Adding Value

Most of my family and friends think the only genres of movies I watch are either action or comedy. And while that’s usually the case, it’s not a hard and fast rule of mine. I enjoy a drama here and there. A Few Good Men, Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump are among my favorites.

Recently, as I was flipping through channels on the TV, I happened to stumble across Forrest Gump. I found this Tom Hanks classic at the scene where he begins to run. You remember this part, right? He runs for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours. And yes, I got winded just by typing that last sentence. But that’s not the point. The point is that Forrest Gump decides to run. And he runs and he runs and he runs. And along the way, he starts to inspire people. He becomes a news phenomenon. Folks want to meet him. Others start running behind him. With no intention of doing so, he becomes a pretty big deal.

I’ve had friends tell me that this is the most boring part of the whole movie. I’ve heard this scene is too far-fetched. I’ve been told it slows down the entire story. Well…I disagree. There are a few interactions during his run that have always stood out to me.

One is a gentleman in the bumper sticker business, struggling to come up with a new slogan. He decides to track down Forrest during his run to see what words of wisdom he could share with him, since he was already influencing so many others with his cross-country trek. As they’re talking, Forrest steps in a pile of dog poop. “Whoa!” yells the man. “You just ran through a big pile of dog $hit!” Forrest replies nonchalantly, “It happens.” “What happens?” presses the man. “$hit?” “Sometimes,” answers Forrest. And with that exchange, we’re to believe the slogan “$hit Happens” was born and the man became very successful from it.

(And yes, I’m using the dollar sign in place of the S in order to keep my blog’s PG rating…and because my mom still reads my blog and would not approve of me swearing…even on paper.)

Forrest then meets another gentleman during his run. This guy had lost all his money in the T-shirt business and wants to meet Forrest to talk about putting his face on a T-shirt. However, this astute businessman didn’t bring a camera and was horrible at drawing, so there was no way to duplicate Forrest’s likeness on a shirt. About that time, a truck drove past and sprayed mud all over both of them. The gentleman gave Forrest a yellow T-shirt to wipe his face. As Forrest handed back the used shirt, the mud he had wiped onto it had become a perfect smiley face. As the man stopped and was staring at the image, Forrest shouted back to him, “Have a Nice Day!” And that was supposed to be the origin of the yellow smiley face telling us to “Have a Nice Day!” That man became very successful as well.

Two men became more successful than they ever dreamt they would be because Forrest Gump added value to their lives. Did he plan to do this? No. Does this change the fact that others became better off by meeting him? Not at all.

Can the same thing be said about us? Do we add value to others’ lives? Do people that we interact with walk away better off because of something we said or did for them? Personally speaking, I sometimes become too consumed with adding value to myself, that I miss out on adding value to others. I become too focused on making money, building a business, trying to be popular…believe me, I could go on and on.

The older I get, the more I realize life isn’t about us and the wealth or status we acquire. (Trust me…I haven’t acquired much of either.) It’s about the impact we have on others. Do we add benefit to our family and friends? Our co-workers and customers? Strangers that we pass on the street?   We can. But do we?

Choose just one person today to help. Put his or her needs above yours and see how you feel. My guess is that it will feel so good that tomorrow you’ll choose two folks to help. Then three. Then it will eventually become a way of life. And when we intentionally choose to add value to others’ lives, everyone is the better for it.

Have a Nice Day!

Rich Lavinder

I’d like to tell you a story about an old college buddy of mine named Rich Lavinder. I met Rich when we both ended up pledging the same fraternity, Kappa Sigma, (Gamma-pride, baby!). Rich was a big guy and he commanded every room he entered. In fact, the only thing bigger than Rich’s stature, was his personality. You definitely heard Rich coming before he arrived.

For those of you who have ever pledged a fraternity or sorority, you know you spend a LOT of time with your fellow pledge brothers or sisters for a semester and get to know them pretty well. This pledge period was no exception. Rich and I spent many hours running errands for brothers and doing what they told us. We also spent countless hours breaking the rules of pledging and seeing what we could get away with. The answer was not much. Rich and I got punished a lot together too, which, in a weird way, helped form a stronger bond between us.

Once our pledge class was inducted into the fraternity, Rich and I didn’t hang out as much as we previously had, but that would have been next to impossible. We did see each other at meetings and parties and remained good friends.

