropriate action regarding school system employees who may have acted outside of proper protocols.
I will follow up to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.
Sincerely, Rosalind A. Johnson

It's so much easier to give in, to simply acquiesce to the status quo and leave our children to their own devices and those of the rest of the world in matters such as these. But then later when we're the ones complaining, "Young people ain't got no respect for their elders no more. They just treat people any old way!" Can there really be any wonder why? I implore my readership, when you hear that little voice inside you saying, "Something's not ri-ight here...," do heed it and DO SOMETHING! Be smart about it, of course. But resolve to never again have a "Man! I shoulda said somethin'!" regret. You may be surprised who has your back.

Since all this unfolded in May, we've received a whole rack of so-far-hollow feedback, but not one word specific to Mr. Franklin or Heavy DJ. I guess the proof will be in the putting next time we visit Flowers. At the very least, I would think that a public apology for offending and/or aiding in the corruption of hundreds of people would be warranted. (An e-mail to this blog——for publication would do nicely.) At a minimum, the two culprits should be publicly identified (by more than simply "Mr. Franklin" and "Corpulent Cat"). See, that's the problem: No one is ever truly held responsible in the end.

At the time, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the extremely agitated DJ. He was being snarky and unreasonable, sure, but in the back of my mind I kept hoping that despite his appearance his LDL cholesterol number was below 100. In his agitated state it would have been just my misfortune to have been the only person in the booth well-versed in CPR/mouth-to-mouth at the time. I didn't want him popping and keeling over on my visit! What an ironic ending that would have been. Eeww.

In Closing, For Black Readers Only!
If you are not black, you are invited to continue your daily 'Net surfing elsewhere per normal; you don't need to read this "P.S.," 'cause I'm about to go Bill Cosby up in hur:

Can any of you, my melanin-endowed brothers and sisters, please enlighten me as to why the only two characters on the other side of this drama who displayed a modicum of common sense and decency were the two gentlemen of European descent?! (This is, of course, something of a rhetorical question, which has been answered time and time again, but which I just could not pass up an opportunity to pose once again, in hopes that it might engender some deep introspection in us all.) What makes it even harsher is that the stadium crowd, including athletes, was approximately 80 percent black. So, here we had our people being led astray, once again, by our people. And folks still insist on blaming all our woes as a race on somebody else!

How are you gonna broadcast music that includes the word "n*gger" to a crowd of 400 black people with even one single white person in the audience, let alone the 15 or so who were there on this day? Not to mention the smattering of Latinos in the crowd. How can you do that and look yourself in the mirror and say, "Oh yeah, the ancestors would be proud of you, boy! You a DJ-ing fool!"? Tell me how you do that! What's the message to the other peoples? What observations will they take from it? "Oh, see, it's ok if we call them n*ggers. See how happy they are when they hear their own people call them by that slave moniker? They're such a fun-loving, forgiving people."

And oh! This was evidently not the first time the detrimental duo of Fatman and Franklin have struck at Flowers. Speaking to another track patron and friend a few weeks after my encounter with them, he told me that the same thing happened—minus the confrontation—at a meet he attended at Flowers this year! He said he almost bit a hole in his lip restraining himself from storming the booth! (Granted, it could have been two different antagonists in the booth that time, but as my friend described the situation it bore all the earmarks of my two adversaries. And even if there were different villains involved, this demonstrates a pattern of irresponsibility and lack of oversight on the part of the school itself and other officials!)

I'm not even trying to spin this as a race thing. I'm really not. But it's hard to deny it as one more example of oppression from factions inside our own camp, not from without! As I indicated, this only happened at one of the dozen track meets I attended this season, and the vast majority featured very similar demographics. And maybe it would have happened at one of twelve predominantly white meets had I attended, as well (since their kids are as much into Hip-Hop as ours). But had a patron/parent at one of their meets politely asked—twice—about the music, I can pretty much guarantee it would not have gotten ugly like it did at Flowers! Feel free to disagree, but you'd probably be wrong.

As Mr. Cosby indicated, black children are running around speaking a strange form of the English language, illiterate, and yet this is what we serve up to them at a public, school-related function? "Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other n------ as they're walking up and down the street..." And here are these two knuckleheads—GROWN MEN—condoning this rueful condition by foisting more of this garbage upon the kids and the rest of us.

I'd compare these two guys to the black slave owners who fought with the South during the Civil War in order to save slavery. Sure, they were more subtle on this Saturday in question; no muskets or cannons, but the result—the repulsive repression of their own people—was the same. More sophisticated, but the same result in the long run. One of the most unfortunate aspects of this, though, may be that at least the black slave owners stood to benefit financially from their folly. Maybe the portly DJ did, as well, in this case, which would explain his vehement position. But typically the folks who run these meets are un-paid volunteers. Dr. Claude Anderson talks about this type of cultural stupidity that blacks have been inculcated with, yes, by whites, in his book Powernomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America. has some poignant excerpts from one of Dr. Anderson's talks on the matter, just in case you think I'm just making stuff up.

Black people, when will we stop pointing fingers elsewhere quite so much, and start taking responsibility for our own morass? Sadly, I doubt we ever will, wholly. Our leadership isn't bold enough to affect real, visceral change, and Lord knows it won't happen spontaneously. Yes, true, the spectre of hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crowism continues to glower over us like a hungry vulture ready to strip flesh from our bones. But the beast is being nourished entirely too well and too regularly as a result of the black community's pernicious diet of indifference and irresponsibility, as evidenced by our brethren at Flowers this day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

UPDATE: Wendy's Gets it Well Done!

