I usually post on Mondays, but tomorrow is looking to be a full day, and I might not be able to get a new one up on the blog, so I’m posting today instead.
First off, I want to give a shout out to Aunt Francine. Yesterday she finished her first half marathon. I couldn’t be prouder of her. Well done Francine. Better than your brother….but, being the big brother, I have to make the big brother ‘keep you in your place’ comment here (it is one of my roles in life). You still can’t shoot with your left foot. ‘Nuff said.
While she was huffing and puffing in Texas, Demetrius and I were buying his new bike (for his birthday). Over the past month, I’ve been out window, and ‘store-shopping’ the offerings and the service across North Fulton County. Typically, the experience went this way:
Jerry: Hi, I’m looking for a new bike for my eight-year-old son. Whatever bike we choose, it will need training wheels because he’s still not learned to ride two wheels, and he really has a hard time figuring out how to brake and not just put his feet down to stop when he’s riding. So I’m looking for, at most, a two-speeder. Oh, and he’s autistic, which will complicate this process a bit as communicating with him can be a bit tough. Can you help?
Typically, the result was, as you would expect: Ummming and ahhhing and fumbling through. One guy told me I’d have to pay in advance, for the bike, if he had to put training wheels on it – before we even took for a test ride. I asked about the return policy, and almost unanimously it was, sold ‘as is’ and all sales were final (because of the training wheels).
One guy at one store said he would be uncomfortable working with us, because he isn’t trained to work with special needs kids. I told him that I would be there to ‘interpret’ what would happen with Demetrius in the ‘test ride’ scenarios…he continued to push back… I asked (I’m sure I was showing agitation) how in the world would it be different from someone who doesn’t know how to ride a bike or what they possibly would be looking for? I would be there to help…he still wanted no part of it. He would just be ‘uncomfortable’. Okay, okay, and okay – I get it – you don’t want to be on the hook for helping a special needs kid with a difficult sale that may come back to haunt you… in terms of possible high maintance clients or a return … you want to work with tri-athletes. I get it.
I also get that this is just how it is, when Demetrius is your child. This is what I do, what Kim does, what all of you do. We interview and weed out the ‘not-so-goods’. Hoping to find an ‘okay’ or ‘pretty good’ experiene that we can, well, live with.
Which leads me to this REI store:
And this story for this posting. This was an exceptional experience.
I’ve been a member of the REI Co-Op since we lived in Seattle. I’m no outdoors nut by any stretch – but man, the stuff that I need for my running in winter – I get from REI. From gloves to winter running socks – primo. Plus, I just like what the co-op stands for from a philosophy perspective.
So, I knew they’d have bikes there. Probably granola-y mountain bikes and the like, but I was having no luck at traditional bike stores (one guy, after a couple interchanges, just couldn’t get past the fact that Demetrius doesn’t need a 21 speed bike!) so why not stop at REI?
To my surprise (because I’m not a biker, so how would I know!?!), REI had a great selection of good bikes that weren’t for going up Mount Rainer at good prices. So from a selection point-of-view, I was happy, now from a service point of view….
Tanner: Hello, my name is Tanner, can help you with a kids bike?
Jerry: (I go through what I went through above in terms of ‘our needs’)
Tanner: Okay, is your son here?
Jerry: No, it’s just me at this time.
Tanner: Well, there is no point in looking at bikes until he looks at what he likes, and I can see how he rides the bikes after I put wheels on them, and I can see how much ‘life’ he has in the bike, ie, how many years he can ride on it.
Jerry: You’ll put wheels on it for him to test ride, before I buy the bike?
Tanner: Of course.
So Tanner gives me his work schedule, and Demetrius and I come in on Saturday. Tanner was working in the back, and they call him out. I introduce Demetrius to him. Tanner puts his hand out, shakes D’s hand and ASKS DEMETRIUS TO SHOW HIM BIKES THAT HE LIKES! I’m just window dressing at this point.
Unbelievably – Demetrius picks out the bike I thought he would like. Tanner asks him why he likes it.
Demetrius: The wheels have red, and flames. It is cool.
Tanner: Lets get you on it and see how you fit…
Tanner puts him on it, sees that Demetrius has some ‘life’ on the bike (probably about 3 years) and then does a few other tests. Talking to Demetrius directly the whole time.
Tanner: Great, let me put some training wheels on then we’ll take it for a test ride.
While Tanner puts some wheels on the bike Demetrius and I looked at kayaks and crawled in tents. Tanner reemerged with some serious, industrial strength training wheels on that bike. And he came out with a helmet that also had flames on it. Out we went to test the bike.
Demetrius did fine, a few adjustments would need to be made (height of the seat, leveling the training wheels)… and he fussed at Demetrius a bit for not paying attention to where he was going (Demetrius kept looking at himself while he rode the bike in the window of the store…you know, to see how he looked in the flaming helmet). After the test ride…
Tanner: Demetrius, I need to go take the bike to the safety doctor (run it through its final tests and adjustments). Would you like to come and see the workshop?
Demetrius then reached up with his hand, and grabbed Tanner’s free hand and walked with him, hand-in-hand, back into the store (in the other hand poor Tanner dragged along the bike). I just kinda tagged along….you know, to pay.
Demetrius was psyched. I was floored at this guy and how well he was with my kid. My autistic kid. After the ‘weirdo’ experience the week before at the mall, I had some hope in the world.
Tanner eventually needed to make the adjustments (without Demetrius’ help, I think ) and a woman named Amy came out and introduced herself. We did some paperwork, and I said I needed to run off with Demetrius to look at the kayaks again as he was completely wired about the bike. Demetrius had the juice that all 8 year olds have getting new bikes, but none of th the abilities to restrain himself. I needed to run along so he didn’t get lost…and fill that paperwork out later.
Amy: Tell you what, you finish this paperwork and pay for the bike, I’ll give Demetrius a tour.
They held hands (again with the holding hands!) and went for a tour of the store, tents, and in the back in the bike shop. I waited by the door they went back in, and out the two of them came (Demetrius and Amy) with Demetrius pushing his new bike.
Jerry: Thank you.
I’m sure they thought I was saying thank you for helping me find the right bike, with the right equipment, for my son. And yes I was saying thank you for that….
But what they can’t know is that my thank you was also for the above and beyond – yea, that cheesy above and beyond you see in testimonial ads on TV and in magazines. The above and beyond that we don’t get often for Demetrius….the thank you for working on our terms, versus making me work around our terms to fit into your ‘neuro-typical’ stereotypical boxes to get what we need and want. That last sentence/statement may be a bit abstract, but anyone who has gone out in public with their autistic family members know exactly what I mean when I write that (I am thinking of a great posting Marla once put up about her daughter Maizie at a Mexican restaurant…and the fear of what reaction may come from an unexpected turn or event).
At REI, they went the extra mile to make this a great experience for him.. in not just getting a new bike, but picking out a new bike, and making him feel like a real special kid – not a special needs kid.
If you live by a REI Co-Op, and need some new socks to go for a nature walk in…well, go and overpay for a pair at REI. That slightly more expensive pair, which will wick away moisture from your skin to ensure you don’t blister, probably helps to make sure that Tanner and Amy can provide a better experience to Jerry and Demetrius…and also maybe to your family somewhere down the line.
Oh…and by the way…here is this great new bike:
Ignore the lawn mower behind it…pay attention to those silver and red flames on the wheel guards and seat cover!