When the consumer wasn’t invisible

November 15, 2016


Who among us can’t appreciate a good rant that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with nostalgia for the good-old-days? This piece recently appeared in the newsletter of the California Bluegrass Association and it’s written by their regular columnist, Charles Brady, who happens to be one of my dear friends and an octogenarian with the life experience to know what he’s talking about. Oh, I know you’ll enjoy this!

By Charles Brady

There Once Were Peaches

I used to pick firm peaches, and they were good ones too.
They looked and smelled like peaches, tasted like peaches do.
Fruit trees then were greener; soil sweetened by the dew –
that was back in Georgia, when I was ten and two.

I found a sort of Georgia peach on Safeway’s sawdust floor –
it kinda looked like they once did, in nineteen forty-four.
I cleaned it up and polished it, and held it in both hands,
Like plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will forever stand.
– Charles Brady

My wife is fond of an observation by someone whom neither she nor I can remember who once said, “If you live long enough, things will have changed so much that you won’t mind the going.” I think this is another way of saying that we should recognize that much of what we older ones criticize about the youth of today is really saying, “Things are not as good as they used to be.”

I confess to a little of that thinking and complaining, and recognized long ago that much of it was old fogy thinking. However, I simply have to say that in SOME ways the world that I have lived in has not lived up to its end of the bargain, and so I am going to say that it – NOT I – is at fault!

The moment when the Fall of American Civilization began? I don’t know for certain. Maybe it was the instant Trader Joe started selling apples by the “Each” – at seventy-nine cents!

Maybe it was when the most vulgar of vulgar words began appearing in everyday usage on Facebook and in our daily newspapers and even on TV!

old-daysIt could have been the year some idiot decided that we would prefer sitting in tiny pods with four wheels and allow it to “drive” us from place to place. Or it could have been the instant everyone decided to say nothing about free-flying, multi-rotored Amazon.com devices flying over the cities and countryside.

I think I know when it became evident to be, in a way that I could not ignore. Some Background:

Not so many years ago, when I wanted or needed to fly somewhere, I would go to an Airline OFFICE manned by HUMAN BEINGS. It was conveniently located on O’Farrell, between Macy’s and Market Street. I was greeted by a gracious employee who seemed to be delighted that I happened along and who WORKED WITH ME to arrange my flight – all aspects of the flight, whether I was flying to LA or Paris. She would then sell me a real ticket!

Yes, actual human beings!

It gets better. When I arrived at SFO, I would check in – IN PERSON – by talking to a PERSON behind A COUNTER. He or she would inspect my ticket, give me a boarding pass, accept and check my baggage, at no additional cost, and give me a baggage check. Not always, but USUALLY, this was all done in a cheerful atmosphere.

At the boarding gate, a nice PERSON took my ticket. Another one or two were standing at the doorway to greet me and take my hanging suit bag and hang it in a place designed for the purpose.

I would enter the airplane, walk down a generously wide aisle, place my overhead bag and sit in a COMFORTABLE seat, which was WIDE ENOUGH for my entire body, with LEG ROOM and…. you get the picture.

old-daysIn the air, the flight attendants would provide SERVICE, even in the coach section. Imagine that! They served hot meals on trays at appropriate times.
And do you know what? These attendants were dressed up to serve me; they did not look like they had dressed for the second shift at the lumber yard!

Then, somehow, somewhere and some time in the rather recent past, all that kindness and service went the way of the DO DO Birds. It simply vanished without a trace! Seemingly overnight, service was replaced by a sneering, profit-only, get-your-butts-here, check yourselves in, pay for these cashews and anything else which is edible, don’t bother us, we don’t owe you a thing, we will do it our way and you can TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT reality!

I could go on and repeat the obvious. Airlines adopted the pack-em-in-like sardines approach for the average (my group) traveler and floated charges to the moon for Business and First Class travel. If you are younger and if you travel in “steerage” (Coach Class), you cannot remember that once, airline seats in coach were fairly comfortable. They were wide enough for your full body, and there was enough room for your legs and there was an overall atmosphere of “Let’s treat these PAYING people as nice as we can for the time they are with us, because we want them to come back!”

My personal revolution

I have finally revolted against these unacceptable changes by refusing to fly ever again – in this or future lifetimes! I will not fly again except for a family death and even then, I will refuse to pay extra for a bag to accompany me or to reserve an aisle seat or to receive a cup of lukewarm coffee. I will not pay extra to be huddled in that maze called the “Business Class Section” where space is jig-sawed to maximize extra inches to rent!