Business: Wendy's #128
Location: 11741 Beltsville Dr. (Calverton Shopping Center), Calverton, MD
Date of incident: May 19, 2007

Quick Hit
This is an update to my Sunday, May 20 posting entitled "Maria at Wendy's Shows Her True Colores with On-the-job Rip at Blacks" (below). Well, Wendy's did the right thing.

The Beef
None this time ("Where's the beef?!). I just got off the phone with Cindy Altman of DavCo Restaurants, owner of the Wendy's franchise where Maria, the culprit in this account, works...or should I say worked, and many other locations in the D.C./Maryland area. Cindy informed me that shortly after I left the restaurant on Saturday, the manager, Philip, took Maria off the clock and sent her home. The next day she was formally terminated. Man. Sounds so final. Anyway, Philip contacted regional, and regional gave him the go-ahead to make the move.

So Wendy's and Philip get a decidedly up-turned thumb here. Although you still feel badly for anyone who loses a job, especially under such tense circumstances. But Maria's fate could have been so easily avoided.

Turns out, what she dropped on the floor was a drive-thru customer's bag of food as she was about to hand it out through the window. The customer simply asked for another sandwich! That doesn't sound too unreasonable to me. To you? But evidently Maria had a problem with it. I don't know if it was a cultural thing, or what, but I hope she can now take the old truism to heart that the customer is always right. Black or white. Or anything in between.

Kudos, Wendy's.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Maria at Wendy's Shows Her True Colores
with On-the-job Rip at Blacks

Business: Wendy's #128
Location: 11741 Beltsville Dr. (Calverton Shopping Center), Calverton, MD
Date of incident: May 19, 2007

Quick Hit
Simply put, Maria at this Wendy's fast food location needs to be fired immediately for her
indiscretion and racist outburst. I guess she should have looked up to see who was waiting in line before her stupidity got the best of her.

The Beef
It happened just like that. I stopped in at Wendy's to pick up my daughter's usual Saturday post-track-meet meal, a spicy chicken sandwich, and witnessed one of the most brazen examples of race hate I've ever personally seen up close. And the source of it was somewhat surprising. But maybe it shouldn't have been?

When I walked in there were five or six white gentlemen in the winding line in front of me, and there was what sounded like a heated argument going on behind the counter between the African manager (he seemed to be doing most of the talking) and one or two Hispanic women. During the five to six seconds it took me to walk to the back of the line I was only able to make out three things in the very emphatic exchange: the manager said something to the effect of, "If it falls on the floor, THAT'S A PROBLEM!" Then one Hispanic lady went and did it: She replied to the manager, "It's only a problem for black people!"

I guess my first reaction was disbelief at what I had just heard this chica utter. Then, as what she said resonated in my mind a couple seconds, it made me want to slide over the stainless steel counter like a black Jack Bauer and get up in her face to forcefully question whether she and her entire family circle were even in this country legally!

The manager, in his heavy African accent and rapid-fire delivery, handled the moment as best he could considering the timing (lobby full of patrons), I guess. He shot back without missing a beat, "Don't you say that again! You're in the wrong!" Or something close to that. Had I been in his shoes I doubt I would have been so judicious in the heat of the moment.

After that, I don't think I took my eyes off Maria (the manager, Philip, told me her name when I inquired about what had just happened...and I told him, "She's got to go!"). I watched, no, glared at her intently until my order was ready and I was set to leave. Besides me and Philip, there were no other black people in the restaurant at the time, and about 10 whites eating in the dining area. And everyone behind the counter besides Philip was Hispanic. Maria cast a few glances my way as she wrapped sandwiches and served customers at the drive-thru window. But she didn't let her gaze linger. Not like I wanted her to. I was trying to read her mind, hoping that she would say something else now that I was front and center waiting for my order. But as I gathered my food and took one last backwards glance at her, I thought I saw fear and shame in her posture and eyes, as if she was wondering whether I'd be waiting outside for her after her shift, and like she has just betrayed her race by revealing the secret of how Hispanics really view us, the race they recently supplanted (13% to 14%) as the largest minority in America.

The thumbs down designation with this article is more for Maria and her mindset than the restaurant itself. I never did find out what had fallen on the floor, but judging from Philip's reaction, it probably wasn't something innocuous like a kids' meal toy. I doubt very seriously Wendy's cultivated Maria's behavior. She assuredly brought that raggedy baggage with her.

But maybe I'm just being too sensitive. I mean, in a back-handed sort of way was Maria actually complimenting black people on our hygienic sensibilities compared to other people's? Nah, probably not.

It remains to be seen whether Wendy’s rectifies the situation by doing the right thing. Hopefully, as I pen this piece 24 hours after the incident, Maria has already been made an example of and the message that bigotry won't be tolerated on a Wendy’s crew has already gone forth, en español! Rest assured, I'll be checking back with Philip. Fortunately, I left my card with him, just in case he needs a witness to present to upper management to back up his firing of Maria.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Clean Collars and a Lot of Name Dropping Give Nu Look Cleaners (Pant) Leg Up on the Competition

Business: Nu Look 1 Hour Cleaners
Location: 4418 Powder Mill Road, Beltsville, MD, 301.937.6441
Date of incident: Pretty much every Saturday

Quick Hit

Nu-Look Cleaners, shoved back in the corner of one of the least descript, but highly, highly trafficked little strip malls in Beltsville, is a bastion of consistently genial customer relations, proving that the race really is given not so much to the swift, but to them that endure.

