( am around five and I am at the grocery store with my dad. We are waiting in line and it is long because only a few registers are open. When we are next to be rung up a business lady defiantly walks in front of me and my dad and proceeds to unload her cart.)
Me: “Hey, dad, that lady just budged us!”
(To this my dad replied loudly enough for everyone around us to hear:)
Dad: “Well, [My Name], it’s all right for her to do that because she is important. Far more important than we are. In fact, she probably works for the government and she has to cut in front of us because they need her to help save the world. So, don’t get angry that she walked in front of us like we didn’t exist because she’s way too important to the country to wait in line like a normal person. In fact, she probably doesn’t wait in line anywhere because lives could be lost if she doesn’t get her milk and eggs three minutes sooner.”
(At this point the cashier has stopped ring her items up and everyone around us was watching. The woman turned to us, a mixture of annoyed and embarrassed.)
Woman: “I, uh… You can go in front of me if you’d like…”
(My dad holds up his hand.)
Dad: “I would never, ma’am. Your time is far too important for us mere peasants to waste. You go off and keep protecting our country.”
(She was completely red as she finished her purchase and walked out quickly.)
(I work at the customer service desk in a big outdoor/camping store. One of my jobs is to handle returns. Today, a guy comes in. I greet him.)
Me: “Hi, how can I help you?”
Customer: “Yeah, hi. I bought shoes here a while ago and they’re damaged. I want new ones.”
Me: “All right. Did you bring the shoes with you? I would like to take a look.”
(The customer nods and bends down. I know what is about to happen and so does my coworker. I can tell she’s about to laugh and she walks away to make sure the customer doesn’t see her. He takes one shoe off his foot and put it on the desk. It’s smelly and feels warm.)
Customer: “There, you see? It’s damaged!”
(I ask to see his receipt and look up the procedure for this particular brand of shoes. As it turns out, I can’t give him new shoes, but instead, I have to send his shoes in for repair.)
Customer: “But how am I supposed to do that? I can’t go home without having shoes on! I need you to give me new shoes and I want a refund for the money I spent on gas! I drove over 100 km to get here!”
(At this point, I notice his t-shirt. It’s a shirt from a local amateur soccer championship in a town very near to where we are. 12 kilometers, tops.)
Me: “No, sir, I am afraid I can’t do that. I would love to send your shoes in for you. It’s no problem if you decide to come in another time. The procedures won’t change.”
(The customer then, angrily, took his shoe back, grunted and moaned, and hopped away on one leg.)
Customer: “Why can’t you take this coupon?”
Me: “Because it’s for a [Popular Doughnut Chain]. Though we sell the doughnuts, we’re not the actual store.”
Customer: “So you admit it! You sell the doughnuts but won’t take my coupon! I want to speak to the manager!”
Me: “I’m the only one here.”
Customer: “Well he’s got a phone don’t he, your manager? Call him up!”
Me: “It’s four am. I’m not waking my manager so he can tell you the exact thing I just told you.”
Customer: “Why not?!”
(I’m a cashier at a small, high-end grocery store. One day, towards the end of my shift, a middle aged man and a girl, around 11 or 12, walk up. Note that I appear around five years younger than I actually am and took the cashier job out of necessity.)
Me: “That’ll be $25.62, sir.”
Customer: *ignoring the other customers waiting behind him* “Are you in school?”
Me: “I… excuse me?”
Customer: “Are. You. In. School?”
Me: “Well, no, I already—”
Customer: *talking to the girl* “See, this is why you gotta study hard! I don’t want you working some crap job because you didn’t go to college.”
Me: “Um, sir? That’ll be $25.62.”
Customer: *slams $30 into my hand*
(I get his change and hand it to him along with his receipt. As the next person in line starts putting their items onto the counter, he stands in place and starts counting his change.)
Customer: “You shorted me.”
Me: “Oh, I’m sorry. How much did I give you?”
Customer: “This is why you have to work a crap job like this! Because you can’t even count right!”
Me: “Sir, I need to see how much I gave you so I can give you the right amount.”
Customer: “You gave me $4.38.”
Me: “…that’s right. It should be on your receipt.”
Customer: “No, I need a five.”
(I print out another copy of his receipt and show him that his change was correct. He stands there and argues with me, so I call over the manager to talk to him. The conversation takes a while, so when my next customers are done, I stroll over.)
Manager: “I don’t know how else to tell you… that IS the amount you’re owed.”
Customer: “No, it’s basic math! Can’t anyone here do basic math?”
Me: “Here.” *I pull out my phone and show him on its calculator* “It all adds up to $30.”
Customer: “What do you know?! You didn’t even go to school!”
Manager: “I thought you went to [Well Known Private College]?”
Me: “I did. I have a bachelor’s from there.”
Customer: *stunned* “What? How? You’re a kid.”
Me: “I’m 25, sir.”
Customer: “Why didn’t you say so! I guess it’s okay, then.”
(He and the girl finally exit.)
Manager: “…that’s the kind of man who gives his credit card number to a prince of Nigeria.”
