Home is Where the Sight Is

After my disastrous visit to an ophthalmologist last year who informed me I shouldn’t be able to see any better than I did, I tried a new doctor this year (for the one optical visit my insurance will cover), and this time was told that ordinary glasses can still correct my vision to 20/20.

Armed with my new prescription, I began a tour of optical shops seeking a newer, better, faster pair of glasses.

My search began at LensCrafters, where I immediately found three or four attractive frames I could easily have bought, but having left my prescription at home (oops) I couldn’t buy anything yet.

After I left, a wave of civic pride overtook me for no particular reason.  I live in a major city!  I pass two local optical shops on my way home, and surely downtown I’d find dozens of wonderful local stores that could sell me a wonderful pair of glasses — and perhaps even for less money, if I dare to dream.

I tried the store adjacent to my new ophthalmologist’s office, but found their prices too high, even before I looked at frames.  I tried Cambridge EyeDoctors, though as I mentioned earlier, their marketing leaves much to be desired.  So did their selection of frames.

At every store, I rattled off my basic requirements: high-index Transitions™ lenses, anti-reflective coating, possibly in a “half rim” frame.  At the first place this earned me a price estimate for the lenses.  At the next, the announcement merely hung, unanswered, in the dark, still air of the shop.  I tried on frames halfheartedly toward the end, slowly discovering that the designer frames I’d seen in LensCrafters were elsewhere replaced by the optical equivalent of Shaw’s brand foods.

On the surface, I don’t care what designer crafted my glasses or my clothes.  What matters is that I like how I look.  However, the famous designers got famous specifically because they design things that look good.  Brooks Brothers created the frames I’ve had for three years, and none of the “off brands” I found this year looked even half as good.

Eventually, driven by the life-altering experience of having watched Dan Gilbert’s TEDtalk years ago, I made a decision.  I had not found the perfect pair of glasses, but I knew that continuing the quest further would only make me less happy in the end.  I picked decent frames, and committed to them.

The saleslady took my measurements, dutifully recorded my prescription and my lens preferences, and then as I was about to hand over my credit card, finally revealed the price: fully $150 more than I’d seen anywhere else!  The lenses alone were more expensive than an entire pair of glasses should cost.  And they wouldn’t be ready for more than a week.

I canceled the order.

So I found myself back at LensCrafters — a new location, but the same branding I’ve known for a decade.  There was the lab right at the back of the store where it should be!  There, to my right, was the entire section of “clean and simple” designs that so perfectly suit my tastes.  There was even a pair of Brooks Brothers frames that was obviously a modernized version of what I was already wearing!

My favorite moment came just as I began to browse.  Asked for my lens preferences, I responded with the same list I’d given everywhere else: high-index, Transitions™, anti-reflective coating.  For the first time, someone said, “Really?  You don’t need high-index lenses with your prescription.”

When I insisted that LensCrafters staff had encouraged it last time, they warily keyed my name into the computer.  Two search results appeared: one with my last address, and one with the address before that.  The entire history of my eyewear sat before me in LensCrafters’ computer.  One click revealed exactly what had happened three years ago in another store hundreds of kilometers away.

“Oh, I see.  You have a mid-index lens.  That’s just what we called our regular polycarbonate material back then.  It’s much cheaper, and it’s exactly what you’ll need this time too.”

Ahhh.  LensCrafters.  It’s like coming home again.