The Run-up
As my loyal 13 readers (up from last month’s 12, thank you very much) know, this channel is typically devoted to the reporting of incidents (as opposed to the type of general account I embark upon with this one) where customer service is at the core, whether the service was commendable or contemptible. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which being the dramatically decreased likelihood that a disgruntled merchant will sue me if I'm simply penning an account of a factual occurrence, and citing my sources, as opposed to dolling out subjective reviews of folks' business operations. But this divergence from the reporting norm has been burgeoning for some months now, as the folks at my new cleaners, aptly named Nu Look, have continually impressed. (I jettisoned my last cleaners, just up Powder Mill Rd. from Nu Look, because the necks of my white shirts consistently came back gray, and they either didn’t understand my incessant complaints in English too well, or chose to relentlessly ignore them. I hated having to leave them, mainly 'cause they gave my kids lollipops; but I just got tired of being suckered.)

Nu-Look’s proprietor is a gregarious big Greek with a moderately graying goatee, George Stratigis. His 76-year-old mom, who worked the place when George’s dad owned it (1968-1987) until he retired and passed it on to his ambitious son in his 70s, is by George’s side as a constant reminder of the legacy he’s obliged to uphold. This sweet, devoted Catholic lady, who can usually be found seated at the seamstress station to the left when entering, looks like she’d just as readily cook you up a hot Souvlaki plate as hem your slacks.

What's In A Name
You’d be hard pressed (pun fully intended) to find a friendlier business in our coverage area than Nu-Look Cleaners. I keep waiting for George to trip up and not remember a customer’s name who walks in the door while I’m there. Most of the time he doesn't even need to take a customer's receipt in order to retrieve his or her garments. He has sometimes had mine waiting at the cash register, having seen me pull up, before I can even get inside. When I first witnessed this name-recollection phenomenon I took it as a warning sign that business wasn’t so hot and there were only a dozen or so customers keeping the place afloat, and therefore George knew them all. But the bloated racks of plastic dangling from the anaconda-like racks winding from front to rear of the cavernous space quickly disabused me of that notion. And not only does he call each of us by name, he’s got questions! “How’d your daughter do at the track meet last week, Johnnie?” “Mr. such-and-such, how was Florida?” “Ms. Such-and-such, do you know my customer Mr. B who attended that other HU?” (I let him slide on that one.) George’s face-name recognition is just uncanny. I think it was only my second or third trip there when he had mine down. Granted, when you’re a cross between Denzel and Jerry Lewis you’re more apt to leave a lasting impression on a fellow, but still…

George, a sports junky, like me, is loving this time of year. When I make my usual Saturday stop in there tomorrow he’ll undoubtedly have the boom box tuned to whatever NCAA March Madness game is in progress. While he exchanges my dirties for my cleans, we’ll opine about the prospects of local teams Maryland and Georgetown, he’ll gently boast that he had VCU over Duke the whole way, then another customer will come in behind me (yes, whom he’ll greet by name), and he’ll send me off with a booming, “take care!”

Just the other day there were Girl Scout Cookies for sale on the little table in the corner by the front door, the space George often reserves for wares proffered by other neighborhood entrepreneurs. Early this winter one of his female customers had convinced him—pretty easily, I’m sure—to let her stack her hand-made, exotically-scented, under-door, cold air stoppers there. If there had been an Elmo-themed one, I would’ve picked it up. And George has enthusiastically agreed to support the sports teams at the local high school, High Point. That is if the school’s booster club can ever get its act together. But that’s another blog entry—the utter ineptitude in the administration of our public schools—one that I am desperately trying not to pen.

But George’s civic sensibilities and home-spun conviviality would be all for naught if Nu-Look didn’t also get my shirt collars exquisitely clean and have everything ready on time. Had that not been the case they would have merely been the fourth in the litany of Beltsville cleaners I tried out. I didn’t even mind it one bit when my favorite pink tie got separated from the rest of my batch once. George came right out and told me the neck-piece had gone missing and asked that I give him a couple of days to find it. “I’m pretty sure it’ll turn up.” If it didn’t, he promised to replace it, “no problem.” He had me almost wishing it wouldn’t show up, so I could score a new silk Armani, but it did a few days later, stuck to another customer’s bundle.

When asked, George told me that’s just the way he was taught to treat people in general, and especially when the people represent the lifeblood of your business, your family's livelihood. He attributes his penchant for remembering the names on the tickets to the tutelage of Charlie Weller, owner of Weller’s Cleaners, which is still located on Fenton St. in Silver Springs, for whom George worked during his teen years. And, of course, dear old dad left a major imprint on George during the 40 years he had him under his wing before he passed about six years ago. George’s work ethic, infectious ebullience, and propensity towards the people have served him well in all of his professional endeavors, which have included working for his dad in the shop George now owns, as an assistant deli manager at a local Giant grocery store, and as a builder of homes and restaurants all around the D.C. area.

No Beef Here
So you can skip right down to the epilogue for this post.

So, like my barber, touch-free car wash, dentist, and parakeet vet, once I find a good thing—in this case a cleaners who really shows a special appreciation for his patrons—I stick with ‘em. So, next time you’re languishing in one of the inevitable traffic tie-ups on that stretch of Powder Mill Rd., stop into the 7-11 for a cup of bad java and then stroll the 40 feet down to the other end of the complex to witness George in action droppin’ names. It would probably help, though, if you planned ahead and actually threw your soiled “dry clean only” garments in the car beforehand. Otherwise, that would just be, well, weird.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jackson Hewitt's Scorn and $1K Mistake Inspire a Crusade, Blog

Since this is the incident that started it all (my vendetta and this blog site), and since tax season has officially begun (note all the recently re-opened store-front tax prep shops), I thought it would be appropriate to rekindle my rage (albeit years after the fact) and renew a warning by re-posting this entry from June 23, 2006.

