The Concrete Jungle
09 January 2014
There is a lot of highway mileage covered when you're traveling in and around Miami, whether it be for mystery shopping or any other reason. It's a really beautiful city, as cities go, with the highways and bi-ways lined with palm trees, crystal-blue waters, and all kinds of orange and green (two of my favorite colors, and not just because I'm a 'Canes girl.) (Okay, maybe it is.)
There is this place, when you're heading south on the Turnpike from northwest Miami, that, when you turn the corner, it changes up from the beautiful scenery mentioned above to a vast interlocking labyrinth of overpasses, exits, highway turns and more. Everything is cement gray. It's kind of cool in an ugly way, and ugly in a cool way. That is my least favorite place in Miami, because you can't see ANYTHING orange or green, just the gray, but it's also really interesting because it only lasts for a moment (if traffic is actually moving), yet it has a huge impact on your eyes. We only hit that not-so-sweet spot once or twice a month, because every time we head out, it's on a different stretch of road, but it kind of takes my breath away each time I do see it. And I think, This. This is what Charlie Stross and all the rest of those guys mean by 'The Concrete Jungle.'
And just like that, you've zipped past that bland, dingy vista and are deposited back onto your road with the beautiful trees and blue skies reflected in bluer water, and you remember why you moved to Miami in the first place.
* * * * *
Speaking of Miami, we found ourselves in Neverland this past weekend. Oh, my gosh, y'all.
The thing about mystery shopping is, you have a lot of training to read before you go, a lot of observations to make while you're there, and a lot to write about when you get home. It's not a 'cake' job; it's not the 'fluff' people assume it is. Most folks hear "mystery shopping" and thing, oh, dumb job for dumb people who like to shop. Not so, mon frer, not so.
It's work. It's a real job for those of us who take it seriously, and it's not easy for anyone who knows how to do the job properly. I'm as highly trained as they come for the work I do, and I have years of experience. I've done almost everything under the sun when it comes to evaluating businesses, and I have loads of anecdotes for anyone who wants to know ... if I were free to share them. But I'm not.
Anyway, the point is, there is a certain level of unspoken promise between my companies and me, the independent contractor, that they will prepare me properly for each job I have to do. They tell me exactly what to expect and to do to get the job done right, and on my end, I have to follow through with that or I won't get paid my fees and reimbursements.
So imagine when that promise is broken, and what could happen. Let me paint a little picture for you of what happened to us this past weekend:
I was supposed to do a couple of valet parking shops, to assess the level of service provided by the valets at each of two locations. No big deal. I thought I knew where I was going, near a popular marketplace in Miami, and therefore I felt I did not have to dress up too much. Since all five members of Team Odette are feeling slightly bedraggled lately, I decided to slum it and went out in my U of Miami sweats and a semi-matching tank top. Nothing fancy, nothing upscale, but dressed enough to hit up a mall. Y'know?
Except, wrong. Not a mall. Not slum-worthy.
We ended up in Miami's Financial District, and I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque while looking for the first valet stand. I drove into a parking garage, thinking I could just turn around and head back out. But, uh, no. Denied! We were there in our run-down 2004 Chevy, surrounded by the latest models of Porsche, Maserati, Ferrari, you name it... all sleek, all shiny, all expensive. We were thoroughly out of place.
And I could not get OUT! One had to have the special clicker doohickey to even open the "out" gate. I drove up to a guy washing his black convertible something-fancy-or-other, blasting his music, wearing his expensive (even for car-washing) threads, with his slicked-back hair, and begged him to let me out. I expected airs and eye-rolling, but he could not have been less conceited. He motioned down the guard to let me out, and out we went. Rob and I had a hearty laugh over that mistake.
And then what happened?
I drove up to the first valet stand, having realized my initial wrong turn mistake, and found the restaurant I was supposed to visit boarded up, under construction. The valet I was evaluating ran over, informing me that it was closed. Clearly, we were at least $2 Million too broke to be anywhere near this place, so I had to think fast. I had to play it totaly cool. I had to park, after all, to fully do my job.
"Can you park the car for me?" I asked. "Where are you going?" he asked, suspiciously, since he had already told me my intended destination was not currently open for business, and the rest of the building was residents-only-please-and-thank-you.
"I... uh, I need to run a couple of errands." "Like what?" he persisted. "Well, really, we just want to look around," I stammered. "No... I don't think so. It's for residents only. I need a name." "Uh... well... okay. Thank you."
Pfft. Cool, my butt. That's the last word anyone would ever use to describe this girl, and while I did my best to get in that building, I couldn't think quickly enough on my feet to get 'er done.
And then what happened?
We drove around the block to the second valet stand I had to evaluate. The valet, who looked just like a Hispanic John Mayer, took one look at our loud, growling dump of a car and raised quizzical eyebrows at me. He was nothing but pleasant, but I could tell he was thinking, "Who invited these people?"
I told him where we wanted to go, another restaurant, and asked if he could park the car. He was happy to do so, but he remained puzzled. I could just tell. The "What in the world?!" look on his face was exacerbated by three little kids getting out of the back and my decidedly un-fancy attire.
Oh, great, I thought. I prepared myself to be mortified. At least I had thrown on a bra that morning, whew!
So we walked into the restaurant, which had an obscure-sounding, esoteric name that left no clues as to what kind of establishment it was. I didn't even know if it was a restaurant until we walked in the door. And walked right back out to regroup and re-plan.
"Follow me," I told Rob and the kiddos, after deciding what to do. And that was, go in there and act like we belonged, despite the fact that it was painfully obvious to everyone in that place that we did not.
I had to sit in the bar and order drinks. I had three kids with me. Do you see the problem? So I spoke to the hostess, who said we could sit in the lounge area and make sure they didn't, you know, drink the alcohol. That much I could handle, y'all. I don't make it a habit of letting my 8-year-old toss back a few shots.
So we sat down in a cozy area, with ostrich skin-covered couches and calfskin rugs. My vegetarian self cringed at the thought of it, but I rolled with it. We ordered our drinks and some appetizers, used the fancy restrooms equipped with tooth-flossing stations (weird much?), and sat there for the required half-hour like we had every right to be there.
And you know what? We may not be among the super-rich, we may not be the elite, but we're people, too. Or so I kept telling myself, amidst all the curious stares from the Beautiful People.
And then, after the shops were over, I went home and told my mystery shopping company that they had better do a better job of prepping the next people to do this or any other shop, because, yeah. If I can't perform well, they don't get a decent report, and what's the point then?
It was a learning experience. And don't get me wrong - I've done many an upscale shop where I had to play the part of the rich lady who lunches or whatevs - but I've always known from Jump Street that I had to assume that role. It's not my favorite role, because I'm more the casual girl-next-door type, but I can certainly do it if I know about it in advance.
Ah, well. It was worth a few good laughs after we got back in our old Trailblazer and zipped, er rather, chugged away!