Adventures in Culture and Travel

09 July, 2013

Wowed in London Ontario

Sammy's Souvlaki
I was trying to explain to a friend the other day my expectations when I travel, and that I want to be shocked, or impressed, awed or dumbfounded by my vacations. So taking an un-planned, let's-just-drive-north-vacation, proved to be a mixed bag of disappointment and excitement. I don't have high-standards, it doesn't need to be epic (though I'll take it), but it does have to wow me.

A few years back, somewhere in corporate America, I went through a training program that encouraged better service to customers (something unheard of today it seems as a consumer). The idea was that it wasn't just good enough to give them the service they expected, but to wow the customer, to literally make them say wow. Now I'm not a big fan of corporate capitalism, or their usual evil training programs designed for profitability while preying on the ignorance of both employees and customers, but this is a mantra I can get behind.

To illustrate my point, let me tell you about the worst day of our vacation to Canada: the first day. We pulled into Reynoldburg, Ohio just outside of Columbus, and stayed at a Days Inn which we booked through Hotwire from our cell phone while driving down the interstate. Our only requirement was that it have a pool, since it was vacation, and we wanted to swim. However upon arriving at the Days Inn we were told the pool was down for repairs (since Winter). I immediately advised the Days-Inn employee that Hotwire indicated a pool, and we were given very little sympathy (and no compensation). Too late to argue we headed to our room where we found urine in the toilet, blood on the ironing board, and the lamps broke off the wall. After given an alternate room with less bodily fluids we found that this Days Inn had decided to give their own "Hot-Rate" by swapping the usual queen or king bed for a single full size. This was clearly a very worn out bed from a room they normally offer with two full size beds, and had passively aggressively decided those who book through Hotwire should be given, because, after-all, they didn't pay the full rate. It was like sleeping on squeaky Jello all night as we clutched each other to prevent ourselves from falling onto the floor as the mattress folded into a tipi ramp. Had this been a hostel I wouldn't be complaining, but this was a $90 a night hotel.

Reynoldburg however wasn't done with us as we ordered Dominos for a pizza around 11:40 PM online, and they charged my card but never delivered it. After waiting up for two hours, I realized they weren't coming. I of course contacted customer service the next day, and the manager called me, but the apology did little to thwart my anger for their late night staff who decided to simply ignore their computer monitors and go home early.  Fasting is always my favorite part of starting a holiday.

At dawn break I couldn't wait to get the heck out of Ohio. I bounced off the trampoline bed and into the shower. We headed out of this Hell bound for London (we didn't know we'd end up there at the time), where hitting the Canadian border was a Godsend. The Reynoldsburg thing left me with a distaste for Americana that I was ready to wash from my mouth out with maple syrup. In fact things went so bad in my home-state that I was doubting my choice of serendipitous vacationing, but day two turned things around. We ended up in a small town on the north side of Lake Erie called London. Having been to London in the U.K., it was an interesting  lesson in the effects of British rule, and while I'll admit my partiality towards Europe, combined with the events of the previous day, which may have left me a bit cynical, it ended up that  from the moment we arrived we loved it.

Let me reword this, London Ontario is awesome. The moment we checked in at our hotel, we found a completely opposite version of customer service. Staff at our hotel even phoned our room to make sure we found everything okay. Let me clarify that this was a one-star Super 8 hotel, and it was better optioned than some four-star hotels I've stayed at.

After a quick cold swim in the pool we hopped in the car and headed into downtown London to look for a poutine restaurant (gravy and cheese covered French fries). London is very cool, downtown is open late, and there's lots to eat and do. But things weren't looking good for us as the GPS found the poutine restaurant which was now a closed clothing store. I was starting to feel the vibes of Reynoldsburg, but than I saw a carnival trailer tucked down an alley between a night-club and a bar with a sign that said poutine. I immediately locked up all for tires of the rental car in a plume of smoke and found a parking spot.


It was as if all my prayers had been answered, and there before me was a chasing-light fair trailer with a Greek man who spoke very little English. Upon ordering he began advising us how he was going to make it special for us, and in broken English suggested "like momma makes". I started to get excited, but then the guy took it another step: he started feeding us experimental dishes (for free) while we waited for our food. Wow!  So we stood beside this lit up trailer, in the middle of London trying one of his new concoctions while our new friend tenderly wrapped up our food to go, and wished us luck as we walked back down to the car.

I know it sounds so silly that a single experience can put a smile on your face and turn your world around, but this did. Here in the middle of Canada I found lamb gyros which I hadn't had since Belgium, tried a Canadian food for the first time: poutine, and had a unreal experience in a London alleyway with a Greek street vendor who treated us like family. Most importantly I walked away saying wow all the way back home.

I suppose the point is here that you should never take your job, or your interactions with others as anything less than an amazing opportunity to wow someone. You can change a person's entire day simply by your actions. If we all could remember the affects of our actions on other people, perhaps we could all live in a world of wows?