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February 14th, 2005

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05:05 pm - A Letter to Paul Harvey

Dear Paul Harvey,

For many years now you've been a regular fixture of my AM radio
listening. I remember hearing you in the car as my Grandpa Wally drove
around West Boylston, I remember having you as one of the only radio
constants on my cross-country road trip, and your "Rest of the Story"
segments have always aired on WBZ-AM 1030 just in time for me to commute
home from many a 9-to-5 job. Currently you are on the dial at the time my
clock-radio alarm goes off, so I have the fortune of hearing your daily
"news and comment" from Page Two onwards.

However, today's little newscast, from your home studio compound
somewhere in the American Southwest, caused me to take a little umbrage
with you and your bastion of American broadcasting. Now I'm not going to
mention our differences in political opinion, which I've pretty much to
come to expect from the "...and comment" portion of your program, and I'm
not going to bring up the fact that you often like to blindly report
uncorroborated urban legends as fact, which is as irresponsible as
a journalist can get. Today, Mr. Harvey, you crossed the line and
besmirched my line of work, and all in the name of Wal-Mart.

I refer, of course, to your thinly-veiled ad for the corporate
conglomerate in the form of a feel-good anecdote featuring a Good
Samaritan employee stepping in when a driver's roadside assistance service
failed her. Now I work a day job for a company that provides roadside
assistance to many vehicle manufacturers (no, not AAA) and I'd like to
think the people I work with are effective and helpful and, for the most
part, decently-managed. This is why I was especially irked by the way
your Wal-Mart shill was set up. Let's go over it line by line here,
with your ad copy in italics and my responses in, er, regular. The names
of those involved are not the same names as you read on the air as I don't
remember them, but the names are inconsequential in the grand scheme of
things. Anyway.

When Harriet Rutherford in Slimy Falls, Wisconsin found herself
stranded on the highway on the flat tire, and, with her cellphone running
low, and she was stuck on hold for over ten minutes with her roadside
assistance service... ten minutes!...

All right, Mr. Harvey, I'll grant you that sometimes a caller to
any service will be placed on hold. And I admit that at this point
I sat up straight in bed and thought "I sure hope that wasn't us."
And then when I woke up a bit further, shaking off the shackles of
purple-wrap't Morphean slumber, I said "No... it sure as hell
wasn't us." We regularly staff our call center with more people than
necessary so that if a crush does unexpectedly show up, we're able to
handle most of it. But things do happen. I also know that if we put our
customers on hold, that'll be the #1 thing they complain about even before
you get a call greeting out. Haven't heard a complaint since the August
hurricanes. Anyway.

...and then, Mrs. Rutherford writes, a truck stopped for her. Wal-Mart
employee Ernest Stroganoff had seen her stranded on the side of the road,
and stopped to help. Ernest explained that Wal-Mart encourages its
employees to help people in need if it doesn't appear that they are in

Well, ain't that just fine and dandy. I mean, good Samaritans happen all
over, that's pretty cool. But, Mr. Harvey, are you really insinuating
that Mr. Stroganoff here only stopped because Wal-Mart encouraged it?
Does he not have an ounce of natural goodness in his heart? If he had
worked at, say, that heathen Target, would he have callously passed her by
in his red-and-white truck, laughing maliciously all the way?

And speaking of "in danger"... if a Wal-Mart employee saw someone in
danger, the least they can do is call for police or emergency
services. That's what we do if the caller indicates that no, they are not
in a safe location right now. But anyway.

And that's not the only thing. Mr. Stroganoff was headed the other
way on the road
and he turned around to help her!

Wowwwwwwwww. Maybe he even made an illegal U-turn to boot. Maybe for
SUPER ACTION TIME he did a bootlegger's turn across the median and then
jumped across a river while his custom horn played Dixie.

Now, Page 2.

He fixed her tire so quickly, that by the time Mrs. Rutherford's
roadside assistance service answered her call, she could tell them to
never mind!

