Gaming the System

“We should never have taught Grandmother how to text.” – Leah Garchik


Back in the eighties i was commuting daily from San Francisco to Hayward, which took me across the San Mateo Bridge and back.  The toll booth was on the east end of the bridge, and there was one toll taker who stood out.  Think about it for a moment. Could there be a more monotonous and boring job than to take the money or tickets from thousands of commuters trying to fight their way home through the rush hour traffic?  Where the best you could hope for to relieve the tedium would be someone taking out his pent up rage at the sluggish traffic on you.

But one of the toll takers was very different from the other mindless automatons.  He greeted every driver with a cheerful remark and a big smile.  So after your initial shock at this strange behavior, you stood ready to smile and say something nice to him the next time you ended up at his booth.  Hell, some of us even figured out which booths he was most likely to be in and selected the line to that booth even if it were not the shortest.

Or Berndt, a long-time checker at the Market Street Safeway, who always had ready an outrageous pun or laughable tidbit for everyone who came through his station.  So of course everybody had something nice to say to him.  I noticed that since you could easily see who was checking at a particular station, his always had the longest line in front of it.

Or post office clerks.  For over twenty years i used the post office on 24th Street and always chatted up the clerks.  By the time i moved, three of them had smiles ready for me as i approached their counter.  My thanks to Yvonne, Bill, and Betty.

And now i’m using the Bernal Heights post office on Tiffany St.  I’ve been here only a year and don’t use the post office as much, but still i’ve got one clerk who knows me although i don’t know his name yet.

Or the clerks at my pharmacies, same deal.

In all these cases we have people working in largely thankless jobs who have discovered that with a bit of outreach they can build up a clientele of happy people who make their job more tolerable.

And the obverse is also true.  If we have a cheery word with the clerks we encounter and make their job less tedious, we create happy clerks who make our experience better.

It’s a win-win, folks.

Meanwhile, the second in my Garage Doors of San Francisco series:

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  1. Rick C.
    Posted 7 August 2018 at 16:51 | Permalink

    Indeed! I like doing this too, but don’t do it often enough… Thanks for the reminder, Matte!

    • Posted 9 August 2018 at 07:03 | Permalink

      Actually i often catch myself not doing it. I do it routinely with the clerks at stores/offices i frequent, and i recently bagged a new one – the DMV. Stay tuned for a new blog post about that. But it doesn’t have to be just clerks. A jocular remark to a total stranger i’m unlikely to see again often sparks an exchange that warms both hearts.

  2. Mike B
    Posted 17 August 2018 at 11:52 | Permalink

    Particularly nice essay, Matte. Lots of friendly people in the world that are mostly unnoticed. Good to help us to better notice and appreciate them, and maybe even to follow their lead.

    • Posted 20 August 2018 at 15:26 | Permalink

      Glad you liked the essay. It really has made my life better because i’m greeted with smiles at all my destinations now. Ummm, well, except for the DMV.

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