I knew a guy in high school whose Mother made a small fortune in the bingo dabber industry; further evidence that timing is everything.
In the small city where I grew up in the 1980’s, the Bingo destination of choice was a place called Bingotown. It was a clever re-invention of our local roller skating rink, previously known as (go figure) Rollertown, and in order to take full advantage of the smooth floors and supplies on hand, bingo card sellers cruised from table to table on roller skates. A good friend of mine worked for years as a seller, hoping to eventually make the big time and call the numbers from the repurposed DJ booth. The callers were duller than a busted pencil, laboriously drawing balls from the basket and reading the numbers in monotone. Memories of Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, “Beuller…………. Beuller………… Beuller.” Yawn!
In those days the majority of Bingo patrons were over-accessorized female chain smokers. The cigs had taken their toll over time, littering ladies with premature wrinkles, yellow-stained index fingers and hoarse voices. But hope sprung eternal at the bingo hall, where stiff looking hands moved swiftly to mark the numbers on a stunning number of cards often masking taped to the surface of the table and usually surrounded by Troll dolls, rabbits feet and other talismans. The silence was deafening save for the odd hacking cough, until a lone voice would finally call “Bingo!” and the hall would erupt with the crumpling of hundreds of paper cards being discarded in frustration. The whole affair was somewhat depressing.
But thanks to Krazy D, the game of Bingo has been re-invented at Fern Resort.
I’ve written about Fern before. It’s our family’s favourite summer holiday destination and it’s a resort like no other.
At 4:15pm almost every day, the barbeque gazebo crackled with excitement in anticipation of the appearance of Krazy D and his bingo bucket. The chance to win a Fern T-shirt is likely what drew guests to show up in the first place but it was Krazy D that kept them coming back. He is the anti-thesis of the Bingotown callers. In his trademark sunglasses and bright yellow ‘SPORTS’ staff shirt, Krazy D put on a show like nothing you’ve ever seen before. There is yelling, there is jumping and when we’re down to fewer than ten balls left in the full card game Krazy D hoists the cage of balls over his head and gives it an enthusiastic shake.
“Am I not calling good numbers?!!! What number do you want me to call?!”
The crowd’s thundering response shakes the panes of glass of the gazebo. Even the shyest child and his most infirm looking grandpa can’t help but respond by shouting out the number they’re waiting for.
“Moving over to the Bad Boy line… B12! You don’t like that number?! Under the Oh Canada line, O trickety trick….. O66!”
There’s no dispute that Krazy D is a national treasure when it comes to bingo callers. And that his approach to the game is exactly on target with Fern Resort’s philosophy of offering activities that unite the community of guests through a memorable and shared experience. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of his talent.
By day he is Devon. For years he worked in the Junior kids program, leading gaggles of starry eyed 7-9 year olds from one fun activity to another so their parents could enjoy some couple-time. But at 3pm his alter ego ‘Krazy D’ would emerge. As poolside DJ, he knitted together popular songs to draw even the laziest lounge chair guests into a toe tapping, head bobbing groove. He taught dance steps on the pool deck, attracting people of all shapes, sizes and abilities. At 3:45 pm the shallow end of the pool filled to capacity with grinning participants standing shoulder to shoulder for his Aquafit class.
But Krazy D was most in his element performing in the weekly staff lip sync show where he showed us all what dancing really looks like. One year he managed to perform Usher so flawlessly that one young girl asked for a picture and an autograph.
This summer when we arrived at Fern for our first dinner, we spotted Devon waiting on a table nearby. He was wearing a dining hall uniform, sans-sunglasses, but this disguise didn’t fool Jack for a minute.
“There’s Krazy D!” he whispered.
It was like seeing Brad Pitt at the grocery store. Thrilling and surreal.
So imagine our horror when we learned that Krazy D was gone from the sports staff, having taken a permanent role in the dining room. There would be no more Krazy D T-shirt bingo. There would be no more poolside dance instruction. There would be no more spirited Aquafit and no Krazy D performance in the staff lip sync show.
Our only chance to see Krazy D this year was in the 10:45 am Fern Bucks bingo game, a time slot that conflicted with many other activities on the daily schedule. This game had always drawn smaller crowds, due in part by the fact that the duty of caller was assigned to plain, old, dining room staff. But this year we made a point of going, desperate for a fix of Krazy D.
The rumour mill among guests immediately began to churn. What happened to Krazy D? Midway through the week we learned that in fact Devon had resigned. Emotion caught in his throat when he announced to the 10:45 bingo crowd that after six years as part of the Fern family, Sunday would be his last day. A collective gasp registered in the barbeque gazebo.
“No more Crazy D? What are we going to do without him? How could Fern let this happen?”
While the nature of the resort business dictates that much of the staff will be transient, with young people working on the resort through their university years but moving on to careers elsewhere when they graduate, we had all hoped that Devon would be a permanent fixture. He had left his home in Jamaica and moved to Canada year round. He had gotten married and had a young child here. The head of Sports, Mike Stewart, has been with the resort for more than thirty years, and so we thought it possible that Krazy D might be around for thirty more.
Exceptional staff that love their work exist in almost every business, but all too often they reach a point where their needs are no longer being met by the companies they work for. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s work/family balance. Sometimes it’s the opportunity to grow and evolve their role in the organization. And sometimes it’s a little of all three.
In my prior life, I often engaged in debates with upper management as to the degree to which staff are replaceable. In general, I have found that management doesn’t fully appreciate the contributions of exceptional staff. It’s a topic I touched upon in a post I wrote about Undercover Boss. And the real shame is when companies let these special individuals slip through their fingers over a relatively small increase in pay, or a little flexibility when it comes to working hours.
Having held a seat in management for a number of years, I appreciate the company’s concern about precedent setting. It was an objection often raised when women expressed a desire to work fewer days a week in exchange for a cut in pay.
“If we let her work four days, then all the women with kids will want the same.”
Well maybe not all, but probably many.
Although in a non-union environment there is no legal risk, perhaps employers simply don’t want to have the tough conversations with employees whose performance doesn’t merit special accommodations. They’re afraid that non-star employees will flee as a result. So the logic is, that we’d rather have one star employee leave than a bunch of average employees leave… but isn’t the average employee easier to replace than the star employee?
Perhaps instead of fleeing the company in droves, the average employees might up their game and try to meet the bar set by star employees in an effort to earn some perks of their own. And if this happened and the entire staff turned into a flock of star employees would this really be such a problem? Couldn’t a company like this have enough competitive advantage in the marketplace that they might be able to afford to give a greater number of employees a little more of what they want in terms of pay and working arrangements?
Sunday was Krazy D’s last bingo game at Fern. He offered up three of his bright yellow ‘SPORTS’ staff t-shirts as special prizes to those who could answer Krazy D trivia questions. Partway through the full card game, some co-workers dropped by to say goodbye and tears were shed by all.
I-25 came out as a choked sob and Devon had to walk away to collect himself. It was clear that he loved his years at Fern, he loved being the best Bingo caller ever, and he loved all of us. He didn’t want to go.
But he did.