You Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Three weeks of phone static, five service calls, several unintentional three-way conversations, and over an hour spent demanding restitution from my otherwise lovely phone company Verizon, I am now moved to post this oldie but goodie, written several years ago, about a day running errands with preschoolers. Customer service–ugh.

Thursday, 11:20 am

We find Impossible Mission Special Agent (code name ‘M.O.M.’) on the way to the local mall. Her assignment: exchange two clothing items. She has only 25 minutes to get to the mall, park, get to the store, return the two items, choose two new ones, make the purchase and get out of there. If she isn’t back to pre-school for the noon pick-up, her 4-year-old will self-destruct.

11:25 am

Parking goes off without a hitch. Kidless, our agent enters the mall, dodging the super rip-off quarter kiddie rides and photo booth (which are now a super super rip-off at $1 each). She enters the store.

11:30 am

With the skill of a seasoned professional, our agent selects two more properly fitting items and proceeds to the checkout counter. Two counters are manned. Neither has the ‘I’m open’ light on. The cashier at counter A is finishing up with another customer. She flippantly informs our agent, “I’m closed,” and walks away. At counter B, the customer first in line has 10 items and a credit card application. The man behind her has no items and a cell phone—a sure sign of trouble.

11:35 am

Our agent continues to languish behind credit card girl and cell phone man. She observes at least six other store operatives (a.k.a. “salespeople”) busying themselves around the store, including one who is unloading Pampered Chef boxes from the UPS man while talking to the cashier-who-was-formerly-working about how she should have taken her break twenty minutes ago. Our agent aggressively clears her throat.

11:40 am

The sole working cashier is now on the phone. She appears to be speaking to the credit card division, but our agent suspects that they are trading coded messages about how to keep her there indefinitely. In a bold and unexpected move, one step short of swallowing a cyanide capsule, our agent says loudly, “I don’t want to be rude, but this looks like it’s going to take a while. Can you open another checkout?” Crippled, as if by an electromagnetic pulse, everyone at the counter freezes. After regaining his composure, the Pampered Chef guy says, “Uh, sure.” He radios his underlings.

11:45 am

An unidentified operative appears at the counter furthest away from our agent’s present location. She presses a few buttons, then feebly offers, “I’ll take the next customer in line.” Our agent waves cell phone man on then follows him to the Forbidden Outpost. Meanwhile a fresh faced couple take their place behind credit card girl, whose sale has just been completed.

11:50 am

Back at the Forbidden Outpost, the cashier has completed her quest to locate a rare and valuable store gift card for cell phone man. But she has to call for back-up when her ID comes up “invalid” and her system “locks up.” All heads turn back to the original checkout where the fresh faced couple has come and gone and the customer is now a woman in a wheelchair. That cashier presses a few buttons and looks over at the Pampered Chef guy. “I’m locked up too,” she says. At that moment, we try to contact our agent, to give her the abort command and get her out of there. But the transmission terminates. We lose contact.

11:59 am

Our agent pulls up in front of the pre-school with one minute to spare. Sure, she broke a few (dozen) traffic laws to get there in time, but, hey, who would pull over a minivan with the license plate ‘GOMOMGO’? She glances into her shopping bag to admire her purchases. She’s still a little uncertain about the color, but it will have to do for now. Relishing her final thirty seconds of free time before pick-up, our agent leans back in her seat and sighs. Mission accomplished.

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