(This post is NOT sponsored. I wish it was, but it's not.)
I have stuffed animals. It's part of the promise I made to Mary Martin. I'm really not weird about it. They are just fun to have. Cute and decorative. Like throw pillows, but with names.
This is Pythia.
I got Pythia in a hotel gift shop in San Antonio in February of 1996 while on a school trip with Permian Kantorei. I had a serious penguin collection back then. I still have it, but I'm no longer actively collecting. Not long after getting her, a friend gave me Percy (another penguin, larger) and then I got Penelope (yet another penguin, smaller this time) at McDonald's. A different friend gave me Aimee (bunny) around 2005 and I picked up Leonard (firefox) in the gift shop at the Houston zoo about year later. He was eventually gifted to another friend of mine.
At some point Penelope vanished without a trace. I assume she was taken by ninjas. Or became one. And Pythia didn't make the move with me to my current home, so I've just had Percy and Aimee hanging around my room for the last few years. About six months ago, I realized I hadn't purchased a new plushie friend in over a decade, so I looked at Amazon and google images for ideas. After a while, I remembered Build-A-Bear Workshop. The first time I saw them was in a mall shortly after high school. I thought the concept was great, but I had just gotten Pythia only a year or so earlier so I didn't really think about it again until recently.
I made plans to go to to a Build-A-Bear in Dallas 03/22/18 with my friend Emily and her daughter since they had been there before and knew the ropes, but something happened and she had to back out at the last minute. Being a 40 year old man who was going to the mall to buy himself a teddy bear was really intimidating. People who don't know me might find that image unsettling. And I didn't really want to deal with that kind of attention. But in the end, I did manage to go by myself and I don't regret it!
I was greeted by a worker at the entrance. She asked who I was buying for. I was pretty shocked when she wasn't shocked at all when I told her it was just for me. Without missing a step, she suggested some bunnies and ponies that were on sale. I stopped her right there and said, "I'm good on bunnies and penguins and such. I think I just need a good old-fashioned bear."
"Anything in paricular?" she asked.
"Something unlicensed. Inexpensive."
She showed me what they had and I picked out Velvet Hugs Teddy. This was perfect! And the price was right. Now things took a turn for the unexpected. She took down my name and address. It was optional, but I assumed this was record keeping like Radio Shack always did. Now I was in the system as a customer. I had a flat bear and a barcoded tag with my name on it. I asked what my next step was.
I handed the barcode to the lady. She checked it, handed it back, and took the bear.
"How much stuffing do you want?"
"What do you mean? I have options?"
"Sure! Some people like to fill it until it is very stiff. If it's going to grandma's house and it's going to sit up on a shelf, that might be good. On the other end, if it's for a little baby, you might want to under stuff it so it's easy to grab and carry."
"It's for me, so let's say about medium squishy."
"Perfect! Step on that pedal for me."
She let me work the pedal while she expertly filled each part of the bear. It was amusing. :) She explained many options such as adding a scent, or a heartbeat, or some pre-recorded sound that would play with you press her paw. I turned them all down. When she was almost done, she had me choose a tiny fabric heart from a bin. This was not optional. Each friend gets a heart placed inside by their owner. I wasn't expecting this at all! She suddenly lit up with excitement. "Since this is your first time, you HAVE to do the heart ceremony!" I had never heard the heart ceremony.
I was instructed to rub the heart on my forehead to give her my intelligence. Then on my muscles to give her my strength. Hold it close to my heart to give her my love. There were many more like that and it went on for a while. It made the whole experience seem even more personal. I couldn't help but smile.
She put the heart inside the newly stuffed bear and began to stitch her up. While doing this, she explained the warranty to me. Here's what I learned:
- If anything happens to her, I can bring her in for repairs.
- If it's really bad, they have regional 'hospitals' they can send her to.
- If any Build-A-Bear gets lost, anyone can bring it back to any Build-A-Bear store or send it in with the lost and found form, so it can be treated for injuries, and returned to the owner's address.
