Friday, May 22, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kroger Card.

Guest blog: Friend with a Smart Car

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
- Mark Twain

This blog is egregiously long and pointless. My apologies in advance.

Hey folks. Brigid took my Smart car and headed out of town this weekend, so she asked me to step up and fill you with words.

Yes I own the Smart car. Yes it’s safe. Yes it goes fast. Yes I’ve driven it across the country. His name is Pip. When I first got Pip last year, I figured that he needed a European name, and one that was short for obvious reasons. I have a deep love for literature...recently had a conversation with a good friend about how much we loved the movie Shakespeare in Love because of all the great literary references. Pip was a natural choice for me. Brigid now jokingly refers to her Volvo wagon as Mrs. Havisham.

On to the blog topic...
In the first week of March this year, we had an unseasonably warm Saturday. All the friends gathered at the Monkey Wrench at Noon to bask in the sun. We decided to grill out at the bar, so folks scattered to get supplies. Pip was borrowed over and over again...because everyone wants to drive him. I obviously have the smallest car, so everyone took turns driving my car back and forth to the store. No less than 10 people drove Pip around that day. You can see what’s coming...12 hours later, my keys are nowhere to be found. We search the entire bar. No luck. Not to worry...I have a second set of keys...oops...they are in the glove compartment of my locked car (a friend recently borrowed the car for the weekend and that’s where he put them when he dropped it off).

I missed my keys so much that I wrote a Craigslist missed connection for garnered a lot of attention, but no keys. Those posts expire, or I would share it with you. If you know how to retrieve an old Craigslist post, look for one titled, Key to my Car, Key to my Heart .

Over the next month, I checked with the bar on a near-daily basis. No keys. I still had my one set of keys, that AAA so kindly retrieved for me the following morning, so I had my car back, but there was something unnerving about only having one key. Before I had Pip, I had a beat up 1995 Honda Civic...manual EVERYTHING. His name was Buster. A friend borrowed Buster, then lost the key. The only key. Turns out all car VIN numbers are registered with some fancy key database that locksmiths have access even without a key to copy, a locksmith made 3 keys to my Honda in about 5 minutes. $50. It was awe-inspiring and government-conspiracy scary all at the same time. But that was then...back when keys were just keys didn’t look all that different than house keys.

My smart car key is different. My smart car key is huge. It’s roughly the size of Rhode Island. Keys nowadays have fancy computers inside them. I was told it would cost $125 to make a copy. Out of curiosity, I asked what it would cost if they had to make the key from scratch. $950 I was told. Plus shipping. I would have to pay extra for a reach around.

Just I was about to break down and pay the $125 to get a spare key, I received a mysterious knock on the door. The delivery man handed me a box and walked away. As a music promoter, I receive packages on a regular basis...but I’m still like a kid at Christmas/Hanukkah every time. I open the box and there, to my utter surprise, are my keys. Unscathed. All accoutrements still attached.

The included letter was from the Kroger Card Lost Key Department. Yes it exists. Stunned I was. I called everyone I could think of...what a reunification. Turns out that if you find a set a keys with a Kroger Card, you can toss them into any mailbox and they get shipped to Kroger. Kroger uses its fancy-pants computer and finds out who owns the keys. Ships them right to your door. I love my Kroger Card. I love it.

This is a complete 180 degree turnaround for me. I used to loathe the Kroger Card. Back when I was taking MBA classes, I wrote a paper on the then-emerging customer loyalty programs. The Kroger Card had just launched, and being computer-literate, I knew exactly what Kroger was going to do...hello data mining. In the beginning, the Kroger card actually saved you nothing. It only served to divide the customers in two ones that wouldn’t bother with the card and was willing to pay extra (but not rich enough...they are doing their own shopping after all) and then the group that most of us are in...can’t afford to not use the Kroger card. Everyone lauded the Kroger card, but there was no savings...initially anyway. An item was $3.50 before the card. The next day it was $3.65 with a $0.15 discount if you get a Kroger card. Everyone was stoked. Discounts galore...and you got instant coupons based on the stuff you bought. Kroger was laughing all the way to the bank. All the sudden they knew the buying habits of your family...your street...your zip code. The most sellable data in the country. It’s not all bad I suppose. A few months back when we had the peanut/peanut butter scare, Kroger stepped up and when you swiped your Kroger card it would say, “whoa, jane...last time you bought xxxxx peanut butter. Don’t eat it. It’s been recalled. Please discard it. Blah blah blah. We care about you. Blah”

I’m a pretty friendly guy, and strangers love to talk to me. Not really sure why. I always indulge them. The one person I do my best to avoid is the Kroger checkout person. Here, at my Highlands Kroger, I seem to always get a checkout person that loves to comment on all my purchases. This seems harmless enough, but I feel it’s a personal boundary issue. “Oh I love these crackers.” “I haven’t tried this beer yet, is it any good?” They sound like perfectly normal questions, but they are tacitly informing you that they are judging every item in your cart. Things just get awkwardly silent when the usually-boisterous checkout person clams up while scanning my toilet paper.

I realize this blog is about nothing at all...and entirely too long...brevity is not my strong suit. Brigid sprung the guest blog on me when she swept into the house with Friend-With-A-Truck as they scooped up my keys and headed to Chicago...leaving me to become Friend-with-a-smart-car-who-drives-a-truck-for-the-weekend.

All in all, I love my Kroger Card... it helped reunite me and Pip with our lost keys. I wonder what would happen if I attach a shopping list to my keys and leave them at Kroger...I suspect the awesome Kroger person would return my keys and a bagful of groceries...silently judging every item I purchased.

I’m signing off. Tomorrow I’ll turn over the blog keys to another friend-with or friend-who. Happy Memorial weekend or labor day weekend...I always forget which one this is.

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