Wait -- so her cellphone was dying, she was waiting in a call queue,
and when someone came to change her tire she still stayed on hold?
Now, Mr Harvey, I know most of these "customer testimonials" are made up
since not everybody in America can write perfect ad copy in their letters.
Even so, this detail seems real fishy. Most people I know would hang up
when help arrived. Nobody I have ever talked to has said "Don't worry,
everything's fine!"

What an ambassador for Wal-Mart! What! An! Ambassador! For

Why not "What a nice guy" or "What a helpful human being?" Again, I
maintain it wasn't Wal-Mart that shoved the kindness gene into Mr.
Stroganoff. And wouldn't it be ironic if Mrs. Rutherford ran a small
business in town?

However, the real problem I have with its ad is the initial setup. In
writing this story, Mr. Harvey, you could have just as easily said "With
her cellphone batteries dead and miles from the nearest exit..." But
instead you chose to make the original roadside assistance provider the
bad guys. They put her on hoooooooold. They're unreliable. But random
passing Wal-Mart employees are superheroes! And it's all because of


All I ask, Mr. Harvey, is the next time you need to make Wal-Mart look
like the good guys, you don't make someone else's occupation look like the
bad guys. Someone else who is a hard-working American blah blah woof
woof. And all that rhetoric which usually accompanies a letter of

Oh, and if you do decide to shuffle off this mortal coil, could you at
least wait til 2006, so I can include you in my Dead Pool then and make a


(11 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC)
I agree with almost everything you said above.

Except: if it happened to me, I would stay on hold, because what if it turned out that the "good Samaritan" couldn't fix the problem? I wouldn't want to lose my place in the queue.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2005 10:29 pm (UTC)

Ok, I'll give you that. Maybe queue strategy does need to be taken into effect there. But still. BAD GUYS!
Date:February 14th, 2005 10:15 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2005 10:31 pm (UTC)
Rock on with your bad self.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 15th, 2005 12:00 am (UTC)
Ouch! "Hold off on dying, there, pal, and you could win me some casharoonie!"

I enjoyed the rest of the letter, though.
[User Picture]
Date:February 15th, 2005 12:02 am (UTC)
Suffice to say the letter would not/will not be sent with that pleasant ending, as we all full well know that Mr. Paul Harvey is made out of the same immortal genetic stock as Dick Clark. And besides, I don't enter Dead Pools anyway.
[User Picture]
Date:February 15th, 2005 12:10 am (UTC)
Ugh. Isn't feel-good news supposed to make you feel BETTER? This just makes me feel icky.
Well, good that someone helped her but the presentation kind of cancels that out.
I wonder what I would've thought of that if I'd heard it.
Date:February 15th, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
I ranted on this ad a while back when a version aired on Television:


It's not enough that people can just do the right thing - they have to be trained BY WAL-MART to be good citizens!

//BeaucoupKevin (http://www.beaucoupkevin.com)
[User Picture]
Date:February 15th, 2005 10:15 pm (UTC)

I *thought* that the reason that roadside assistance/911/etc places ask you for your location/name/phone number etc first thing is so they can locate you/call back when needed? So if she said "my cell phone battery is low" couldn't she just ask to hang up and be called back?

Regardless, I'm always surprised (I know I shouldn't be, but I am) by how some people just expect miracles. When I was a kid no one had a cell phone. If you had to stop by the road, your only options were to walk to a gas station/phone or be helped by a nice person. People tended to take more care and be more prepared for unpleasant situations. It was just common sense that you need to keep a spare tire in working order, make sure your gas tank is full when inclement weather is forecast etc.

Now people can't even keep their frigging cell phone batteries charged so they can call roadside assistance?!? I know I'm an old fart who thinks that cell phones should be used more for emergency calls than to chit-chat for hours on end -- just speaking less would tend to keep the batteries charged... judging by the people I see driving and talking on the cell phones (most of them don't even use a hands-free device!) it's no wonder they don't have enough juice left to call for help. Either way, suppose many of those people are actually very important and need to be on the phone? For crying out loud, how about keeping a cigarette-lighter adapter to charge their phones from the car power? Is that too much to ask, I ask you, is it? ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:February 16th, 2005 11:41 am (UTC)
Let's go over it line by line here, with your ad copy in italics and my responses in, er, regular.

The word you're looking for is "roman".

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