…good things come in threes…

…so here’s my third happy HAWAIIAN thought…

…i can live with that…even here in seattle!!

…so i guess i’ll stay put…for now.

………hugmamma.

tsunamis, on maui

Growing up on Maui in the 50s, I can remember a couple of instances when the island was hit by tsunamis. I don’t recall, however, that they were as devastating as the one which hit Japan today.

Coquillages à Fadiouth, Sénégal

Image via Wikipedia

As a toddler my family rented a large house in Waiehu, across a one-lane road from the beach. The land was flat, hills looming tall behind our home. As kids, my siblings and I spent a good amount of time playing on the beach, pocketing sea shells, chasing one another along the shoreline, and yelling our fool heads off when the cold water splashed against our bare legs. We enjoyed frolicking in the sand and the surf, while the heat of the tropical sun warmed and tanned our bodies.

I can recall one specific, sun-drenched day, when an eerie quiet hung in the air. And yet, there was a faint, far-off ringing that pierced the stillness. It seemed to come from the vicinity of the horizon. Over the period of a few hours, the entire ocean had withdrawn until it loomed ominously across the horizon line. After surveying the ocean floor, devoid of water, our family quickly withdrew to the hilltop, and awaited the inevitable.

A picture of the 2004 tsunami in Ao Nang, Krab...

Image via Wikipedia

The ringing grew louder as the sea came roaring back toward land, wave upon wave seeming to consume all that lay below us. And that’s where my memory ends. I’ve no idea what we salvaged, for we kept rabbits and chickens. Perhaps we released them to run for their lives, and went in search of them in the aftermath. I’ve no idea. I’ve also no recollection what damages befell our house. Those things don’t figure into a toddler’s mind, at least not mine.

I remember another time when I was older, my mom was driving a few of us kids along the road that ran past the pier that bordered Maui’s capital city, Wailuku, and the neighboring town of Kahului. Traffic crawled as those in cars gawked at people who had abandoned their cars alongside the road, running to scavenge fish that lay on the exposed ocean floor. They thought little about the risk to their lives, for it was certain they could not outrun the thunderous waves that would come crashing down upon them, when the sea rolled back in from where it stood along the horizon. The police seemed helpless in their efforts to corral those who would sacrifice everything for a few fish. My mom didn’t linger to witness the sad scenario that was destined to become even worse. We read of the fatalities the next day, in the local newspaper.

Though these events are distant memories, my fear is still palpable. As I watch TV news programs showing the terrible destruction in Japan, I can feel the despair that must have overwhelmed those who were unprepared for the onslaught, and the dread of those who could only watch as fellow Japanese were bandied about like Mother Nature‘s playthings.

Kahikinui coastline, Maui

Image via Wikipedia

Tsunamis, like other natural disasters, leave little to the imagination. They’re here, and then they’re gone. What’s left in their wake is of little consequence to them. Humankind is left to refashion its environment, after Mother Nature has had her way. Is there any doubt then, who is the true master of this earth we call home?

reflecting upon our smallness…keeps us humble…hugmamma. 

“service with a smile”

Having both worked in service-oriented jobs for many years, with my husband still in the business, we agree that customer service is a “dying art.” Shopping on the Internet has made it more convenient for consumers to surf the global market for all their needs. An appealing product, savvy marketing and a credit card completes the transaction. There’s no need to interface with a flesh-and-blood person. After all, Google can answer any of your questions. And if you’ve got a hankering for “warm and fuzzy,” click on “smiley face” or download your choice of YouTube videos, to get your endorphins moving.  

Businesses grew by leaps and bounds when consumers had quantities of disposable income. Customer service was unnecessary, so it became a thing of the past. A few retailers, like some purveyors of travel and TV’s QVC, continued their traditional practice of being solicitous towards customers. But some, like E-Bay, Amazon.com, Craig’s List, department stores, supermarkets, drugstores, fast-food chains, medical practitioners and airlines, may have opted to minimize service in favor of quick turnover, with a “get ’em in, get ’em out,” attitude.

With the downturn in the economy, companies are scrambling to win back customers who have fewer dollars to spend. Customer service may be on the rise again. I hope so. It doesn’t cost businesses more to have employees smile, offer a warm greeting, listen with patience, offer options for resolution, and express appreciation for ongoing patronage. However, a company may want to invest in customer service training. Even employees with impeccable manners and the greatest intentions, will meet their match in irate persons. I know, I’ve sat on both sides of the desk.

In my mid-20’s I worked as a customer service agent for the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu. It represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield in the islands. I had extensive training in the technical aspects of HMSA’s policies so that I could answer policyholder questions. I did so in person, and on the phone. I enjoyed helping people, especially when I could clarify or demystify the finer points of their coverage. Receiving their thanks, and seeing their smiles when they turned to leave, was extremely gratifying. Of course, there were some who were disgruntled with what I had to say. And there were a few who insisted upon speaking with my supervisor, hoping his response would be different. Sometimes a review was scheduled, but often his answer confirmed mine. One particular encounter left me “shaking” in my muumuu (long, Hawaiian dress).

A gentleman from the island of Molokai had called, unhappy with a bill payment. I think it was a hospital claim, probably of a sizeable amount. I explained how the insurance carrier had determined his coverage. Unhappy with the information, I can only imagine how the man’s eyes bulged, his belly heaved, and how difficult it might have been to breathe, as he screamed profanities through the telephone. The tirade continued when I handed the call over to my boss. We were mistaken to think we’d heard the last of the policyholder. Not long after, the huge Hawaiian man  arrived at our offices, having made the flight specifically to address us in person. I gladly introduced him to my supervisor, who withdrew to the privacy of his office, with the angry islander in tow. I think someone from upper management eventually joined the conversation, but I don’t remember the outcome. Needless to say, the experience left me wary.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been the irate customer. However I’ve certainly done my fair share of yelling, I’m sorry to say. But it’s always been when I felt inconsequential, the company having already snagged my business. There was the time we’d refinanced with a bank at a low-interest rate. Because the appraiser hadn’t submitted his report on time, our rate was due to be increased. Not until I spoke with the President’s secretary, shedding tears of frustration, did she resolve the matter in our favor. 