The Beef

The following in bold is excerpted from one of the faxes I sent Mr. Bhanbri (I think that's how it's spelled), owner of the Jackson Hewitt tax preparation franchise location in Beltsville, MD, at 11611 Beltsville Dr. (and the one in Hyattsville, MD, so beware of that one, as well). It sums up my on-going tragic dispute with this bumbling, disreputable establishment:

Since Jackson Hewitt has chosen not to respond to my repeated and numerous requests for restitution to the I.R.S., or to correct the problems it caused by making errors on my 2003 Federal Tax Return, I have no choice but to take drastic measures. If I have to pay the additional $900.00+ dollars due to your error, then I will do everything in my power to cause JH to lose several times over that amount in revenue. This final message is to notify you that I will be writing to the BBB, Washington Post and Times, WJLA TV “7 On Your Side,” and passing out flyers in my "free time" in the area around the JH Hewitt location (Beltsville, MD) that made the TWO costly errors. You have caused a major delay in my ability to get our 2004 taxes prepared by your failure to make things right with our 2003 return.

And even though Mr. Bhanbri assured me over the phone that he would "take care of" the error that his employee Veronica made, and even though I repeatedly notified JH's corporate offices of the problem, approximately three years later there has been no restitution. And I didn't even mention the small error that the same locale, same lady, made on our 2002 return! We received a refund that year, and at least the net result of the IRS catching that error was simply a reduction (I forget by how many hundreds) in the amount we got back.

Yes, I realize, of course, that the obvious question is, "Why would you go back to that place for 2003 tax prep after they made the mistake with your 2002 return?" But ain't that beside the point here? Plus, everybody makes a mistake here and there, but now JH falls into the chronic offender file, as far as I'm concerned.

When JH made the whopper of an error that caused us to have to fork over $900+ extra dollars to Uncle (Scrooge) Sam, Mr. Bhanbri had the temerity to point out at first that I had not shelled out the extra cash to purchase JH's guarantee (I think they called it "gold" or something)--even after Veronica admitted making the blunder in the return prep!!! I told him I didn't want to hear that nonsense, and pointed out that I shouldn't have to pay extra in order for them to make good on the gaffe they made and admitted to.

Now that we've moved on and have a CPA prepare our taxes we really see our folly. Our CPA pointed out that Jackson Hewitt and places like it are often staffed by very inexperienced tax preparers, with only hours of training on how to use the software, but very little experience with tax law or real return preparation.

Well, true to my word I contacted all those media outlets I mentioned, but none of them did anything. BUT, during the height of tax season this year I must have turned away at least 10 customers virtually at JH's threshold! I made up flyers that told my story in short order ("JH charged me $600.00 for tax prep, made costly errors on my returns two years in a row, and have refused to make it right!") and passed them out in the parking lot at JH to whomever appeared to be headed in that direction carrying a folder full of financial documents. One dude even exclaimed, "Man, you're an angel!!"

So, let's see: If JH charged me $600.00, and, guessing conservatively, would have charged those 10 potential customers that I turned away $400.00, it's clear that JH would have gotten off a lot easier (to the tune of about $3,000 in net lost revenue) by paying me to go away, no? And I ain't done yet, either! I'll be back out there every tax season, me and my flyers, until I get tired of going (or until Bhanbri or JH corporate come up with some creative way to make amends...and not by offering me [poor] free tax preparation for life.)

So, who's preparing your taxes?!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Rosalind's "Performance" at Academy 8 Theaters Really Delivered

Business: Academy 8 Theaters
Location: Beltway Plaza Mall, 6198 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, MD
Date of incident: Friday, December 22, 2006

Quick Hit

This will be a one of my quicker, to-the-point reads. Not much happened in the way of extracurriculars (unlike some of my past accounts) to convolute this story.

A concession-counter attendant at the movies went above and beyond the call of duty and the limitations of her training so that I wouldn't miss a single web that Charlotte weaved, and enhanced my family’s entire theater-going experience. Isn’t it amazing how in these complex, digitally-enhanced, Hi-Def times, the simplest, most common-sense gesture can make all the difference?

The Run-up
It was a dark and stormy night... Seriously. It was. So much so that I dropped my posse off at the curb near the mall entrance to preclude us from taking four or five wet umbrellas inside. That would've gotten nasty. We were feelin’ the holiday vibe "irregardless" (so not a real word) of the weather. We don’t normally venture out to the movies collectively on a Friday night (we typically do Saturday matinees), but I had gotten off work early for the pre-Christmas weekend (that’s right, I said CHRISTmas…not "holiday"!), and it had been the first day of a seven-day stretch off from school and work for my three Rug Rats and my wife. They had all been cooped up indoors the entire day due to the weather, and I was just in a festive mood, raring to do something. So, what’s a family to do during inclement weather but head to the local multiplex to take in a film. In this case, Charlotte’s Web, with Dakota Fanning. (I really dig that little raggedy-toothed child.)

