Getting a charge out of good customer service

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”— Henry Ford

My contention that customer service is too often an oxymoron these days was echoed this week by my newspaper friend, Bill Hartman. His column in the Fort Bend Herald recounted an occurrence sounding all too familiar.

“The shopping part was easy,’ he wrote about his experience, complimenting the salesperson. The problem, he reported, was when it was time to pay out and the checkout employee encountered problems with the store’s check processing machine. When the malfunctioning device failed repeatedly to read his check, she told him it was broken and they couldn’t process the check.

“And what does that mean,” he asked?

“We can’t finish the sale,” was the reply he got. To that, he responded, “Have you ever considered doing it the old-fashioned way by just taking the check to the bank and depositing it.”

The checkout clerk was quick to say, “We don’t do that, don’t you have a credit card you could use?”

“Nope,” he said. “I guess we have no deal then.”

“About that time,” his column continues, “The young lady who did the selling sprinted by and returned with a lady in tow who must have been the manager. All of them gathered around. Finally, the manager whispered something to the money collector, and she went to her computer…and a piece of paper flew out of her printer.”

‘It’s your receipt,’ the wounded-looking money collector said. “The manager said we’d just do it the old-fashioned way.”

“There’s a moral to this tale,” Mr. Hartman concluded. “When someone is ready to buy something from you, try your best to accommodate them. You never know when it might be your last sale.”

One of the gurus of accommodating the customer had to have been Dean Redfearn who owned an auto parts store on Third Street in Mount Pleasant between the Martin Theater and city hall when I was in high school.

I bought parts there because he was always quick to accommodate me, taking time to help this school kid customer keep his hot rod ’55 Chevy running. One Saturday morning I was perusing a parts list at the end of the counter when an older gentleman walked in and heaved a dead battery up on the counter with a “thud” saying that he needed a new one. Mr. Redfearn greeted him with a smile, identified the battery, then disappeared down one of the long rows of parts bins. In a jiffy, he returned with a shiny new, freshly charged version of the expired power supply.

As the customer reached for his wallet, Mr. Redfearn produced a hand-written receipt. If memory serves me correctly, the 1965 price was about $9.95.

“Phew,” the old fellow whistled. “I can get the same battery out of the Sears catalog for $6.95. Can’t you sell it to me the same as Sears?”

Without blinking an eye, Mr. Redfearn smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Pushing the same receipt toward the customer, he said, “That’ll be $6.95 plus three dollars for shipping and handling.” He then picked up the new battery, put it on the shelf behind him and added with the same pleasant smile. “It will be ready to pick up next Tuesday.”

The befuddled fellow stared in silence for a second, then grinned and slapped a $10 bill on the counter. “Gim’me that battery.”

Mr. Redfearn put the battery back on the counter, took the customer’s money and the two shook hands, still smiling. Mr. Redfearn added, “Could I put that in your pickup for you?”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


Some resolutions require more research than others

“I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.” —Yogi Berra

This year may be a personal record for New Year’s resolutions. It’s March and my resolve to lose weight is not on life support yet. Granted, my 2019 weight loss program may have been napping as New Year’s celebrations were ending, but it was ready by the time Mardi Grad revelers were getting revved up.

While my goal seems like hoping I can pull my 30-foot travel trailer with a Volkswagen, at least it didn’t come unhitched the first week I started. I’m happy to report I have not only lost weight, but I have also successfully transitioned my exercising from watching television and the treadmill at the same time to one of watching television while on the treadmill. I plan to be up to ten minutes any day now.

Truth is, however, one resolution may be in trouble: the one about more sleep. Yawning every afternoon is an exercise that burns no calories. It’s the exercise where you are busy doing something that requires functioning brain cells despite your eyes becoming heavy, your head starting to tilt, uncontrollable sensations of sleep coming over you and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Fortunately, my head goes just so far before it rebounds with a jolt and I’m wide awake again. While I haven’t researched the company handbook, I’m confident napping on the job is not an approved perk although I am convinced it can be a benefit.

Well, not napping on the job, per se, but power naps during lunch breaks. Many sources claim they’re not only healthy in many ways but also a boon to afternoon productivity. It’s a concept in which I have invested much research over the years.

My first in-depth research in napping at work dates to 1968 while employed by Hinton Production Company in the Talco oil fields. Good friend then and now, David Neeley and I were on that same program working summer jobs between college semesters. David worked in the machine shop and I worked on the production field maintenance crew

As a side note, let the record reflect that was hands down the hardest work I have ever done. If I had any notions of quitting college then, that summer’s work was probably the ultimate motivation to stay in school forever.

