Today’s post is the monthly reflection from the December 2004 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

AngelI wasn’t sure he was real — much less a mechanic at United Airlines. Our delayed flight arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport just after 11:00pm. But it was one of the most pleasant flights I had experienced in years. The Boeing 757 Jet was nearly hollow with only twelve passengers on board. It was like our own private jet service from New York to O’Hare!

I took the rare opportunity to watch the on-board movie. It was Notebook — a most moving story of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure if it was this touching love story or the culmination of a wonderful three days with my client in New York, but I felt energized despite the long day and late-hour arrival. That’s until I exited the tram to the airport’s economy parking lot and realized I had lost my wallet on my homeward journey!

Throughout the drive home I mentally started retracing my steps. Once home, I placed calls to the “lost-and-found” at O’Hare, United, NY-LaGuardia and the TSA Security in New York. At that late night hour I got recordings, so I left each a detailed message. I then retired to bed knowing I had done all I could do. I fell asleep thinking of the hassle of replacing everything in the wallet.

The next morning, I had been up for less than an hour when he called. Bob identified himself with United Airlines, and his question was music to my ears — “Mr. Blumberg, are you missing a wallet?” Relieved and grateful, I responded, YES! I thanked him for returning my call to United’s lost-and-found. But he didn’t know about that call. He wasn’t with the lost and found — nor was it his job to personally follow-up with passengers leaving their “stuff” on the airplane. He was the night mechanic who had simply found the wallet on my assigned seat. Realizing my phone number was not anywhere in my wallet, I immediately appreciated his extra effort of tracking down my home phone number. But that effort was only the beginning of what I was about to experience.

Bob had waited the night to call, assuming I would be sleeping. He told me that he was leaving work at 7:00am. He wanted to know if I would be home so he could deliver my wallet to my house on his way home. After talking logistics for a minute, I realized that he was going over an hour out of his way. But he insisted. I finally got him to agree that I would immediately leave and meet him in a direction near his home. For the next 45-minutes we both drove towards a common meeting place.

We finally narrowed in to meet in the parking lot of a commercial building. As I got out of my car to meet this stranger turned hero, I introduced myself to Bob. He sported his heavy United Airlines uniform coat made necessary by the cold December morning. He greeted me with a big smile and handed me my wallet. I pulled some cash from my pocket to give him a sizeable tip for all his efforts. As I reached to hand him the cash, he didn’t miss a beat. He simply responded, “Absolutely not!” Bob continued, “I have lost my wallet before and I know it is a hassle. I am just glad that I could get it back to you.” Feeling the need to somehow respond to his kindness, I offered the tip a couple more times. But he was not budging. Realizing the tip minimized his graciousness, I just smiled and said, “I guess I will just have to pay-it-forward to someone else”. He smiled, “That would be great.”
The whole drive home gave me time to offer a prayer of thanks — yes, for finding my wallet, but most importantly for experiencing Bob’s genuine selfless service. I was so stunned that I did begin to wonder if he really was a mechanic — or an angel. I concluded he was both.
It made me think of the millions of dollars that organizations spend on customer service gimmicks — that often teach employees some service “tactics” but never ripen their hearts to truly want to be of service. In business, we don’t need any more customer service gimmicks. We need a revolution that boldly transforms work cultures to reflect an attitude of genuine service.
Bob’s heart was ripe. He went beyond great service to the level of what was unimaginable. Bob didn’t do it for gain — he did it simply because it’s who he is. Bob is bold in how he chooses to serve. I was glad to know that Bob was the kind of guy working nights to mechanically service the planes I fly by day!

In the end, it made me wonder where I need to be bolder in serving others beyond their imagination. I will soon figure it out. I have to — because I need to pay-it-forward!