England and other errata

Oh. That’s right.

We’re back from England.

(hi.)

***

I was standing at my kitchen counter, slicing ham, when I felt little fingers messing about at my rear end. Hobbes was wandering around the kitchen, and for the last five minutes he’d been actively running interference on the dinner-making operation. By comparison to his earlier activities, poking my butt was a relatively innocuous entertainment; I ignored him, and kept on chopping.

And after a while, he started to chuckle.

There’s something so — categorically mischievous about a preschooler’s private mirth. In quality, it is somewhere between Big Bird’s laugh and the Roadrunner’s tongue-waggle, right before something drops on Wile E. Coyote. It behooves any intelligent, nearby adult to wake up and pay attention when such a chuckle sounds in the nearby vicinity.

I turned around and looked at him. He was hugging a half-opened stick of butter that he had somehow snuck off of the counter. He beamed up at me with obvious self-congratulations.

The stick had divots in it.

He’d been buttering my ass.

“He’s like the Eye of Sauron,” said the Guy, observing him. “Everything’s so peaceful when his attention is somewhere else, but the minute he focuses on you, everything goes all pear-shaped.”

***

England was just fine.

All irritations aside, the Delta gate staff in San Francisco were absolutely brilliant, and I mean that in both the American and the British sense. I interrupted their gossip at a different gate to inquire whether they’d be able to do something for me. I started to ask them if they’d be able to “help us with our seating on our flight to England, sorry, I know it’s not your gate–” but they interrupted me to promise they’d be there in two minutes and that if I just waited, they’d be happy to take care of me.

Beggars can’t be choosers, and it wasn’t as though they’d been rude about it. I obediently went over and stood by the counter.

Eventually, the gate staff wandered over and started setting up. I hovered uncertainly around the desk, unsure whether they were open yet. During my moment of uncertainty, another man cut in front of me and began to request assistance. “Just a moment, please,” the Delta man said politely. “I just need to finish setting up the computer.” Which seemed to answer that.

I hovered some more, until the clerk looked up with that bright, shiny-eyed enthusiasm that used to be part of the hiring criteria for airline staff back in the ’80s. He motioned me to the counter. “Oh good,” I burbled, and bounced up to the head of the line. “I have this problem–”

He placed three boarding passes on the counter and just looked at me with shiny eyes.

It took me a while to catch on. I examined the passes. I read the names on them. I looked at the dates and the destinations on them. I processed the seat numbers and the fact that they were all in a row: 27A, 27B, 27C….

I am not, perhaps, the brightest bulb on the marquee. You could practically hear something turn over in my head when enlightenment hit. I opened with, “Holy crap.” And then I followed up with the insightful, “That’s us!” And then, just to drive the point home that he was dealing with the bottom of the IQ tree, I said, “Those are tickets! For us!”

To be fair, it wasn’t as though I’d ever told him our names, or what the actual problem was. There’s also the fact that the airport experience up to that point, which had included the impersonal and inefficient treatment dispensed by the TSA’s unloving hands had not, let’s say, engendered in expectations of independent or proactive customer service.

“Holy crap,” I said again, because it needed repeating. “I think I just fell in love.”

The Delta guy smirked.

In a couple of minutes, he sorted out the rest of our flights as well, with the exception of the Atlanta to Manchester leg, which it turned out was booked solid. “But you can ask at the gate in Atlanta,” he said, “and things happen.” He left unspecified what those ‘things’ might be, but the optimism with which he said it indicated that they would be good things, which might work out in our favor — and so it proved, actually.

While we were waiting for the plane, I sat down in the gate lounge, stole the Guy’s laptop and the airport wireless, and sent the following to Delta.

Just had the most wonderful customer service experience at the

gate of Delta. The entire experience up to then was horrible — up to

and including the lackluster performance and unenthusiastic-with-shades-of-outright-hostility attitudes exhibited by the phone customer service,

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