We would normally hit AMC Loews Center Park 8, practically in our Beltsville backyard, for our cinema. As alluded to, it’s close, and, aside from a recent 6 month aberrant period, seems to be pretty well managed. But there must have been something about the timing of the show this night that led us down the road a bit to Academy 8 Theatres in Greenbelt. (Hmm, that’s the first time I’ve ever noticed that both destinations house 8 theaters. I wonder if that’s coincidence or whether all the big movieplexes are set up in multiples of 8 for some reason. Let’s see: AMC Magic Johnson Capital Centre 12, UA Snowden Square Stadium 14, Majestic Cinema 20, Muvico Egyptian 135…so much for that theory. That exercise only proved that movie theater names have gotten way confusing and over-the-top, and there's far too many of them under one roof these days. Whatever happened to simple, memorable and regal theater names like The Uptown, KB-Cerberus, Tivoli, and, well, Regal Cinema?)

Finding a parking space, getting tickets, traipsing inside and securing good seats...all that went uneventfully. And then came my task of getting everyone’s concession orders and heading back out to the lobby to fill them. I had performed this task numerous times, and could pretty much predict who wanted what. So when my eldest and I arrived back out at the concession counter to order we anticipated a drama-free transaction. When will I learn?

The Meat (how’ll see why)
But it wasn’t a major conundrum that we faced. There just weren’t any hot dogs ready! After we began our order with "three hot dogs...," Rosalind, our leading lady in this yarn, abruptly stepped away and out of sight around to one side of the U-shaped counter. "Uhm, what just happened?" I wondered. "Was she even listening?" She was gone for what seemed like several minutes, and my daughter and I stood there vexed. Maybe she was preparing the hot dogs over there? But why wouldn't she just take my entire order before lurching into gathering mode? But when Rosalind came back empty-handed I wondered if she had just been goofing off! Come on. You know what kind of service some of these young people render. Over the years, I’ve taken many a youngling to task for poor manners or inappropriate behind-the-counter behavior. Just ask my wife and kids. But, thank God, that was not the case with Rosalind. She returned and apologized that there were no hot dogs ready at the time and that it would be about 15 minutes for them to cook (she had been around the corner placing them on that cool rolly-grill thingy). She asked if I would like to get everything else, pay for everything—including the dogs—and allow her to bring the hot dogs into the theater to me when they were ready! And there it was: The blog-worthy instance. To think that Rosalind would actually seek us out in a dark movie theater to deliver three hot hot dogs...This was one of those moments that take you completely by surprise. When you’re expecting the worse (Uh, man, we ain’t got no hot dogs rhat neah. You kin come back in ‘bout fiteen minits doe, Joe.), sometimes, the children, they just make you wanna' hug their neck, don't they?

So after I was able to collect myself, I responded "sure, that would be perfect." Rosalind asked which movie we were seeing, loaded us up with all our other high-fructose corn syrup and salt-saturated items, and sent us packing. We grabbed condiments, but when Rosalind brought the smoldering hot dogs in to us she even brought fixin’s and napkins herself! What. A. Gal!

Somebody at Academy 8 needs to know about this young lady’s admirable conduct. It needs to be nurtured, lauded, and, most importantly, promulgated up in there. (Nevermind the question dangling out there begging to be asked: Why weren't there any dogs on the rollers in the first place?!)

Rosalind’s performance in her role of concession-stand champion was a cinematic triumph of epic proportions. This is especially true when you realize that she improvised the entire thing. (I know because I inquired as to whether Academy 8 employees are trained—like McDonald’s employees who ask you to pull up from the drive-thru window so they can bring your order out to you once it’s ready—to do what she did. And they are not. She did this of her own volition.) Rosalind brought a refreshing presence and sense of responsibility to an otherwise pedestrian script. It was as if she wasn’t even acting; like it came natural for her. Her initiative and the way she completely lost herself in the role of servant make her worthy of a raise and employee of the month honors, if not Oscar consideration. Alas, if there were only more superb interpretations like hers in people-service roles.

A standing "O" and two emphatic digits up for Rosalind’s shining moment!

Monday, October 23, 2006

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit: Finish Line Sports Store in Laurel Mall Makes up for (Mostly) My Shopping Misstep

Business: Finish Line #370
Location: Laurel Mall, 14828 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, MD 20707
Date of incident: Friday, October 13, 2006

Quick Hit
Ever heard of a shoe merchant allowing a customer to return a pair of shoes after he'd worn them, even though said customer tried the shoes on in the store before purchasing? (I hope the young man who initiated this event, with an assist from my inattention to detail on that day, doesn't pay the price after this write-up...but I've got to blog!) Well, that's exactly what happened at Finish Line sports store in Laurel after a clerk went unchecked when he brought me out a pair of "Tims" one-half size smaller than requested.

The Run-up Pt. 1
I guess there is still some virtue left in the sad little shopping destination known as Laurel Mall. It’s depressing how the once semi-regal, bustling commerce center has basically crumbled, literally, over the last few years. I remember when I used to work there, in housewares at Hecht’s part-time, when a fly-over/breezeway connected open-air Laurel Lakes Centre and the more sophisticated (by Laurel standards, anyway) covered mall. But evidently neglect and abuse eventually did in the short-cut tube (it leaked, and water-soaked insulation threatened to rain down on passers-through the last time I traversed it), and the Mall and Centre essentially became like rival bordering countries with no easy passage to either. In later years, long after my departure, came the stories of collapsing parking-lot ramps at the place. Even the McDonald's in the food court closed! If that weren't apocalyptic enough, I think it officially jumped the shark when the circus tent was erected over the front parking lot entrance, ostensibly as an enhancement? Now my infrequent visits there, usually during times of extreme desperation or utter boredom, have seemed like field trips to a morgue.