One night, I was downtown at a bar called Bumpers with another fraternity brother of ours, named Ari. There just so happened to be a rival fraternity in the bar that night with a lot more brothers than us. Murphy’s Law was in full effect that evening, because of all the women in the establishment, the two that Ari and I decided to talk to were girlfriends of two of the other fraternity brothers. Well, I’m sure by now you can figure out where this story is going. Ari and I and this enemy fraternity, all 20 – 25 of them, had words. They said a few things to us. We, stupidly, said a few things back, and the disagreement escalated from there.

The bar owner was a retired New York cop and told us all that he didn’t care if we fought, but we had to take it outside. So there was our loophole. As long as we didn’t leave the bar, we were safe. Did I mention there were about 30 of them? Yes, I know the number keeps growing, but that’s the way it felt that night. And did I mention that Ari weighed maybe 100 lbs?

In the midst of all this, we came up with a plan. I ‘accidentally’ spilled a beer on one of the fraternity brothers (yes, I picked the smallest one) and that immediately brought all of his buddies to his aid and coincidentally, into my personal space. While the bar owner jumped in the middle of all the bodies and restored order, Ari quietly slipped out the back door and ran to our fraternity house to grab as many of our brothers as he could to bring back and help even the odds.

The minutes crept by like hours as I waited for Ari to return.   I wondered how many brothers he’d bring back with him. 30? 40? Even 50? I was starting to feel sorry for these guys who made the mistake of getting in my face earlier in the night. Then Ari returned. He walked through the front door. Then Rich, of all people, entered behind him. This was great. I couldn’t wait to see the parade of brothers continue to file through the door, ready to kick some serious butt! However, that parade never happened. In fact, Rich was the only one to enter after Ari. It turned out that he was the only one Ari could find. And instead of wasting time trying to gather more brothers, Rich was adamant that they return to make sure I was okay.

Now, as I mentioned before, Rich is a big dude. But when he walked into the bar, I swear the guy stood every bit of 7 feet tall and his lats had doubled in size. He walked up to me, smiled, gave me a hug, and then proceeded to the bar. He bought a pitcher of beer, which he turned around and drank in front of the other fraternity, as they watched. He didn’t use a glass. He drank straight from the pitcher and it took him less than a minute to drink it dry.

Rich looked back at me. “Are these the guys who want to fight?” he asked me, while pointing to the masses. I nodded.

“Take it outside if you’re going to do this,” the bar owner shouted. Rich walked directly through the middle of their crowd, purposefully bumping shoulders with a few of them on the way and walked through the back exit. Ari and I followed suit. Their fraternity gathered in the doorway, not one of them stepping outside.

“Well, come on!” Rich yelled. “There may be a lot more of y’all than us, and you guys may whip us, but I promise we’re gonna hurt some of you along the way.” Then there was a long silence as both sides anticipated a next move. “Nah, forget that,” Rich continued. “We’re not gonna get whipped by you $#%&$#s!” They still didn’t move. Finally, the bar owner came over and told them to step out and fight or to settle up and leave through the front door. They begrudgingly took the front door.

That’s the kind of guy Rich was. He showed up that night to fight 40 guys. But I know deep down that Rich would have shown up if you’d have told him we were going to have to fight 400 guys. Just like the code I admire in every Wild West TV show and movie I watch, Rich was not going to let a friend stand alone. And let’s not dismiss the fact too quickly that these 50 guys actually backed down to Rich. They knew he wasn’t bluffing. He was just the right amount of crazy.

That wasn’t the only jam Rich ever helped me out of, but it’s my favorite. Unfortunately, like so many of us do, Rich and I saw less and less of each other over the subsequent years and after college, lost touch altogether. Although I always enjoyed his company, I never made any effort to reach out to him later in life. I learned last week that Rich passed away earlier this month at the young age of 43. Even though I hadn’t talked to him in over 25 years, the news bothered me. While I’m sad that I’ll never be able to sit down and talk about the ‘good old days’ with Rich again, I know Heaven just got a little crazier with Rich as its newest resident.

I’m going to pick up the phone and call some of my old pledge brothers this week, just to say hello. Something I should have done long before now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so lets try to make the most out of today.

Rich: I love you brother. Thanks for everything. And I look forward to seeing you again one day.

