the one about the guy who was a jerk in the airport

From Seth Godin’s blog:

A long line at the American Airlines counter. Finally, a particularly well-dressed man gets to the front, loudly announcing that he wants to check in for first class.

The harried agent does her best, but there’s no room. He starts getting louder and more angry. He’s blathering about his power and authority.

She tries to placate him, but to no avail.

Finally, he yells, “Do you know who I am?”

Without missing a beat, the gate agent grabs the microphone. “Attention in the gate area. We have a medical emergency. The man at gate 11 has just suffered a serious bout of amnesia. If anyone recognizes him, can they please come forward and help him?”

When I was younger, and I grudgingly played the celebrity game (with the screenings and the photo shoots and all that stupid crap), I encountered my fair share of other Big Deal Celebrities. I was often equally amused and horrified by some of the big attitudes many of them displayed, like they really believed that they were better than everyone else because they’d been in six episodes of a mid-season replacement. Even when I was in the middle of my 18 year-old idiocy (which had less to do with capital-F Fame and everything to do with capital-I Insecurity), I never treated people like they were beneath me, and I never pulled the “don’t you know who I am?” bullshit because 1) it’s totally lame, and 2) the person you’re hoping to intimidate simply has to say, “No. Next.” and you’re done.

Several years ago, I was at the airport in Las Vegas, on my way to the taxi line (this was before it took longer to get a cab than it does to fly there from Burbank). I paused near the rental car counter for some reason, and overheard a businessman talking to the agent.

She gave him some shit about turning in the car fifteen minutes late or something like that, and said he’d be charged for another day.

He very calmly said, “I was delayed in traffic. If you’ll look at my rental history, you’ll probably want to let me have that fifteen minutes, so you can keep me as a customer.”

I can see this next moment like I’m watching it on HDTV: she smirks at him, like she’s really excited to tell him to get bent — like it’s seriously going to make her day. Then looks down at the monitor. Her whole face goes slack, then her eyes widen, and she says, “I’m so sorry, sir. We’ll waive the fee. Thank you for using Budget.” He smiles, nods his head, and says, “Thank you.”

I don’t know what was on that monitor, (maybe it was an endless string of 4 8 15 16 23 42) but it really got her attention. I remember thinking that the guy could have been a huge dick, because he was obviously an important customer, but he didn’t need to be a dick (actually, nobody ever really needs to be a dick, and there’s a difference between being a dick and being assertive, but that’s a whole different post), because he knew the company would want to keep his business, and it wasn’t worth one day’s rental fee or penalty or whatever to lose it.

From that experience, and also from a bit of my personal experience, I drew the conclusion that, most of the time, when someone is being a big, loud, “don’t you know who I am?” asshole, it’s because they’re insecure. It’s as much about them making themselves feel important, as it is about intimidating someone else and getting their way. It’s a classic Mike Caro poker tell: strong means weak, and weak means strong.

33 thoughts on “the one about the guy who was a jerk in the airport”

  1. “actually, nobody ever really needs to be a dick, and there’s a difference between being a dick and being assertive, but that’s a whole different post”
    I’m interested in reading that post some day and getting your take on the subject!

  2. Wil,
    Having worked at various places as an underling in LA, I’ve run into a few of those, “Don’t you know who I am?” types and you are 100% right. They are the most insecure people I’ve ever met.
    I did have the pleasure of meeting one of the nicest celebrities in the valley when I first moved here and worked as a manager at Blockbusters. He couldn’t have been nicer, polite and low-key and paid his late fee with apologies. (back when they had late fees)
    And then there were some of those “D” listers that would scream at me, “Don’t you know who I am?!!! I could have you fired you know!!!”
    To which I would reply, “No, I don’t know who you are and I don’t care. If you would like, I could give you the number for Corporate.”
    And they would stammer, hem and haw and storm out…
    And of course, I never did hear from Corporate with any complaints.
    People who act with self-importance are trying to bolster their self-esteem.

  3. I’ve never talked to any super-famous celebrity. The closest I’ve come was standing behind Larry Bird in the Indianapolis airport.
    However, I’ve met a few people who were really big experts in their field or super-rich, or whatever. Generally they don’t feel the need to hang their ego on their sleeve and show it to everybody.
    There are always people that will try to intimidate others in their spheres of influence–the “big fish in a small pond” behavior pattern. (Unfortunately, we as a nation of experiencing what happens when someone like that is elected to be Chief Executive, but I digress). There’s always someone out there that’s bigger than you. If you find yourself treating those “below” you fundamentally differently than those “above” you, then I think there’s something terribly wrong with what you’re doing.
    “It’s a given LA law, there’s someone faster on the draw.”

