Patty Bouvier: I can't believe Homer ruined another family barbecue.
Homer Simpson: [offended] Hey! Everybody pees in the pool!
Patty Bouvier: Not from the diving board!
—The Simpsons, “Dangerous Curves” (11/9/08)
Wife and I are planning to take a trip in a few weeks. For the second time, we want to go see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the flesh, then have our Thanksgiving Dinner in a restaurant. Friday will be a Tourist Day for us, although given that I’m a transplanted native, it won’t be especially touristy. But I’ve already digressed and the story hasn’t even started yet.
Thanksgiving Dinner is typically hosted at the Parkville Palace (i.e., our house), but since we’ll be away, Wife wanted to do a nice family dinner before the holiday. Everyone’s calendars matched up nicely for last night, so sometime last week she set the date.
This meant some high-speed meal planning for me, but Wife advised that I not make it as fancy and multi-course as our usual Turkey Day offering. Oddly enough, I was more than comfortable with that idea. So when I spotted a Safeway circular in the newspaper that offered up some complete meals for a reasonable price, I said to myself “Hey, this might do the trick.” There was a choice of the turkey dinner, the ham dinner or the prime rib dinner. (I would have loved the prime rib, but Wife’s family has this habit of ordering their meat overcooked, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.)
Now, the turkey dinner has all of the typical trimmings, with the mashed potatoes, the gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce among a couple of others, but the prime rib and the ham have the same side dishes. If you can’t see them in the picture, it’s Scalloped Potatoes au gratin, Corn Medley (what kind of songs do you hear in a corn medley?), Green Bean Casserole, a dozen dinner rolls and an apple pie. All you have to do is warm it up. Simple, right?
On Friday afternoon I called the toll-free number in the ad. This is actually where the trouble started, only I wasn’t smart enough to read the warning signs. The guy who answered the phone was, to be generous, not the brightest bulb on the string. The first thing he asked for was my first name, which is reasonable. My name is not something that people automatically know how to spell, so I immediately spelled it out for him. He didn’t get it on the first try, so I spelled it for him a second time. On this second attempt he read it back to me; it came back as something like “C, R, L, E”. I asked him, “Does that look like anybody’s first name to you? Let’s try it once more.” He finally got my name, then my phone number. OK, says I, we’re sailing smoothly now.
The next question was my zip code. From this information he deduced that I was located in Baltimore City. Based on this fact, he asked me which of the four stores in Baltimore City I wanted to use: Lauraville, Canton, Charles Village or the one out on Baltimore National Pike. I told him that I didn’t want to use any of those; I wanted to use the one in Parkville. This, he couldn’t find. As it happens, part of the reason he couldn’t find it was because he was looking for a Safeway in “Parksville”, but even after I straightened that out, he still couldn’t figure it out. Then he suggested that if I do a Google search, it’ll show me where the four stores he’d mentioned are.
I said, “I know exactly where those four stores are, and I’m not going to any of them when there’s one less than a mile from my house.” Then I asked him if he had Google. When he responded in the affirmative, I suggested that he do a web search for “Safeway 21234”. Lo and behold, he located the store in Parkville. I was kind enough to spare him the necessity of trying to pronounce “Waltham Woods Road”. Then he asked me again if I wanted the store at Waltham Woods Road. I told him “Yes, and if you ask me a third time I’ll probably say ‘yes’ again.”
A few more seconds of typing, then: “And what was your phone number again?”
We’d been on the phone for eight and a half minutes and, of the four pieces of information he’d gathered from me in that time, he’d already lost one of them. “That’s it,” I said. “I need to speak to a supervisor.”
Another eight minutes, this time on hold. Finally the supervisor came on. I’m not going to recount the entire conversation because you probably have that part figured out. It’s all apologies and obsequiousness and “We’re sorry you’re not having an excellent experience” kind of crap. But he did take my order and confirmed that I’d have to go to the Deli to pick it up, 24½ hours hence.
And I went there the next day and everything went perfectly.
Ha, Ha! I was just yanking your chain, there! And so was Safeway, apparently!
At 4:05 I arrived at the store, grabbed a cart and headed toward the Deli. The clerk behind the counter asked if she could help me. I told her that I was there to pick up a dinner. She looked at me blankly. I tried again: I ordered a Ham Dinner for pickup at four o’clock. She still didn’t know what I was talking about, so she turned to a co-worker: “Do you know anything about a Ham Dinner?” The co-worker nodded, then said, “but we don’t have it.”
She then started saying something about how they have the ham, but they don’t have “the kit”. The kit is apparently a package that contains all the other parts of the meal that aren’t ham. No package means you don’t have the meal. (Remember also that this means they don’t have everything for the Prime Rib Dinner, either.) This second clerk then disappeared into the walk-in refrigerator, but she emerged empty-handed and shaking her head. Again she told me the thing about the ham and the kit. Oddly, I didn’t find a repeat explanation comforting. I saw a sheet of paper in her hand and asked, “Is that my order? May I see it?” I looked at the sheet only long enough to establish that my name and phone number had been correctly recorded. That IS my phone number, and I haven’t gotten any calls from you.” I was getting a little more strident by this point. “I have a bunch of people en route to my house and I have nothing to give them. What am I supposed to do? Calling you guys was supposed to take the stress out of this whole deal.” She suggested that we talk to the manager.
I followed the clerk over to the manager’s office. In this office is a woman—the assistant manager—and I swear to god she’s eating an entire pepperoni pizza out of the box. I mean, it’s sliced and all, but she’s clearly doing this thing some serious damage. She continues chowing down her pizza while the deli clerk tells her about how “this man ordered the ham dinner and we have the hams but we don’t have the kit, and now he’s yelling at me because it’s not here.” Because it’s apparently my fault that I’m upset about placing an order that A) nobody filled; and B) nobody contacted me about a problem. Between bites, the assistant manager suggests that, rather than looking for a kit that isn’t there, she gather up the discrete pieces and give those to me. Because part of this was said with her mouth full, she wound up having to repeat it to the clerk, who heaved a big sigh and walked back to the deli area.
Hey, you know what? If I’m such a bother to everyone, I don’t need you either. I walked out of the store, not bothering to see if the deli clerk had even noticed I’d left. Given that I stopped immediately outside to text Wife about what had happened, it doesn’t appear that she did.
So here’s the Postscript to this tale: I went to the Shoppers Food across the street and put together a meal of my own: Spiral Sliced ham (about 8 lbs), frozen corn and a red and green pepper for chopping up into the corn and sauteéing slowly in butter; frozen Stouffer’s macaroni & cheese, frozen broccoli for steaming, an apple pie and a couple of tubes of biscuits. Dinner was about an hour later than we’d planned, and the total cost was nearly $10 cheaper than the Safeway meal.
This morning I mailed a letter to the Safeway folks. We’ll see what they have to say.