I went to the fifties-looking diner at the airport, sat at the worn Formica counter, and ordered toast.
The waitress—I did not opt for the politically correct waitperson because the person with whom I was about to converse was in fact a she—rocked back and forth on her rubber-soled shoes. “Do you see toast on the menu?” She asks.
I scanned the laminated and crusted placemat cum menu. “I do not. But the toaster is right there,” I said as I pointed to the spot on the laminated counter next to the display case holding the lemon meringue pie and some kind of turnover that looked like it had last been turned over days ago.
“The toaster is for the toasted tuna sandwich,” and she pointed to the menu. And there it was. About a half-inch to the right from what looked to be a yolk smear, and an inch or so down from what appeared to my untrained culinary eyes to be a glob of jelly. The glob appeared to be strawberry jelly, but it could just as easily have been congealed ketchup.
Jelly. Next to the bowl of creamers and the small box of sweeteners was a woven wired device with rows of jelly stacked like Legos. “Why is there jelly if you do not serve toast?” She looked around like she was wondering if she should call her manager. I heard her misquote under her breath a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “A pox upon your house.”
By now I no longer wanted the toast, but I could not convince myself to just step away from the counter and admit defeat. I read the menu’s chipper narrative about the sandwich. Whole white albacore tuna, harvested in dolphin-free waters. Served on your choice of fresh bread, lightly toasted—there was the word I sought. The tuna sandwich came with lettuce and cheese and tomato. And tuna.
And toast. “May I have it without the cheese?” I asked—raise your hand if you think you know where this is headed. She nodded affirmatively.
“You know what? Now that I am thinking about it, let’s skip the lettuce and the tomato.”
“What will you have to drink?” I ordered a Diet Coke.
And as she began to turn to take my order to the kitchen I made a final request. “And hold the tuna.”
Toast. Customer experience.
It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times. It was never and never will be the best of times if you fly USAIR or American. My trip to the dark side of customer service was via American Airlines, on a flight I booked on USAIR, on a plane flown by Republic Airlines. That way, I would have to work hard to know which airline to blame for my bad experience. It seemed the airline troika had secreted away the culpable party like nested Russian dolls, or in much the same way John le Carré would launder clandestine funds through a series of Swiss banks and offshore accounts.
Having finished my tuna sandwich, sans tuna, I arrive at the airline terminal in time to catch an earlier flight; fifteen minutes before they shut the door. “May I get on this flight?” I inquire of the gate guardian.
“It will cost you seventy-dollars,” she tells me.
Still amped from my toast experience, I say, “Think about it this way. You have empty seats, seats you will not sell because there is not time left. It costs you nothing to put my backside in one of those seats. And in doing so,” as I build to the climax of my logical argument, “You then free up a seat for the next flight, an unpaid seat that you might sell.”
I give her my second-best smile. “Do you want to get on this flight?” She asked me without giving me her second-best smile.
I looked at my watch. There were two hours before the next flight, and I was still hungry. “No thank you. I think I’ll go get a tuna sandwich,” I told her.