caro thinks

Smoke and Mirrors, 2001/09/05:17:05

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My new dining room table.

I made it out of the parts of a futon I no longer wanted.

Just one of the many impossible things that can be done, if you're willing to engage in the thought process.

Note how it levitates magically above the chairs. Ooooo, spooky!

It's six feet long, and seats about 100 people. Ok, maybe it only seats 20 or 40 or so, but you're not here to check, are you, so I can get away with saying just about anything! Neat, hunh?

Just hours after I announce that I'm going to refuse to do business with anyone who attempts to involve me in Dishonest Schemes, someone refuses to do business with me!

Gary Bloomfield, owner and mechanic of Beach Automotive Services on West Feldspar in Pacific Beach, who was reviewed on the Car Talk web site as reputable and honest, just gave me what amounted to an ultimatum.

I called him around 1:30 to discuss the problem with Max, which was that a highway patrol officer stopped me yesterday because apparently he saw smoke coming from Max's exhaust pipe when I pulled away from a light. I told Gary that I was a bit worried about even driving the car to the shop, since I was given 30 days to fix "the problem" and could be stopped again (and arrested!) in the meantime. Since I don't want to be arrested, my only choice is to do something immediately. Gary told me about a test he could do to determine whether there were any leaks, but that I'd have to bring the car in before anything more could be discussed. I told him I'd be right in. I drove Max very carefully to avoid puffing smoke in another officer's face, and was there in less than 20 minutes.

Gary noted that the car wasn't smoking now, and I just shrugged, pointing out that I'd never been arrested and didn't want to start now. He was about to get into Max to start the engine while I was filling out the paperwork for an initial exam, when I asked him to wait until I could cover the seats in plastic. This is standard procedure for me, because I'm allergic to so many things that it's just easier for me to take preventative measures than to try to figure out what is causing my symptoms after the fact. I never let anyone into my car without covering the seats. It's a bit of trouble for me, but allergies are much, much worse. So I take the trouble. And I told him the reason matter-of-factly, the way I tell everyone.

Gary stopped dead in his tracks and said, "I don't work on cars like that."

I asked him to repeat his statement, because I don't think I've ever heard anything like that from anyone ever before. "I don't work on cars like that," he said again. As though it was my car, not me, the person, the human being, a customer, that was "like that," who had the health problem. He added, "And I don't know anybody who does."

!!!!! WOW !!!!!!

What a weird claim! All of the automechanics I've ever hired were just fine with covering the seats, and were especially careful when they were told what the reason was. (This kind of claim is another pet peeve of mine. Random, sweeping generalizations that the claimant doesn't even bother to support. I hear them from business people constantly. "Nobody makes that!" "You'll never find anyone to do that!" "That can't be done!" all with the subtext, "Let me do what I feel like doing, buy this product instead of the one you're looking for, and please support me in my delusions without further argument because I am the business person and you are a mere customer.")

I wonder, does Gary also refuse to work on cars owned by people with other health problems or handicaps? Would he get huffy if I removed the baby-seat from the car before he began? Would he have a problem with crutches or a chair lift or anything like that? Was he just in a really weird mood?

I asked him, just to be sure, because I can be quite naive sometimes, if he was joking. He said that he wasn't. "I've got dogs and plants and all kinds of stuff around here," he explained, offering his unsolicited diagnosis as to the causes of my particular allergic reactions, and his medical advice about my health problems. He knows better than me, apparently, what I'm allergic to and how to deal with it. The ultimatum was, essentially, you either let me get in the car without putting seat covers on, or I don't work on your car. Or, to put it another way, you either risk your health by allowing me to work on your car the way the mood strikes me, or you don't get my service. He didn't ask me to leave. He didn't say he wasn't going to do it. He just waited for me to change my mind about this little preference of mine.

