Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Corporate policy, the retro-world of St. Paul (and some seriously bad karma for Corepower Yoga)

The sort of person who arrives an hour early for an interview with a potential new customer is not expecting things to go well, and, on  Monday, I certainly wasn’t. But still, I had no idea what perils lay in store for me. I had already been unable to find the St. Paul coffee shop where my potential new customer had asked to meet. Weeks before, when her assistant had confirmed the appointment, I had dutifully Googled it, and now had the address and telephone number in hand, along with a Google map.

But there wasn’t a coffee shop at 752 Grand Avenue. There wasn’t any building at all marked 752. I called the number. A cheerful granny answered, “St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.” Baffled, I explained that I was looking for the coffee shop. She chuckled, “Well, it’s just the funniest thing, doncha know. That googly thing keeps putting a wrong address and our phone number where theirs should be. What you need to do, hon, is turn around and head back up to Victoria. It’s right at the corner there. You have a good day, now.” Then, I think, she went back to her knitting, or to check on the pie she was baking.

Dutifully turning the car around, I tried to hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time (not my best subject). Google had lied to me, and I had landed in Mayberry, a place where actual people picked up telephones and handed out accurate directions, for free. St. Paul, I thought. It’s different over here.

If only I knew.

I entered the coffee shop and ordered the smallest, cheapest thing they sold. “Unlimited free refills!” the girl behind the countered chirped, as if it were suddenly 1955. Bottomless cups, only in St. Paul. I briefly considered going on an unlimited-refill bender and giving the fastest interview on record: 


Bad idea, I told myself. Time to get the wireless code and set up my online portfolio. I hadn’t arrived an hour early to over-caffeineate myself, but To Be Prepared.

“Oh, yeah, we don’t have that wireless here,” girl told me, smiling. I looked around. This was a coffee shop, right? Wasn’t wireless access in a coffee shop in the Bill of Rights or something? “There’s a Corepower Yoga upstairs, though, maybe they can help you.” I looked down at the iPad, which indeed was telling me that Corepower had wireless, but required a code. I sprinted up the steps and walked into the studio. I gave my spiel to a small woman behind the counter. “Hi, I’m here for an interview, do you think I look okay?” I paused to point out my earnest blouse and jacket, looking for an ally. “But I need wireless to run my online portfolio, and the girl downstairs thought you might share your code with me.” I stopped for a deep breath and big smile, ready to tap in that code. The woman’s eyes darted over to a corner of a studio. “You have to ask her,” she mumbled, looking down, and then ran to a corner of the room and began to vacuum up the cashmere, mohair and unicorn tears that had been shed by last night’s customers.

“Her” approached the counter and I started all over again – the interview, the earnest suit, just needed a little help. Before I had even finished, she flicked her head back and starting walking away. “We don’t do that here,” she said icily. “It’s against Corporate Policy.” I could hear the capital letters in her voice. “No, really,” I said. “It won’t cost you anything, you already have it, you can just share it with me for half an hour so I can do my interview.” She purposefully turned her back to me and took up her post beside the little woman, supervising the vacuuming, which had now, it seemed, become a two-person job. Lots of unicorn tears last night, Imelda, make sure you don’t miss that one over there.

For a minute, it was quiet, except for the sound of the vacuum. Then a loud, sad voice said, “I hope you never need a job.” I realized it was me who was speaking, and then I realized I was saying it again, trying not to cry. “I hope you never need a job.”

I was halfway down the stairs, but she caught up to me, shrieking and hissing as she leaned over the banister. “It’s Corporate Policy,” she said, as if that explained all the moral decisions that ever needed to be made in a yoga studio. I turned my head back over my shoulder. I was honestly afraid to look at her, because I thought her head would be made of snakes (all branded with the lululemon logo) and that she’d turn me into stone with a single, withering glance. “Corporate Policy?” I asked. “Like that nurse at the senior home in Sacramento who refused to perform CPR on a dying woman because it was against Corporate Policy?” I picked up my pace down the stairs. “Well,” she sneered, in a voice that I realized she’d been using to destroy other women with great effect since junior high, “you certainly aren’t off to a very good start for your job interview.”And then, I swear, she cackled.