It had to be the hard work that required research carried out in the shop where a huge fan created fine breezes. Lunch quickly consumed, David and I kicked back for a quick nap in front of the big fan before returning to the East Texas summer heat and hard work.

Some 15 years later at the Light and Champion newspaper office in Center found me conducting further research after reading an article touting the refreshing benefits of mid-day lunch naps. A closed door with the phone turned off afforded me a short nap leaned back in my office chair.

My next lunch-time napping research came during my days at the Boerne newspaper. That program included exercise more closely resembling a complete mid-day makeover. A nearby health club with lockers, dressing rooms, showers, and a sauna turned power naps into mid-day breaks with a short workout, nap in the sauna and shower before returning to the office. That routine served to break up many of the long days required at Boerne while invigorating the afternoons to make them as refreshing as the mornings.

With these head-nodding moments sneaking up on me again, I’m thinking it may be time for another round of research. Should you find my office door closed in the coming weeks, I’m not napping on the job, I’m simply conducting more research.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


Apparently for dad, once was sometimes enough

 “I am prepared to try anything once.
–Richard Branson, business magnate, founder of Virgin Galactic

My father saw no sense in powerful or fancy cars and certainly nothing sensible about car racing. To him, cars were a means of transportation and nothing more.

Despite that, he never gave me a hard time for my obsession with trying things in life once for which he saw “no sense.” He simply shook his head at my exploits and smiled. I’m thinking he must have had a standing chiropractor’s appointment for all of the head shaking I caused him.

That thought came to me last fall after attending the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals car show in Chicago to revisit an era of my life focusing on one car that caused dad a lot of head shaking.

Rummaging through photo albums after the show in search of “memories” of the car, I happened onto one taken in front of our house in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in 1969 depicting three cars. My two “no sense” notoriously fast muscle cars of the era, a Ford Torino Cobra Jet and an Oldsmobile “Ram Rod,” were pictured alongside my dad’s “transportation only” car: a four-door Chevy, six-cylinder with a standard-shift transmission.

69 Olds W-31 & 69 Torino Cobra 2-am
The “Ram Rod” Olds that became a race car shortly after this photo (and my sister, Leslie), my “means of transportation” Ford Torino Cobra Jet behind it contrasting with the top of dad’s ’62 Chevy six-cylinder “means of transportation” barely visible on the right. Photo at top of the page—Cessna N7804G, the aircraft in which my father took his first plane ride with me and decided once was enough.

After the Oldsmobile began its new life as my full-time race car, I asked dad if he wanted to go with me to watch. He declined a few times before he and mom showed up at Interstate 20 Raceway near Tyler, Texas, one Saturday night. Thrilled by their interest, I asked him again the next week but once was evidently enough. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

The same scenario followed a few years later when flying lessons was next on my try it once list. To my knowledge, he had never been up in an airplane and often expressed a strong fear at just the thought of flying. When I told him about my new adventure, he shook his head, smiled and said, “I don’t see any sense in doing that, but if that’s what you want, that’s your business.”

FAA check ride passed and pilot’s license in my pocket, I stopped by his house the following Sunday morning for coffee on the way to the airport. “Can I go with you,” he asked? After cleaning up the coffee I choked on, I said, “Sure, I would have asked, but never thought you would consider it.”

My logbook entry notes that flight on August 29, 1976 took exactly one hour’s time sight-seeing around Northeast Texas that morning. We flew over the current site of Lake Bob Sandlin for an aerial view of the dam under construction at the time. Then we flew south toward Pittsburg circling over the town, pointing out the house where he grew up, followed by a loop east near Omaha before turning back to Mount Pleasant. Before we landed, I pointed out Gibson’s Discount Center where he worked and our house on Delafield Street.

Through the entire flight, he never said a word. With his right hand clutching the pull strap above the passenger door the whole time, he nodded acknowledging my tour guide narration of things on the ground, but that was it.

Back at the airport and out of the plane, I asked, “How did you like it?”

“It was OK,” he said with a smile. A week or so later when headed to the airport for some more fun flying around the area, I stopped to see if he wanted to go up again. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

Guess my father was content trying something once to see what I liked about the things in which he saw “no sense.” But apparently, once was enough.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

Getting acquainted with nine generations

Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good old days…”
—song lyrics by The Judds

Because my father was adopted by an aunt and uncle and raised as an only child, there is much about his family history’s good ol’ days he didn’t know. He associated briefly with only two of his 12 siblings and the last time I saw them or any of my cousins on dad’s side of the family, I was just 13.

