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False fronts aren’t just for buildings

I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear of the joint effort by Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the town of Snowmass Village to launch an aggressive campaign encouraging local businesses to provide better customer service. They have taken a page out of the Historical Preservation books and decided that we may as well have false fronts on all of our employees, too.A part of the plan is to send out 50 or so “mystery shoppers” to learn just which businesses are being naughty or nice. Apparently honesty isn’t a big part of improved guest services. If you are chosen as a “Star of the Moment” employee by the Gucci Gestapo, you could receive a gift certificate worth up to $15, which presumably you will have to spend in Glenwood since you can’t buy anything for that in Aspen, good service or not.Oh, I don’t believe that our resort is lacking much in the area of good manners and basic human decency. And, I believe our guests usually get what they pay for or, in rare occasions, at least what they deserve. I’m truly excited, though, because I know through experience what a morale booster these pep rallies of commerce can be for resort town employees this time of year as the days grow longer, and more draining.It was late February a couple of seasons past 20 years ago that I felt my buns go numb one evening, perched on the waxing bench in the ski shop where I spent my evenings going over graduate school entrance exam questions while going over the edges of customers’ skis with a Milbastard file. We employees huddled together after closing time to get our gluteus maximi masticated for generally doing nothing to weed out the bad attitudes that began sprouting up about Christmastime. After about an hour of threats, warnings, and “encouragement,” we were scared enough to promise our best efforts at making the customers smile.During the daytime, another one of my jobs was selling lift tickets at Little Nell. The base area of Aspen Mountain was a little different back in the pre-gondola era, and my ticket booth was perched up on the snow just perfectly so that I could look out my window and right into the ski shop, where our ski-shop smiley faces were now hanging on a rack by the door.One slow, spring-dripping, sunny afternoon, as the devil was searching for a short-term lease on a vacant workshop, I happened to glance out and see an attitude-adjusted co-worker, I’ll call him “Dufficy” for this story, sitting out on the bench in front of the ski shop tanning his eyelids. After a few minutes of observation, it became apparent to me that he was the only one looking after things over there.I picked up the phone and dialed the shop. Now, I must insert here that my intentions were initially good. Aside from waking Dufficy up, I was calling to see if I should bother showing up for work that evening, considering how slow it appeared to be over there. But, when I saw him reluctantly drag himself up off that bench to answer the phone, only after I had let it ring about a dozen times, Satan opened up for business.”Hello,” he answered lazily, not even bothering to identify the shop’s name.”Who’s this!” I demanded sharply in my best, nasty Texas drawl.This brought Dufficy to attention right quickly. He stuttered over his own name.”Well, Dufficy,” I said. “I’m Joe Smiddy and I had my skis waxed thar last night. Now I’ma standin’ here at the Sun Patio on toppa Ajack Mountain lookin’ at my skis an’ I don’t see no wax on ’em. Don’t ja reckon that for 30 bucks I’d see sumpin’ on em beside BS?”I’m not exaggerating now when I tell you I could almost hear Dufficy grit his teeth. I could practically feel him squeezing the receiver in his sweating fist. But, to his credit, he politely, even if tensely, explained to me how hot wax seeps into the ski bottom. He told me truthfully that you really can’t see the wax on the bases, especially after you take a run or two. He assured me that I had received the best service available.”Dufficy,” I said, and paused a moment for effect. “That’s the biggest load a road apples I ever been asked ta core. Lemme talk at the owner a that joint fer a minute! I’m tired a waistin’ time here.”I could not have been more surprised, or pleased with his reply.”I am the owner,” he lied, defiantly. The voice on his left shoulder was winning out. He was doomed!”Well Mr. Boss man, then I recommend that you grab another set a skis off yo rack and get yo skinny leetle behind up here an’ deliver ’em ta me in person, or I have a mind ta write me a letter ta yer local paper describin’ how you, the pro-pri-etor, tried ta cheat me outta ma money. I’ll own that lil’ snow-bunny junk shop a yos.”This put him in a terrible spot. He couldn’t lock up the store to fulfill my demand since he didn’t really own a key to it. But, he couldn’t risk a scathing letter to the local newspaper disparaging his boss, who would easily figure out who had impersonated him, either.Tension grows best in silence, and it grew lush there for a few minutes so that it was getting harder and harder for Dufficy to see any light. In the meantime, I was holding my breath, tears streaming down my cheeks, sweating and cramped up struggling mightily to hold the laughter. Finally, I could take no more and let loose a guffaw the Dufficy didn’t need the phone line to hear.He instantly knew it was me on the other end of that prank and he came rushing out into the street screaming every obscenity that he had committed to memory, which was impressively considerable, if memory serves. He threw in a few clear hand gestures for good measure. And, his endurance was strong, I have to add.The story has a happy ending, though. When the incident was recounted, mostly by me, the tension at the shop dissipated and we all fell back on our authentic attitudes, which the tourists seemed appreciative of after all. I concluded then, that the only place that a plastic smile really works is at Disneyland … on Goofy.Roger Marolt has participated in enough studies to know that you can’t please all of the guests all of the time, so you may as well be yourself. For further proof, contact him at roger@maroltllp.com


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