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Car Repair, a Prickly Personality, and John’s Refusal to Believe 3 Sources Who Say Exactly the Same Thing

Friday, May 9th, 2014

A few weeks ago, when I was preparing to take the car in for an oil change, John pointed out a problem I hadn’t noticed.

“Can you get them to fix this?” he asked, showing me the latch at the bottom of the driver’s side door. The screws had come loose—they had come entirely out, it seemed—and the latch was no longer fixed to the frame of the car.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll tell them to handle it.”

Alas, the guys (and one woman!) at my repair shop told me that they couldn’t do it. I wasn’t 100% sure why, as we’re dealing with two layers of language barrier: a) I understand almost nothing mechanical; and b) they speak English with thick Chinese accents. What I gleaned was that the problem wasn’t simply about screws being loose. There was something the screws had to attach to that had come unattached and . . . couldn’t be reattached? By them? Because, and here was the bigger news: There was no entry point for them to get inside and do the work. Apparently, I would need a body shop to drill a hole through part of the frame of the car.

I took the car to a body shop. How did I choose a body shop? I looked for places  within walking distance of my house. There are two: Official-Looking Big Clean Place, and Scary-Looking Broken-Down Place. Naturally, I chose the former, although it DID occur to me that I might be using faulty logic. Because when it comes to body shops—and things that have to be jerry-rigged and drilled and maybe even blow-torched, which would have been exciting—maybe you want the quick-and-dirty guy who’ll do anything to get the job done, as opposed to the place where they have clipboards and pre-printed forms?

Anyway. The guy at Big Clean Place didn’t look happy about the job. “You should take it to the Honda dealer,” he said. “See if they have a recall on that latch. Because that is poor design.”

I drove over to the Honda dealership. They shook their heads. “Yeah, you have to take it to a body shop.”

“I did,” I said. “They said to come to you.”

“There’s no recall,” the guy assured me. “And I’ve seen this before. You have to drill a hole.”

Bizarrely, he told me that my insurance might pay. “Because it’s wear and tear,” he said.

“Isn’t normal wear and tear precisely what insurance doesn’t pay for?” I thought, correctly, but didn’t say. (I later called Geico, and yup. Although to the phone guy’s credit, he seemed very willing to believe that I may have been in an accident, if only I would suddenly remember having had one.)

So, back to the body shop, where the guy seemed, again, not entirely happy to see me. “I can’t work on this now,” he said. “First opening is in two weeks.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “Just put me in the schedule.”

“I’ll have to call you later today,” he said.

He didn’t call. So the next day, I called him and got on the schedule.

“Do you have an estimate for me?” I asked.

“I’ll have to call you later,” he said.

He didn’t call. So a week later, I called and got an estimate.

“It’ll be about $250,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll see you next week.”

Now, at this point it was pretty clear to me that he didn’t want the job—either that, or his customer service was in the toilet. And either way, I understood, the signs weren’t good. But I didn’t want to take the car to Scary-Dirty Place, and I didn’t want to take it somewhere where I’d have to sit and wait. Sitting is not my best thing, as many of you know. So I figured, I’m going to see this through.

Reckoning Day arrives, and I take the car into the shop, leave it there, and walk myself home in a quick five minutes. A few hours later, he gives me  a call.

“Bad news,” he says. “The something something may actually not be strong enough to hold the bolts once we something something, and we may have to get a new part, and the labor is 8 hours. So, best case scenario, you’re looking at $889, and it could go up to $1200. You should really take it somewhere else and get another estimate.”

I was dumbfounded. I mean, how hard could it be, drilling into the frame and screwing some bolts back in? But I didn’t have any leverage, and if they believed that a new part probably had to be ordered, that’s what they believed. It wasn’t as though he was trying to swindle me into paying; he was actually trying to get me to take my business elsewhere. Although . . . why? Because either way, weren’t they going to get their money? I went and picked up the car. And immediately drove it a block down, to Scary-Dirty Place.

“We can’t do an estimate today,” said the guy through the little glass window. “Come in tomorrow at 1:30.”

