Paul Butler | I AM Friendly


By Paul Butler

The first time we came to America was in the summer of 2001. We had two weeks at Disney World in Florida.

Our daughter Brodie was about 5 and our son Henry, he’d be around 4. We met Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pocahontas and Goofy. We had a wonderful time.

On the last day, we had to return the rental car and then had to wait for the bus to take us to the airport.

Well, our bus was worth waiting for — it was rather like the other buses: tired and dusty but something felt even better about this bus when the driver flung open the doors with gusto and said:

“Welcome to my bus! This is the very best ride in Florida!”

He was in his late 50s; graying hair, wearing a tired uniform, but he had really shiny shoes.

As we boarded the bus (to the tune of “Don’t worry, be happy,” which was playing on the driver’s personal cassette recorder, as the one on the bus had busted), he declared: “Parents, please tell me which airline you’re flying with — is it British Airways, Virgin or for you funny folks from Ireland, Aer Lingus? I’ll take care of your bags — that’s my job. Kids, we’re going to have a wonderful trip!”

During the process, the driver simultaneously entertained the children as he said this: “Hey young lady what’s your name?”

Our daughter replied, “Brodie.”

“And how old are you, Brodie?”

She said proudly, “I’m 5.”

“Now, can you drive a bus yet?” asked our driver.

At that, Brodie put her head under Mom’s arm and said, “No” and off she went to take her seat.

Quick on his heels the driver then asked our son: “Hey little dude, what’s your name?” to which he confidently replied, (as he knew the next two questions coming): “Well I’m Henry. I’m 4 and I can drive a bus!” To which the driver responded: “Great! You’re the co-pilot I’ve been looking for — jump up here (pointing to the driver’s seat) and wait here for further instruction!” So like a good little Englishman, that’s exactly what Henry did: He opened the little door and jumped up on the seat awaiting further instruction.

After we’d all safely taken our seats, the driver lifted Henry up and placed him on his right knee. Gaynor grabbed my arm and I assured her that all would be fine — we’ll probably just drive a couple of laps of the parking lot and then we’d be on our way! My comments were interrupted by the driver asking over the microphone system: “So, ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls — do you really think Henry can drive this bus?”

“YES!” came the squeals from the kids while there was bemused silence but a sense of intrigue, I could tell, from the parents.

Well for a few seconds our driver really did let Henry drive the bus! At the mighty speed of about 3 mph. I can still see Henry’s determined face as he gripped the steering wheel. Henry was returned to his seat safely but I could tell he’d grown in stature as he walked down the aisle to high 5’s and applause.

When we got to the airport, Brodie gave the driver’s sleeve a tug and asked what his name was to which he replied: “I AM — that’s my name: I. A. M.” Henry was feeling superman-confident and he then gave his sleeve a real yank and asked: “Oh yeah, so what’s your last name then?” The driver squatted down and looked Henry straight in the eye and said: “Friendly — that’s my name: I AM Friendly. Have a nice day Henry — it was an honor to co-pilot with you.” Henry skipped off into the airport.

Reminiscing on this now, I don’t think his name really was I AM Friendly. But for whatever reason he’d chosen to give himself that name for the role he played between Disneyland and the Florida airport while driving the Alamo rental car bus in the summer of 2001. When you make that kind of promise to yourself — that’s present tense and positive — how can you fail to provide great service?

When we were back in England we had the grandparents visit to look at the photographs and discuss the adventures. I can still picture Henry in his “Thomas the Tank Engine” pajamas and his “Garfield” slippers saying: “Granny, Gramps — you’ll never guess what: we met Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pocahontas and Goofy. Best of all — on the last day, I got to ride I AM Friendly’s bus!” Henry thought the driver was part of the Disney cast.

I wonder why some people choose the “I AM Friendly” method of service and some people choose the “I AM Miserable” method of service. On the basis we only have one life on this earth, why not go for greatness in the way we serve and interact with others?

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