I found myself at the nearby enormous Fred Meyer store on Christmas Eve morning, something I would normally avoid like a hot-tub full of Republicans.
But my watch battery died and that night’s cake recipe called for chocolate chips…and Freddy’s is the place where one can find both necessities. In fact, this particular store is so big that it has a full-size jewelry store inside it.
There was a queue for the watch-repair man, a very tall fellow with a German accent, who was attracting the sort of attention usually reserved for a magician. He changed watch batteries, untangled gold chains, attached poodle-shaped charms to bracelets.
I was shocked to see that people were tipping him. This is not a big gratuity town; a parking valet outside the swanky Benson Hotel told me he can tell locals from visitors: locals are the ones who say, “Darn! I only have a five..catch you next time.”
When my turn came, I could see why the tips were flowing: the watch-fixer opened my battered Seiko, removed the battery, replaced it, put the thing together again. Elapsed time: 2 minutes. Cost: $10.
He didn’t sit down, but bent over a work bench behind a low glass wall, moving his elegant hands with the grace and speed of a surgeon or a pianist.
Each time he completed a task, he quoted the price, took the money and gave a slight, courtly bow.
It isn’t easy to appear dignified when hemmed in by half-price poinsettias and talking over a recording of Alvin & the Chipmunks singing “Jingle Bells,” but he managed.