Pondering, Photographing, and Writing about Wild Places

A Visit to the Not-So-Local Outfitter

I always forget something. This time it was my water bottle. (You’d think that as many as I own, I would remember at least one of them, but no.) No sweat, though. Fortunately, there is an approximately 658 to 1 ratio of art galleries to outfitters in Santa Fe, meaning three or four gear shops. The first one I ran across was the local branch of the national chain outfitter known by three initials. To protect the innocent and guilty alike, we’ll call it Undeniably Gear Here, or U.G.H.
Once beyond the stuccoed exterior, I found myself in the kind of familiar setting that takes away all excitement from otherwise interesting gear, or at least gear that allows one to do interesting things in relative comfort and, more importantly, style.
The water bottle section was near the front of the store along with most of the items having purely utilitarian purpose proving that the big guys still haven’t learned the milk-in-the-back-of-the-convenience store philosophy that forces customers to walk past aisles of over-priced junk food to get to the two staples they carry—beer and milk.
I found my item quickly and easily and made my way to the counter where a man was picking up a ringing phone.
“Ugh. May I help you?”
A woman at the other end of the counter motioned me her way.
“Are you an U.G.H. member?”
“It’s been years and years since I’ve bought much from y’all, I doubt I’m in the system any more. It doesn’t really matter.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re still here. U.G.H. never deletes even the most inactive members. What was your phone number the last time you made a purchase?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well then, let’s do this another way.”
I watched as the perky thirty-five-year-old backed out of the transaction she had started, opened a new page in her computer system then, with a smile, asked “You haven’t changed your name since you last made a purchase at U.G.H., have you?”
“No ma’am…my ex-wife has changed hers a couple times since then, but…”
The woman did not respond to my feeble attempt at humor as she carefully placed her fingers in proper typing position on her keyboard and looked at my lips as she asked me to spell my last name.
“P, as in Paul,” I started. “F, as in Frank…”
“There’s three pages in here for your last name, what’s your first initial?”I told her “J,” which she said narrowed the list to a single page, and then she asked what state I lived in.
“I don’t know. Probably Illinois, but it could have been California, Arizona, Ohio, Wyoming, Tennessee.”
“Well, here’s one in Chicago, Illinois.”
“Great. That’s probably me.”
“What was your phone number when you lived in Chicago?”
“I don’t know. I had several. I haven’t kept track.”
“Well, I have to have more information. What street did you live on?”
“I lived on several streets—six or eight different ones, I guess.”
“I don’t even remember them all.”
“Well…did you ever live on Carmen?”
“I did. That’s me. Great.”
“Not so fast. What was your address on Carmen?”
“I don’t remember. What address do you have?”
“Oh, I can’t tell ya that, now. What if it isn’t you? Then I’d be giving you somebody else’s information. We can’t have that.”
With every singsong, perky response, she was sounding more and more like Sarah Palin and I was less and less interested in attaching my twenty-dollar purchase with the eighty-cent dividend to my name.
“When did you last make a purchase with U.G.H.?”
I thought back over the past few years. I had no idea what ore how many purchases I had made.
“Could have been at the Niles store in 2004, maybe…”
“No, I have one here in Northbrook in 2008.”
“That must be it. I had work in the Chicago area in the spring of that year.”
“Sir, 2008 is not years and years ago. You said yourself that you haven’t shopped with us in years and years. Now which is it, years and years or 2008?”
“I’m sure it must have been 2008. I had some work up there that spring.”
“Do you remember what you bought?”
“No ma’am… it’s really okay. I’m not going to remember any of the information you need, so let’s just let this one go.”
“Well you can always call our headquarters in Seattle and they can figure it out. Then you can get your money.”
“It’s really not worth it.”
“You know, sir, I’m just trying to give you money, but you have to help me help you.”
Her tone had changed dramatically, as if I was making unreasonable demands of her, and I bit my tongue to avoid telling her to “show me the money” in a second attempt at humor.
“I appreciate your efforts, but I’ve moved around a lot and I don’t remember my old street numbers or phone numbers. I’d love to help you, but… you know, I think I first joined U.G.H. when I lived in Arizona, can you use that?”
“Sir, you said yourself that you changed your address many times. What could I ever do with old information?”
“But you’ve been asking for old information…”
“Sir, you are going to have to take this up with headquarters. That will be twenty-one fifty-six with tax.”
I handed her three tens for which she quickly made change.
“Thank you. I really appreciate all your efforts.”
“I was only trying to help, you know.”
“Yes ma’am. I know.”
“Thank you for visiting U.G.H.”
“You’re welcome…Ugh!”

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