Thursday, January 31, 2008

Three Strikes

I tried to spend some money today, but nobody would let me.

Today was my monthly visit from Fernando and His Ladies, so I needed to get out of Dodge. Fernando has been cleaning my condo since I moved here, and I've learned not to be around when he shows up with his five middle-aged Latin Ladies. My little one-bedroom place takes them all of 25 minutes to polish to a shine, and it's best that I get out of their way. Those Latinas are liable to flatten me like a tortilla.

So, I usually take the day for running errands or seeing a movie or both. I never know exactly when the crew will get to me, as I'm surely the smallest gig they have, and they work me in whenever. So, they've appeared at my door as early as 9 AM and as late as 3:45. So, I usually clear out for the day.

Today, I decided to use my coupon from For Eyes and finally purchase some new glasses. Anybody who has seen me at home has been ridiculing me for years, as I'm still wearing the same huge Julia Sugarbaker glasses I've had since, well, since Julia Sugarbaker wore them. This coupon was for two pairs of glasses for 99 bucks. I planned to buy the specs, then wander over to the cineplex and catch a movie.

I took the train (subway) to the downtown location of For Eyes. The store was empty of customers. I took one look at the huge wall of glasses on display and knew I needed some help. There were so many choices, I couldn't see any of them. I tried to look helpless, but even so, it took the salesgirl about five minutes to saunter over to me. I showed her my coupon.

Miss Manners: This only works for glasses priced 69 dollars.
Me: Ok, where are my choices?
Miss Manners: All over the place.

With a dismissive wave of her hand, she left me alone. Now, all the price tags were pasted onto the inside of each frame, so to check a price, one has to take the glasses off the wall and turn them over. And the salesgirl was correct: the 69 dollar glasses were all mixed up with the 49 dollar glasses and the 89 dollar glasses and the 149 dollar glasses.

I was getting nowhere, and a little pissed. Surely this girl was on commission, why wasn't she standing next to me, pointing out some of my choices? Didn't she care to help me? The answer, of course, is no. Nobody in any service job in the District cares about giving any kind of service; I've dealt with that since moving here. Even the cashier at the drug store, or the grocery store, or anywhere, will never acknowledge that you are standing in front of her with something to buy, she'll just thrust out her hand to take your money or your credit card without a word. I should be used to this behavior by now, but I'm not. I spent too many years in retail (15!) and too many years in food service (13!); if I had treated anyone the way we are now routinely treated by service people, I would have lost those jobs within a week.

OK, so another five minutes have passed, as I wander helplessly back and forth in front of this huge display wall, pulling glasses down, putting them back up, and wondering why I should be giving my money to this company. The answer, of course, is that I shouldn't be. So I didn't. Ten minutes after going into the store, ready to spend a hundred dollars, I was back on the street ripping up the coupon.

Strike One.

Maybe I'll find a Lenscrafters out in the suburbs with better service...

So, I now have over an hour and a half to kill before the movie starts. I take a leisurely stroll down the city street (it's brisk, but not too bad, I like the cold). I ultimately reach the movie theatre. This is one of those multi-plexes (aren't they all?), brand new, with a large lobby which it shares with two restaurants, a sushi bar, a Haagen Dazs ice cream parlor, and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. In other words, it's a large lobby with lots of traffic. Sadly, though, no place to sit. No benches, no chairs, nothing. The box office of the theatre, which should be open because the first show of the day starts in 10 minutes, is not. So, I sit down in the corner, my back against the wall, out of everyone's way, and pull out my Newsweek (it's four weeks old, and they are predicting Obama will soon be dropping out of the race).

Well, there is no box office person in sight, but the security guard pops up quick enough.

Gomer: Sir, they don't like you to sit in here.
Me: I'm just waiting for the box office to open. Shouldn't they be open by now?
Gomer: Sir, they don't like you to sit in here.

It's another frustrating thing I've noticed about the service industry. Once an employee is taught one thing, that is the only thing he knows. He can only respond to a situation one way. There was no thought of perhaps trying to solve the problem of no box office employee, the only problem here was somebody breaking a rule he was supposed to enforce.

So, I shrugged, got up, and left the building.

Strike Two.

I wasn't heartbroken to have missed the movie, as it probably saved me 18 bucks, since I am physically incapable of attending a movie without popcorn in my lap and a Diet Something at my side. So, I wandered out onto busy 7th St, and found myself standing in front of Clyde's, one of the many new restaurants which have popped up in that area. Overpriced, as most places are in the District, but I talked myself into going inside for a light lunch. The restaurant was a little busy, as it was now the lunch hour, but certainly not full.

Me: One for lunch, please.
Leona: Would you like to sit at the bar?
Me:, no.
Leona: Go upstairs and they will seat you.

Fine, up I go, behind a gaggle of business-suited gents. I finally reach the desk, and am seated where a Party of One is almost always seated: at a yucky, very public table. Can't really expect to have a cozy booth all to my lonesome, so I don't blink when I am put at a long banquette with individual tables spread about. No one but me has consented to sit there.

Four or five minutes pass, no one has approached. Suddenly, the hostess darts out of nowhere and begins to madly shove all the other, empty tables at the banquette together. I know what's coming: an unexpected party of 10. Right next to me, sitting alone.

nuh-uh. I calmly get up, put on my coat, pick up my backpack, and leave the restaurant.

Strike Three.

It's too early to head back home, so I wander down the street to Chinatown.

Well, it used to be Chinatown, but it has now shrunk to Chinablock. When I first arrived in DC, Chinatown was a half-mile strip of shops and restaurants, but most of those establishments are now gone. New office buildings, apartment buildings, theaters, and the new sports arena all pushed rents sky high, so most of them folded.
I found one little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, accessible down a flight of stairs and thus located below the street.
For some reason the name caught my eye: Big Wong's.
It was a small room with several little Asian ladies zipping about with tea and menus and plates of rice; perhaps Big Wong was in the kitchen. This was surely one of the very few family owned restaurants left in the area, and I was glad to give them my money. And they took it, too, but not much. Lunch special was only $4.95 for a huge plate of food plus tea plus soup plus rice.

I did some math as I waited for my fortune cookie. I set out in the morning prepared to spend 100 bucks for glasses and 18 bucks for a movie. Instead I spent 6 bucks for so much food that half of it is now in the fridge for breakfast tomorrow, and to top it all off, I received some wonderful words of wisdom from Confucius...

My fortune cookie read: Have a Nice Day.