I Dare Say

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December 2005

Jean's Stories

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

Travel Photos

England

France

Siena

 

For some reason, I get to be the talker, the public communicator, and the voice for the family. I don’t especially like this, but the pattern’s long set and they butter me well. “You’re so much BRAVER than we are,” they claim. When it comes to our version of public assistance--requesting a Diet Coke refill, a shoe size at Nordstrom, or movie tickets--I’m the asker.

Other than one unfortunate instance several years ago with a waitress in Jacksonville, Oregon, most service people are pretty nice and helpful, I remind them. “What are they gonna do, yell at you?” I plead and prod.

“Remember the waitress who scowled at us when we asked to split our dinner at that Jacksonville steakhouse in 1997?” they snap.

This fall Annie, Jim and I took at trip to New York as a combination high school graduation present for Annie and an opportunity to see Jim’s painting in a national show. I, of course, developed the itinerary, made the reservations and carried all the necessary paperwork. Annie and Jim packed their suitcases the night before, and I had to remind them of that.

You can rent an apartment for an entire month in Salem for the price of one night at a nice hotel in Manhattan, so I knew to shop around well ahead of time. Thanks to the Internet, I snagged a decent rate at a mid-town Sheraton Hotel; while not cheap, it didn’t leave us gasping quite as much in horror.

Besides its location, the great parts about the Sheraton were well, uh, nothing. Keeping in mind our very relative good deal, plus the fact we’d spend little time in the hotel itself, we decided to let pass all the room faults that Annie had laughingly listed aloud. A missing closet door handle. A torn sheet, left unchanged from our arrival the previous night. A leaky faucet that flooded our bathroom counter supplies. I could continue.

Our room phone rang as we dressed for the theatre. “I’m the hotel manager’s assistant doing a survey on guest satisfaction,” she explained. “Would you please rate the following categories from 1 to 10? Apparently she doesn’t usually get so many 3’s and 4’s. “Did you hear about our Sheraton guarantee upon check-in?” she asked. “Please tell our front desk staff about these problems so we can fix them!" I agreed, but in a rare instance of readiness, Annie and Jim were already dragging me out the door to go see the new Wizard of Oz-inspired play called Wicked.

Wicked was awesome fun, but you can get better reviews elsewhere. Here, I want to talk about a particular group of folks you rarely find in Oregon:Bathroom Attendants. These power matrons scold, direct traffic and enforce the rules of the ladies’ room. At intermission, I reached the top of the line with Annie cowering behind, fearfully awaiting matronly instruction. Apparently her hand signal didn’t mean to proceed and I suffered a public bathroom rebuke. (I hate the word rebuke, but it works too well here not to use.) Later while creeping past the matron on her bathroom stool, I spotted a tip jar decorated with flowers and smiley faces. The matron didn’t notice my lack of tip; she was too busy glaring at the next anxious victim at the front of the line who misunderstood direction and got rebuked. I saw a pattern here.This bathroom queen gleefully rules her territory with greater supremacy than our Labrador, Bailey, guards our front door.

Returning to the Sheraton, I followed the assistant manager’s request and reported to the front desk staff. They told us to come back in the morning and I felt obligated to follow through. Jim didn’t want any part of this next conversation, but I asked him to join me to help remember Annie’s list. Jim paced behind me at a safe distance, yet stayed close enough to overhear what transpired. Please note I have a witness, because otherwise you might not believe me.

Here’s what happened. I explained the survey, the problems, the entire sordid story.  What did the assistant manager do? He yelled at me. I’m not kidding. “Why didn’t you come to us with this before?” he demanded. Somehow, it was our fault. Eventually, he compensated us with points on a Sheraton frequent-stay plan we didn’t have. (Anybody want some points?)

We skulked out the hotel to see the show at the National Arts Building, taking the subway as a new and interesting experience. Once underground, we had the choice of purchasing tickets from the convoluted machinery or from the subway matron.She looked innocent enough, sitting atop her throne in a hard plastic-protected booth. Naively I decided the best course of action was to lay my ignorant, vulnerable self at her mercy. “We’ve never ridden on the New York subway before,” I confessed. “Here’s where we need to go. Can you please help us?”

I believe I detected a faint smirk growing at the corners of her mouth; think “The Grinch” in his earliest plotting.

Subway Matron began laying down the law of her subterranean land for me. Unfortunately, the faulty microphone separating us allowed me to hear only pieces of her orders. Confused, I started backing toward the ticket machinery. “I didn’t tell you to leave!” she screamed, all too clearly. Jim and Annie trembled in fear around the corner.

Despite our tourist attire, Jim’s pastel membership got us literally buzzed into the National Arts Building, a place straight out of a movie set in terms of a snobby, private club. We stayed over an hour, and in all that time, nobody said a single word to us. But then, nobody yelled at us either, and in our fragile state that counted for something.

Afterwards, I held my own private lunch-time rebellion, declaring that Jim and Annie had to talk to the waiter on their own. I told them I felt like a chaperone taking a couple fourth-graders on a field trip, and I was done Mostly I felt beat up by New York service people and couldn’t take it anymore. Jim and Annie would have to share the burden of public interaction because it was, yes, scary and risky. After my outburst, Jim took my photo. I sit at a lovely outdoor café with a look on my face that would frighten any bathroom attendant.

Probably due to my foul mood, Jim decided to venture out on his own for the rest of the afternoon while Annie and I took a guided tour of Radio City Music Hall. Justifiably fearful of seeking help, Jim rode subways in directions completely opposite of where he should have gone. He now claims he was exploring. After a half dozen calls from a bewildered daddy, Annie turned off her cell phone. We had Rockettes to meet, and we were pretty certain they wouldn’t yell at us.

A couple days later, we returned to Oregon, land of nice people and the economy lot of the Portland airport. Automated machines now replace the old toll-booths at the exits, but a middle-aged airport worker hovered nearby. He smiled and asked if we needed any help. I wanted to jump from the car and hug the man. And pay him double. Guys like him rebuild my public confidence, my boldness to chat with gas attendants (another Oregon gift), my courage to discuss weather with postal workers. We’d returned to the West Coast, the land of the free and the rightly-brave talkers.

 

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