Customer Service

In business, I value relationships over products or services. That’s not to say that I don’t expect top-notch quality in the goods for which I’m paying, but customer service and a personal relationship with a real person always comes first. I had always been taught to value relationships over products (to an acceptable degree), but never really understood the logic behind it until ten years ago.

At this point in my life, I hadn’t decided to take the plunge and try to become an author yet. I was still a commercial loan officer at a local bank. That job mandated many things, one of which was to always come to work in a suit and tie. And this bank wanted the classic professional look: Solid white dress shirt, conservative tie, and tailored suit. I once tried getting away with a hot pink dress shirt. I thought it looked great. Management called me into their office and told me it was a nice shirt and I should feel free to wear it any Saturday or Sunday of my choosing. Translation: Don’t let us see you in this shirt during normal weekly business hours again!

For those of you who know me, you know that my wife, Angie, travels a lot for her work. When this happens, our home takes on a whole new dynamic (and not necessarily a better one). The kids and I eat a steady diet of delivery pizza and Chinese take-out. In fact, one time we ordered pizza from the same place so many nights in a row, the delivery guy would drop off our order and say, “See you tomorrow!” Sad but true story! In addition to our eating habits, our chores get altered as well. And by altered, I mean we don’t do any. By the end of the week, our home looks less like a middle-class family’s abode and more like the fraternity house I lived in during college.

During one of these weeks, when I hadn’t stayed on top of chores, cleaning, or laundry, I ran into a problem. It was early one morning. I had already gotten the kids up, fed them leftover Kung Pao Chicken for breakfast, and put them on the bus for school. Now it was time for me to get ready for work. I picked up my first dress shirt off of the floor (that’s where guys keep their clothes when there’s not a woman around to correct them). It had a marinara stain on it from a meatball sub I ate earlier in the week. The next shirt I grabbed had a missing button I had been meaning to sew back on to it. The next shirt was a purple one which management would frown upon. And the rest of my shirts were at the dry cleaners. Panic started to sink in. I didn’t have any shirts to wear to work. If Angie had been home, she would have made sure this sort of thing didn’t happen. So really, it was kind of her fault. But this was no time to place blame. I had to come up with a solution…and fast!

I decided I would head out to a local men’s clothing store and simply buy a new shirt before work started. So I threw on my suit while just wearing a T-shirt underneath. I felt a little like Sonny Crockett, which was pretty cool. (For any millennials reading this blog, Google Miami Vice). I sped to the store and when I got there, I felt like Clark Griswold coming face to face with Marty Moose at Wally World (again…for millennials, Google Vacation). The sign on the front door read CLOSED. I wasn’t sure what to do. This was my last and only option. As I raised the phone to my ear to ‘call in sick to work’, the manager of the clothing store, Scott Causby, unlocked and opened the door.

“Hey pal!” he said. “I saw you waiting out here. We don’t open for another thirty minutes, but come on in. What can we do for you?” Talk about great customer service! He opened up his store just for me. I couldn’t help but feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. (Millennials: I hope you still have Google pulled up). I explained my dilemma to Scott and he wasted no time in finding a white dress shirt in my size and sold it to me. But that wasn’t the end of his outstanding customer service. He noticed that once I put on the shirt, having been folded and on the shelf for so long, it had definite creases in it. He asked for the shirt back and I obliged. He then took it to some magical machine they had in the back of the store that miraculously made all the creases and wrinkles disappear!

Scott brought back the shirt and it looked like it had just been pressed and dry-cleaned with heavy starch. I put it back on, bought a new tie too, just as a way to say “Thank You” and headed off to work, where they were none the wiser! I have never forgotten Scott’s exemplary service that day and have shared this story with others over the years. Scott has since moved on to another men’s clothing store called McKee’s. And guess what? I now shop there. Yes, they have some of the finest clothes in town. And yes, they sell their products at affordable prices. But the main reason I’m a regular there is because of Scott. He treated me like royalty when he didn’t have to. He knew I wasn’t one of his regular customers that dropped thousands of dollars per month with him, but he still made me feel just as important as one of them.

Scott is the epitome of what customer service should be. In fact, I study him and pick up something new from his work ethic every time I’m in his store. Customer service seems to be a lost art these days, but not for Scott. If you’re local and haven’t stopped in McKee’s yet, do yourself a favor and pay him a visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

Scott Causby
103 W. Piccadilly St.
Winchester, VA 22601