Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Parking Attendant

Last night I freaked out at a parking garage attendant.

Actually, that might be an exaggeration, depending on how you interpret "freaked out." I should clarify. Typically my version of freaking out means that I stop saying "please" and start saying things like, "you are not being very helpful," and "I hear what you're saying but I'm trying to communicate to you that what you're saying is absurd."

I don't really cause scenes. They happen to me unintentionally and embarrassingly enough that I don't need to go out of my way and bring them upon myself. So I'm not really a yeller. I can't think of the last time I actually yelled at someone. But friends have told me that when I get frustrated I use a tone that is a lot more cutting than yelling would be. Last night I used that tone. A LOT of it.


I was frustrated. I received parking validations by the business above the parking garage. That business took my parking ticket and exchanged it for the validations. When I tried to leave at 12:30 AM, the parking attendant said she couldn't let me out unless I gave her the validations AND the ticket. I tried to explain to her that the people upstairs had taken my ticket. She kept saying, "they don't do that. You should see if it's in your car somewhere."

A line had built up behind me. I was tired and getting cranky. I just wanted to leave. I told her I would pay, I just needed her to let me out. She repeatedly told me she couldn't let me out without my ticket.

People from cars behind us walked up to find out what was taking so long. They started engaging in the same argument that I had started. The parking attendant would not budge.

That's when I started the "you are not being very helpful" and "what you're saying is absurd" comments. I was very rude. After a few minutes of this I saw tears well up in her eyes and it hit me: she was tired, too. And probably just trying to follow some ridiculous policy that someone else who has never been a parking attendant created. I told her that.

"I'm not trying to ruin your night," I said. "And I understand that you're trying to do your job, but I'm having a hard time understanding what it is you want me to do at this point."

She took all kinds of documents from me, filled out some report, and finally let me through.

The moment I pulled out of the parking garage, the frustration of ten seconds ago immediately seemed petty and I felt like a very spoiled person. Like a child who threw a temper tantrum. But more importantly, I felt remorse for treating a person like she wasn't a person.

Every time we interact with another human being, we have an opportunity to make them feel better or worse about life. Last night, in that parking garage, I dropped the ball and made someone feel worse.

And I think I just practiced a trend that our society seems to accept a little too much.

For some reason, we've decided it's ok to be rude to the waitress who gets our order wrong. Or to angrily honk at a person who accidentally cut us off. Or to roll our eyes at the TSA agent who asks us to walk back through the metal detector. Or to yell at the bank teller who is trying to explain why there was some surprise fee on our account.

We refer to these people, if not to their faces but under our breath, as "idiots." Even though we would never consider our friends idiots when they are engaged in the same. And even though we never think that we are idiots when we do the same.

Guys, I don't want to be that person anymore. I don't want to be the guy who gets frustrated and stops caring about how other people feel about themselves.

And I guess I can't undo that I was that guy last night. But I can at least say that I recognize that being that guy was a mistake. So I'll just say this now:

Dear parking attendant woman whose name I do not know, I'm sorry that I spoke to you in that tone. Also, I'm sorry that I do not know your name. I'm sorry that I never considered in my moment of obsessing about the kind of day I was having what kind of day you might have been having. I don't know you. I have no idea what kinds of hard things you've had to go through in your life. And I'm so sorry that I may have been another one of those hard things, even if it was just a quick negative exchange that you may have already forgotten about.

You'll probably never see this. And I'll probably never see you again. But I wish you could know that some good has come out of you being a doormat for a few minutes. Because unfortunately it took you being a doormat for me to decide to not make other people doormats in the future. Even when I'm tired and getting a little cranky.

This probably all sounds overly dramatic. I didn't shoot someone. I didn't drive a family of do-gooders off a cliff. It certainly isn't the worst thing I've ever done or the most offensive way I've ever acted. But this weekend the experience has stuck with me for some reason. Maybe I'm getting softer in my old age. But I want to make it right, whatever that means. And if sharing it dramatically inspires any of you to be a little kinder to the next parking attendant or bus driver or hotel employee you see, then I'm glad for it.

