When I get company to my Florida home, I sometimes take them to a remote island restaurant accessible only by the boat.
To tell the truth, the restaurant's food is only OK, nothing to write home about. But the boat trip is fun.
For years, the same guy operated the water taxi that ferries people from landside to the island. I got to know him well and thought he was good at his job.
Once, he saved my dignity and perhaps even my life. You see, once the last water taxi leaves the restaurant dock, there is no way to get off the island.
A few years back before I met my husband I took a male friend to the island restaurant for his birthday. It was raining on the way over and the boat trip was a soggy experience. But that was nothing compared to the trip home.
When rain turned into a serious storm complete with heavy thunder, lightening and even dangerous tornadoes over the water, all boat trips were suspended.
We were stuck on the island, stranded on a dock while we were being battered by heavy rain and wind. Worse yet, we were the only ones there because others in the restaurant hired a condo for the night to drink and party during the storm. There was no way I wanted that.
Well, Jerry, the water taxi guy could have stayed home safe and dry. But he knew we were stranded there so he made the dangerous boat trip back to get us.
"If you're brave enough to travel through this, I'm brave enough to take you," he said.
Thanks to his heroic effort, we got home safely.
That's someone who went above and beyond duty in the line of work.
Well, when my friends Lenny and Sis came to visit last week with their three grandkids and nephew, we voted to take the water taxi to the island restaurant. Imagine my disappointment when I found Jerry didn't work there any more.
The new boat captain who took his place at first looked like a disappointment. He had long, stringy hair, a gruff manner and his voice made him hard to understand.
Never judge anyone by outward appearance.
When he saw we had four children with us who were hoping to see dolphins on the water over to the restaurant, he gave them a show. Instead of sticking to his short route, he drove up and down the bay until he found dolphins. Then he made sure each child had plenty of opportunity to see the dolphin.
"This is the first time I ever saw a live dolphin," said one of the excited kids. The boat captain beamed. He was absolutely marvelous with kids.
Is that in his job description? No way. All his company cares about is that he ferries people safely back and forth. He doesn't even have to interact with passengers if he doesn't want to.
On the return trip home, the boat captain outdid himself. He let each child take turns, pretending to pilot the boat while Sis took photos on her cell phone.
The excitement was incredible as this guy gave the kids the time of their life. He might never see them again, but they won't soon forget the experience he gave them.
Since then, I've been thinking about how someone who excels at their job can make all the difference in the world between a routine transaction and a pleasurable experience.
If we dine on gourmet food in a first-rate restaurant, it doesn't matter how good the food is if the wait staff is rude. On the other hand, we've sometimes had quite an enjoyable restaurant meal despite less than mediocre food. A smiling, pleasant waiter or waitress makes the difference.
There is one particular supermarket in our area that seems to hire only those with personality plus. Employees are good natured and helpful, acting as if they had nothing to do all day but take care of the customer at hand. As a result, shopping there is a pleasure and I do it at every opportunity, even though their prices are a bit higher than the big chain store.
My guess is that the friendly, efficient clerks don't get paid more than their less helpful counterparts in other stores. They should, but they probably don't.
I've often thought that amazing customer service should be rewarded. When I do encounter an exceptional clerk, I ask for the manager and make a point of telling them.
I just did that at Sam's Club after a clerk went out of her way to get me what I needed. "It's what we expect of our people," said the manager, not at all impressed.
While that helpful clerk might not get recognized, I at least wanted her to know it was appreciated.
While we were on vacation in St. Augustine, my husband and I encountered the most extraordinary desk clerk who went out of his way to make kayak arrangements for us. No, it wasn't his job. He just likes to be as helpful as he can.
Again, I made a point of finding the owner and telling him. This time, it was appreciated.
Sometimes, we don't get rewarded for doing an exceptional job.
Sometimes the satisfaction of doing a good job has to be it's own reward.
As we celebrate Labor Day, a day dedicated to the American worker, let us pause to salute good workers everywhere.
If you are among them, know that you make a difference.