That night, as John and I ate dinner, I told him the story.

“How is that possible?” he said.

“I know,” I said. “It’s insane that they think it will cost that much. But if they really have to drill in there and then order another part for the frame because the frame isn’t strong enough or whatever . . . ”

“That just does not sound right to me.”

“But it’s what they said. The regular guys, the body shop, and the dealership. They all said that.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Okay, but they all said it. Three shops.”

“Maybe we should take it back to the Honda dealership and demand that they fix it for free,” he said.

“They’re not going to do that.”

“But if it’s an issue with poor design, they should.”

“I mean . . . that’s not . . . it doesn’t work that way.”

“Maybe it does.”

“Okay,” I said. “If it comes to that, we can do that. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘you.’ But let’s see what these other guys have to say tomorrow.”

The following afternoon, I pull into Scary-Dirty Place, where there’s a new person huddled inside the tiny, closed-in office to the left of the drive-in opening. I knock on the window to get her attention. “I have an estimate at 1:30?”

She walks out without saying a word, pad of paper in hand (no pre-printed forms here!), and opens my car door to get the VIN number.

“Need the mileage,” she says, holding out her hand.

I give her the keys, and she hands me the pad. “Name, address, and phone number.”

While I’m writing, she returns the keys, says, “It’s so cold here,” and walks outside to stand in the sun.

So . . . customer service maybe isn’t their thing, is what I’m thinking. I walk out with the pad and hand it to her. “Should I stay while they do the estimate?” I ask. “Or leave my car here?”

“Just stay,” she says. “I’ll go get him.”

She walks over to a guy in the back of the garage, says something, and then he’s quickly moving toward me, head down, eyes on the floor.

“What’s wrong with your car?” he barks.

I show him the latch. “You have to drill a hole,” I explain. “There’s no other way in.”

“Who told you that?” he barks again.

“Three different shops.”

He shakes his head. “You should really be smarter,” he growls, “than the machine you’re working on.”

“So, you don’t have to drill a hole?” I ask.

“I hate money,” he says. “That’s why everybody says that about me. I just hate money.”


“Got a minute?” he asks the car, and I say yes.

He blows by me, grabs something from the other side of the garage, and returns, crouching at the opening of the car door with a flashlight in his mouth and a screwdriver in either hand. I watch as, ever so gently, he nudges the plates inside the latch into alignment and then begins to turn the screws.

“Are you fixing it?” I say as I watch, incredulous.

He’s silent.

“What was wrong, though?” I ask. “There wasn’t a weld that had broken?”

“You really should be smarter than the machines you work on,” he growls again. Then he stands up, job obviously done. “How much were they going to charge you for that?”

“Anywhere from 900 to 1200 dollars.”

“I don’t know how anybody can get away with that,” he says.

“But I don’t think they wanted to fix it. Or maybe they didn’t know how?”

“Who sent you here?”

“Nobody,” I said. “I saw your place from the road.”

“Nobody wants to give business to me.”

“I do,” I said. “How much can I pay you?”

“How’s 25 bucks,” he says.

“How’s 50,” I say, handing him a $50 bill.

“No way,” he says.

“Yes way,” I say.

“Give it to her,” he says, pointing to the woman in the office and walking away from me.

I find the door and start to hand the woman $50.

“She’s going to try to give you $50,” the guy says to the woman, suddenly appearing behind me.

“Oh, honey,” the woman says. “Just keep it. We can’t take that.”

“You should take it,” I say. “I’m really grateful.”

“No,” she says. “You keep it. It’s just ’cause he knows how to do things.”

“I know how to do things,” I say, “and I like getting paid for it.”

She pets her dog, a sweet little dachshund sitting behind her on the office chair.

“How about 20?” I ask. “Will you take 20?’

She begrudgingly accepts it. “He’d be happy,” she says, “if you just got him a bottle of wine.”

“You can buy wine with $50,” I say.

“This is fine,” she says.

“What’s his name, anyway?” I ask.

