Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 22, 2007

“I gotta have feelings now about a shrub?!”

We’re at Gethsemane Garden Center on Chicago’s North Side today. This nursery serves the Rogers Park, Andersonville, and Boys Town neighborhoods. (This last name is more informal, alluding to the high concentration of gay men in the northern part of the Lakeview neighborhood. And based on what I saw at this busy nusery today, lots of gay men like gardening. Makes sense….)

Our family trip today has a specific purpose: to meet our small fellowship group there, who will let my wife pick out a small commemorative tree or plant, a gift to honor her late father [ Blues For Nick – Feb 27, 2007 ]. The group is pitching in to pay for it. Except some of our group members forgot the plan and didn’t make it today. Meanwhile all the members of our family aren’t getting along so well today. (Thus the mildly snotty comment of the above title, which I said to my wife after taking far too long to go get my son a snack.)The gorgeous weather, bright colors and natural beauty that surrounds us only helps a little. It’s still more like a comedy of errors than a pleasant or festive excursion. Maybe we’re still grieving some. Who knows? Either way, it seems fitting that these family and small-group testing grounds are named after the place where Jesus faced an emotional test of his own.

I did have one funny experience of “instant community” though: waiting in line with about six other people for the one co-ed bathroom that serves the whole 3-4 building crowded complex. No sprawling, ultra-convenient, Home Depot-like retail location in this neighborhood. They have neither the room nor the inclination, and not enough parking, either.     However, the quality and variety of product here beats most suburban places I’ve seen hands-down– and that includes a lot of places, across two states. This is a sign of good management, I would guess–since the prices are not really any bigger than the “big box” joints. Who needs a perfect no-wait restroom or extra-wide aisle, when there’s such dinstinctive and beautiful stuff to distract you from the mild inconvenience? Besides… the customer service generally sucks at your average Home Depot or other big franchise business, unlike the highly available and knowledgeable employees I’ve talked to here.

Another sign that they “get it”: Main Street brand recycled paper towels in the bathroom. Brown, on a simple household-style roll, as if they treat their enlightened customers like family and trust them not to overuse the towels. (And if I know this neighborhood, these are the same customers who would notice if a garden center wasn’t “green” in how they stock their facilities).

Still, no place is perfect. They’re still subject to the character and whims of their employees. Which is why I overheard the following, said by an employee to the tree-yard manager, on this their busiest day of the year thus far:     “RK’s on the phone. He doesn’t want to come in today because he’s moving.”We’re all feeling a little put-out and stressed today, RK. Now get your ass in here before you get fired.

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