It's hard to believe Christmas has come and gone along with New Year's Day, bringing a close to the holiday season. Now it's on to the New Year, new resolutions and time to detox from the holiday parties and gluttonous eating that categorizes the month of December. Thinking back on this most recent holiday I was reminded of an experience from last year's Christmas.
My brother-in-law bought each of my daughters a new pair of nice leather boots from Tractor Supply for their presents. They were the really sturdy and stylish ones, thick leather, heavily soled adorned with pink Mossy-Oak camo on the sides. The girls loved them instantly.
As often happens with children's shoes, in spite of everyone's best effort and planning the boots didn't fit two of my girls. This is no surprise to anyone who has ever purchased kids shoes. There are few things in life more confusing than the idiotic system that someone devised to size children's feet. You start with infant shoes that are little more than socks, then graduate into numbers, 1-2-3, then somewhere the numbers restart again. If you have kids of different ages it's possible that two different kids with two different sized feet will be wearing the same #1. Somehow your kid goes from #8 then back to a #1. And each #1 is different based on the shoe manufacturer. Is it a shoe that "runs big" or "runs small"? You would think we could come up with some standards that don't repeat at moronic intervals, but no. It's anyone's guess.
The government should do something, am I right?
It wasn't any big deal though, really. I love going to my local Tractor Supply store. There's something about a store where you can buy parts for a tractor, tires for your mower, wire for a chicken fence and de-worming agents for horses all in the same place that's just, I don't know, romantic I guess. I love to go there and wander through the aisles, looking at all the cool stuff for various manly work-related projects that I have neither the time, money nor desire to do.
But it's fun to imagine being "that guy".
So I took the boots down to the store to handle the return. I walked up to the front and explained that I needed to exchange these boots for different sizes for my kids. They checked and those particular boots were not in the store and had to be ordered from the warehouse. She recommended I speak to the store manager, Dingbat, about this.
No, that's not really his name, but I am going to be honest here and this honesty might be a bit brutal, so I am hiding the name of the guilty. He's younger, thin, and energetic and wears a stylishly manicured beard that frames his Ryan Seacrest face. Dingbat is also the most non-offensive name I could think of. I was going to name him another name that has both a D and a B in it, but I hate being crude and offensive to feminine hygiene products.
They have a bad enough rep as it is.
When I approached Dingbat, he was immediately put out with me. He seemed busy browsing the internet on his phone and hated my rude interruption. I explained the situation and he said he would order the boots from the warehouse the next day and call me when they came in. He told me to hang onto the boots I had until the others came in and we could do the switch then. He said the process to do the return would be complicated, though, because they had to get them from the warehouse, and the price of the boots was a website only price. So they would have to do a special order, followed by a price adjustment then a return and exchange. Of course he said all of this with the polite resentment of someone who is being greatly inconvenienced. I ignored it.
I was still in Tractor Supply, so I didn't really care.
No call came and eventually I called to follow-up. I found out the boots had been there for days but Dingbat just never got around to calling me. The woman on the phone apologized in a tone suggesting she was familiar with apologizing for Dingbat. I shrugged and said I would be down to the store that evening to complete the return.
That night I walked in and Don was at the register. Don is his real name too, and Don couldn't be more different from Dingbat. Don looks like a runner-up from a reality show for wannabe lumberjacks. He's older, probably in his mid to late fifties, short and stocky, and wears sturdy work jeans and work boots. He wears a thick, dark mustache on his square, weathered face and a Tractor Supply baseball cap. But he's tough enough he can pull off the straight "never-been-bent" baseball cap bill. I can't do that. Turns my head into something similar to that of a Lego character. His hat looks pristine, sitting on his head like a crown. He has a deep voice, speaks slowly and with authority. He's nice, straightforward and knows just about everything there is to know about the stuff in the store. Everything from bushings to bushmasters, weed-eaters to weed killers.
In short, Don IS Tractor Supply.
I went up to Don, and said hello, calling him by name like always. I showed him the boots I was returning, and explained what I knew. He kindly told me to head back to the Customer Service counter and that my boots would be there. I did as instructed and there was Dingbat, sitting on his stool looking like a little monarch surveying his kingdom and finding it wonderful, while finding everyone in it sorely disappointing. I got the boots and Dingbat dismissed me back to the counter where Don was waiting.
Of course, he had important managerial type things to do that no mere mortal can understand.
