There was a light at the end of the tunnel

This past week we traveled to the Mauston area to ride the Sparta Elroy Bike Trail. For novices who have never experienced the trail, it runs some 30 miles between Sparta at the northern end and Elroy at the southern end. On the way you bike along the old railbed of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, passing through its three tunnels along the way. Considered the oldest rail to trail in the U.S., it offers welcoming tree lined canopies and historic bridge crossings as it travels through the five villages along the route. On our first day, our ride took us from Sparta, through two of the three tunnels, eventually reaching Wilton. On the way in and nine miles from our starting point, we reached Tunnel 3, the longest tunnel on the trail. At 3/4 of a mile in length, our first view of the tunnel left us wondering what this walk through it would entail. The one thing that encouraged us was that their actually was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was very dim and very small, but it was there telling us that we would eventually reach the end.

But this isn’t meant to be a travelogue. Rather it is meant to be an allegory. The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of life in these Covid-19 times. In late February or early March, depending on your point of reference, we entered a tunnel the pandemic had created. We had and still don’t have an idea of just how long this tunnel will be. But we had no choice other than to enter it. Now, going on eight months in our tunnel, we are anxiously looking for the light at the end of it. Pessimists will tell us there is no end in sight, no light that they can see. Optimists will ask us to believe that we are just about there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, where in fact, we might actually be. Here’s the rub. We can actually control how long we will spend in the tunnel. The key is responsible behavior. No one denies that the pandemic exists. We can argue about who it impacts more, about how bad it really is, or what will eventually cause it to end, but what we need to do is clear. We need to be cautious. We need to protect ourselves while protecting others. In short we need to take responsibility in the battle to end this pandemic, to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there, it’s just that it won’t be clearly visible until we get ourselves closer to the end.

As we walked our bikes through the darkness and falling water of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel just kept growing larger, urging us on. Each step took us closer to the end of the tunnel and with each one of those steps, the light grew closer and brighter. Eventually we reached the last hundred feet of the tunnel and sunlight now flooded the tunnel floor. We were never worried that we wouldn’t make it but we were still relieved to be out of the tunnel, back in the sunlight, and back on our ride.

This Covid-19 tunnel that we find ourselves in will eventually come to an end. How soon it does in fact depends on us. On our collective behavior. On our willingness to sacrifice some of our freedoms to bring this to a quicker end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to keep moving toward it.

And there it was…….the Comet Appeared

They say a comet is an omen. In ancient times, because of the ‘disturbance’ it caused in the night sky, the omen it suggested was considered to be bad. Comets were thought to be sent by the gods as warnings and were associated with the death of kings and famous people or ironically, plagues. I wish to believe that this new comet in the night sky, Neowise, is maybe just the opposite. I choose to think it is a sign of the eventual end to this Covid plague and the hope for a vaccine.

Yesterday gave us one of those rare nights, that if you are fortunate enough to be away from the light pollution of the larger cities, you get to witness the millions of stars painting their spectacular light show across the canvas of the night sky. Last night, I was one of those fortunate few. My grandchildren and I are vacationing with my wife and daughter in the northern woods of Wisconsin, far from the city lights. I was excited, since having tried for multiple nights to view the comet back home in Madison, I had yet to spot it in the nighttime sky. This was going to be my best chance.

We have a cottage located in the southeast corner of our lake. With a heavy tree line, we were concerned that we would not be able to see low enough to the horizon where Neowise would be located. The time grew later and the sky grew darker. We ventured down to our pier where we found a crystal clear sky and no moon. Perfect viewing weather. As we looked to the northwest, we easily spotted the Big Dipper. Our Google search told us that on this night we would locate the comet straight below the lowest star of the Big Dipper, half way between that bottom star and the horizon. As we peered into the dark sky, we saw our view seemingly blocked by a large stand of trees. But then, as we moved our gaze downward, we saw through an opening in the branches what looked like a smudge of white against the backdrop of the dark sky. Grabbing the binoculars, my daughter exclaimed breathlessly, that she could see it. I and my grandson anxiously awaited our turn. When she finally relinquished the binoculars and our turns came, the comet did not disappoint. We stared in awe at the majesty of Neowise.