When my 19-year-old daughter’s VISA bill showed an annual $85 fee for fraud protection on a credit limit of $500, I went ballistic! If she didn’t pay the fee, she’d be slapped with a finance charge. And if that kept up, she’d reach her allowed max in no time.  It was ludicrous that a billion dollar corporation would take advantage of a teenager. Unfamiliar with marketing schemes, my daughter thought VISA’s $2 rebate check was a reward for opening a bank account. Cashing the check actually signed her up for credit card protection, as indicated on the back, in fine print. My nonstop tirade failed to move the customer rep until I asked how she’d feel if her teenager had been scammed. The rep agreed to remove the fee, without requesting repayment of the rebate.

Purchasing a used sofa back table in Atlanta for $300, I agreed to pay the dealer another $265 to ship it to my home in Washington state. He shipped with a small, regional carrier because of its comparatively low-cost. When the merchandise arrived in Tacoma, my husband was told that the price had escalated to $600. In speaking with the seller, I learned that the price change had occurred within the shipper’s bureaucracy. The clerk with whom the transaction originated, wrote up the piece as a “sofa bed,” not a “sofa back table.” Sight unseen, the receiving office modified the price accordingly. When we asked that they open the crate to verify that it was a table, not a sofa bed, we were aghast when the amount shot up to $800+. No reason was given, but I surmised the decision was made that the piece was an antique. If I refused to pay the exorbitant price to retrieve my belonging, it could be sold locally for a hefty sum. After phone calls to 3 different offices, I was directed to the company’s corporate offices in Alabama. I wrote a letter describing, in great detail, the events leading up to my outrage. I addressed it to the President of the freight company, copying the President of its parent company, and express mailed both. It was sent on a Saturday, and I followed up with a call on Tuesday. Long story short, the Tacoma branch delivered the table to my husband for the originally quoted price of $261. That didn’t include door-to-door transportation, but it did in my case.

Who wants the grief that accompanies confrontation? Not me, that’s for certain. I’d just as soon turn my back, leaving it to those with hardier constitutions. But as I’ve indicated in my earlier posting, “put a ‘face’ on the ‘unknown,’ ” sometimes I’m integrity gone amuck! As with most people, there’s a “line” which when crossed, Mr. Jekyl steps in for Dr. Hyde. At that point, I become “warrior mom,” battling until my opponent is “face down,” eating dust from under my high-heeled stiletto, specifically removed from moth balls for the occasion. 

In my travel experiences from one end of the country to the other, southerners and Hawaiians exude genuine warmth and hospitality. The tellers at my mother-in-law’s bank welcome her with sunny smiles, and assist patiently with any questions she may raise. I find Southern wait staff gracious in their greetings, and their drawls hold my attention as they enticingly describe the “specials of the day.” What both ethnicities share is a slower paced lifestyle. That seems to translate to great customer service. Of course, as with anything else, there are exceptions to the rule. But I enjoy spending time in those locales, where “getting to know you” and “service with a smile” are more than fanciful sayings. They’re a way of life. 

for amazing customer service, huge hugs…hugmamma.

McGarrett, no replacement

As I sit typing away at the keyboard, Steve McGarrett’s face lights up the TV screen behind me. The low, husky voice is enough to conjure up the handsome Jack Lord. I’m reminded that in “Hawaii Five-O’s” heyday, I had a crush on the actor. So while I was disappointed in his marriage to someone other than me, I took comfort in his wife’s dark-haired good-looks as indicative of Lord’s preference for exotic types.

Beyond Lord’s presence in the series, “Hawaii Five-O” was a favorite of locals because it was filmed in the islands. The production company’s home base was located a few miles from my mother-in-law’s house. Filming on location meant natives would be used not only as extras, but possibly in featured roles as well. I think one or more of McGarrett’s  detectives were island men. Not only did the series provide jobs for locals but they, along with the islands as a backdrop, gave the show authenticity. Viewing the show I could identify every place they filmed, streets, buildings, restaurants, night clubs, malls, parks, beaches, hotels, churches, temples, airports and more. It was thrilling to see local celebrities like Danny Kaleikini and Genoa Keawe perform. Don Ho also guested but wasn’t a favorite of locals, who viewed him as a cheesy rendition of the true Hawaiian artist. Besides, Ho was always seen with a drink in his hand. Islanders did not relish being dubbed as slap-happy alcoholics to an audience of television watchers.

While not knocking the socks off of critics, the dramatic series entertained “Hawaii Five-O” fans for years. I know my family watched it with regularity. We probably set our dinner schedule around its time slot. After all, watching the show was like witnessing real life as it unfolded on our streets, in our homes, in our work places, among our people. We weren’t watching look-a-likes, so imagining that “Hawaii Five-O” was about us wasn’t far-fetched. And Jack Lord imbued the Hawaiian spirit, if not in looks then in his love of the islands and its people. During the series and through his retirement, he and his wife lived in Honolulu, calling it home. We were as enamored of the man, as he was of Hawaii, its culture and the natives. So while another reprise of the TV series is in the offing, there’ll never be a replacement for Jack Lord, the one and only Steve McGarrett. I wonder if the theme song will be updated as well; the old one is like “comfort food.” Right now, watching the original “Hawaii Five-O”, I’m remembering the “good old days” of my youth.

they can try, but…hugmamma.