Why Would You Ever Want To Run an Optical Lab?
The words bounced around in his brain. “Nobody makes money in a lab,” he could still hear what they had told him years ago. They might not have been wrong. George sat, staring down at the contract in front of him. He was tired. So tired. He’d spent so many hours behind this desk, sitting in this chair – checking work, filling out order forms, and for what? What did it matter? Any good he ever did seemed like it was quickly forgotten the next day, with demands, complaints, or some other new crisis. Maybe continuing….maybe it just wasn’t worth it? He’d seen many other people do it, some of them even friends. They just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to put an end to it all.
George sat back in his chair, running his hands over his face with a long, drawn out sigh. He steeled himself for a moment before focusing his attention back to what was on his desk, contemplating the thing before shaking his head. “If I’m going to end it, I’m going to have a drink first,” George reached down to the lower drawer of his desk, pulling out a bottle and glass. After pouring for himself, he sat back and emptied the glass in one swift motion. As he sat forwards again, he hoped he had just imparted himself with enough courage to get this deed done. He picked up the implement of his destruction from the table, and held it aloft for just a moment. “Now for the final stroke,” he said to himself, the rest of the office having been empty for quite a few hours now. “Well….” he mused to himself, “More like seventeen across multiple pages in triplicate. These damn contracts of sale go on forever.” As George went to sign the purchase agreement from Big Optical Corp. that sat on his desk, there was a knock at his door.
George sighed and tossed the pen back onto the desk. “Yes?” he asked as he opened the door. The man at the door smiled at him, “Hope I’m not too late!” he exclaimed, inviting himself inside. “Too late for what?” asked George, “and who are you?”
“I’m Clarence,” he said, extending a hand in greeting, “and I’m your guardian angel!”
George very slowly extended a hand, eyeing the bottle on the table. “I’m sorry, you what?”
Clarence chuckled, “Your guardian angel. Here to make sure you don’t make a terrible mistake.” He glanced over at the paperwork on the desk, then waggled his eyebrows, ”seems I’m just in time.” He seemed very proud of himself.
The pair walked down the main street, people oblivious to them as they bustled by. George looked at the shops as they passed by, then paused as he didn’t find what he had expected. “Wait a minute,” he began, “Where’s Bob’s Optical shop? It should be right here!”. He exclaimed, pondering at the run-down storefront in front of him, a “For Sale” sign hanging in the window. “Well, you see…” Clarence began, putting a comforting hand on George’s shoulder, “Without an independent lab to support him, Bob went out of business. The Big Optical company just kept raising his prices, and luring his customers to ‘shop online’. Bob just couldn’t compete anymore.” George sighed, “And where is he now?” Clarence sighed, “You don’t want to know.” George gasped, “He’s dead? How.” Clarence shook his head. “Worse. He ended up working at the Big Optical store the next town over. They were selling the same things he had, just cheaper, so he already knew all of the products. So now he works there, selling whatever he’s told to sell.” George gave one last, long look at the storefront before they continued down the street.
They ended up back at George’s office. But it was…different. Different in the sense that it was a burned out shell of a building with a ‘Condemned’ sign on the front. “What happened here?!” George demanded of Clarence. Puzzled, Clarence asked, “There was never an optical lab in this building. Since it was for sale, a group of teenagers snuck in one night and *whumpf*. No more building.” George ran a hand across the charred exterior, “But what about all of the people that worked here?” Clarence shrugged, “They either found a job somewhere else, or never found one. The town’s been having a hard time lately, with not enough jobs to go around, so many of them may have moved elsewhere. Most of the manufacturing jobs like this are being moved offshore, anyway. That’s how a lot of those Big Optical companies compete, you know? Send it to a country with cheap labor, then send it back. Having something to do that work here isn’t ‘cost-effective’”.
George shook his head, “No, it can’t be that bad. I’m only a small independent optical lab – how can me selling out cause all of this?” he gestured to the remains of the building. Clarence tried to comfort him, “But it wasn’t just you, George. It was all independent optical labs. There’s no choice left. No real competition. Everything has been commoditized – eyewear isn’t unique anymore. It’s all about saving a buck, not offering a good product.”
George turned abruptly, and the building was back the way that he remembered it. They were back. After a few, long seconds standing before the office door, George broke the silence. “Thank you,” he began, “I really was ready to end all of this,” he gestured to the whole building as they entered his office. “From what you showed me, I can’t do that. The world needs independent labs. Without them, the choice in the industry is almost non-existent.” George reached down and picked up the contract of sale from his desk, swiftly ripping it in half. As he tossed it into the garbage can, he looked up at Clarence, who had a rather curious smile on his face. “Why are you smiling like that?” George asked. “Oh, don’t you know?” said Clarence, “Every time someone rejects a buyout offer from Big Optical, an angel gets his wings.”
– George Bailey