~It Just Gets Stranger

44 comments:

  1. Thanks Eli! I worked in a Driv-Thru for years and was amazed how poorly people treated me for things that were completely beyond my control. Of course I was being payed to be nice to them anyway but I often had to stop and remind myself that maybe the problem wan't me, but something else that had happened to them that led them to explode on me.

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  2. Very nice. I like this reminder. We just went to a movie, where twice during the show someone's phone rang. It's annoying, I get that. But when other moviegoers think they have this license to be incredibly rude, yelling at and harassing the phone owners, it's gone too far. Thanks for sharing and reminding me to cut people some slack.

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  3. I don't think it sounds overly dramatic. We talk all of the time about how a small, nice gesture can turn someone's day around in a minute. A smile, opening the door for someone, helping someone carry a heavy load of groceries to their car, etc. The same can be said when we lose ourselves and allow negativity to come across to someone who is just doing what they are supposed to be doing. It could truly turn their day in the opposite direction. We need to remember that, and unfortunately, it sometimes takes us making this kind of mistake to wake us back up. Thank you for your honesty and for the reminder that we all have the ability to affect those around us.

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  4. Thanks for the reminder. I'm like you, I don't like to cause confrontation and I don't yell and scream at people, but I do get impatient and frustrated. I read an article similar to this years ago and it said when there's a long line at the grocery store and your clerk seems to be moving slowly, doesn't smile and isn't giving very good service, you can make a difference by smiling at them and saying, "It looks like it's been a busy night" or something commiserating like that. I've tried very hard to remember that advice, especially at WalMart, and I hope I've helped someone's day be just a little less horrible. I do forget sometimes and mutter under my breath about always ending up in the slow line, but I try. Thanks for keeping us Strangers on our toes. :)

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  5. I had a similar reminder kind of in the opposite way. I was in San Francisco for a conference. I checked in lateish at night to the conference hotel after a long day of traveling. The desk clerk began the usual pleasantries as he was pulling up my reservations. I'm a habitually polite person, so when he asked me how my day had been I just automatically replied, "It was fine, thanks, how was yours?" without even really thinking about what I was saying with any intentionality. To my surprise he stopped cold, looked at me near tearfully, and told me he'd been on the desk all day and I was the first person who had responded by asking him how *his* day was. He was all smiles and gave me complimentary wine and chocolates usually reserved for "VIP" guests and was so friendly and helpful the entire conference weekend whenever I saw him. While I was happy I'd made his night, the whole thing actually made me feel sad, first because every single other person that day was so lacking in common courtesy that they didn't even offer a throwaway "how are you", and second because I'd done it as a throwaway line, without even thinking or caring much about the answer. It's inspired me to be a lot more intentional in my interactions with waiters/waitresses, clerks, cashiers, etc. and really mean it and care when I ask them how they're doing or offer a smile.

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  6. I used to work at a car rental company - you would not believe the amount of BS that comes through that office. The ruder people were to me, the less likely we were to help them (I mean, c'mon - you calling me a racist, a dumb b*tch, idiot, ugly whore, etc don't make me want to help you). The nicer they were, the more we'd go out of our way to help them.
    Thankfully, I'm no longer at that job. However, where I am now, I constantly hear my office manager scream at people on the phone and it irks me to no end. I've told her over and over to stop, but she doesn't. Wish I could send this to her and she'd actually get it.

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  7. I lost my father last week. As I've dealt with people since then with the rude ones I keep thinking, "I can't deal with this right now, don't they know that?" Some of them should - I start out with - "My father just passed away . . . ." because I"m trying to deal with his estate. But others - the drive-thru girl at McDonald's that screwed up my order, the guy that's driving an inexplicable 10 miles under the speed limit in front of me, the kid that was kicking the back of my chair at the movie theater . . . .they don't know - and they have their own issues. Who knows - maybe they lost someone too - I need to remember that.

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    1. Nicole- I am so sorry. My mother's in the hospital and my father got placed in respite care at a nursing home, and I have also had my share of take-a-deep-breath moments the past couple of weeks. We really have no idea what's going on in other people's lives, do we? Countless doctors and nurses have responded really well when I've said, "Look, I know you have eight billion patients and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me..." Even if I know that some of these people have been a jerk to my mom, I still preface all my statements with that, and it's amazing how it makes people suddenly remember we're all human...we all have times when it seems like the world is merrily raining crap down on us. Nicole, I don't know you, but I will be thinking of you as you wade through this loss and still keep your empathy intact.

