Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lessons from Chicken in ATL

Airports are portals of random temporariness.  As strangers pass each other en-route to their final destination lasting impressions are easily something that are not found here.  However, amidst all the fast walking, cell phone talking, iPod listening, and internet browsing that can often times seem like a big blur of random happenings if one looks close enough priceless lessons can be found beneath the fast moving surface. 

The Atlanta International Airport is large and in charge, a boss among airports in the United States.  So large that I’ve never travelled through it without stressing out about making my connecting flight on time in part to having to run from one concourse to the next, which are far apart.  If you’ve been there you know what I am talking about.  There’s a subway system that connects the concourses to one another.  Amidst all the hustle and bustle of airports, especially a large one like Atlanta it would be easy to think little things are of little importance and that last impressions are foreign concepts. 

Because I now live in the Midwest (originally from Jacksonville, FL) every chance I get to indulge in something “Southern “I gladly do so.  I decided to grab something to eat, Popeyes Chicken.  Popeyes is in a huge airport with a huge food court in one of its many concourses.  Expectations are that you purchase your food, keep your head down, find a table, eat, leave, and remain a homogenous part of the crowd.  To my surprise my expectations were shattered and otherwise dull travelling experience enhanced.  I bought my food and headed to the corner where all the straws, napkins, and sporks were stored.  I was greeted by a jolly gentleman named Ralph who said hello and asked if I needed a table for one.  I was a bit confused and didn’t want to be rude so I said, “Yes.”  Luckily for me what happened next did so while my food was in Ralph’s hands because otherwise I may have dropped it out of pure shock.  Ralph proceeds to say, “Let me get that for you sir, follow me,” and takes me to a booth.  I sat enthralled by his kindness.  Maybe I just looked like I needed help or he admired my tattoos?  As I sat there for the next 30 minutes I watched Ralph float around the little eating area greeting everyone with the same kindness.  As folks left their table he would assure them he would get their trash and wish them well on their trip.  He walked to others who were eating asking if they needed anything.  I just smiled as I watched him because I saw such great joy in his work that most would consider not much.  So I call him over and ask him his name.  I extend my hand I tell him I really appreciate what he is doing and that I’ve never had such a good experience in all my travels, and then I asked who his manager was.  I go find his manager, Jim, and tell him the same, which hopefully was refreshing because I could only imagine in an airport food court that most people only want to complain when talking to a manager.  I walked away hoping others would do the same and fill Ralph and Jim with encouragement all day, but was also left with their fingerprints embedded in my mind.

Ralph makes maybe $8.50-10 an hour and definitely probably doesn’t have benefits. He serves people all day.  His attitude could be poor.  Most in his position are, however, Ralph really took ahold of his job, which really isn’t beyond cleaning up tables as folks leave (evidenced by his coworkers walking around doing so) but he took it to another level of excellence.  Ralph is a man I’d give a job “off the streets” when I own a company in my future.  That kind of joy and work ethic is hard to find these days and I really thought it beneficially to share this story.  Have you had any experiences like this? 

I’m not sure if Ralph or Jim or anyone affiliated with them will ever see this, but I am thankful to have met them both and had that experience.  

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