Five Dollars' Worth of Fun

JOE MURRAY

June 03, 1993|By JOE MURRAY

ANGELINA COUNTY, TEXAS — Angelina County, Texas. -- I was heading across the mall parking lot when a young man, who was obviously a working man, approached me.

''You have a driver's license?'' he asked. I said sure.

''You want to make $5?'' he asked. I said sure.

The problem was, he'd driven into town from the next county -- some 25 miles -- to return a pair of pants his wife had bought for him and that he didn't like.

The store said he had to have either the sales slip or a driver's license. The sales slip was lost and he'd given his wife his driver's license -- she needed it to cash his payroll check. He worked in the plywood mill and showed me his hands, splinters and all, to prove it.

He didn't want to have to drive back home, get the license and then make another round trip to town. That would have been 100 miles, almost as far as from here to Houston.

''So maybe you can show them your driver's license,'' he said.

Fine with me, except I couldn't understand why you had to be a licensed driver to return a pair of britches. He said he didn't know either and they wouldn't tell him.

As we were walking into the store, he added, ''I'm going to tell them you're my uncle.''

''No, let's don't tell any lies,'' I said.

We went a few steps farther.

''How 'bout I tell them you're my grandfather?''

I would have quit him right there, if I hadn't needed the $5.

We marched up to the nearest sales clerk and, being a take-charge kind of guy, I took charge, explaining to her in perfectly sensible terms the situation. I said I didn't really know the young man but I knew a mill hand's hands when I saw them, and I was willing to vouch for him.

She was a nice lady and she told me, as nicely as possible, that the rules didn't allow for a designated driver's license, but she'd check with the manager.

The manager probably is a nice fellow, too, but he didn't have a very nice look on his face. He looked at me as if I were a troublemaker. Well, sometimes I am.

The customer, he said, could have credit on the pants or he could exchange the pants for another pair, but unless he had a driver's license, he couldn't have a refund. That was the rule.

I hate rules. I've always hated rules. Rules are nothing more than decisions made ahead of time for people who can't make a decision when the time comes.

''OK, I'll make it easy for you,'' I said. ''He gives me the pants, I give you my driver's license. You give me the refund, I give him the money, and you haven't broken any rules.''

I turned to the young man. ''Give me the pants.'' He gave me the pants. I turned to the clerk. ''OK, now these are MY pants and this is MY driver's license.'' The clerk turned to the manager. The manager turned and walked away.

We got the refund. We also got an explanation, finally, from the nice sales lady as to why they require a driver's license for ID. They think it discourages shoplifters from trying to return stolen merchandise for cash.

Maybe it's a good rule. But even good rules aren't always good business.

On the way out of the store, the young man tried to pay me the $5. ''You earned it,'' he insisted.

''Nah,'' I said. ''I've had more than $5 worth of fun.''

We shook hands instead. The splinters hurt.

Joe Murray is editor-publisher emeritus of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News.

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