The head of the comet, clearly visible through the binoculars, appeared as a soft, fuzzy object and there, spread out in this huge fan shaped cloud of white, was its tail. The comet was so distinctly different and so much larger than anything else in the sky, that it simply grabbed your attention and made it impossible to look away. No wonder that those ancients were so awed and at the same time, fearful of a comet’s appearance. We explained to my grandson Jackson, what a unique experience viewing this comet afforded him. It would be another forty two years before another comet, Halley’s, would be back in our skies. I didn’t tell him, but I sincerely doubt that I will be around to see that event.

I have been fortunate to have viewed three comets before this latest one and, more than likely, my last. I saw, Comet Kahoutek in 1973, Halley’s comet in 1986, and Hale-Bopp in 1997. Though there are generally comets somewhere in our night skies at any time, most are not visible with the naked eye or do not display much of their tail. The tail is often pointed away from us or is simply to small to view. The three comets I mentioned, were visible and at least expected to put on a show. Truthfully, until my viewing last night, they were unimpressive with my meager viewing equipment. That is why last night’s viewing of Neowise has so inspired me. Knowing that I have no known great comets to look forward to, seeing Neowise in all its glory was so important.

Unlike the ancients, I am choosing this comet to be a good omen. I believe that 2020 is destined to go down as the year of the plague and that it will be one we all want to forget. Let’s for a moment believe that the appearance of the comet is telling us of better days ahead. Let’s, knowing that we have a forty-two year wait, not waste any of our days and years ahead. If Covid taught us anything, it is to realize the importance of the people around us, of our dependence on each other and of our need to take care of not only ourselves, but of humanity in general. Neowise can be a beacon showing us our way forward and an inspiration to keep going. Just as the comet unwaveringly follows its path, so we need to find our path, the path of caring for the things that matter.

Take some time, grab a pair of binoculars, get away from the confusion of the urban lights and go find the comet. Stare at it. Revel in its majesty. View it against the backdrop of a starry ski and realize how vast the universe is and how very fortunate we all are to have this space, this earth, this planet …… each other. Just maybe we can each be our own comet, lighting up our little space and together, we can light up the world. Just as the comet dazzles the night sky, so too can we dazzle the world, our world.

Go be a comet!

I’m Not on Call

This isolation and physical distancing has created an explosion of online techniques to deal with business ‘not as usual’. Where we were generally meeting each other face to face, we now zoom and google meet, duo and face time to accomplish our social gatherings and, to the point of this blog, our business.

Where this live streaming has been successful and even efficient, society, namely clients and customers, need to understand that even though I seem to be, I am not on call. We are now beginning to take advantage of the ability to do everything online. Ever since many businesses sent their employees home and then set them up to work from their home offices, places like the kitchen table, the dining room table or as I’ve heard, the walk-in closet, too many customers are now viewing them as on call 24-7. After all, the customer figures they are in the same boat. They are working from home and thus their vendor or agent or whomever, must be as well. It really doesn’t matter that it’s Saturday afternoon or evening or even Sunday.

When this is all over, and I hope that is sooner than we seem to be now bracing for, we are going to be in a new normal. Why go to the grocery store once I got used to delivery? Why bother heading downtown to shop when a purchase and delivery were just a click or two away? Why head into my investment broker’s office when zooming with them worked just fine? For that matter, why should I even have to leave the house to do any business? This just might be the backside of this experiment in isolation. We might end up becoming a non-social culture. And as such, we might start forgetting that the person on the other end of that internet connection might actually have a life. Or at least, used to have one.

I for one am not ready for that new normal. Don’t get me wrong, I was reasonably tech savvy. I could conduct a long distance business relationship with the best of them, but I will also admit that the inability to disconnect was at times overwhelming. Between voice mails, emails and texts, there were days when I felt like I was on a string and that all you had to do was tug it and I would answer your every need. Weekends became a struggle to not check my emails and voice mails. Vacations became exercises in trying to relax. My fear is that once we have led our customers to the water, they will expect to drink whenever they feel thirsty.