I returned to Don and explained the situation. Don looked at me rather confused and embarrassed. He confessed to having no idea how to do a warehouse order, price adjustment return and exchange. He said he was filling in at cashier for someone who called in sick. He didn't know much about the system. He picked up the phone and called back to the Customer Service counter and spoke to Dingbat about the steps involved in such a complicated transaction.
One thing you have to know about my Tractor Supply is that the Customer Service desk where Dingbat sat is only about twenty-five feet from the front registers. The store was empty, so I could hear both sides of the conversation, and see both people on the phone. Don was asking his manager for some help and guidance; his manager was visibly upset for the interruption.
Dingbat slammed the phone down, and stormed up to the front of the store. As he approached, fury painted across his stylish features, Don spoke up and said he would do the transaction he just didn't know how. He'd never done something that complicated. I understood. Don usually worked the sales floor, helping people find what they needed, not working the registers.
Dingbat was angry though.
"Never mind," Dingbat said, his voice dripping with disgust and disdain. "I'll just do it myself, get out of the way." With that Dingbat reached his arm across Don's chest and shouldered his way behind the register, pushing Don out of the way. Don's face reddened. But not out of anger.
Out of shame and embarrassment.
I had seen situations like this before in other areas of life. Here was a young man, computer savvy who clearly pictured himself as the future of the world, pushing a much older man, a relic of a dying age, out of the way. Let the smart kids do the work old man, Dingbat's actions said, we are better suited to it anyway.
What a shame.
This is not simply because I believe in my heart that Don is deserving of some respect by virtue of his age. Though I do believe that younger people should respect their elders to whatever degree is possible.
But as I mentioned before, Don IS Tractor Supply. He is why old farmers come in there, along with younger, dumber guys like myself. If I already knew what I wanted I would go next door, to Rural King which is basically the Wal-Mart of farm stores. Its employees wear pajamas and have no idea where to find chainsaw oil or motor oil, or what each are used for in spite of the rather descriptive names. Rural King, Wal-Mart and stores like that are full of employees who, when asked where something is, point in some vague direction with a look on their face that asks why you're bothering them as they idly wait for their next appointed break-time.
Don's not like that.
In fact Tractor Supply has a couple guys like Don. Guys who actually know what they are doing. Not just guys either. They have women there who know so much about horses I suspect they are really farm vets who work there in the evenings for something to do and a nifty store discount. Tractor Supply isn't the cheapest place, and admittedly they don't have the selection of Rural King. But I go to Tractor Supply for Don and people like him. People who know their business. People who have mounted a fence post in the ground and can tell you how to build a dead-man and keep in livestock. People who actually know how to use a chainsaw, how to fix a clogged carburetor, or replace a broken mower belt.
No one goes to Tractor Supply for Dingbat.
Dingbat would do well to remember this. Don may not know all the ins and outs of the computer point of sale system or much about smart phones. Ironically last time I was there he had a flip phone clipped to his belt and I was surprised any of those still existed.
But I don't go to Tractor Supply to seek advice on how to fix a problem with my smart phone. I go to the apple store and talk to the lovely, manicured fellows in their skinny jeans and berets for that sort of thing.
It seems like we as people have begun valuing the wrong things. It's easy to look at someone from the 'older crowd' and dismiss their input because they don't know what makes a phone "smart", and have never Tweeted or liked something on Facebook. Younger people of all ages laugh at them as they struggle to see text on the tiny screens, or to see the value in social media. We see that and we think because of this 'failing' on their part, they become something akin to a family heirloom. Something to be looked at, smiled at, but that's about it.
That feels wrong to me.
To so casually dismiss someone who has, by virtue of years of accumulated experience, at least earned the right to be respected and heard, seems a grave mistake and oversight. Think about it, how useful is all that stuff we praise anyway? Sure I know a couple people in my life who really benefit from their smartphones. My general contractor and my realtor are prime examples. That technology allows them to conduct business outside of the office all throughout the day and night.
But seriously, how many of us can really say that?
Most of us use that stuff just to get the latest gossip, celebrity news or YouTube clip of someone nearly killing themselves on a skateboard. Can we really say our knowledge of those things is all that important? Does it really matter that we know how to use those things and they don't?
Just because someone is older and doesn't understand the latest bells and whistles technology has to offer doesn't mean they have nothing to offer. That's the lesson Dingbat's missing. If Dingbat leaves, there's a hundred other Dingbats just like him waiting in wings to take his place.
But if Don leaves, Tractor Supply may just find itself losing an asset that's not easily replaceable. That would leave us with only Rural King.
And that's a future none of us want.