However, through the resources of family tree websites, I’ve recently become acquainted with nine generations of ancestors back to 1500s England. The CliffsNotes version reads like this: An English couple’s son from the Besson family travels across the Atlantic to the Virginia colony in the early 1600s and marries a Maryland woman; their daughter marries a man from England named Aldridge and they settle in Maryland. Subsequent generations bearing the Aldridge name migrate South to Kentucky and Mississippi. Connecting the many lines between the 294 names and five centuries now in my fledging family tree structure has me wishing there was some way to hear their stories about the good old days.

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Francis Besson, born in 1566 in Beeston, Yorkshire, England married Marcella Cunningham and in 1616, she gave birth to Thomas Philip Besson, Sr. at St. Andrews, Plymouth, Devon, England. Young Besson became a captain in the English military before coming to Virginia where he married Anna Hester Talbot from South River Park, Anne Arundel, Maryland. Their daughter, Martha, married Nicholas Aldridge from East Willow Parish, England, thus the first Aldridge surnamed ancestor in the “East Texas branch” settled in America before the Declaration of Independence was even signed.

Nicholas and Martha’s son, Thomas, became the first Aldridge in the “East Texas branch” born in America. He married Mary Margaret Hooks from Maryland and their son born in Kentucky, another Thomas, became the first generation of the “East Texas branch” whose parents were both American born. Kentucky-born Thomas married Elizabeth Knapp from Buckenham, Norfolk, England, and their son, also named Thomas, married Catherine King. Their son, William, married Caroline Massey.

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Stories from the lives of these ancestors would be priceless. What did they do for a living? What successes and failures did they encounter? What historical events did they witness first hand? What prompted the shift of later generations toward the South?

 – – – – – – – – – – – –

William and Caroline’s son, Leo, was born in Mississippi in 1859. He married Catherine Crecink and they had several children including brothers Sylvester V. and Willie L. Willie L. Aldridge married and fathered 13 children, the last one, Leon D. Aldridge, born in Doyle, Louisiana, in 1923. His mother died giving birth to him. A record of her name exists, I know it does, but I have yet to locate it. Sylvester V. Aldridge and his wife Hattie Lois Farmer (living in East Texas) took Leon to raise before his first birthday and later adopted him. He married Indianola Johnson in 1944 and they had four children: Peggy Jean born in 1946 and died shortly after birth, Leon Jr. born in 1948, Leslie Diane born in 1951, and Sylvia Anne born in 1953.

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Hints of interesting stories from the good old days most likely now lost to time are often suggested by facts found in family history research. Things like how one branch of the Aldridge family went to Kentucky about the time others were apparently headed for Mississippi. Mary Margaret Hooks Aldridge, mother of Thomas Aldridge born in Kentucky in 1757, died in Clark County, Kentucky and was buried there in 1810.

That’s significant because the county seat of Clark County, Kentucky, is Winchester. My mother, Indianola Johnson, was born in Winchester in 1923, some 113 years after Mary Margaret Aldridge was buried there. In 1944, 134 years after Mary Margaret’s burial, Indianola married Leon Aldridge from Texas, my father, who was Mary Margaret’s great-great-great-great grandson.

What a fun story that would have been to tell my parents. I’m sure they had no clue. It’s just one of many I can now share after becoming acquainted with Aldridges in my father’s lineage, ancestors he knew nothing about.

A family tree is a work in progress, and I’m just getting started. I’m looking forward to hopefully uncovering many more stories from the good old days about my father’s family.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo above—Three of my first cousins the one and only time I saw them in 1961. I was 13 years old. The picture was made at my father’s sister’s house near Tickfaw, Lousiana, where I went with my father and the only brother he knew to pick up the car pictured—a new 1961 Ford purchased by my uncle in Baton Rouge.) 

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


Virtues of the hot toddy: medicinal and otherwise

“Well, gimme a bottle of Nyquil,
That restful sleep my body needs.
Analgesic, decongestant,
With an antihistamine.”
—”Nyquil Blues” performed by Alvin Crow

Sneezes, sniffles and similar symptoms combined with watching the faint traces of sleet and snow falling last week turned office breakroom conversation to remedy and relief of winter illnesses. Then someone in the group announced their intentions to go home and fix a “hot toddy.”

Chuckles and eye rolls followed as if to question whether the intentions of said toddy was therapeutic or recreational. But the banter turned serious when stories of home remedies led to recollections of family members and friends, teetotalers for the most part, who were otherwise quick to imbibe distilled spirits claiming them to be for medicinal purposes only.