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  8. Aaaaaaaand I love you

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  9. I've worked in restaurants, financial institutions, and many other service industries. The false sense of entitlement is a very real problem. This is a wonderful post that reminds us all to calm down, take a deep breath and remember that the person you are talking to who can't find your reservation/is enforcing their company policy (that they didn't make)/counting your change/trying to help you...is a human being and not a robot. Most of these service type jobs aren't what anyone would call a career and they are probably feel as miserable helping you as you feel dealing with them when things aren't going your way. I think everyone should have to do some sort of difficult customer service job (waiting tables/checking groceries/bank teller/etc) at some point in their life, if for no other reason than to develop empathy for those that do it full time.

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    1. My brother is a great example of this. He has been a waiter for over 15 years. We went out to Famous Dave's a few weeks ago on a busy Saturday night and he established such a rapport with the hostess that by the time we were seated you would think they had been best friends for years. He always invites servers to take a seat with us while we're placing our orders or asking questions about the menu because he knows how much their feet hurt.
      While there definitely is merit to your idea, there just isn't any sure-fire way for a person to learn empathy. For too many people, I think their experience would just become excuse to deem someone else's performance unsatisfactory--I've seen this side, too. And their experience as a waiter or a cashier or a phone rep won't always translate to other industries. It's a real failing, and I think Eli's lesson is one we all have to learn over and over again.

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  10. I have learned this lesson recently too, but it wasn't only the lesson about people I learned, I learned that I could try and make the person on the other end of my mistake feel better by turning around and apologizing, aknowledging my weaknesses and validating who they are and who's they are. I really do think lessons sometimes happen between specific people because we both need each other to learn in those moments. Maybe your humanity and ability to recognize your faults to her will give her a chance to learn something meaningful too. Be a tool in His hands, even if it means going out of your way to do it. You do know where she works and her shift. You could technically go and apologize in person or leave her a note. Just sayin' ;) And done.

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  11. Sounds like you need to take said drive-thru attendant a Thanksgiving pie! :)

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    1. Yes but make sure you have a ticket to leave with!

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  12. Having worked as a receptionist for a doctor's office, I know what it's like to be the messenger that everyone is aiming their verbal bullets at. It really gave me a new perspective on how I treat people in customer service who have no control over policy and procedure. I've really enjoyed reading your blog, Eli, and this post is one of the best so far. We all make mistakes - not everyone realizes that they've made one and tries to correct it. :) Keep up the blogging!

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    1. I work as receptionist for a doctor's office as well. I have been yelled at, called names, and severely threatened for things that were not even my fault. Over the years, because it's a doctor's office, it's helped me to learn that the more pain people are in the crankier and meaner they can be because of it. What I've found is most people just want someone to really listen to them and understand what they are saying, even if you can't help.

      One time I freaked out (and by freaked out I mean said very firmly slightly and slightly snotty...I ordered a large drink) on a drive through worker, because he tired to give me a small drink instead of the large I ordered, because I was really thirsty. After I drove away I was so ashamed of myself. I hate being treated that way, so why do I do it to others...

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  13. I think everyone should be required to work in a customer service type of position at some point in their life, preferably when they are young. It's a great experience to learn compassion and to be aware of the entitlement that many people are guilty of thinking they have.
    I've definitely slipped in my life, an early morning airport checking luggage in Ecuador comes to mind, probably my least proudest moment of my life, but hopefully most of the time I try and act as "you get more bees with honey than vinegar". And if there is service or policies that are ridiculous, I try to leave the poor worker out of it, and later send 'suggestions' to management.
    You are very right, it could just be that they are having a bad day too, and it has nothing to do about making your life harder. :)

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  14. As I read this in my office this morning, Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath was on the radio. Wow what an impact.

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  15. Something I think we all (myself included) could use to hear. Not your most proudest moment, to be sure, but absolutely a learning experience that will impact others. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  16. You were also really rude when you didn't buy me a diet coke.