  4. Being a jerk never gets you anywhere. But people in the service industry seem to expect it when something goes wrong.
    Once when I ordered take-out and I got there, they told me they hadn’t even started my order and apologized. I smiled and politely told them I’ll just wait. The lady at the take counter looked a little confused and scared. Every few minutes she’d tell me where my order was, and I’d smile and say thank-you. I think my politeness freaked her out becuase I ended up getting a huge discount on my meal.
    This experience taught me that being nice and polite gets you a lot more then freaking out on someone about something that’s not there fault.

  5. I think that everybody who’s spent *any* time at all in the retail trenches has a story like this. Mine didn’t involve a celebrity or anything like that, just a guy who thought he was larger than life and twice as brilliant.
    I was working at a video store (major national chain, rhymes with c**ksucker…can you tell I hated it there?) and this guy came in wanting to rent on his sister’s account. He had no ID, no member card and his name wasn’t even on the account.
    He stood there for literally 20 minutes arguing with me about why he should be able to rent, blah blah blah. I did my best to remain polite and professional until he started the personal attacks (which always seem to happen when you work somewhere, aren’t letting someone do something, and happen to be overweight)
    He looked me square in the eye and said “Look you fat bitch, you’re nobody! You work in a video store, you’re not important!”
    I looked him back just as squarely in the eye and said “Obviously sir, I’m more important than you are at this moment in time because *you* won’t be renting anything tonight, and *I’m* the one who’s making that decision.”
    He took down the corporate phone number and left in a huff but I never did hear anything more about it.
    Some people just have an entitlement complex I think.

  6. Aside from the fact that it’s wholly true, the nice thing about this story is that, for once, it’s coming from the point of view of someone who could probably get away with using the “do you know who I am” schtick. Usually, you hear these stories from someone who was on the receiving end of such a lambast, so this is a nice alternate take. Thanks.

  7. Ever watch Airline on A&E? There’s something about air travel in particular that brings out the worst in people. Nearly every episode has at least one irrational jackass abusing an airline employee. That has to be one of the crappiest jobs on the planet.

  8. I am 100% with you all.
    rmd’s comment:
    “being a dick is easy. being gracious takes style.”
    hits the issue right on the head!
    I have worked in retail and I have been the subject of said attacks…but I have also been on the giving end once and found myself asking afterwards:
    “Why in the hell did you just do that, you asshole? Go apologize to that guy because he deserves it, you prick.”
    What did I do after berating myself? I went and apologized to the guy and made sure to wish him a better day than I had created for him. Since then I find myself watching in a mental mirror just to make sure I am never going to act like such a fool again and ruin someone’s day that hasn’t done anything to me to deserve it.
    On the assertiveness note? I have had to make use of that in the past…and I wholly agree that it is completely different from being a dick!

  9. “2) the person you’re hoping to intimidate simply has to say, ‘No. Next.’ and you’re done.”
    Wouldn’t it be even more fun, when they say “Don’t you know who I am?” to be able to say, “Yes. So?”

  10. One of the reasons Wil is so popular (especially online) is that he does keep his ego firmly in check. He’s consistently polite, funny, and a generally nice guy, and he personally responds to his audience in as close to a one-on-one manner as you can get.
    He also makes appropriately obscure geeky refrences at the best possible times.

  11. The old maxims still hold true:
    Watch how your date treats the waiter because that’s how they’ll be treating you in six months.

  12. I once had an acquaintance who considered herself a minor “celebrity” because she associated herself with some celebrities. She actually used that line, “do you know who I am?” to get a better table at an event we attended. I was embarrassed by her behavior. In truth, no one cared who she was, they just gave in to keep the peace.

  13. This has got to be a joke.

    Nabbed from Shouting into the Wind. You Should Be a Joke Writer You’re totally hilarious, and you can find the humor in any situation. Whether you’re spouting off zingers, comebacks, or jokes about life… You usually can keep a crowd…

  14. As someone who has worked in reservations for an airline, I found that the few celebrities that I dealt with to be some of the nicest people. Now their ASSistance and travel agents were another story. More than once I heard “do you know who this reservation is for?” Which of course wouldn’t change my answer to their initial request.
    Now this is not to say all celebrities are perfect angles. I have heard stories from friends in reservations and the airport that will make your hair stand on end, but that’s a whole different story.