(I work in a craft store with two entrances; each entrance has multiple registers. I am on the register called ‘side door.’ At the time of this transaction, I am a new hire and am highly concerned with not breaking company policy about coupons.)
Me: “Hello, did you find everything all right?”
Customer: “Yeah, thanks. Do you have any coupons right now?”
Me: “Yes, there’s currently a 40% off of one regular priced item going on right now.”
(At this point, I haven’t realized that she was asking me if I had any coupons with me at the register, which I don’t. Employees are required to throw them away if we don’t scan them from a phone.)
Customer: “Okay, great, I want to use it on [item].”
Me: *after scanning the item* “All righty, because this item is your highest priced, regular priced item, the coupon should work.”
(The customer starts typing on her smartphone, and I finish ringing up the items she put on my counter. When she looks up, she stops me to examine the items.)
Customer: “Oh. That one’s not on sale?”
Me: “No, it’s not.”
Customer: “Okay. Can I use a coupon on that one too?”
Me: “Unfortunately, no. It’s only one of this kind of coupon per transaction, per customer, per day. I’m sorry.”
Customer: *suddenly getting irate* “Okay, I don’t have the money to be spending on these both.” *she has trouble deciding on which item to keep, and a line starts to form behind her, making her even more irate* “Look, is there any way you can let it slide? Other cashiers have let it slide before…”
Me: “I’m really sorry, but I can’t use two of this kind of coupon in the same transaction for the same customer.”
Customer: *with an impatient sigh* “Fine, you know what? I’ll just take this one.” *she goes back to texting while I take the item off of the transaction*
Me: “Okay, I can scan your coupon for you, ma’am.”
Customer: *with an are-you-stupid look* “You said you had a coupon.”
Me: “Oh, um… I can pull this week’s coupon up on your phone for you? Unfortunately, I don’t have any back here.”
Customer: *now very annoyed, for no real reason that I understand; she also refuses to let me see the screen of her phone to navigate the badly designed store website* “Okay, so how do I do that?”
Me: “In the browser, go to [site name].”
(I radio in for backup, not because the line is long, but because I know that pulling the coupon up on the site takes a while. The customer shoots me an annoyed look when I do this.)
Customer: “Okay, I’m on the site, now what?” *she’s taken an imperious tone with me by now*
Me: “There should be a small icon in the corner of the screen you can tap that gives you a popup side-bar menu-thing.”
(I watch as she struggles with this, again asking if I can help her navigate the site and again getting refused.)
Customer: “Okay, so what do I tap on now? Weekly Ad?” *she sounds extremely irate, impatiently glaring at me when she has the chance*
Me: “I’m not really sure, but that should be the right thing, unless you see a ‘coupons’ button?”
Customer: “I don’t see a coupons button.”
Me: “Oh, okay, it’s in the weekly ad, then. Sometimes the site acts differently on different phones, depending on whether or not you have the app—”
(I get told over radio that there’s no backup for me, and the line continues to pile up and my customer gets more agitated.)
Customer: “Look, I don’t need you to lecture me right now about this. Just tell me how to get the d*** coupon!”
Me: *taking a slow breath of air to calm my nerves, as this is my first angry customer* “Okay, once the screen loads, tap on the right side that says coupons.”
Customer: *irritated, taking offence to the deep breath* “I don’t like your tone. I want you to call your manager.”
(I call my manager, who tells me that she’ll be a couple minutes because of the store being busy and so few of us employees to keep up with the rush.)
Me: “Unfortunately, the store is a little busy and my manager won’t be here for a little bit. I’m sorry.”
Customer: “Yeah, sure, whatever. Make excuses.”
(The customer manages to pull up the coupon after I help her a little more, continuing to give me death glares.)
Me: “Okay, that brings your total down. Your receipt is in your bag and a coupon for next week. Have a good rest of the day.”
(The customer just glares at me, then seeing my manager who just walked up behind me and paling a little, gives me a half-a**ed threat to write me up online and literally flees the store.)
Manager: *to me* “Okay, so, what just happened?”
(I explain the situation, while my other customers patiently wait for me.)
Manager: “All righty, then. Don’t worry, she won’t be writing anything. She was just having a bad day.”
(My manager left, and the rest of my customers were very polite and sweet for the rest of the day. It’s been almost five months since that incident, and no, I never did get a bad online review from it.)
(I work in a call center for a small cell phone company. I get a call from an elderly lady about her service.)
Customer: “I need my information to go to a different company.”
Me: “I’d be happy to help—”
Customer: “My phone got stolen and I’m on breathing treatments and I need a phone so I’m getting a [Other Company] phone.”
Me: “All right, I’d be happy to help. Now, I see here that your services are currently disconnected. I do apologize. You would need to pay this balance to reconnect your service before we will be able to take your number to [Other Company].”
Customer: *starts crying* “My phone got stolen and I can’t afford to pay this. I got texting removed at [Store] in West Virginia and reported it stolen! I didn’t do any of those charges. I’m going to tell all of my friends and family to leave you!”
