Something's Come Between Us: the Bulletproof Fishtank of Customer Service

There are two places I go regularly where the customer service is protected by a plexiglass fishtank.

Now, you'd think one of these would be the bank, right? The one place where we all expect to see Edward G. Robinson with a big cigar sticking out of his mouth, carrying an instrument case coincidentally the exact size of a Tommy gun, saying, "Button your lip and hand over da dough, Toots."

(And, yes, I do live in a 1940s Bugs Bunny episode. What's it to ya, rabbit?)

But around my area, the bank tellers are completely unhindered by bulletproof glass. They're out there in the open, handing out free lollipops... and toasters... and, well, ATM surcharges roughly equivalent to a semester of college tuition.

We could shake their hands for a job well done or clock 'em with the toaster for all the user fees. Our choice, really.

But nope, in my area, the two places where you have to actually mime all your needs through inches of transparent wall is...

The doctor's office and the post office.

I get the doctor's office. I do. It's so we, the public, do not transfer our cooties to the people who take our copayments and confirm that we haven't actually moved homes in the last five seconds. Potential Cootie Intraperson Route Detouring, they call it.

But there's a certain amount of irony that in the place where human interaction is so important, all the people who work there are preserved in Tupperware. You've come in with a sore throat and you can't just talk to the person. You've got to shout into an empty soup can and use semaphore for what doesn't translate.

What I think would be really cool would be to have it like a drive-through fast food restaurant, with some kind of fiberglass clown in scrubs you have to shout into its neck.

I mean, think how much more fun it would be if, instead of coming into the office and whipping out your semaphore flags--

"I... have.... a... ten... thirty.... appointment.... And.... Continental... Flight.... 207... from... Albuquerque... is... coming... in.... for.... a.... gate... B... 12"

--You could just feed your insurance card into Doctor McFeelgoode's upper GI tract and call out what you need into his clavicle?

"Hi, I have a ten thirty appointment and I'd like a McFeelgoode penicillin shake and some antibiotifries-- stat!"

Now, as for the post office, I find the bulletproof glass there a little strange. I mean, what exactly are they worried about?

To protect the post office workers in case there's a holdup for Forever Stamps and the annual Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes entries?--

"Ed McMahon says this one could already be a winner. And I just know a dead guy wouldn't lie to me!"

Or maybe it's because of really dumb criminals looking to have their Wanted posters taken down so no one can ever identify them...

"You, mailman, you rip down that poster back there that looks like me and.... Oh."

The guy with the gun smiles sheepishly.

"Heh. Heh. No, That's my, er, identical twin brother... Er... Cheese-it, boys, it's the coppers!"

But, y'know, the plexiglass doesn't exactly make things easy, when you have something you actually need to get from the teller. I mean, you get your package by sliding your package slip into this slot—

"Two adult ride-all-day passes, please?... No? Oh, well, how about my box from Amazon then."

--And then CA-CHUNK! The tray shoots out and they take your slip and disappear into a backroom for a few days.

In that back room is where everything that ever went missing is stored. Like that sock that disappeared from your dryer last week, that's there.

And your cell phone which you thought your dog had hidden under the couch two years ago but which you still couldn't find when you actually moved the sofa, even though you found your sunglasses, 14 dollars in pennies, and a small box of Cheerios, that's there, too.

So they take your slip and compare it to all the missing socks of everyone in your neighborhood, and the cell phones, too, and they walk about 30 miles round trip until they eventually find the serial number that matches your package.

So I think the last reason that plexiglass is between you and post office personnel is so you aren't tempted to leap over the counter, rush into the backroom to the employees' aid, only to be never seen again.

"I'm going in. If you don't hear from me in two hours, send out the troops."

It's tricky back there, unless you have GPS or breadcrumbs. And the Post Office, as a government agency, doesn't want any liability for your safety.

And I can see where that might be of issue. So if you do decide to try it, just make sure you're catalogued with a serial number first.

Oh, while you're back there, if you happen to see one black and white stripey sock? That's mine. Write me up a package slip and I'll come get it.

I'll just need to remember my semaphore flags.



Lili said...

Now I desperately wish I had just _once_ come up to you wielding signal flags when you were working in Morewood...

Shieldmaiden96 said...

The closest to where I lived DMV in Jersey had to go to the bulletproof shield after a frustrated patron grabbed one of the employees by the hair and banged her head on the counter. I seriously considered opening a bank account for her legal defense fund. I'm sure we would have gathered up ample donations. That place was the worst.

Jenn Thorson said...

Lili- The irony is I can totally envision you having done that. In fact, I can't quite believe you didn't think of it first. :)

Shieldmaiden- The Jersey DMV? No question! Those people would HAVE to be protected from the public, wouldn't they? They'd NEED to. Possibly be issued bullet proof vests, too, along with their nametags.

Beer Drinker said...

The popular expression "Going Postal" should explain the post office plexiglass.

Jenn Thorson said...

But Beer Drinker- In that case, it WAS the postman doing the shooting. So having plexiglass on the side of the room where the postman IS only protects the customers from the rampage, not necessarily the other people who work there.

Maybe they all need their own individual bulletproof fishtanks. :)

Beer Drinker said...

Good point, Jenn. But suppose it was an ex-employee, like just happened last week in Orlando.

I vote for mandatory bullet-proof vests and body armor for everyone. We could include that as part of the government overhaul on healthcare. One simple amendment.

Jenn Thorson said...

BeerDrinker- I bet we could all lose a lot of weight, too, lugging around all the bulletproof equipment. That would be good for everybody. :)

MA Fat Woman said...

As a former postal worker that has had packages thrown at me, been spit upon, called various and vulgar names, blamed for everything that has gone wrong with the entire world and told I had a fat ass, I can only wish I had been able to stand behind a plexiglass window. And no, I'm not joking.

As for going into the back room, that's where they'll grab a drink, sit for a few seconds and hope to God that they are able to find your package, thus avoiding everything that I just mentioned.

People are funny about their mail. They do whatever it takes to avoid getting standard (junk) mail but if they don't receive any mail on a given day they go completely bonkers.

...thus the need for plexiglass!

Venom said...

I live out in bush country - the post office is part of the general store in the closest town (population: 37). I went to buy a money order, the post mistress invited me into the back room to help her figure out how to make that happen. No plexi-glass here.

Midwest Mom said...

Great post, Jenn!! :D

Thanks for the monday laugh.

Jenn Thorson said...

MA- Wow, and with all that fun, to think you left that job! :) Based on what you said about the charming behavior of the public, it makes me wonder why we don't plexiglass in other public places... like the pharmacy. Or Wal-Mart.

Venom- With 37 people in your largest town, I'd imagine there'd be some accountability if anyone behaved in a plexiglass-poor way. Like, they'd call your first grade teacher or your mom. :)

Julia- Always glad to oblige! :)

Anonymous said...

At the Chrysler fixit shop, the people handling your account were behind glass (this was in at least 3 different shops, in different states, so there seemed to be a trend). I can see the post office and the bank, but why put something like that in a building where there certainly is something that can cut plexiglass on the other side? [This was even a pre-bailout thing.]

BK said...

I remember in the older days where the bank tellers were behind plexiglass. But nowadays over here in Singapore, everywhere is an open concept now.