We owe it to our families, our social circles and above all else, to ourselves, to draw a line in the sand. It is not too late to begin educating our clients and customers to our own needs. That process needs to manifest itself as hours and days of operation. In the good old days, we walked up to the store or office door, and when it didn’t open, we saw the closed sign and the hours of operations. We might have been slightly inconvenienced, maybe even a little irritated, but then we realized life’s priorities and we respected them.

This new normal needs to be a two way street. When we go back to business as usual, I hope that we haven’t lost sight of the value of personal touch. That we will remember why the calendar has weekends. And that no matter how big our problems seem in the immediate, there is a better time and place to work the solution. Wouldn’t it be great if the new normal was all people realizing that if we respected each other enough to stay six feet away during the crisis, we will now respect them enough to give them time to enjoy their free time.

I may not be on call for business after hours, but I am always on call for friendship, courtesy and a little social time together. So call me sometime, just not after hours if this can wait.

Do it for all of Us

I have been waiting to weigh in on this but praying in the meantime. I pray that we can all survive the isolation. Isn’t it ironic that before this all started, there were times we would crave the chance to just shut out all the noise, to find a quiet spot and yes, isolate ourselves. Now we are asked to do exactly that and we realize how disconcerting that can be. Deb and I are honoring the request and have isolated ourselves from family and friends, from our church family and from the everyday strangers that might have become our friends. It has its pluses and minuses. The quiet has given us the chance to reflect and reconnect, to realize how dependent we are on each other, to realize what it was we found in each other as we fell in love so long ago. But the isolation has reminded us how much we depend on others as well. It has put us in a position to worry about so many things that we can’t control. It has left us craving company and the socialization that comes with the company.

We are taking this thing one day at a time. We are being as patient as any human can be and we remind each other that in time this will pass. We use all this isolation time to pray. We pray for all the people I have already mentioned, but also for the businesses struggling to hang on, to save their customers and their employees, to still exist when this is all over. We pray for the care givers, the doctors and nurses and all the related medical personnel, and all the others who put their lives on the line and take the risks we are told to avoid. We pray for our church and all the churches out there whose members crave the message and the community of their faith families disrupted by this pandemic. And, yes, we pray for leaders. We pray that they be leaders who listen to both the science and the needs of the people they have chosen to lead. That they exercise both empathy and wisdom in equal amounts.

This will prove to be a critical time in our existence. When this pandemic passes, we will emerge as a stronger civilization, more empathetic than when we entered, more aware of our surroundings, more involved in our society. All of those statements will be true, as long as we learn from what we experienced, if we are willing to change many of our habits and beliefs based on the lessons of the crisis we survived. Life will return to normal, albeit a new normal, but it will return. Let’s promise to be part of the improvement.

For now, keep socially distancing but not distant, stay safe and keep others safe by your actions and above all else, stay connected. Use the ability to stay connected that our technology affords us and use those connections to stay patient. We will survive, with wisdom we may even thrive.

My My My, Corona

We are in Atlanta having just cleared Customs. We have brought back memories, photos and souvenirs. With any kind of luck, we did not bring back Coronavirus. We were warned that the lines would be horrific at the airports and my lovely wife had already been steeling herself for at the very least, a missed flight and at the worst, lock up in an airport cage for the foreseeable future. I am happy to say that neither has happened and with any kind of luck we will be home by midnight. Of course, that still leaves us needing to go to the grocery store as we left for our vacation with our basic supplies fairly used up. Next crisis, trying to find a roll of TP in the midst of the supermarket raiders.

It is amazing how much things have changed from just a week ago. When we left, I still had an investment portfolio, meetings and seminars, as well as a reasonably normal social life. At some point, the market decided to dazzle us with its free fall and grocery stores were raided of the simplest items. Meetings were cancelled, businesses closed and schools now entering the live streaming age sans students. When we left, I was looking forward to Opening Day, the Bucks as potential world champions and both the Men’s Badger Basketball team and the Women’s Badger Hockey poised to accomplish the unthinkable, a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA preferred berth. I had even started to pick my March Madness Brackets, okay, that was a stretch, but I was at least looking forward to the exercise.

