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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The People Who Love What They Do

"Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work."

Simply put, the very best experiences -- of any kind -- come when you're dealing with people who love their job.

Think about it. Think back on every wonderful travel experience you can recall. What made it special? What made it great?

Chances are, it included someone who loved what they were doing. A tour. A flight. A hotel. A cruise ship experience. What made it a cut above? Someone who was enthusiastic and excited by what was going on. Not you -- it's a given you were an enthusiastic participant. But what about everyone else?

We've all been in those situations in which the people around us...other travelers, service people, locals...were going through the motions. Yeah, we can still have a good time, and for the most part build ourselves an experience which we can look back on and fondly remember,

But what takes it to the next level?

I have flown literally hundreds of times. I have sat back, watched out the window as the aircraft rose above a dense, dark grey sky into a wondrous heaven-like expense of soft fluffy clouds silhouetted against a rising sun. It's a truly momentous experience.


But what about the overall experience? If, for example, I turned from this stunning vista outside my window to encounter a flight attendant...tired and bored and wishing they were still tucked tightly into a hotel bed...lackadaisically asking for our beverage order, wouldn't that kind of kill the mood?

If I were digging into the very best bowl of chili this side of the Pecos River and had a waitress slap down the tab with a distinctly unenthusiastic "that it?", wouldn't that pretty much dull the tastes working their way around your palate? Yeah, still tastes great, but the ambience is gone.

So what is it? What is that special something that takes an everyday experience and makes it something special?

Sometimes it's simply a smile and happy-to-see-you greeting. We see it all the time on those TV shows dedicated to Turing around a failing bar, hotel or restaurant, right? That often it's the customer experience...not just dirty linen, but discourteous or uncaring staff.

Sometimes it comes down to an enthusiasm for solving problems. You can tell, for instance, when
employees are simply, going through the proverbial motions. How do they interact with each other, how do the communicate? Do they simply hand things off, or is there a genuine warmth to their interaction?

On a flight tonight I saw two terrific employees encounter each other. Connie is a gate attendant at Long Beach Airport. Connie distinguishes herself by an enthusiasm that is impossible to teach. She genuinely loves people. You can see it in her eyes, her expressions, her smile. Everyone who approaches the gate to hand off their boarding pass for entry onto the plane benefits from her approach, and has a better-than-average experience in the process. They leave Long Beach with a smile and a positive experience.

Irini, a flight attendant for Mesa Airlines, dba US Airways (now American), is a force of nature. She will bowl you over and MAKE you have a good time. She kept a group of very seasoned First Class passengers in stitches on a flight from Long Beach to Phoenix. Not easy to do with a group of people who have seen and done it all and just want to be left alone. She won them over with her sheer force of will.

On this particular trip, Connie was the gate agent, and Irini was the flight attendant...and they instantly hit it off. They recognized a kindred soul in each other and made it clear to the passengers we were in the best of hands.

It made a difference.

Three weeks ago, as I write this, I was in Las Vegas. A town built of cynicism and artifice. I sat in the bar, Rojo at Palms Place, and dug myself into my iPad. A few other people were around, and gradually I noticed that the bartender was talking to them as people, not as tourists and transitory visitors, but as people. I realized she was touching them personally. Not by digging too deeply into their lives, but listening to them as they talked, as the spoke. Again, the moment transcended the "usual", and you could tell that this was a person who loved what she did. She wanted to be there, and she wanted to talk to her customers and learn something about them.

Afterward, when the other patrons had cleared out and it was solely the bartender and I in a quiet room, I asked her about this. At first she wasn't sure she wanted to share, but within a few minutes she let me know that it all came from a very personal place. She'd had a very rough life herself. One she wouldn't share with others, and which I only got a glimpse. And being there, being able to interact and care and share her evening with people she could "bring up", "make happy" was important to her. Despite her own challenges, it made her life better to be able to make other people happy.

In my travels I could cite hundreds of examples of people to whom it is important to make a journey worth making, to whom it is important that the people they deal with leave with a positive, an upbeat.

And to those folk, I raise a glass and say "thank you". Noted and appreciated.

Waitresses who smile and greet you affectionately. The guy at the car rental agency who is happy to see you and gives you the keys to the best car. The hotel desk clerk who spends that extra minute to make sure you get the top floor, nonsmoking, with a view of...whatever. The bartender who listens intently. The tour driver who tells great stories and has a lot of fun --  for the third time today -- with the paying riders. The cruise ship yeoman who learns your name on day 1 and remembers to pop a little extra soap in your cabin.

These are the people who matter. Who make a difference and bring you back, happily, the next time you're in town.

Because, ultimately, the People Who Love Their Jobs are the people who count. The people to whom travelers need to look to for support and enthusiasm and fun. Without the folks who enjoy what WE do, and make it special, WE would never know it was special. Fun. Rewarding.

And for that, they all deserve a round of applause.

Just sayin'.

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