Okey-doke. I guess he has too many customers. Or maybe he decided between the time I called and the time I got to the shop that he just didn't want to deal with Max's particular problem, because he changed his tune awfully fast; on the phone he was insistent that I bring the car in as soon as possible, especially since his other mechanic was leaving within an hour. Or (one of my favorites) maybe he took it personally, as though I thought he in particular was dirty, or that mechanics are dirty. Or maybe when I got there I didn't look rich enough to soak, even though I'd brought the car in for a $150-$200 diagnosis, with the threat of thousands of dollars worth of repairs hanging over my head.

So I pulled the car back out and left without another word. If I'm not going to deal with people who insist on being dishonest, I'm definitely not going to deal with people who flat-out tell me that their pride is more important than my health. How am I supposed to trust someone like that?

I guess the lesson that I can learn from this is that you can survive in business even if you are exceedingly thoughtless, inconsiderate of other human beings, irrational, unpredictable, moody, and flighty. No need to cooperate with the customer, even if the customer does all the necessary work, such as putting seat covers on the car. Don't feel like dealing with it? Feel irrationally insulted by the implication that you are not so immaculate that no person in her right mind could possibly have an allergic reaction to you? No problem. There's always another customer rolling along. And don't even think about protecting the upholstery of a car from engine grease--why would anyone want that? Surely, anyone who feigns allergies is really just saying your lowlife mechanic's clothing is too dirty for her dainty car. And what with the state smog regulations, you're assured of a nice living no matter what.

More importantly, this has inspired me to create a new section of my web site: reviews of local businesses, especially automechanics. Wouldn't that be useful? The Car Talk site is nice, but they have a policy of only accepting recommendations, and taking down comments that "bad mouth" a mechanic. Not nearly as useful as providing both sides as people see fit.

Just reminded of a several-year stretch during which I tried to find a particular product, asking for it with diminishing hopes whenever I walked into a store. Avon used to (maybe they still do) make a brown liquid eye shadow when I was in high school and college. I bought it and used it for about 6 years in a row, and I loved it. There were others that I'd bought in normal stores but I didn't like them as much. Then that fateful day came when I tried to replace a dwindling bottle, but I couldn't scare up an Avon representative to save my life. I happened to find one of their catalogs lying around somewhere, and I called the number. The representative said she'd never heard of such a product. I was surprised, given that Avon was my source, but oh, well. So I began frequenting cosmetics counters where I knew I'd seen extremely expensive versions (on the order of $30 a bottle). At least 10 counter workers told me approximately the same thing, as though it were rehearsed: "I've never seen a liquid eye shadow! There's no such thing! No one makes that! I've been working with cosmetics for 30 years and I've never seen anything like what you're talking about. Do you mean eye liner?" I've even been told that a liquid eye shadow is--get this--impossible. Impossible! I guess this is so startling to me because makeup is really not that complicated. It's not like I'm asking them to levitate, or to jump through hyperspace. Those are impossible things. Liquid eye shadow may not actually exist (now) but it is certainly not impossible. But I guess if your mind is approximately |-------------this-big--------------| , it would seem pretty damned difficult to comprehend, and might as well be impossible. Who knows.

I used to believe people when they said things like "Never seen it." True, it did nothing to shake my firm conviction that I had purchased and used liquid eye shadow for several years. But I felt I had to believe them when they said they'd never seen it themselves.

Now I really wonder. I'm beginning to suspect that other people's brains are not constituted the way mine is. I have this weird compulsion to seek out the truth, to question the odd-sounding claim, to represent the beliefs in my head accurately, to avoid giving people false information that I just pulled out of my ass. Other people don't seem to have the same compulsion. Other people reach for the most convenient response, or perhaps the one they think will shut the customer up the fastest, and just blurt that out. And they say it like they absolutely know that this is the way it is. It's so much easier to say "There's no such thing." "Nobody will work on a car with allergies! I know that fer a fact!" Then, once that claim is out there, they think that insisting upon its truth and defending its validity is the only way they can avoid looking foolish.

And yet, these businesses survive--I guess by engaging in all those activities I complained about in the previous entry. They survive by doing just enough to not get arrested, and the rest is smoke in my rear-view mirror.
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