Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thanks, Coffee Lady!

Season’s greetings to one and all!

Here’s a December story I’m amazed I left out --

This may be hard to believe, but my time as a 7-Eleven “sales associate” was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. Each transaction was a 3-5 minute encounter with persons from all walks of life, and I made it a point to learn to communicate with them all, and practice my best customer service skills…just because.

To make it personal, I liked to strike a quick conversation with the customer at the counter. At first it was hard, since I can be a little shy; also, there’s a tendency to look at the customer’s hands – for the items they’re buying and the money they’re holding. I found it helped to look them in the eye, smile, and find something innocuous to say: “Red is your color!” “Aren’t these dark chocolate Frappucinos delish?” “Howzabout them Broncos?”

When the overachiever in me was in full effect, I’d sometimes even try to count back the customer’s change…but didn’t always do so well – thank goodness for honest customers! But whether I did it right or wrong, the customers always appreciated that effort more than just being handed their change.

(I’m certain that, had my own District 11 teachers put more of an emphasis on helping me master this basic skill, I wouldn’t be such a math dunce today.)

Anyway, it was some time within the twelve days of Christmas that this woman walked in and headed straight for the coffee bar. The pots had been sitting a while, and she asked if I’d please start a fresh one for her. “Sure,” I said, though I had a short line; I smiled at the customer in front of me and excused myself to start the coffee.

It’s weird how quickly a 7-Eleven line can grow long – especially near the end of December; and though it took but a moment, by the time I'd finished, the line reached all the way to the Slurpee machine. Taking my place once again behind the register, I apologized and thanked the customers for waiting...then carried on, aiming for grace under pressure.

Eventually, the coffee lady was next up. She looked at me a little guiltily and said, “I’m sorry if I caused that line to form.”

I smiled. “Line? What line? It ain’t nothin’ but a thang.  Ooh, by the way - love the bracelet.  You have a Merry Christmas!”

I arrived to work Christmas day sporting red tights and reindeer antlers. Business was brisk, and at the end of each sale I'd chime, “Merry Christmas!”

The next customer was up.  I looked first at her hand and recognized the bangle. The coffee lady and I shared a look and a smile.

“How are you,” I asked, ringing up her purchase, “I see you’re still wearing my bracelet.”

“Yes,” she said, taking back her change.

“Well, give it back already! Just kidding… Thank you, ma’am, and have a Merry Christmas!”

“You too,” she said, handing me a Christmas card envelope; and with that, she was gone.

It would be hours before I had an opportunity to open it.

When you work at a neighborhood convenience store, you get what are called “regulars.” These are the people you see every day – because they live around the corner, or pass by in the morning on the way to work. These are the people from whom a scratch ticket, Christmas card, or jar of jelly does not come as a huge surprise.

But this woman was no regular; I'd seen her only twice, and not before nor since. But I will never forget her, and can still see her face.

Because when I pulled out the card (adorned by the three wise men) – and read it – “God asked me to bless you and your family this Christmas,” it said in her thin handwritten twenty dollar bills fell out.  I was stunned - tears of joy filled my eyes - then I whooped, and ran to tell my family.

The Bible says a good worker is worth his wage; but really, how often do we take the time to show our appreciation for a job well done, a cheery smile, an honest hard worker who'll go the extra mile?

I’d already resolved that this year, simply nothing would cause me to stand shivering out in the cold with my kids in some obscenely long line for any amount of free Christmas gifts.

To those who have shown me your appreciation: I am able to buy presents this year only because of your generosity. Cut from the same Coffee Lady cloth…you know who you are – and I thank you.

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