But, lest I depress myself and you further, I stopped by today to extol the virtues of one of the brave few still…exiled…in the wasteland of Laurel Mall: Finish Line sports store Sales Manager Aaron Winston. Kidding aside, I'm sure Aaron is perfectly happy plying his trade in that particular outpost of Finish Line, either because it's convenient to home or because the relative solitude suits him. The other night, though, Aaron "blew up" (and I mean that in the best possible way), at least in my eyes. And until you people start to contribute more material to this site, aren’t those the only eyes that matter?

What made Aaron's deed that much more notable, from a customer-service perspective, is that he (with a half-hearted assist from one of his staff) essentially compensated for a rookie shopping mistake that I made.

More Run-up
On Thursday, 10/12, I believe it was, I was strolling around Laurel Mall looking rather pathetic while searching for a pair of casual-Friday shoes of an ilk usually not found in that shopping venue. I abhor shopping, so I had hoped that since Macy’s had replaced the taciturn Hecht’s that their inventory for men had been ratcheted up a notch or two, providing me with a relatively stress-free outing. Not! The only thing that had changed was the name above the door. The couture for men was still pretty much West Virginia chic. So instead of making a hasty exit, which my every fiber compelled me to do, I decided to give the entire feeble place the quick once-over, since I had already expended the gas to get there. (I loathe shopping, but if there's one item almost worth the effort, in my opinion, it's the shoes. They're the undergirding for any decent ensemble.)

I thought my only hope was the various so-called trendy little boutiques that try to attract the young neo-urban Laurel crowd. Quite frankly, I think any young playa caught out in public in most of that stuff they try to move should have his Gangsta’ card revoked. So, besides the confrontation I initiated with the clerk in one store, Ablaze (which was definitely not on fire), for the expletive-heavy rap music (and I make the association “rap” with “music” very reluctantly) they dared blast through the shabby little place (again, trying to appeal to our misguided youth), the boutique visits were uneventful and unfruitful.

Same for all the sports stores: Champs, Footlocker, FootAction, etc., which now carry not only athletic gear, but some casual footwear, as well. But, alas, they didn’t have anything for me. So my very last stop, appropriately enough, was to be Finish Line sports store, and I only stayed the course and stopped in there because I had to pass it to get to my car. And that’s where I struck pay dirt!

I don’t even know whether I knew that Timberland made anything other than boots. I’m sure my fashion-savvy loyal eight readers knew, but I don’t know that I knew. But there they were. The Timberland Men's Grammercy Elite, sitting there with my name emblazoned across them (figuratively speaking, of course). All fine, cocoa-brown, with just the right accents and aesthetic touches that I like, and buttery soft. At about a hundred bucks, they weren’t cheap, but not what I’d call expensive for men’s shoes either. And besides, I make brown shoes last for years since I don’t wear them that much.

So I asked the young clerk to check for size 11.5 (an important detail to remember in this saga). To my delight, he came back with a box, unpacked everything and handed me the shoes to try on. Left, then right, always my order, since my left foot is slightly larger than my right. I laced them up and took a few steps and it was as if my feet had been waiting to exhale. The Bee Gees started singing Staying Alive in my head, and I strutted to the beat. Besides that pair of blue low-top suede Kareem Adidas basketball sneaks with the removable insoles I had back in the late 70s, I don’t think I’ve ever had anything so comfortable engulf my feet. Easy sale.

The Meat
So, the next day was Friday, casual Friday at the office, and I was looking forward to greeting it in my new heavenly kicks. As I slipped them on that morning I was once again overcome with how my feet just melted into them. Stylin'! But flash forward about four hours: Sitting at my desk later that morning I noted that my feet had slowly begun to feel uncomfortable, squeezed, slightly abrased in the back. “It’s gotta be the shoes,” I thought. Either that or I had developed diabetes just that morning somewhere between Greenbelt Metro parking lot and my desk. “But...but the shoes were so perfect!” So, for the first time, mind you, I checked the size.

ELEVENS?! Noooooo!

Now what? For me there was only one way to go. I called Finish Line and pleaded my case with Stephanie, one of the managers, telling her that the clerk had brought out a size one-half smaller than I had requested, and that since they felt fine when I tried them on in the store I didn’t even bother checking. Well, of course I knew better. I know I wear size 11.5, and I know that whenever I’ve attempted to fudge it and go smaller I’ve paid the price in the end. Stephanie hedged, she explained that they usually don’t take shoes back once they’ve been worn. So I was beginning to resign myself to my fate. But then she surprised me by asking me to hold one while she checked to see whether they even had 11.5 in stock. Before I could question her as to why she would even bother checking, she was gone. She came back to the phone and revealed that they did, in fact, have the correct size in stock. But I asked her how that would benefit me if she hasn’t given me the go-ahead to bring my pair back. I explained that I wasn’t carrying it like that, that I couldn’t just roll up there in my Benzo and drop another $100.00 on the same shoes! Wouldn’t that look silly in my closet?

"Uh, baby, yeah, I know it seems like I wasted money, but, see, this pair here is for casual outings of three hours or less, and this pair here is for longer durations. Just think how long these shoes will last me! "

But Stephanie said that exchanging the shoes "would not be a problem," and then my heart soared. No, really. It actually started to flutter. Then she said that she wouldn't be at the store if I was coming by that night, but that she’d inform the manager coming on duty of what was going on. Right when she said that, my antennae should have tingled and I should've asked her if she'd write him or her a note explaining everything. At least I had the wherewithal to be sure to get her name so I could say "Well, Stephanie said…"

Of course, the fear that should have registered when Stephanie told me she would not be there to personally handle my problem was about to play itself out as I arrived at the store that night...still wearing the slightly-too-small shoes. I first explained myself to the gentleman behind the register, thinking he was the manager on duty. When he proved completely oblivious to my plight and exclaimed, "'re wearing them?!" I knew trouble was brewing. He looked at me a couple of times—as if waiting for me to say "Psyche, I’m just playin’"—and glanced down at my feet a couple of times, and I knew this would not be the angst-free proposition I had hoped for. He finally said something to the effect of "Wait while I get the manager" and disappeared into the back room. "Oh, no!" I thought, "I’m gonna have to explain this all over again, to yet a third person!" But, turned out the third time would, in fact, be the charm.