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  17. Last day of my undergraduate schooling, December 2006. I had a final at 7:00 am. I needed to bring my 20+ page paper to class. I was in the library trying to print it and something wasn't working (funny I don't remember that part of the story). I went haywire on someone at the print desk who didn't seem to be attaching the requisite level of urgency to my problem. I am not usually a yell-er either, but I really let loose on that poor person. Yelling in the library? Yeah, talk about having an embarrassing lack of self control.
    Also, aside from ruining someone's day and making them feel bad about themselves, I think it contributes to poor service more than anything else. Negative customer behavior influences the server to think poorly of EVERYONE they have to serve, which has a negative impact on their level of service. We've all had that server that you can just tell hates his job but knows how to put on the biggest, fakest smile in the world. We've all received sub-par service, but that is not an excuse to be part of the problem.
    This video shows the other side fairly well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EJw6oGSft0

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  18. I recently had my own, "how did I become that person" moment. It wasn't getting upset with a parking attendant or a sales person, but I heard myself talking to a coworker about how difficult a woman we share office space with was being. I wasn't plotting her death or talking about what a horrible human being she is (she isn't), but I was being very snide and just all around unkind. It was wholly unnecessary. I stopped and put myself in check. While I have no intention of letting myself get run over or verbally abused, I'm also not going to let someone else's bad mood turn me into an unkind person. Instead I'm going to see what I can do to improve the other person's mood and I am just going to have to let my hurt feelings go. I think that we could all take a second to think about someone other than ourselves, and I am just as guilty as everybody else.

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  19. I wish there had been a parking attendant when I tried to get out of the parking garage at my doctor's office. I pulled up to the code panel which is supposed to accept money or a code provided by your physician. I tried the code first and it didn't work. So I tried giving it money. It wouldn't except dollar bills or coins. I tried pushing the button for an attendant several times - nothing. I had five cars stacked up and couldn't get out of the garage and there was no way to turn around or go back. I pulled up just enough to get out of my car and went to the car next in line behind me and told him, "It wouldn't take my money or code what do I do?" He said he'd never been there before so he didn't know what to do. I was at near panick when the guy three cars back got out of his car and asked me what the problem was. I told him the problem and he gave me the code his doctor's office had given him. My code was one digit off. My experience though frustrating was made better by the kindness of a stranger!

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  20. Exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks.

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  21. You are a good man Charlie Brown.

    "But I want to make it right, whatever that means." You know, I'll bet she works there quite often and that a card and some chocolate would blow her mind!

    :)

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  22. This is a great post. Thank you so much.

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  23. I think this is a great reminder. I know I need to be kinder to people.

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  24. Just a thought, but you might be in a position to make a suggestion to the company that runs the parking garage to create a procedure for dealing with a situation like yours. I'm guessing that the business that had given you the validation and taken your ticket was closed, which was why you couldn't get your ticket.

    I really doubt you're the first person this has ever happened to. Why not write a letter to the parking garage company, explaining what happened to you and suggesting that they create a procedure for such an occurrence? I've lost my parking ticket a time or two and had to pay for a full day's parking, even though I only parked for a couple hours, but I totally understood the reasoning behind charging me for a full day. It still sucked to have to pay for a full 8 hours of parking, but the policy was posted on a sign outside the garage, so what could I do? I firmly believe that every parking garage should have such a policy and teach said policy to their employees.

    When you write to the garage, you could tell the time and date of the incident and ask them to pass along the name of the attendant to you, so you can leave her a note with a personal apology or flowers or something.

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  25. And what were you doing out at 12:30am, son??

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  26. Wow. This post is really impressive and inspiring. Thank you.

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  27. I crated a chant last week that I say under my breath when dealing with auditors..."people are not their job, people are not their job..."

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  28. Although it is true that we shouldn't treat individual people badly for just doing their jobs even if their jobs happen to follow a stupid policy, it is important not to ignore the fact that there are stupid policies and something should be done about that. We shouldn't just accept it and move on.

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  29. Go the extra mile. Take her flowers and apologize for treating her badly.

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  30. "Every time we interact with another human being, we have an opportunity to make them feel better or worse about life."
    I say the same thing all the time.
    You're a good man, Charlie Brown.

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