All of that changed, literally in a heartbeat. We now have a new term, “social distancing”, where we apparently live stream our dates, weddings and get together’s. We now need to observe rules, last enforced when I was at a middle school dance. For you Over the Hill folks, the old three-foot rule is what I am referencing. The problem is the rule is now six feet and there is a 60 second rule as well.

But I am an optimist by nature. This too shall pass, and I will do my best to observe the rules. In the meantime, I am working on distracting people from wanting to talk about nothing but Coronavirus. By midweek of our vacation it was impossible to have any conversation that didn’t include it. What would start out as, “where are you from” and “how long are you here”, reverted to what are we going to do about this pandemic? Now some were clearly panicked while others were skeptic at best. Some were downright resistant. I am by no means picking sides nor am I trying to downplay the seriousness, but I do know that panic and hoarding will not improve our lot. We need to get back to some sense of normalcy and it can start with our conversations and breaking our addiction to 24 – 7 news casts. We cannot put our heads in the sand, but we must avoid digging a trench we may never be able to escape. As I sit here, and with due consideration that this is an international hub, I have seen so many masked individuals that for a second, I thought I was in an Oceans 11 movie.

All of this will pass. It may get darker before it gets better, but it will pass. For now, I am thankful to be on the last leg of my journey home, sad having left paradise this morning and ready to self-quarantine for fourteen days, or so I am told. I will not miss some of the meetings that have been cancelled and I will improve my Zoom skills for the meetings still scheduled. Life will go on. Some things may never return to the way they were, that is a hint to search for stock in companies and processes that will benefit by the change in the way we do business. Successful businesses adapt and we will as well.

So, in closing, My Corona doesn’t need to be about our downfall but just a song when we were asked to do what we do best, laugh in the face of adversity.

It Can Be Fixed

My two year old granddaughter’s face appeared on my phone before I could even answer. Alligator tears were streaming down her face and clearly something was wrong, something it seemed I was needed to fix. We, her mother on one end of the call and I on the other, eventually got Adela settled down enough to show me the problem. Some thirty-five years ago, I had made a small rocking chair for my daughter. Please understand that other than the fact that it was still in use all these years later, it was not exactly a work of craftsmanship, hardly worth the effort it would require to fix it. It was however, clearly loaded with sentimental value. My granddaughter Adela had now claimed it as her own. But accidents do happen. She had been towing the chair to her downstairs playroom when it found it’s way down the stairs the hard way. She was now showing me her rocking chair with the lower half of the rocker broken off, and thus the tears as she pleaded with her Opa to fix it!

Long story shortened, the chair was just returned to her, fixed, almost good as new! After a trip to the “furniture hospital”, aka my good friend Larry’s unbelievable wood shop, some glue, clamps and a patch, the chair now sits proudly in Adela’s playroom, once again allowing her to rock and coo her babies.

Things can be fixed and there in lies the point of this story. Even though we try our best to be careful, things break. Sometimes they are just that, things. Other times they are much more important, our relationships. When we believe they can’t be fixed, we tend to take the easy route and toss them away. All too often we don’t take the time nor put forth the effort to repair them. But remember, it is only a mistake if we fail to try. If there are things or relationships in your life that are broken, consider this. Look at the problem, consider any possible solution and then put forth the effort, even if it means swallowing your pride, and attack the problem.

It was only a chair, but what it represented for my granddaughter meant the world to her. Thank you Larry for helping me resurrect a crude little rocking chair and thank you Adela for having faith that I could.

Lost and Found

We all lose things. Some big, some small. And of course it’s never complete without someone asking the classic question, “where did you lose it?” Would it actually be lost if I knew the answer to that question? That said, our family seems to own the record on losing things, phones, wallets, coins, rings and yes, keys. In the midst of this, it has usually been me that finds them. Even though my family members didn’t know where they lost them, I seemed to have known where they did. My secret, think like I’m the item lost and then ask myself where would I have tried to make my escape.