I ran down the last few stairs, expecting a lightning bolt to be hurtled toward me at any moment. What kind of yoga do they practice up there, Satanic? “Yoga” my ass, I thought, but I guess “Corepower Evil” wouldn’t be as catchy a company name.

I stood in the entrance to the coffee shop, panting and waiting for the brimstone to clear. I had no idea what to do next, and my potential customers were arriving in half an hour. I looked up. I saw a guy, the most generic sort of guy possible. He was working on a bulky, uncool computer. It might have been an IBM. I sat down across from him and started talking, breaking about nine unwritten (and possibly several actual written) rules for conduct in St. Paul.

“So,” I said, plunging right in, “I’m having a bad morning, I need a wireless code and there’s a scary woman upstairs who just tried to put a hex on me, I think. What should I do?” He was so taken with my story that he almost, for a moment there, made eye contact, which is the equivalent of a marriage proposal in these parts. “Take the pad and go stand in the street right there,” he pointed, “and hold it over your head. You might be able to pick up the free wi-fi from the hair salon.”

I sprinted out the door, coatless. As directed, I stood in the street, dodging traffic, wishing more than a little bit that a big pretzel truck would run me down and put an end to my misery, somehow sparing the iPad, which I’d borrowed. The iPad connected itself to Juut (God Bless them right to their follicles), which seemed to operate profitably without Corporate Policies against Sharing. I ran back in. Connection lost. I ran out again, and when I returned to the coffee shop this time, I moved the table as close to the door as possible, right in line with my mid-traffic stance. The wireless seemed to hold. I sat down, took my first breath in ten minutes, and waited for the potential new customers to arrive.

They did. After that awful start, I am pleased to report that they were lovely, I adore their business, and I have a strong hope that I will be able to do some work for them soon. It would be good, meaningful work, and that would make it even better. I mentioned that I’d had “a bit of trouble” getting the wireless to work, which was why I was holding the iPad in the same odd angle (and why I was covered with a thin sheen of flop sweat), but the connection lasted while I presented my portfolio. They were appreciative.

I half expected the woman from upstairs to come down and jinx our conversation, but she didn't.  I guess a little person like me wasn't worth the walk. Still, I wrote a note to the Corporate Policy people at Corepower Yoga when I got home, mentioning her unique approach to customer service  and suggesting that they either need to change their policy or just go with a name change to "Corporate Policy Yoga" and be upfront about it. (Hey, the monogram would still be the same.)

And I really do hope that the shrieking woman never has a job interview that starts out as badly for her as mine did for me. I just don’t have that much room for bad karma in my heart.


  1. Ugh! Sorry you had such a bad experience. What is it with people who take such wicked delight in being mean simply because it's sanctioned by Corporate Policy? I hope Miss Power gets treated the same way next time she desperately needs to use a rest room at a place that forbids public walk ins. Harumph.

  2. Look into using your phone as a wifi hotspot. You'd have wifi anywhere that you have a cellphone signal. In my ATT plan, it's about $20/mo.

    But then, how likely is this ever to happen again? Whoever heard of a coffeeshop without wifi? Did they even have cream and sugar?

  3. Arrgh! What a story and experience--I can FEEL that whole exchange! A tip: I keep a PDF of my portfolio on my iPad--no connection needed. You just store it in iBooks (the backside of the bookshelf is the PDF shelf). Let me know if you need help.

  4. Please...let me stop laughing long enough to express how sorry I am you went through all of that angst!

  5. Julie, I know the coffee shop you were at, and the CorePower (it's where I sometimes go). It's near-ish my hood. All I can say is, it's St Paul, and it IS different over here. Sometimes (shhhhh) it's really not very nice, especially when you're from OUTSIDE. Still suffering occasional culture shock after 8 years.

  6. Julie, I'm sorry you had to go through this, but how I love your account of it--splendidly written. What an example of pain made into exhilaration through literature! I live about eight blocks from said coffee-shop/yoga complex, and I don't know if the treatment you got is typical of St Paul, but everything I know about corporate yoga (Bikram et. al) makes my flesh crawl