Many are the time-honored hand-me-down cures taunted to make one feel better. Everything from mama’s chicken noodle soup to plenty of fruit juices, hot tea, herbs, and oils. Despite them all, the supreme healer throughout the ages seems to have remained the “hot toddy.”

Granny, my father’s mother, didn’t hesitate to medicate with her go-to recipe if she deemed it to be a necessity on Saturday night. She would assure you at Sunday morning services, however, that her prescription was strictly for healing purposes as she added her “amen” to the sermon on the evils of alcohol.

While many swear on the virtues of the hot toddy, I’ve secretly wondered if they really possess healing power, or are they just an excuse to enjoy a little nip when you aren’t feeling so well? Inquiring minds want to know, so I did some research and the data is in.

Fact is that alcohol can cause dehydration, disrupt sleep patterns, and suppress the immune system. It can actually worsen the symptoms of a cold, increase congestion, and worsen head and body aches, not to mention other problematic things such as causing behavioral issues and lapses in memory.

But there is also good news. Those drawbacks come with excessive medicating. In small amounts of an ounce or two, it seems there are some positive benefits from the much-heralded hot toddy recipe. Small “doses” of alcohol can dilate your blood vessels, easing inflammation and increasing the blood flow carrying beneficial illness-fighting cells to infected areas. It can also relieve pain and aid in sleep and help alleviate congestion. Want proof? Just take a whiff of a bottle of whiskey and see how quickly it opens up the sinuses. Combined with the steaming hot water, it becomes even more effective.

So, bottom line is that alcohol might actually help with the cold or flu—as long as you keep the dosage small. And that’s most likely why Nyquil, the popular modern-day counterpart of the toddy, is so effective. The liquid form is 10-percent alcohol although the company claims that it’s a “solvent for the other ingredients.”

So powerful is the reputation of this over-the-counter toddy that a tune penned to proclaim its virtues was a hit for Texas singer Alvin Crow in the late 70s.

While Nyquil has its own following, Granny’s age-old concoction might be considered the natural alternative. Her recipe was honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon mixed in hot water. Oh, and a healthy shot of bourbon whiskey from that bottle wrapped in a kitchen towel and hidden in the pantry. Lemon provides vitamin C, cinnamon is a known anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and the antibacterial properties of honey were known long before Granny’s time.

Therefore, with research data firmly in hand, I am now ready for the testing part—for medicinal research only, of course. Wow, was that a sneeze? Oh man, I think I’m coming down with something.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

Somewhere, late birthday wishes are acceptable

“In some parts of the world, it’s customary to send birthday wishes the day after a person’s birthday. I don’t know where, but I’m apparently from there.”—verse found on one of the many belated birthday cards I’ve bought.

A new year’s resolution that’s been making the list now for most of my life has already bit the dust. While that is nothing new, I don’t intend to forget birthdays. Actually, I usually do remember them—sooner or later. It’s just that I forget to send a card. On time. All right, so I sometimes forget to send a card at all.

“Don’t you have a birthday this month,” I said to my youngest sister, Sylvia, one day last week?

“No,” she replied dryly.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged remembering that February is the month for my other sister, Leslie’s birthday. “Yours is in June.”

“May,” she quipped adding just for my benefit, “I lucked out, got the same month again this year.”

My intentions are good. However, I’m typically in trouble by the first week. My niece Diana and a good friend from living on Lake Murvaul days, “Postmaster Paula,” both have birthdays the first week of January. If I miss them, and I usually do, then I’m already behind before my grand twins, Sarah and Haven’s birthday rolls around a couple of weeks later. That’s when I admit defeat, hang it up and move that resolution to next year’s list. Again.

I really thought I had the perfect solution some years ago. Rather than remain Hallmark’s best customer for belated cards, just send everyone a birthday card on January first. That way, everyone gets a card from me before I have a chance to forget their birthday. About halfway through addressing cards on New Year’s Day, however, second thoughts crept in as I envisioned the potential confusion I was about to create.

Diana would get hers first and call her mom. Sylvia would, in turn, be calling family members to spread the news, “Bubba’s on the ball this year, Diana got a birthday card.” That would likely have happened before she found a card in her mailbox.

About the time Sylvia was scratching her head, Mom would have been going through her mail. I loved my Mom. I’m not saying she was slow you understand, but when telling her a joke, you had to sometimes wait for that sound—you know, that “whoosh” sound that flies over someone’s head while they’re processing. Receiving a birthday card in January would have triggered that sound and that look on her face. “A birthday card? It’s not June.”