Yes, there was a down side. Although it is hard to believe today, smoking was allowed, and drifting smoke harassed the non-smoker for too many years after the effects of smoke in confined spaces was known.

Oh, and they had no WI-FI and no TV or play-stations immediately in front of you. When movies finally arrived on flights, it was an arrangement of actual 16mm Projectors, projecting on pull-down screens with sound transmitted through rented headphones.

Also, the movie chosen by the airline was always THEIR choice. Take it or leave it. All in all though, airline travel was a lot more relaxing. I could actually SLEEP in those airline seats!

old-daysSo, while I was not paying attention, everything just went “to hell in a hand basket,” as a great aunt used to say.

But let me tell you that even in those darkest of days, there was ONE ray of sunshine! There is one entity that will still guarantee you sufficient space, free baggage check, decent meals at each mealtime, and an overall rather pleasant journey. There is a small caveat. A group of airlines IS today providing most of the service I praise above, with flights to every corner of the world. Here it is:

I’d like to recommend to you the United States Department of Defense and the airlines offering “Military Charter Flights.” Airlines wishing to fly military charters to Vietnam, let’s say, had to agree to a long list of requirements. Included were minimum requirements to guarantee all the services once routinely provided by civilian airlines. Military officers actually boarded these aircraft from time to time, with measuring tapes and with nutrition experts and health inspectors to make sure that there was appropriate seat and leg room, ventilation, good and nutritious food and enough airline personnel to handle emergencies.

Why should extraordinary service be a “perk?”

I was lucky enough to have this excellent service thrust upon me many times. The last few times Involved flights from Travis Air Force Base to Saigon and back – three times. The service was extraordinary and made the outgoing trips a tiny bit better for a lot of Service men and women.

The airplanes were older Boeing 707s and the like, but they were comfortable and quiet enough and the charter pilots and cabin personnel first rate. I later talked with an ex-TWA Flight Attendant who said he always enjoyed the military charter flights and that he and his buddies always went overboard to provide the best service to the military personnel.

See where I’m going? TODAY, nobody employed by the airline wants anything to do with you personally. They want you to remain invisible, handle everything yourself, get to the airport two hours early and check yourself in, obey all the written instructions about prohibited material…..get yourself to the right gate and then, when YOUR batch of numbers is called to sneak yourself in quietly, handle your overhead baggage (and there is never enough room for everyone) and sit down and shut up!


(You think this is blank space but it is actually the invisible consumer.)



On second thought, maybe it started going to hell when TV cable companies decided they could force us to accept and pay for all those 24 hour commercial stations.

Or, perhaps it started downhill when the city government decided that the sidewalks the city had poured decades ago was now YOUR responsibility and you had to replace every section which was slightly marred, cracked or unsightly, AT YOUR EXPENSE!

Perhaps it was when the City Supervisors had their Eureka moment and said: “OH, Know what? it worked with the sidewalks. Let’s have home owners also pay to maintain those trees we planted, and have them responsible if the tree hurts someone….Oh, hot diggity dog!”

Well, the Romans did their big fall, and they left some stone walls and aqueducts, some buildings with columns and a few arenas where they showed off some lions and they slew each other.

Looks like we may leave a trail of popcorn and pretzels and a heck of a lot of cell phones, styrofoam coffee cups and plastic bags. It’s all just gone to hell!

26 comments on “When the consumer wasn’t invisible
  1. Donna says:

    And his list could go on and on…I believe the reason we are still in business and in fact getting busier all the time is because we provide a big service. Sometimes I go to Vons just to have someone that works there smile at me. I shop at lesser stores mostly to save money.Service and comfort is the key

  2. On the flip side, when a company does provide exceptional service these days, it really stands out and we feel so grateful. Oh, how far we have come…down!

  3. Very interesting point you have here. Though there needs to be improvements to what we have now, it would be a lit for me to say I’m not thankful I live in this era.

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Your post reminded me of the airline industry when I was a little girl. I remember putting on a dress and nylons because everyone dressed up to fly. And of course all the perks that you mentioned. How far we have fallen.

  5. sue says:

    Service is everything and I mean personal service. I hate checking into airports now and it doesn’t really start your holiday in a positive way.