Yesterday, it was my turn to lose something. While traipsing through fields of Christmas trees, searching for the perfect one, I managed to lose my car keys. Of course that hadn’t become apparent until we headed to the car, ready to load our trees. It was a family outing and all three families had cut trees. There I stood, all eyes on me as I frantically searched every pocket of my pants, sweatshirt and coat for what I immediately knew wasn’t there. Now this isn’t the first time I have lost my keys, If you read my blogs you will remember an episode on a trip to Seattle; see “Angels Among Us”.

It was my wife who issued the obvious question, “where did you lose them?” And at that moment I definitely was wishing I knew. Time to begin retracing my steps. There was that point where I pulled my gloves out of my coat, but no. Then it was probably when I laid down to cut the tree. That meant finding the right spot and the exact stump, but even when I did, still no. So how about when I trudged back out to the field to find my grandchildren. Could I have dropped them when I picked up Adela. Yeah, no. Well, I carried her what seemed like a mile, so lets back track through that trek. No luck. Maybe when we climbed on board the hay wagon for our ride back, no help. At this point things were looking bleak but at least I was getting my steps in.

Now you would have thought I’d have started with lost and found. Of course I didn’t, so we headed to the cute and cozy gift shop next. You maybe thought this is where the story would end. And for that moment, I had you. Gift shop, no luck either. Time to split up. Eli takes our path out to the field. Kathryn heads for the play area, Adela and I had visited there earlier. John heads for the tree bundling area. Bailey takes the high ground and watches the kids in the warm environs of the gift shop. Her claim later was that she had total faith in my finding them, the logic of a math teacher. And me, I had one last ditch place to check.

I saw her there in her bright yellow jacket and thought why not. As I walked by her work station at the tree shaker, I asked, with desperation in my voice, “any chance you found some keys?” And to my amazement and relief she replied, “oh, I did but I haven’t turned them in yet.” As she reached in her pocket, I just knew they were going to be mine. And they were.

If there is a message in this story, and there are many, the one that sticks out is never stop looking, even when you think you looked everywhere. Patience IS a virtue. Of course asking the girl in the yellow coat before walking a couple of miles might have been a good one too.

Denali…”The High One”

My wife described the view from our plane as “vast and desolate.” A strange combination of adjectives. Rather like saying “he was an exceptional criminal.” In reality, it is a fitting description in that Alaska is vast and yet as you look out over the landscape from the air it appears empty of human inhabitants. That changes as you land and though sparsely populated, is full of extremely friendly people, both indigenous as well as those who have come here to make Alaska their home.

We are guests of Princess Cruise Lines and our accommodations on land are expansive lodges bordered by rivers and mountain backdrops. First stop was the city of Fairbanks where we took a river cruise and got an introduction to Alaskan culture. The most striking impact this far north, is the midnight sun. You can read about it or hear it described, but these descriptions cannot come close to the reality of its effect. I am a person who suffers from FOMO, the fear of missing out. After being up for 20 hours, including a three hour time shift, I still could not go to bed. It was 10:00 pm but the sun was still at the equivalent of 6:00 pm and the lodge was a buzz with activity. The sun finally set around 12:30 am and was back up at 3:15 am. I can testify to that because I witnessed both events.

Midnight sun

The end of day two found us in Denali, the village, not the mountain. After a dinner revue, we were headed for bed knowing we were facing a 6:00 am start time for our Denali bus adventure. The trip into our hopeful viewing point of the great mountain covered sixty miles of mostly gravel road winding its way through the Denali National Park Preserve and at times, precariously hanging on the edge of mountains over seven hundred feet above the valley floor. After riding for nearly three hours, we reached the end of the road roughly thirty-five miles from the base of the mountain. The indigenous people called it Denali, meaning “the high one.” On a clear day, the view is spectacular, as the snow capped mountain literally rises up to completely fill the horizon and live up to its majestic name. On a clear day, it does just that. But not today, not for us. None the less, the Alaskan Range and the surrounding scenery does not disappoint. With a little imagination and enough visual cues from what we can see, the mind does the rest.