As Aaron appeared from the rear I also thought, "Oh, great. One of those thick, belligerent-looking, ex-U.S. Ranger-type brothers. Dang! Why isn't he downtown somewhere keeping the riffraff out of some pretentious night club?" But, because it's what I do, I stood my ground and calmly explained that Stephanie and I had spoken and blah, blah, blah. Aaron flexed his tattooed forearm and gave me that street-wary "man, what-in-the-world-are-you-trying-to-pull-here?" smirk. You know the one. And he, too, exclaimed, "’re wearing them?!" (IF ONE MORE PERSON ASKS ME THAT!) Well, yeah. That was the whole idea behind me calling ahead of time, to avoid precisely this rigamarole. And I hadn't been home to change, or anything. What would have been the point, at this point? I explained that if Stephanie had turned me down, then I’d just have to have dealt with it, but now that I was there...

Eventually, and actually without too much drama, Aaron stopped eyeing me and relented. He ambled back to the shelves and brought out the correct size. Interestingly, or ironically, as he re-approached the register he looked at the gentleman whom his employee had been helping when I first walked in and said to him, "Yeah, I’m gonna let you get away with it this time, too." And as that guilty look crept across the customer's face, Aaron continued, "You’re returning shoes, too, right? And you wore them, too, right?" The gentleman sheepishly nodded and shuffled his feet. Now it was clear why he had kept glancing at me as I explained my plight to the first staffer I encountered: because he had tried to be slick about his! (I don’t think Aaron was insinuating here that I had "gotten away with" something by his inclusion of the word "too" when addressing "stealth customer." I mean, I was above board with mine the whole time. At least I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Aaron don’t wanna see me! Just kidding, Aaron.)

Anyway, after Aaron let undercover brother off the hook, he got me all exchanged in the computer and, with a smile, thanked me for my business. So, of course with that I thought, "I smell a blog entry!" So I asked him his name and he graciously extended a handshake, told me and offered me a business card.

I appreciate Aaron, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Stephanie, bailing my bacon out in this instance. And I don't blame them for being mildly reluctant to swap the shoes, either. I mean, the other shopper-dude was running game right there at the same time! What a co-inky-dink! In my state of shoe-shopping euphoria, I broke one of my own cardinal rules by not checking my purchase before I left the store. Did I mention I hate shopping? I remember leaving work that second night to head up to Laurel and thinking, "Well, maybe the box said 11.5 and the shoes just happened to be in the wrong box," giving both myself and the original sales associate the benefit of the doubt. But that was not to be the case either. Had I even causally glanced at the label on the box at any point from 8 p.m. Thursday until 7 a.m. Friday when I dressed for work I would have noticed the gaffe before exposing the shoes to the real world.

The fact that Aaron exchanged the shoes for me in a store lacking the cache of, say, the Columbia Mall locale, adds even more significance to this gesture. There's no way business in seemingly ever-contracting Laurel Mall is as good as the Montgomery Mall site, for instance. But I know where I'll be going for all my general athletic shoe needs whenever possible.

Unbeknownst to Stephanie or Aaron, I had also shot off a quick e-mail to Finish Line's corporate offices about the situation, hoping to be able to show up at the store that night for the exchange with a letter of endorsement from HQ, but here it is more than a week later and I still have not received a reply from them.

Lord, I hate shopping.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What?! A Salesman with Integrity?! In this Economy?!

Business: Owens Corning Basement Finishing System/Frank Zanti
Location: Leesburg, VA, 703.932.5014
Date of incident: August 26, 2006

Quick Hit
Frank Zanti (, an Owens Corning Basement Finishing System salesman, drove all the way from Leesburg, Virginia to our Beltsville home to give us an estimate on new Owens Corning replacement walls and ceilings, but when it came time for brass tacks, he readily admitted that he didn't need to sell us anything!

The Run-up
Admittedly, Frank's base of operation is far beyond the purview of Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers, the blog, but technically he was peddling his wares in our jurisdiction, if you will, and his integrity in this matter was so refreshing that I just felt compelled to shout it from the rooftop. We connected with the OC people about three weeks ago at the Howard County Fair. They had an elaborate camper-like display set up to show off their very cool, very elegant wall-panel and ceiling systems. My wife filled out a contact card for the nice gentleman manning the place, and a few days later they called to set up today's home evaluation and demonstration. And Frank was right on time, in more ways than just chronologically.

The Beef
None whatsoever. I mean, we've been called on by sales-folk for every home application, from one of those high-powered circulating-water vacuum cleaners (which we purchased and love, by the way), to replacement vinyl windows (which at $40K we did not purchase), and from kitchen and bathroom remodeling (what a nightmare that was), to closet system installation (best investment we ever made here). And Frank, well, frankly speaking, had the most refreshing disposition, not displaying even a modicum of disappointment or chagrin in today's no-sale. He took his time to evaluate our situation thoroughly, and commented several times, "What a nice space you've got here!" (which I initially assumed was merely to soften us up for the close, but which turned out to be his earnest sentiment). Frank even voluntarily removed his shoes when he came in the front door, made it a point to speak to all my three children--on the way in and out--and was genuinely engaging during his visit.

