This is one of those things that bothers me and only me. It involves giving people free crap.
The year was 1994, or possibly 1993. I was working in a small but distinguished movie theater in Eatontown, NJ. I’m not going to mention the company that I worked for, but many of you know this particular theater chain. It had an awesome little jingle at the beginning of each film they showed, exhorting you to recline in your seat, and to relish your theater-going experience. You can probably guess the theater chain of which I speak.
So … in the early 90s, this particular theater chain instituted a new policy to handle any grievances that might occur to spoil the theater-goers potential enjoyment of the film. It was called the “Reel Sorry” policy. Maybe this theater still does this. I don’t know. If any of you have received a “reel sorry” ticket in the past 1o years, please let me know, I’m curious. The procedure went like this: If at any time, a customer felt like they were being inconvenienced, the employees of this theater chain were empowered to give the patron a ticket that said:
“We’re ‘REEL’ sorry that you had a negative experience. Please enjoy a free 20 oz. drink courtesy of [theater chain]“.
If the popcorn machine broke down? “Reel sorry” ticket. The audio on the film was woogy? “Reel sorry” ticket. Forced to stand in line for Twizzlers for five minutes because we’re just too damn slow? “Reel sorry” ticket. Screaming child sitting next to you because some brilliant candidate for the Parent of the Year award decided to bring their toddler to see Pulp Fiction? “Reel sorry” ticket. It was actually a brilliant strategy.
By now some of you have seen the flaw in this policy. Believe me, so did we. When the High and Mighty District Manager came down to associate with the plebes, and to explain this policy to us, a few of us didn’t think it would work. We were given absolute power to issue a free soda ANY time a customer got whiny. It didn’t even matter if it was a legitimate reason. We were each given an entire pad of these coupons and could rip them off indiscriminately and give them away. We could paper the town with “Reel Sorry” tickets.
“Okay, so let me get this straight”, I asked the High and Mighty District Manager, (oooh what a rebel I was!) ” … so what if some guy is standing at the back of the lobby like this: [I stood and folded my arms] And let’s say he’s watching all the other customers order popcorn and soda and stuff … And then five minutes later, he walks up to the counter, and says: ‘ Yo, I been waitin’ here fer over FIVE minutes, where’s my free goddamn soda?’; what do we do THEN?”.
And as the High and Mighty District Manager looked like he was trying to formulate an answer for me, our Store Manager, a crotchety old badass by the name of Mervyn LaParr, said to me: “If that happens, you look that guy right in the face, and you say to him: “I am REEL SORRY that you had to wait so long, sir. Here, have a free 20 oz. drink on us. We’ll try not to let it happen again …“
And it was genius.
It acknowledged the fact that YES, some people are going to try to rook the system. And YES, it’s not fair. But YES, you treat those people exactly like you would any other customer. Because if you stop being kind and considerate to the customers who were genuinely inconvenienced just because a few assholes try to ruin it for everyone, then the jerkfaces have WON. By giving one knucklehead a free soda, and by letting THEM know, that YOU know that they’re being a big old poopiehead, you are now free to give out free beverages to the people who actually deserve it.
This policy actually informs much of my adult beliefs. I am willing to let someone get away with something for free if it lets me give free stuff to the people that appreciate it. I don’t care if a library patron isn’t technically a student. If I can help someone, I will, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my assistance of the people who pay to come here. If I give money to a homeless person, I don’t care if he or she is going to spend it on booze, as long as it gives me the freedom to also give money to actual hungry people.
But I think that humans as a species have this terrible tendency to let the jerkfaces and assholes of the world prevent them from doing good. People think: “I can’t be nice to any ONE person, because then some jackass is going to take advantage of my kindness”, “If I offer a free service to patrons, it’s going to be used by NON-patrons”, “If we let illegals into this country, they’re going to take services from American citizens”. I’m just not bothered by these things. It’s probably just my childlike naivete, but I don’t want to let the fear that someone’s going to be “getting away with something” prevent me from being nice to people.
And if you think I’m wrong, and you disagree with me, and think that I’m just being a naive Liberal airhead? … Then, please, accept this free 20 oz. drink as an apology for disrupting your day. I’m … real sorry. :(
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