Knowing mom as we all did, Sylvia would have already been on the phone. “Don’t get excited mom, we’re not sure what Bubba’s up to, but it’s not June. Just save your card and open it again on your birthday. By then you will have forgotten, and you’ll be surprised again.”

Before that conversation was over, Leslie would have been on the phone to Sylvia. “I don’t believe it. Leon mailed me a birthday card a month early.”

“He sent me one too—five months early,” Sylvia would likely have responded. “Not to mention Mom five months early and dad seven months early”

I just couldn’t do it. Carefully considering the havoc I could be inflicting on my family, I put the cards aside electing to mail them on the appropriate dates. Hey, they were already addressed.

If memory serves me correctly, it was in March of that year when Sylvia called. “Oh no,” I said upon hearing her voice. “I addressed birthday cards for everyone and forgot to send them.”

“You bought birthday cards,” she asked? “Yeah, right.”

“Really,” I argued. “They’re around here somewhere.”

“Sure, they are,” she laughed. “So, where did you put them?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “Hey, did you just hear that—that whoosh sound?”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.


‘Leave the driving to us’ took on a new meaning

“I don’t want to cause no fuss, But can I buy your Magic Bus?” —song lyrics “Magic Bus” by The Who 1970

Countless are the miles my “always going somewhere” nature has taken me in a lifetime of cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and boats. Ready to go at the drop of a hat, many are the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. Wonderful are most of the memories, but thankful is the keyword for surviving a few that became stories worth telling.

Earliest travel memories center around trips with my mom. Boarding a train bound for Kentucky. Buckling in for the same trip in a DC-3 prop-driven airliner for which I  still have a certificate noting my first airplane ride at the age of three. And, then there were the many trips on commercial bus lines.

Reading a history of the Greyhound Bus Line last week conjured college band memories of the black smoke belching, diesel driven, air-brake spewing, silver giants with the dog on the side. Boarding the big charter buses transporting the Kilgore College band and the Rangerettes to games and special appearances was cool stuff compared to the yellow school buses that transported the Tiger band to Friday night games at Mount Pleasant High School.

My last bus ride six or seven years ago was the first leg home from the Oshkosh “AirVenture” air show in Wisconsin. American Airlines stood ready to whisk me from Milwaukee to DFW, but the 90-minute bus ride from the air show to General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin’s largest city reminded of a night during the winter of 1978 when, “Leave the driving to us,” took on a new meaning: a trip from Abilene to Dallas. In snow and ice.

Three hours for that trip was making good time driving the speed limit in the family cruiser on a sunny afternoon. Taking the bus that night was necessitated by purchasing a car in Dallas and driving it to Abilene, then hopping a bus back the following weekend to bring said family cruiser home.

“One-way to Dallas, please,” I said. “Will the snow pose problems tonight.”

A short “no” and a punched ticket was my answer. Besides faulty weather prognostication, undisclosed information included the sub-sonic travel time featuring stops in every burg along I-20 boasting an exit and a convenience store.

Despite all of those minor details, we were soon passing everything on the highway blowing plumes of snow onto creeping cars and idling trucks as the silver dog danced on the slippery super slab. The driver was good. He managed to hit every icy spot on the road causing the big bus to execute variations of the Texas Two Step while spinning wheels searched for spots of dry pavement.

A variety of diversions inside helped keep our minds off the road conditions outside. A young man with a guitar toward the rear of the bus broke into song. “They say music soothes the soul,” said the lady behind me traveling to Mobile with her daughter. I tried joining in, but holding my breath just wasn’t conducive to harmonizing on the next verse of “Magic Bus.”

The momentary jolts of traction between every slip and slide sent a cacophony of screams and four-letter expletives from the back all the way up to the pregnant lady at the front. A couple of older guys across the aisle wagered on when she was going to deliver. One bet it would be between Cisco and Strawn while the other put his money on the stretch of interstate between Weatherford and Aledo. As word of the wager spread, others began to lay down money as well.

Nobody claimed any winnings. She failed to deliver, but fortunately, the bus driver didn’t, bringing us into the Dallas terminal at 10 minutes to midnight, 15 minutes ahead of schedule and 30 minutes faster than I had ever driven it on a sunny afternoon in the old family cruiser.

“Thank you, driver, for getting me here, You’ll be an inspector, have no fear. Too muuuch—Magic Bus…”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion  and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

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(Photo at top of the page: 1959 Greyhound promotional postcard. The Scenicruiser bus was unique to Greyhound and was in-service from 1954 into the mid-70’s.)