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Dog Bites 

Muni's source for customer service expertise: Nordstrom

Wednesday, Feb 23 2000
Will That Be on Your Nordstrom Card Today?
Sex in bus shelters is, as we all know, not exactly the very worst of Muni's problems. Nevertheless, we have been assured that it actually does happen. "I myself saw a couple having sex in the one right in front of Walgreens [on Mission near 30th Street] one weekend night about midnight," writes David Kaye, who's volunteered with the Northwest Bernal Alliance.

Furthermore, notes "M," succinctly: "Pink Saturday -- two years ago. The bus shelter at Market and Castro outside of Twin Peaks. Two women having full-blown sex right on top of it."

Oh. OK. Well, technically, that's on a bus shelter, not in it, but the judges are going to give it to you anyway.

On the topic of Muni's more routine difficulties -- absentee drivers, late buses, oh, you know -- Dog Bites was somewhat nonplussed to learn that the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce had approached Nordstrom -- the department store -- on behalf of the troubled transit agency for help training its staff to better serve the public.

"It was at Muni's request," said Nordstrom PR person Leslie Harris. "This isn't something we actively promote -- we're not going out there and saying we're experts at customer service."

But then, almost anyone is an expert in customer service when judged against Muni, right? The dour clerk at the Porn Store -- as Dog Bites fondly calls our neighborhood convenience shop -- is a paragon of responsiveness to consumers by comparison, plus you can watch soccer with (we think) a Tagalog play-by-play if you have to wait in line there. However, it is only fair to note that Nordstrom employees wrap your purchases in tissue paper -- even if you buy, say, an eyeliner, which comes in a box anyway -- while the Porn Store guy won't give you a bag unless you ask for one.

Harris said that the dates of training seminars for Muni employees haven't been set yet, but that Nordstrom, as an "active member of the Chamber" has "an active interest in bettering the community." Dog Bites duly wrote this down.

Former city Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, now senior vice president of the Chamber, has, as it turns out, been very involved in arranging the collaboration between the department store and the transit agency. "We are delighted that Nordstrom has agreed to help the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce write a customer service curriculum for Muni that supports our ongoing work with [Muni Director] Michael Burns to view Muni riders as customers," said Achtenberg. Dog Bites duly wrote this down too.

Well, it still seems sort of weird to us -- but then, the pairing may be a better fit than it first appears: Nordstrom, whose stock price has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past year, is known in retail circles not only for its exemplary service, but also for its large management staff. Plus, the store recently launched a campaign to update its own image. Granted, Nordstrom wants its customers to see it as fashionable, hip, and cutting-edge, while Muni just wants its taxpaying riders to see it as marginally more bearable. But the synergy is there, we think -- and, if there's another Muni Meltdown, let Dog Bites be the first to suggest that Stila lipsticks would be most welcome as rider-apology gifts.Let's Hear It for ... Number 23!
It's really sad, but those palm trees outside Pac Bell Park, on the corner of Third and King streets, look ... well, unhappy.

There are supposed to be 24 of them -- after all, it is Willie Mays Plaza, and the whole idea was to have two dozen trees because 24 was his jersey number -- but wandering down to Pier 40 for lunch the other day Dog Bites noticed one of the trees was in trouble. Workers had roped it to the framework of the stadium's front awning, and even slung a few other supports around it, anchoring it to some of its neighbors, but apparently the wind and rain were too much for its tropical soul.

The palm is gone now, gone completely (and before you ask, no, we don't have anything better to do than stand in front of the soon-to-be-finished stadium and count trees), and many of its former compatriots' fronds are that awful papery gray-brown palm fronds get to be when they're dead.

"They could just be going through root shock," theorized Randy Seanor-Rosenberg of the Palm Broker, whom Dog Bites called in the interests of promoting better arboriculture at the stadium. "That would require vitamin B-1 solution. You know, when you uproot anyone, they're going to go through a certain amount of shock."

Seanor-Rosenberg said palm trees of that size -- about 25 feet tall -- are actually very tough, and are already a century or so old. They're also worth thousands of dollars apiece, even though the Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta) outside the stadium are less expensive than the slower-growing Canary Island date palms (Phoenix canariensis) planted along the Embarcadero. This has been your botanical information for the week.

"It probably is not a drainage problem," said Seanor-Rosenberg, in response to our speculation that the tree, sitting in construction site mud for the past few months, might have been rotting away underground. "Considering it's a sports stadium, they will have been putting in a really good drainage system for the landscaping."

But, though Seanor-Rosenberg said that if palm trees are planted correctly wind and rain shouldn't kill them, she was philosophical about the loss. "One out of 24 isn't bad," she said. "It may not have been their fault that it died."

Anyway, Dog Bites thinks in the meantime Pac Bell's entrance plaza should honor ... Ellis Burks, a Giants outfielder and two-time All-Star, who in 1996 became the second player in Major League history to accumulate 40 home runs, 211 hits, and 32 stolen bases (the first was Hank Aaron, in 1963), who finished third in National League MVP balloting in 1996, who is a two-time Sporting News Silver Slugger award-winner, who's been with the team since 1998, who thus far has 261 career home runs, who last year, in his first full season with the Giants and despite two sore, post-surgery knees, scored 31 home runs and 96 RBIs, and who, most important, is number 23.

Of course, the further question is what to do if more trees die. Dog Bites suggests the team take the opportunity to show its appreciation of some other players: number 22, Damon Minor, an infielder whose batting average at Double-A Shreveport last year was .273; and number 21, Jeff Kent, second baseman, whose average is .276 and who, incidentally, is a pillar of charitable community work -- he helps raise money for breast cancer research, and donates $500 for every RBI to Women Driven, which provides scholarships for Cal's female athletes.

There is nobody wearing numbers 20 or 19 -- we're sure there's some sort of sports-type reason for this, though Dog Bites hasn't watched ESPN for quite some time. Still, all of a sudden, we're excited about baseball.

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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