Denali panorama

When visiting Denali, the quest is to sight the Big Five. That is the five biggest animals of the park; the wolf, moose, grizzly bear, dall sheep and the caribou. We were no more than a mile in, when the bus in unison yelled out moose. There on the side of the road was a moose cow and her calf. Another mile down the road and we spied a second moose. One down four to go and sixty miles to find them in. Our final tally turned out to be around twenty caribou in several herds, an equivalent number of dall sheep also in several flocks, four grizzly bears but unfortunately, no wolf. The grizzly bears were the most spectacular. With roughly three hundred grizzlies spread out through six million acres, seeing one is considered lucky. Sighting four, well you can do the math. Our first was spied up in a high meadow just barely within our ability to see it. We saw another, much closer this time, walking along the gravel bed of one of the many glacial rivers we passed. The last two were the winners. We spied the first high up on a ridge above tree line and were wondering what it was doing up there and why it was still climbing higher. That is when we spied the other bear climbing up some three hundred feet below. The only explanation was that the lower bear was driving the other bear off. It may have been a female grizzly protecting its cubs or possible a female grizzly driving off its own too fully grown cub so that she might mate again. The guide let it up to us to speculate.

Denali buss

Though not sighting a wolf was a disappointment, they are very rare. We did, however, replace the wolf with many other sightings; snow hares, ground squirrels and even a golden eagle. All this while seeing the changing eco-spheres of taiga forest, tundra, glacial kettles and rivers and of course the majestic peaks towering above tree line with some heading toward 17,000 feet and higher.

Tomorrow we head down range, crossing over to the eastern side where if we are lucky, we get one more chance to see Denali. It is possible that we will avoid two overcast days in a row and get an unobstructed view of the giant. The question is, do we feel lucky?

I Rolled the Window Down Today

I debated with titling this blog as I did or “It’s Wisconsin, Wait a Week”. I was headed home this noon from a meeting and when I realized the temperature outside was now in the 50’s, the window had to come down. What a glorious feeling as finally, the spring like breeze slid through my open window and cascaded around the interior of my car. All that stale winter air trapped inside my vehicle for the last four months was pushed out and replaced by the hope of sunshine and warmer days ahead.

Now to be true, we need some perspective here. Just five days ago, the temperature hovered at five below zero with a wind chill of negative thirty degrees. Spring was something we wistfully spoke of but believed had been banished forever. With a foot and a half of snow on the ground and no warming trend in sight, hope had been buried somewhere under the five foot drift marking the edges of my driveway. My lawn mower hid timidly behind my snowblower considering permanent retirement.

The irony of this is that in another four or five months, we will treat weather in the 50’s as the time to pull out our sweaters and roll the window back up. We have been slowly cooled through our long winter to the point that 50 degrees somehow feels like we should head to the beach and at the very least don a short sleeve shirt. We are conditioned, slowly and deliberately to accept our fate. When the change comes, what was intolerable before is now not only comfortable, but enjoyable.

But wait, this too is likely fleeting. Give it another week and we may be right back into winter. What we need to remember if this unthinkable possibility becomes reality, is that for even a day, spring proved that she was not dead, just waiting to push winter back where it belonged. Spring will eventually defeat winter and will bring with her the promise of summer.

So what is this all about. Simply put, our weather is a metaphor for life. About the time we are ready to give up hope, everything changes. Hope re-emerges as a warm breeze ready to renew our faith. An intolerable condition gives way to new opportunities and we are reminded to never give up hope. If you are currently suffering through a tough time or maybe just the depression of a long winter, remember that tomorrow the breeze may just swing around to the south and change will bring back renewed energy. So for now, roll down the window and let the breeze in. With it will come a promise of better weather ahead.

The Gripes of Wrath

I was involved in a discussion recently that reminded me of a story. Two stories in fact. The discussion was about the two different approaches people will take when seeking assistance. But let me tell the stories first.