"Wait.. what?! That's awesome, but how can you possibly know this bear is mine if she gets lost?"
"See that bar code you're holding?" she asked. I glanced down at the ticket in my hand… no… half a ticket! "The other half is inside. That's why we wanted your information."
It was at this point that I knew I was going to have a good long relationship with this company. This was absolutely amazing. I can just imagine the relief of the children and parents when they were reunited with their furry friend! Next step!
They have everything. Day clothes, pajamas, costumes, accessories, shoes, and even underwear. I have come to realize that owning a Build-A-Bear is like owning an interchangeable lens camera. You get something to carry around with you that you're proud of and like to show off. And you will NEVER be done buying things for it. I got her some cute pajamas and a pair of shoes. Next step.
I scanned my barcode in, and My name, the current date, her height, weight, and fur color all populated in to their appropriate fields. I just had to give her a name.
The lady at the checkout scanned my barcode once more, and rung up the outfits. "Would you like me to dress her for you, or do you want to do that?" She was giddy when I told her she could go ahead. As she was dressing Lisa, I heard her mumble, 'so cute!' That made me think. Does she say that on every sale? It seemed genuine. Maybe she really loved her job that much. But can you really hold on to that much excitement for this sort of thing when you're surrounded by this level of cuteness all day every day? The only other option was maybe I was really good at putting a super cute outfit together. I like to think that was it. It's possible. :)
Pythia used to go with me on all my trips. It has been my experience that hotel staff love stuffed animals. I would leave my housekeeping with Pythia, and sometimes she would have a hand written thank you note under her wing when I got back.
Even when I didn't have money for tips, I would usually find that she had been well treated. The same has been holding true for Lisa. I left her on my unmade bed when I went to work, and when I came back, she was propped up, facing the TV with the remote in her paw.
That kind of stuff really makes my day. This is why all people should travel with stuffed animals. Even businessmen. Because after they give you all this pleasure, they can still be used as an airplane pillow. Seriously... if you have the self esteem to wear something such as this monstrosity, you can just as easily spend a flight faceplanted into a teddy bear. And the bear option is so much cuter. Also Lisa fits perfectly in the outer carry straps on my backpack.
On 04/18/18, I took Lisa to the mall in Denver to get a new outfit. She needed something to change in to so she wouldn't be wearing pajamas all day. Not that I have a problem with pajamas all day. But everyone needs some variety. New store, new people, but still I wasn't made to feel anything but welcome. They thought it was great that this was just for me. I picked out a little purple dress for Lisa and chatted with the staff since they were not very busy.
Fast forward to this week. Three and a half months later and I find myself in Denver again. I decided that maybe having a scent installed wouldn't be so bad. I originally didn't want to spend the money, and I was afraid that would be overpowering after a while. But it's only $3.50 and they have convinced me it will be fine.
It was a simple outpatient procedure. They could do it right there while I waited. The lady working the stuffing station remembered me. We had talked about scents the last time I was here. It's so cool to be remembered! But it's hard to watch someone attack your friend with a seamripper. So I went to look at the clearance bin. They had some tiny jeans.
Everyone needs a pair of jeans. I grabbed them. I ended up grabbing a new pair of shoes and a shirt, too. Now she has a casual day outfit. I retrieved Lisa (who now smelled like laffy taffy) and headed for the register. The line was long. The store had been very busy this time. While waiting in the long line, something way too cute to pass up caught my eye. I was already over budget but there was no way I could pass this up! This little scent installation turned in to full fledged back to school shopping because now Lisa owns a backpack!!!!
Icing the cake
Just when I thought my day couldn't get any happier, I made it to the register. The checkout lady not only remembered me, but she greeted Lisa by name! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! And there's no mistake this time. This wasn't happening to all the other customers. This was just me. I'm still in awe over this event days later. I'm not sure what to make of it. All I know is that it sure felt good. Every Build-A-Bear employee I've met so far has ended up feeling like a friend who I can't wait to go back and visit. I really wish there were more interactions like this in my life.