It started simply enough. After yet another round of snow in what feels like an endless season of life-changing snows in Indianapolis, I decided to take advantage of an unusually sunny day and take myself out to lunch just one day after an expected 1-2″ snowfall turned into 5″ of the fresh powder had turned my usual 20-25 minute drive home from work into a 90-minute crawl through slick roads and occasional whiteout conditions.
If you’ve been following The Gimp Goes Shopping for awhile, then you’ve likely already experienced how foul my mood and my writing can get when I have to deal with life after another snowfall. Indiana is at the tail end (I hope) of its snowiest winter ever recorded.
In other words, I’m not happy. My body’s not happy. My car’s not happy. While I have managed to make it into work on the vast majority of days this winter, the simple truth is that every aspect of my life has been disrupted and my body is sore, tired and far less healthy than usual.
Then, you toss into this chaos the unfortunate truth that the vast majority of businesses, retail and otherwise, also go into “survival mode” during inclement weather and you have the makings of a gimp with a serious attitude.
Wheelchair ramps don’t get shoveled. Accessible parking spaces don’t get plowed or, even worse, they have the snow plowed into them. Those who serve folks with disabilities, who are sadly underpaid and overworked, frequently have a harder time getting around and may or may not show up to work.
The list goes on and on.
There is a stereotype, and it is quite common, that individuals with disabilities don’t get out and about in anything resembling poor weather.
This is not true. While there are certainly those who are able to and have the desire to stay inside during snowstorms, it’s just as likely that we’re either expected to show up to work or, when that sense of pride kicks in, we feel more than a little compelled to prove ourselves “able” and we get our butts to work.
In case it’s not obvious, I lean much closer to the latter. I’ve occasionally shared the story of how I actually snagged my first post-college job. I’d interned at this inner-city hospital and happened to be the only intern working on a psychiatric unit who managed to get themselves into work on a day where it snowed a solid eight inches.
How did I do it? Simple. I crawled. To be sure, the apartment complex where I lived at the time hadn’t even started shoveling sidewalks when I needed to leave for work. So, I wheeled and I pushed and I crawled and I got my butt into my car and drove into work.
I did what it took to make it happen.
I carry this “make it happen” attitude into my daily life. I don’t say this to brag, but I do say this to acknowledge that you may very well find me entering your store or restaurant during the worst possible weather and, quite honestly, I expect to find your store or restaurant accessible enough for me to enter the place. Oh sure, I do give some leeway for the “day of” events. I recognize that in the midst of a snowstorm, it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone’s going to continuously re-shovel their sidewalks. The general attitude is “Wait until it’s over.”
So be it.
The next day, I expect that you’ve done your job.
So, today when I found myself venturing out to find a place for lunch I fully expected that I would have a slew of choices to choose from among the local joints. After all, the roads were fine and the snow had stopped. The sun was shining and it had even warmed up into the 20′s…I know. I know. That doesn’t sound warm, but after this awful winter it feels mighty fine.
Instead, this is what I found as I drove the Pendleton Pike area of Indianapolis.
I found the Dairy Queen at 10605 Pendleton Pike where not only had the parking spaces and wheelchair ramps not been plowed, but it actually appeared as if the snow had been shoveled into barriers blocking anyone with mobility issues from utilizing them. This is not the first time that I’ve found this at this location this winter, but on a day when they clearly could have done better I found it really frustrating. It’s particularly bothersome when you consider that I am a semi-regular customer of this particular Dairy Queen which, of course, eliminates any B.S. argument that “we don’t have any customers in wheelchairs,” which doesn’t matter anyway.
I found the Wendy’s at 5765 Sunnyside Drive where the wheelchair ramps were, once again, snow-covered and completely unusable. The same was true for the Steak n’ Shake at 11040 Pendleton Pike, something I found really bothersome given that Steak n’ Shake is usually a reliable chain in terms of access. They blew it this time.
I drove to Arby’s at 11730 Pendleton Pike absolutely convinced it would be fine. The chain is typically fairly responsible when it comes to accessibility issues PLUS this particular restaurant is right next to a strip mall. Surely, they would have shoveled their wheelchair ramps. Nope. Their parking lot was a pit and their ramps were fully covered. The Burger King across the street at 11741 Pendleton Pike was the same way, though I’ll admit I’ve never been that impressed by Burger King’s devotion to wheelchair access.
I headed over to Bob Evans at 10580 Pendleton Pike. Again, I know that they serve a pretty good population of folks who are older and I thought for sure they would be awesome and, to be honest, among the places that really weren’t accessible they were probably the best. But, quite honestly, I still couldn’t have made it in my wheelchair.
Finally, I headed over to one of the more socially responsible chains – Panera’s at 9145 East 56th Street. On only one previous occasion had I experienced a problem at a Panera’s, and that had more to do with someone illegally parking in one of the blue-striped parking spots next to an accessible space. The issue got resolved and the manager apologized profusely.
On this occasion, Panera’s had actually made a solid effort to clear their actual sidewalks right next to the wheelchair parking spaces BUT they’d done so poorly on the actual spaces that I found four people illegally parked in them and, you guessed it, one person parked in a blue-striped spot. Thus, I had no way to actually access those freshly shoved sidewalks. Epic failure.
After seven restaurants, an increasingly growling stomach, and more than a little stress I finally went around the corner to a restaurant that I was pretty sure would get the job done correctly.
Culver’s at 9105 East 56th Street is part of a chain that emphasizes customer service, and not just when the going is good. While I’ll admit that I was craving something a bit different than the usual Culver’s fare, I was so ecstatic when I pulled up and saw completely plowed parking spaces and fully shoveled sidewalks that I immediately pulled in and willingly gave them my business.
They’d earned my loyalty.
I admit it. I’m a little high maintenance. If you want my business, then you have to show me that you want it. You have to create a safe environment for me to access your business. If you don’t, then you’re not going to get my business. This is especially true when I can be considered a “regular” in your establishment.
For an extra 15 minutes of work, you earn my loyalty because when I pull into your parking lot I get the distinct feeling that you really want me there. On the other hand, when you ignore wheelchair ramps or accessible parking spaces then it makes me believe that my business is not actually important to you.
So, I’ll take it elsewhere and I’ll do so forever.
Heck, I tried to visit the Great Clips on Pendleton Pike after my meal and, big surprise, the strip mall where it’s located had plowed all the snow into the wheelchair parking spot and actually on top of the wheelchair ramp.
So, guess who is not getting my business anymore?
I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t necessarily have the “gift” of hospitality. In spiritual terms, it can be described as having the gift of making people feel welcome in your life, in your home, etc. I struggle to take care of my home and have never really been the best conversationalist. I don’t make people feel unwelcome, but that whole “arms wide open” thing has always sort of eluded me.
I’m not asking for or expecting perfection, but I am fully expecting that places will honor their legal commitments and make sure I can get into their establishment.
Yes, I expect it. If you don’t do it, not only will I no longer frequent your establishment but I’m also going to tell others about it. If you get it right, you will win my loyalty and I’ll also tell everyone about it.
So, here’s the score today.
For the businesses I mentioned earlier, your failure to honor your obligations and make me feel like a wanted customer means that you’ve lost a customer who dines out at least once a day.
Culver’s? You win a customer for life.
Customer service is really very simple. It’s simply showing you care and Culver’s, you win the prize, for showing that you truly care about all of your customers enough to do the right thing in even the most challenging of circumstances.