Me: “I do apologize, ma’am. I’d be happy to help and see if there’s something we can work out with you.”
Customer: *immediately stops crying on a dime* “I’m not paying it! My bill is only supposed to be $30 a month!”
Me: “I do apologize; I’m seeing your bill is actually $50 a month. I do see overages on your account but I’d be happy to check with another department to work with you.”
Customer: “You don’t understand! I couldn’t get to the store to report my phone stolen because there’s only one cab in [City] in West Virginia! I couldn’t get to [Store]! My phone was stolen!”
(The customer continues to go on for several minutes in constant ranting and doesn’t let me speak at all.)
Me: “Ma’am, I do apologize. I’m not seeing that phone was suspended or that it’s listed here that it was reported as stolen. I’m also seeing that you’re calling from the phone—”
(The customer then hung up. But you know… For someone on breathing treatments she certainly was long winded! I hope she found her phone!)
On Tuesday night, Oct. 28, 2014, the Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket exploded a few seconds after liftoff. It was supposed to bring supplies—food, hardware, scientific experiments—up to the International Space Station, but a still-unknown malfunction brought it down.
Quickly thereafter video of the explosion started coming in, including a dramatic one shot from the press area, which was a few kilometers removed from the launch site.
Skip Morrow was there, with his wife and young daughter. When I posted about the event, he left a heartfelt comment about his experience there. He has a blog where he expanded on what he said here, and it’s worth a read.
I could just barely see the rocket fall to the ground and immediately exploded. Three seconds after it exploded, the shock wave hit us. It was very, very loud and it really shook the place. Immediately the NASA escorts at the viewing area started yelling for us all to get back on the buses. My daughter started crying, and to be quite honest, I was pretty choked up too.
Most impressive of all though, were the people offer to help my daughter get through all of this. We reminded her that almost certainly, no one should have been hurt since this was an unmanned mission (of course, we now know that was indeed the case and no one was hurt or killed). We talked to her about how hard space flight is, and how easy we make it look. We talked about how we use incidents like this to help us learn more about how to improve space flight. We even talked about the Launch Abort System used on rockets such as the Soyuz and soon the Orion. She was still pretty devastated, but I know that in another day or two she will be back to normal. She will never forget this, and neither will I.
Commenting on my blog post, he said this:
My daughter took it really hard. She loves coming to these launches, but it never really occurred to her that one of these could turn out bad, like this one. She knows about Challenger and Columbia and Apollo 1, but she hasn't witnessed anything like this first hand. I really wonder how her opinion about wanting to be an astronaut will change because of this.
I wonder too. I was in college when Challenger exploded, and after the shock wore off, my resolution that we continue to explore space was strengthened, as if honed or tempered by the blast. My love of space and the desire to see us head to the stars runs deep, even when I was still a young child watching on TV as Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, or seeing Apollo 15 launch in person.
I’ve written dozens of articles on this theme, but now is perhaps the best time to reiterate: Going to space is hard. The levels of engineering needed are staggering, and it all has to go right or else, well, it all goes wrong.
And yet, we still do it. And we’re pretty good at it. Mistakes get made, and then, hopefully, we learn from them. Sometimes it’s a mistake in engineering, sometimes in culture. But the more we do this, the better we get. It’s been a long time since Americans could put people in space—another cultural error—but we’re close to doing so again. And when we do, we’ll start reaching for the stars again.
The good news about this event, such as it is, is that the ISS astronauts are in no danger of running out of supplies; a Russian Soyuz loaded with supplies lifted off successfully just hours after the Antares explosion and docked with the station shortly thereafter. And, of course, there was no one on board the Antares, and no loss of life or even injuries. This failure was a costly one, but it could’ve been far worse.
So Morrow’s daughter is on my mind. I hope she sees this not as a catastrophe, but as a stumble, a misstep, which in the long run is inevitable as we head upward and outward.
Per aspera, ad astra.
Every now and again, a picture is returned from space that is so stunning it becomes an instant icon, a touchstone that defines what space travel is about.
The Chinese engineering lunar test mission Chang’e 5-T1 has sent home precisely such an image. It is stunning almost beyond words.
The Earth hangs like a white and blue bauble in the black of space, distant and heart-achingly beautiful. Much closer lies the Moon, gray and white and black, its more-unfamiliar far side facing the spacecraft as it rounds the world, preparing to head back to Earth. For just a fleeting moment I could have been convinced someone had added a photo of the planet Mercury here; the Moon’s obverse half is so strikingly different than the near side. The lack of dark maria (except for Mare Moscoviense to the upper left) makes the Moon look like every bit the alien world that it really is.
You can read more about this astonishing image, and see more like it, at the Planetary Society Blog.
As I gazed upon it, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it looked somehow familiar. Then it occurred to me: I have seen it before. I even remember the exact date: Sept. 13, 1999.
Life sometimes really does imitate art.
Tip o’ the commlink to Emily Lakdawalla.
I also have spray adhesive in my heart and nose thanks to making packaging mockups for a photo shoot.
I bet you wish you had my life. ;P