“Him? Oh, that’s Michael, and I’m Kimberly. Let me get you a card.”

She hands me a card, and on the way out, I read it: same last name. They’re married! And they own this place!

As soon as I get home, I Yelp the crap out of these folks. Unsurprisingly, the results are split: Half the reviews say that the place is a godsend, Michael is a master craftsman, and you can trust him and Kimberly with your life. The other half are written by people who didn’t actually get any work done, so horrified were they by the initial customer service. Witness:

Sorry Bob’s.  How can you possibly be in business with an insanely human-repellant [sic] attitude like that?  You SERIOUSLY need to fire that guy, or make him NEVER responsible for giving estimates, and Science have mercy if that man is you, Bob, the owner.  If you hate your life that much, you need to find a new job, take some vacation and/or medication, get professional help, etc, NOT work with people in a service role, and certainly not drive away your own business and take your emotional issues out on other completely innocent people.  You need help.

I think I know who that was, Yelp poster. I think it was Michael. And he is a freaking MASTER CRAFTSMAN.

Also, he might have Asperger’s. Or maybe just rage?

Anyway, CAR FIXED! 20 BUCKS! And JOHN WAS RIGHT JOHN WAS RIGHT JOHN WAS RIGHT! 3 unique shops got it wrong. One unique shop got it right. Bob Motter Auto Body, you have my business for life.


In Which the Issue of the Mulch, which Appeared Incapable of Worsening, Does, In Fact, Get Worse

Monday, August 27th, 2012

First this.

Now this:

J: Sweetie, I thought of a great way to break up the front-yard mulch into smaller pieces.

M: Yeah?

J: We can spread it out on the driveway and leave it there for a while. That way, whenever we pull in or out, we’ll be breaking it up into pieces.


J: Sorry?

M: You’re hurting me!

J: It’s the perfect—

M: Stop talking! Stop saying anything! Don’t speak!

J: But what’s the—

M: [Clutching stomach and rolling on the floor.] I didn’t think this could get any worse! But you found a way! You found a way to make it worse!

J: [Collapsing into hysterics.] But it’s not worse! It’s better!

M: It’s the death of my dreams! It’s the end of my being!

J: [Laughing.] I’m hearing that you don’t like this idea.

M: [Laughing too hard to speak.]

J: [More hysterics.] I really don’t see the problem!

M: [Laughing laughing laughing.] Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me this early in my life.

J: [Laughing laughing laughing.] Okay, Sweetie. Okay.

[Finally, laughter dies down and we get in the car.]

M: Let’s just go to the Rep and pretend this never happened.

J: Okay, but what if–

M: It never happened! You never said this!


Monday, June 18th, 2012

I was just applying for a copywriting gig, and I had to answer this question:

If you had an opportunity to create/start whatever you wanted and were given 1 million dollars and six months, what would this thing be, and how would you go about making it happen?

Okay, if I had a million dollars, obviously I would buy 1/2 of a modernist house, give more money to NPR, and pay restaurants to cook me dinner every night. But because this potential employer wants to see a creative idea that sort of benefits humanity but also sounds like a campaign I might generate for a client (because that’s the business we’re in, people), I had to come up with something else. Here’s what I wrote:


I would trick out a bus with happy, feel-good (but modern and sophisticated) decor and tour it around the country, parking it in cities and towns and offering free 15-minute listening sessions to anyone and everyone. The bus would be staffed with people who had been trained in compassionate listening, and they’d all be dressed as manatees—big, blorpy, calm animals who just listen. Upon entering the bus, the customer/user would be greeted by one of the manatees, who would lead them to a private room. There, they’d be given 15 minutes to say whatever they needed to say. At the end, there would be a hug option. I’d also develop a bunch of social media apps where people all over the world could Tell-a-Manatee via website, text, iPhone, whatever — potentially resulting in a book of things people wanted to tell manatees. We’d make a music video of manatees singing about how much they want to hear everybody’s story and develop a plush manatee doll for people to hug. Probably by then I’d be out of time and/or money.

Think I’ll get the job?