The first story involved my daughter and I. We were traveling out to California for a family wedding. To get where we needed to be, we had to fly into Las Vegas and then travel by rental car across the desert to my sister’s home located between two mountain ranges in California. That by the way is a story to be told another time. I had reserved a room on-line in a Vegas hotel and found my daughter and I in the lobby of the hotel just before midnight. We stepped in line behind two women who were traveling together, and like me had not only reserved their room, but had prepaid for it. They were now in a heated argument with the only hotel agent available at this time of night. Their discussion, more than lightly laced with expletives, centered around their demand for a room other than the one they had already paid for. With a little eavesdropping, the conversation was loud enough that it was almost impossible not to eavesdrop, I picked up that though they had prepaid for the room assigned to that offer, they wanted a room that was larger and offered a view of the Vegas Strip. To make matters worse, they were demanding that they would get this upgrade for the same price. The agent was attempting to explain to them that there was nothing she could do as the offer they had paid for was through a third party. The bottom line was that they didn’t care, were unwilling to listen and had now decided to blame all of their problems on this poor agent. After what seemed like an unbearable amount of time and with the line behind us growing exponentially, a second and third agent were called in to pick up those of us waiting patiently, well reasonably patient. As I stepped up to the new agent, I leaned across the desk and said how bad I felt for the poor agent still being harangued by the two women. “No one deserves that kind of treatment.” She gave me a wink and then said just loud enough that the arguing women would hear, “I notice that you are staying with us for one night and reserved a room through our front desk. It appears I will be able to upgrade you at no cost to one of our nicer suites.” With that we were quickly registered and given the room key to a very nice three room suite on one of the upper floors with a view of the Strip brightly lit up below. My only chagrin was that I was sharing this lovely suite with my daughter as opposed to my wife who was forced to stay behind to cover her teaching duties. We had a good laugh about how most of the amenities would be wasted on us but were none the less impressed with our treatment.

Marriott Pool

Before I drive home my point, there is a second story. Last winter, my wife and I had decided to take off for a quick jaunt down to Florida for a brief four day get away. I had again reserved a room, along with our airline tickets, at the Marriott World Resort. Upon arrival, we checked in at the front desk to get our key. The young man waiting on us pointed out that the room was actually booked through a third party and that we were subject to the rooms set aside for that company. He pointed out that they would all be on the lower floors and could only offer a stunning view of the back of the resort and the parking garage. Believe me, at this point my earlier Vegas experience clawed its way back from the recesses of my memory and into my frontal lobe. I had a choice. I replied that I now understood my predicament and that it would be alright. I would chalk it up to lesson learned. What happened next surprised us both. The agent asked what had brought us down to Florida? We explained that we had both just retired, had gotten restless and with winter crushing us, just needed a change of scenery. His response was that he was going to check on any available room and then get cleared to upgrade us. The result after a brief five minute wait, a spacious room on an upper floor complete with a balcony and a view of the pools and surrounding gardens. No additional charges were levied and he then asked if we would prefer a bottle of red or white wine as a show of appreciation for choosing their hotel chain.

Now by this point you are thinking I am either an awesome negotiator or the world’s luckiest traveler. The truth of the matter is that I am neither. What I learned from my Vegas experience and that I have always known to be true is that you get a lot better service when you earn it as opposed to when you demand it. All too often I have witnessed the irate customer taking out their frustration on the one person least likely to have the authority or ability to do anything about it. I have been in a service career of one type or another all of my life and I know how much more likely it was that I would go the extra mile for someone who had earned it. When I find myself on the receiving end of service, I try to make sure I am at least attempting to earn good service. If the two women in Vegas had only considered their position, they too might have received an upgrade instead of even steeper resistance by the agent dutifully following the rules. They chose the gripes of wrath instead of a spoonful of sugar and for all I know are still arguing with the agent to this day. Okay, that might have been an exaggeration. If my wife and I had chosen to demand a better room of the Marriott, I am positive we would have spent our four days admiring our view of the parking garage while sipping our complimentary can of soda. Don’t get me wrong. I am not guaranteeing you an upgrade or a ticket to the promise land just for not complaining. There’s always the Gripes of Wrath if you enjoy going down that rabbit hole, but just consider how much better you and everyone else will feel with a little civility. Choose wisely the next time you have the chance. Parking garage or balcony overlooking the pool might just be the result.