  6. I am loving this “rant.” I remember when flights were more comfortable and it was all about service. I don’t miss the smoking, though. I also long for the days we could just turn the on button on the TV and watch our favorite stations. Now, it’s full of infomercial channels, and tons of junk. I can’t even turn on the TV by myself without assistance from the king of the 6 remote controls.All I want is the History channel, but can’t find it for the life of me. And the bill! I won’t even go there.

  7. Tiff says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking read. I do love that peaches poem. As a chef, it’s definitely interesting to see how our food and farming has progressed in this country. As Americans, we definitely want things faster, quicker, better, inexpensive. I love to go back to our ‘roots’ and actually buy from farmers directly. But pretty much everything about our society is changing. Our airlines, our news, technology, social media. A little bit scary to think of the future sometimes.

  8. I think the internet has had a huge role in the downfall of civility and the reality of a Trump presidency. The anonymity of the internet has made it possible to forget that there are actual living, feeling, human beings out there.

  9. Amber Myers says:

    When I was younger, flights were pretty nice! But now they seem so rushed and the food is either gross or not even there.

  10. Elizabeth O. says:

    Times have changed and it’s evident in the way people handle business. It’s not just the airlines as well. I definitely enjoyed the previous years than the recent ones.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Back before the 80’s, airlines were regulated and charged exorbitant prices(because they could,) for those tickets, so they could afford to lavish us with services. But few people flew because they couldn’t afford it. Since deregulation, prices have dropped 50% and airlines have to make up for it by fitting more people into their planes, charging more for luggage and cutting down on services.

  12. Mandi says:

    Profound wisdom.

  13. I used to work for the CEO complaints department of a major bank here so I totally know how important a role great customer service plays in society. Your airpline story reminded me of my first flight on a plane.


    I wish more companies realized that fabulous customer service can go a long way!!!

  15. Stacey says:

    I could almost smell the airline food as I was reading this. My brother and I would get so excited. It is way too small and expensive now! Great read!!!

  16. Lisa Rios says:

    Personal service is something which you can never replace whatever revolution you bring today out of technology we have. On the positive side online revolution has made things easier to work out and when their service is good you are going to accept it too!

  17. I remember the days when you got a meal on the plane and even though it wasn’t the best, it was something to look forward to on a long flight. I think airlines should pay people to check their bags instead of creating a system where everyone carries on huge bags they stuff into overhead compartments. They could save a lot of money on the jet fuel they waste while waiting for everyone to do their job!

  18. Arlene Wise says:

    Nice Read. I grew up in CA with a prolific peach tree just outside my bedroom window. I may spend the rest of my life searching for a peach that can compare.

    After sixteen years in Philadelphia, I grew so tired of the rudeness and lack of service anywhere you needed to take care of simple, daily business. I decided that the driving factor was stress. Economic stress–the divide between the haves and have nots will certainly affect the way a worker feels about their job. The other problem is that there are too many people. Life in a city can be a lot of fun when you are young and energetic–or have enough money. But, it can also be quite stressful. Me? I moved to Nebraska. No one ever recommends Nebraska, and yes, it’s a red state. But, there are fewer people here and they are noticeably nicer.

  19. As a 29-year old, I can only imagine the past through words such as these, but I have to believe that some day kindness will again make a comeback, that customer service will again mean something, and that we will no longer feel as though our neighbors are against us. I do what I can to better it, but still…I’m not sure if I’m grateful to have been born into this (and therefore not actually know what I’m truly missing) or wishful that I’d been born 50 years sooner. Sigh…

  20. Rosemond says:

    OK, going to show how old I am. I remember getting dressed up in church dresses to board the plane.

  21. Silly Mummy says:

    Very interesting read, though I don’t have personal experience of the times and service referred to. I am pretty concerned that we are actually about to return to past times, but I fear the times in question will be 1933-1945, and not past times anyone remembers with nostalgia.

  22. Great read. Yet another reason that tells us that change is inevitable. And we’ve all been too happy with simpler things, which frightens progress peeps.

  23. Michele says:

    Sometimes I feel old when I complain about the way things used to be. There really has been a change of attitude, respect and service. I tend to point out really great service, hopefully to reward more of it.
    And what has happened to peaches? The ones I buy are never any good- mealy and turning to mush.

  24. Ken Marshall says:

    I do agree that drones are a bit sketchy. Especially due to the lack of clear regulation. Great thought provoking post!


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