  15. There is a saying in the South (and maybe elsewhere too): “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
    Being a prick and trying to intimidate or embarrass people only makes them LESS inclined to help you. Sometimes it’s hard to be an all-around nice person, but I think that those of us that put forth that effort to be polite and kind and generous are making a difference in the world. Karma and all that, you know.
    I’ve heard the above airline joke before, but with the man cutting to the front of the line, and with this addendum on the end:
    “With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the ticket agent, gritted his teeth and swore ‘(Expletive) you.’
    Without flinching, the agent smiled and said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to stand in line for that, too.'”

  16. At a media con I help at we’ve had the problem of a particular author using the “don’t you know who I am” line. Sad part is that she’s so unphotogenic that her picture isn’t in any of her books. So the usual response is, “No!”

  17. I have been working all week going to different businesses trying to sell ads for my daughter’s dance school and getting her a scholarship for next year. You wouldn’t believe all of the jerks that I had to deal with that were so rude! Even if they said “no”, there was no reason to be such an a-hole. Some of these were places where my family and I were loyal customers. Not any more. I have found several places where the manager and owner were nice and helpful and I will give them my business in the future.

  18. Yeah, I just went through a bad episode of being a dick. When I came to my senses, I understood that I was being insecure. Unfortunately I hurt a few people really important to me along the way.

  19. I remember thinking that the guy could have been a huge dick…
    I’m really sorry for stating this … but the first three times I read through that sentence, I kept missing the word “been”. Completely derailed my train of thought…

  20. When my first book came out I was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. A former college buddy stopped by the table and we chatted for a bit. There was a line of people waiting, so the bookstore “minder” asked him to step to the side so the people who had waited to meet me and my co-author could get their books signed. The “buddy” said to her, “Can’t you see I’m a friend of the author?” in this tone of voice that implied that she was a mere insect.
    I was speechless.
    At another book signing I had a womah tell her daughter, “See, she’s not a regular person like you and me. SHE has written a book!”
    Again, I was amazed. And, if that’s even a small percentage of the kind of stuff that Wil and other celebs put up with, then they have my sympathy. Nobody should have put up with dicks.

  21. Aw customer service. Indeed. After MANY years of working in customer service, when I hear that line, my mind says “Yes. I have your name, address and social security number right here on my screen. I have your birthday and the last four numbers of your checking account number. I know your wife’s name, your children’s names and every number of every person you called or has called you in the past three months. Now, ask me if I care about all of this.”
    What do I actually do? I stay quiet. I don’t say a word. Why? Because it’s funny to listen to that person go on and on about themselves and if I try to interrupt or argue, it’s just makes them go on even more…and then they ask for a supervisor.

  22. Hey Wil,
    What you said about being a dick is so true. I saw it all the time working retail in LA. But I also saw the great people who were just so laid back and nice about it all.
    I just read an interview with an actor from Battlestar Galactica (Crashdown) and he mentioned meeting you as one of the reasons he got into acting. Just wanted to know if you had seen it: http://www.mediablvd.com/magazine/News/Celebrity/The-Secret-Projects-of-Crashdown-An-interview-with-Sam-Witwer,-Actor-and-Musician.htm
    ~ Lissa

  23. OK, I get the last number in that string (42, which answers everything), but I don’t get the rest of the string. My geek decoder ring, it does nothing.
    The post, by the way, was excellent. I had the supreme displeasure to be in line behind a semi-high-level politician once who had some problems with his reservation, and I thought he was going to make a scene to put nuclear bomb tests to shame. He did…it was annoying, for all concerned.

  24. My husband, who is a police officer in Los Angeles has had his fair share of encounters with both kind and obnoxious celebrities. On one occasion he happened to pull over an actor for running a red light in his bright red sports car. When my husband walked up to the car, he asked for the actor’s license and registration. Before doing as requested, the actor hautily asked the dreaded question.. “Do you know who I am??” Without missing a beat my husband said… “Do you know who I am??” The actor paused and then stammered “no”… and my husband said “then we’re even.” The actor silently handed him the requested documents.

  25. This — indeed and invariably — why LAX sucks.
    Especially if you’re flying at 10PM to NZ.
    (Don’t you know who I am, what are you saying sleeper class is full!? “Sir if you spent a little less time on your cell phone at Wolfgang Puck’s…)

Comments are closed.