02 August 2011

From the desert to the prairie

Since Kathleen and I met and decided to share an apartment back in 1989, we've moved eight times. In a couple of weeks we'll be doing that for the ninth time.

It's kind of ironic--we met when both of us were in government service, and one of the reasons we left government service was because we didn't want to move every few years.

Turns out it was less the jobs than who we are.

I can't speak for Kathleen, but against all odds (back in the eighties, I would have bet that I'd live and work within 10-15 miles of my hometown for the rest of my life), I seem to have become a change junkie. That's not to say there hasn't been a good reason for each and every of those eight (soon to be nine) moves, it's just to note that I've discovered that I kinda enjoy and even look forward to it.

One thing that makes moving immeasurably easier is not having preconceptions about where we're going. Our next destination is Brookings, South Dakota. I'm not sure many people who weren't born and raised in South Dakota would aspire to live there. But having had the opportunity to visit the town a couple of times, I can emphatically say that I do.

It's a terrific place, about three times the size of the town where I grew up, but I'm not letting its size worry me. We've also lived in what's arguably the largest metro area in the western hemisphere--the Valley of Mexico--so whether bigger or smaller, I'm confident we'll adjust.

I had the chance today to chat on the phone with a guy at a local appliance store up there. We need a washer and dryer, and I want to swap out the electric range for a gas stove in the house where we'll be living.

It's hard to explain exactly what it is, but talking to the guy I had a profound sense of coming home. Here was someone who'd never met me, working with me to figure out the logistics of what I was trying to do, and apparently more concerned about making sure I was going to be satisfied with the service his business was going to provide than with whatever inconvenience my requests might cause him. Wow.

And because we were able to have that kind of comfortable chat, I also found out he's got a fifty-year-old, 40-inch gas range out in his warehouse that will be PERFECT for the old-fashioned kitchen in the new place. He's going to send me a photo and have the gas lines in place and the stove installed by the time we get there.

No offense to the terrific folks in the Valley of the Sun, but that kind of service isn't something I've been able to find around here.

And the woman up there who's been helping us make the arrangements to move in? Let's just say I know the first people I'm inviting to dinner once we get settled. Allison has been nothing less than amazing. We're running out of exclamation points to punctuate the e-mails we've had going back and forth.

Anyhow, none of this is to say living in the greater Phoenix area hasn't been a great ride. I'm going to miss this place and the people we've worked with and gotten to know, as much or more than anyplace we've been over the past 22 years.

Nowhere else have I been able to see flowers in bloom on the way to work every single day of the year. And I can easily imagine us returning 5-6 years down the line. The heat some complain about here is more like a giant heating pad for my aging bones when I come out of work every evening. This IS a great place to live.

But I'm sure it's not the ONLY great place to live--we're heading for another likely prospect in a couple of weeks, and I'm looking forward to all of the new people, new experiences, and yes, new challenges that implies.

24 July 2011

BTW, about the new blog header...

That's a July 4, 1912 photo, looking west up Chestnut Street from near Main Street in my old home town of Stillwater, Minnesota. And yes, I'm in it, over on the right.

03 July 2011

Showing a little more good will at Goodwill

I had a lot to say about a pair of surprising and unfortunate encounters my wife had at a couple of local Goodwill stores while making some donations last week. On Wednesday, I finally got a call from a guy named Dan Kellett. He’s not listed on the Goodwill of Central Arizona “Leadership Team” on their website, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If he's not in the management or PR departments, he should be.

While there was nothing he could do to roll back the clock on Kathleen’s bad experiences, he was plenty reassuring that nothing like what happened to my wife would happen again. He told me GoCA was investigating what had happened and apologized profusely.

I naturally accepted, and told him there wasn’t really anything we wanted from Goodwill, beyond that reassurance. We’ve generally had good experiences with the organization and have been longtime donors and customers, so I appreciated him taking the time to call and talk with me about what happened. I was satisfied that the employees at the two stores in question would be given some additional training on customer relations, and told him I wasn’t out to get anyone fired or anything like that.

Turns out that the last isn’t my call. Dan explained to me that intentionally (or even recklessly) destroying property belonging to Goodwill (which is what that smashed box of toys was, since it belonged to Goodwill the moment we turned it over to a store employee) obviously is against company policy.

Dan said he planned to pull the video from the security cameras at that store and see if any of them captured the incident. Then the store manager and/or HR folks at GoCA will make a decision about the extent of any disciplinary action that might be warranted.