Frank admitted that the OC system ain't cheap, but it comes with a life-time, one-time-transferable guarantee, and it looks absolutely beautiful. But I just had to publicly congratulate Frank on his unruffled manner and his refreshing candor, especially considering the high cost of gas (for him to drive all the way here), the current downturn in home sales, and, subsequently, sales of all the complementary stuff that people invest in along with a home walls and ceilings.

I don't know what kind of experiences others have had with OC (actually, that's not exactly true, 'cause in the interest of balanced reporting I read this), but our experience with Frank seems to bode well, even though we're not, you know, buying what he's selling this time around.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Even Detailer Can't Completely Rub Out Royal Glass Rift

Business: Royal Auto Glass
Location: 10711 Baltimore Blvd (Rte. 1) Beltsville, MD 20705
Date of incident: August 4, 2006

Quick Hit
In the process of replacing her windshield, Royal Glass makes a pigsty of a customer's new car, then pays for a majestic detailing job, but loses a customer in the end anyway.

The Run-up
Congratulations to Judy, longtime (17 years) Beltsville resident, for being the first "outsider" to Vent Her Spleen on the Beltsville Vicinity Shoppers blog! Unfortunately for Royal Auto Glass, it's one with mixed results (with an endorsement thrown in for American Detail, also in Beltsville). I guess I needed to find a neutral-thumb icon for this one, but hopefully the dueling pair (and the go-stop competing headline colors) at the top of this page relate Judy's ambivalence about the situation she relates. (By the way, Judy, we had a pretty good vacation, except for the part where I caught a cold somewhere between Busch Gardens Germany and the Market Square in Colonial Williamsburg, thank you for asking.)

The Beef
Judy writes: "I recently had my windshield replaced at Royal Auto Glass on Route 1 in Beltsville, and everything was fine until I took possession of my car and left. I started looking around the interior of my SUV. It was FILTHY! There were hand prints all over my console, dashboard and the inside window frame. My passenger seat had black 'something' all over it. The thresholds were all scratched and dirty, and there was a stain on the floor of the passenger side. The car was only three months old, so I knew I didn't do this, and I had not had anyone in the passenger seat yet."

Let me just interrupt Judy for one moment here to make an observation. From her description of the scene, it sounds like a Beltsville CSI technician's dream "crime" scene, replete with prints, mystery debris, microscopic scratches, various and sundry filth, and, oh yes, the requisite stain. Maybe a latex-gloved forensic specialist could’ve exposed exactly "who dunnit" for Judy.

Ok, back to Judy's account: "I drove back around the block and informed Tony of Royal Auto Glass. He told me to pull into the garage. When I did, I could see why they didn't catch this mess. The lighting in there is horrible; you can't see anything! Tony looked around the shop for about 15 minutes for something to clean my car with. Finally, he told me to talk to Dennis at American Detail (10606-C Baltimore Ave., Beltsville). He said to 'tell him Tony sent you,' and he will take care of it.

"Thank heaven for American Detail Shop; they cleaned the whole front interior of my car and made it look like new! They even got the stain out of my carpet. So American Detail has a new customer, because once a month I am taking my car to them for a wash and detail.

"On the other hand, Royal Auto Glass has lost a customer."

Judy originally submitted this article with the intention of labeling it with a decidedly down-turned thumb. But from a customer-service perspective—since that's what this site is really all about—to their credit Judy said that Royal Glass did pay for American Detail to clean up the mess, and that they (Royal Auto Glass) did not give her "too much trouble." She characterized that as good customer service. But the whole incident has left Judy's confidence in the well-known glass repair chain in shards.

Her main issue, she writes, "is that they were in my car (and other cars) with dirty hands and clothes when there was a restroom right there in the shop. They could have at least washed their hands between cars and could have put some type of covering on the seats. That's what they do at the dealership I take my car to.

"And the lighting was horrible. You couldn't see if they made a mess or not until you came out into the sunlight."

I don't know whether you know it, Judy, but that whole what-happened-in-the-dark-but-was-eventually-brought-to-light thing...that's biblical!

Judy's saga raises a few unsettling questions that may be worth pondering:
  • Why would it take so long to find something to clean up in an auto-shop setting, where clean-up should be an integral part of standard operating procedure?
  • And speaking of SOP, why isn't it common practice at Royal to cover car seats when doing a job?
  • And last but not least, in three months why hadn't Judy allowed anyone to ride in the passenger seat of her new SUV?! What's up with that, Judy?
I know, I know. Harsh, but somebody's gotta ask the tough questions!

Automobile glass replacement is one of those services that we typically never think about, that is until that rock bouncing down 495 from the rear of a poorly-covered hauler pops us square in the windshield. At least now we have a little bit more to go on before we simply take it to the closest place to home to be repaired.

Thanks again, Judy, for sharing. And if you have not done so already, I suggest completing the customer satisfaction survey on Royal's Web site. I know they take customer service very seriously there, because the intro to the survey says, "...we take customer service very seriously." They provide ample space for detailed feedback, and even ask, "Would you use Royal Glass again or recommend us to your friends and family?" Feel free to drop in the link to your write-up here on Beltsville Shopper ( to save yourself some typing on their site. As is our standard practice, we contacted Royal prior to publication of your expose to give them an opportunity to chime in before publication, but they evidently chose not to respond.