He also offered us a gift card, which we turned down--we're on the donating side, not looking to get anything out of this--and said that if Kathleen has any concerns about returning to either store with additional donations, to call him and he’d meet her there and personally unload her car! I told him that wouldn’t be necessary either, but he gave me his personal cell phone number and told me I could call “any time, 24/7” if we had any additional problems with Goodwill.

Anyhow, very classy guy and we very much appreciate his response.

And we will be donating more stuff to Goodwill, although maybe nothing breakable until we’re certain word has trickled down to the folks working the donation areas. For the time being, that stuff will go out via Freecycle, where we can put it directly into the hands of someone who wants and will appreciate it.

27 June 2011

Not much good will at Goodwill

On Sunday afternoon, my wife dropped off some boxes of children’s toys at the Goodwill store located at 5263 South Power Road in Mesa, Arizona.

These were items our daughters, now grown, had treasured and saved throughout their childhoods, items we’d spent the last two days digging out of various boxes in a hot garage.

My wife brought them inside for triage: she sorted them, washed off any that were dirty, then put all of the various pieces together into sets, making sure each set was complete.

We hoped that through a Goodwill store, these toys might bring the same kind of joy to someone else’s little girls that they’d brought to ours.

So after cleaning and organizing everything, she carefully packed the lot into some banker’s boxes, so they’d be easy for her to transport and easy for the folks at the store to handle.

She arrived at the store donation/drop-off area at about 5:40 PM. It wasn’t busy—she was the only person there. There were two people outside to receive donations. One of them, a dark-haired young man with a goatee or some kind of facial hair, came over to help her unload.

He took the first box out of the trunk and to her shock, hurled through the air, over a line of canvas hoppers full of clothing—to where it crashed to the concrete floor, by her estimate, some fifty feet away.

Toys and pieces of toys flew in all directions.

My wife was stunned. That box had contained a beautiful little plastic jewelry box in perfect condition, electronic toys we’d tested to make sure they all worked, and additional bags of miscellaneous plastic toys.

Alarmed, she asked him to be careful and explained she’d just spent hours cleaning and organizing those toys. He didn’t even give her the courtesy of an answer, although he grudgingly carried (and dropped) the rest of the boxes instead of throwing them.

She left the store in tears. When she got home, I asked her what was wrong. She told me “I can’t say or I’ll start crying again.”

We donate a lot of stuff to Goodwill, and have been doing so for years because we believe in its mission and the good work it (usually) does. When it’s clothing, we always make sure it’s in good, wearable condition. When it’s electronics, we test each piece to make sure everything is in working order. And when it’s toys, we always make sure they’re complete and intact, things a parent can buy for a child and neither of them will be disappointed. If something is broken or worn out, or if it’s simply not something we’d consider buying ourselves, we throw it away.

If that store didn’t want or need those toys, they could have said so and sent my wife to another store. We gladly would have taken them elsewhere and donated them to a church or a women’s shelter or some other charity where they would have been appreciated and, with luck, made a child or children happy.

Treating our donations with such callous disregard—essentially destroying them (and negating the hours of effort that went into getting them ready to donate)—with my wife standing right there was unconscionable and inexcusable.

Am I overreacting?

Well, the day before, she dropped off another carload of items at the Goodwill store located at 868 Gilbert Road, in Gilbert. It was mostly toys—including a big box of dolls and a few “See ‘N Says”—along with some girls’ clothing, and some small appliances (all tested and cleaned up). That place was busy when she arrived, with a number of other cars waiting in line. But she was still a little taken aback when the woman who came over to help unload said, “All of this sh*t?”

So you have to wonder: Is this how Goodwill regards our donations? If that’s all they mean to the people at the stores—things to throw and break, things to denigrate—then as of right now, we’re done making donations to Goodwill.

Their website says Goodwill "treat[s] all people with dignity and respect," but you wouldn’t know it by the treatment we received this past weekend.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve been trying to get in touch with someone at Goodwill of Central Arizona headquarters to discuss these incidents for the past two days. I’ve left multiple voice mails and talked to the woman who answers the phone there at least three times. There are more than a dozen people listed on their website as the “Leadership Team,” but each time I’ve called I was told no one was available to speak with me, and no one has followed up on my messages.

You'd think someone would want to address this insulting, seemingly incomprehensible behavior.