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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Lighter Side Of Christmas Lights

I received a flyer, seeking to keep the Christmas lights on the building at a minimum, stuck to my door this morning, so I have to vent. :)

Christmas lights, blinking in rainbow colors, soothe the soul,
Easing even the burden shopping takes in hectic toll.
In spite of holiday haters, who try to bury Yuletide cheer,
We sing sacred, joyous carols with those we hold dear.
As irreligious dolts curse our season in darkness dreary,
We endure their petty whining until they become weary,
Finally trudging away, muttering about church and state,
Promising boycotts, media mischief, and a court date.
Each year it becomes harder and harder to celebrate,
For Grinches have multiplied like rabbits of late,
Extortion their tool to drive Christmas out of the schools,
Promising ACLU lawyers, acting their part as ghouls,
To tear apart the holy day, in an America hating fest,
Where everything we hold sacred is put to the test.
We have only our faith to warm us in these dread times,
Thinking of these cretins, in silent shadows, like mimes,
Their only purpose in life: to try and ruin the sublime,
For their atheistic lives have neither reason nor rhyme.
Taking pleasure only in forcing others to feel their pain,
Vampires on the neck of the world, with joy to drain.
Beware ye dark sullen, soulless creatures of the night!
We ignorant God fearing rubes are sick of your blight!
Show us your vaunted liberal respect for others' ways.
Next Christmas, lay under a rock till after the holidays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ah Oh, Another Ten

Ten Possible (but not recommended) Responses To Angry Auto Repair Customers:

1. Let’s get you into your car while you can still walk.

2. Let’s go over what you don’t understand about the phrase “GET OUT”.

3. Let’s get together, so I can answer those thoughtful comments with some music from my lead pipe serenade.

4. Let’s talk over the small novel of things wrong with your POS (Piece of S**t), I wrote on the bottom of the invoice before I found out you can’t read.

5. Let’s get you a quarter, my treat, out of the cash box, so you can call someone who cares.

6. Let’s get a third party in here to hear your story. Know anyone who needs a good laugh?

7. Let’s hear how you think we should resolve this. I need a good laugh.

8. Let’s look at the up side. This will never happen again, because if I ever see you drive into my shop again, car repairs will be the least of your worries.

9. Let’s go over how you think this happened. I’m still writing my column on idiot things customers think for an auto trade magazine.

10. Let’s get you to stop screaming obscenities in my face, before I have to demonstrate one of my hobbies: dental surgery. I’m only at the knocking out stage, and I’ve been told it’s quite painful.


Monday, November 26, 2007


I was asked to comment professionally on surcharges in the automotive repair business. Since I find it impossible to critique a shop’s charges, other than my own; and because there are as many circumstances as there are shops, I kept my comment humorous.

You can be very profitable at this; and yes, surcharges are a necessity.

Start with book-time (Labor Guide) – A loss leader if there ever was one.

Then Add:

  1. ‘Age surcharge’ – What us old guys lack in speed, we make up for in enthusiasm.
  2. ‘Time Owning Shop surcharge’ – Hey, banks charge interest on loans.
  3. ‘Arthritis surcharge’ – And if you don’t like it, remember one day you’ll be old.
  4. ‘Busted Knuckle’ surcharge – Hospitals charge for blood and skin, don’t they?
  5. ‘I’m Going To Get Dirty On This Job’ surcharge – Soap and water cost money.
  6. ‘The Customer Gave Me Attitude’ surcharge – Sometimes gets grouped with #4.
  7. ‘I’m Old, And Left A Favorite Wrench Under The Hood’ surcharge – Because I can.
  8. ‘Customer Interrupted My Work All Day With Phone Calls’ surcharge – That’ll learn ‘ya!
  9. ‘Customer Argues About Bill, While Looking At Signed Estimate’ surcharge – This must be added at the beginning, and then discounted if not applicable.
  10. ‘Late For Appointment’ surcharge – Doctors charge for this, and they never make anything run better than ever.

My input was met with mixed reactions on the Shop Management Forum. :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tis The Season

I finally have a chance to write down my first holiday encounter of the season from yesterday.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Bernie!” The young woman called out as she walked toward me.
“Thanks, happy Thanksgiving to you too,” I reply with welcoming smile. I have no idea who this lady is; but I figure it’s a customer I don’t recognize. I admit some days to not being the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“How’s your family?” She asks with a lilt in her voice I immediately fall for. I figure she’s been in my office and seen all the pictures on the wall.
“Great,” I answer. “The kids and Grandson are arriving tonight.”
“Wonderful… listen, I left my purse in the apartment…”
Aw crap, a grifter, and a gifted one at that.
“…I don’t want to walk all the way back. Can you loan me five dollars for the store? I’ll…”
“No, I don’t give out money here,” I cut her off, because if you give out money to grifters here in my neighborhood, the word gets out real quick.
“A couple bucks then…” she calls out as I’ve already turned away, and her voice has lost the friendly lilt.
“No money,” I repeat, still walking away.
“Thanks a lot, #%^*!%@&!”
“Happy Thanksgiving!” I call out, turning to wave. I’ll remember her the next time she comes in. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Trouble With Batteries

I heard the ding of my motion detector; but I was underneath a 1991 GMC ¾ ton pickup, with both arms occupied. I called out ‘just a minute, and I’ll be right with you’. Yea, that worked. A woman in dress and high heels bypasses the no customer beyond this line marker, and click clacks over to the truck. She crouches down, peering under the truck.

“Hi, I don’t mean to bother you…”

Too late.

“…I was wondering if you could change a battery for me. I’ve already bought it, and it’s out there in my trunk.”

Oh goody, bring your own parts time. I slid out from under the truck carefully, after looking forlornly up at the steering gear I had almost jockeyed into position. A one man shop has its drawbacks. I can’t both whine about interruptions and the cost of hiring extra guys, while praising the pluses of being a one man band all these years.

“What year and make of vehicle do you have, ma’am?” I ask, as I work my way up to a standing position, and remove the filthy plastic gloves I’d been doing the steering gear job with.

“It’s a 2002 Chevy Impala,” she replied, following my gesture to walk back toward the shop front.

I told her what I charge for changing a late model GM vehicle battery, and she instantly becomes defensive. Most people believe changing a battery on late model vehicles is the same as doing one on a 1970 Chevy Impala. It’s not. If the vehicle computer is allowed to lose its memory, all kinds of unusual things can happen, such as stalling, hard starting, radio security lock out, or alarm circuit lock out. The charge is for half an hour, including the expertise in not messing the car up doing it.

“For changing a battery?!” Ms. Impala questions with what she thinks is legitimate outrage. “If I were a guy, you wouldn’t charge me that.”

“No, I’d tell you to take the battery back where you bought it, get a refund, and come in for me to install a new Delco Battery from my supplier; because I don’t normally install other people’s parts,” I answer truthfully.

I don’t know this woman, so being a little patient doesn’t hurt. I explain the complexity nowadays in changing a battery, assuming it is a maintenance replacement rather than a problem. The lady’s in her late twenties, and looks to have a good job if clothing is any indicator.

“Fine,” she sighs unconvinced. “Can I drive the car in?”

“Sure, I’ll get an invoice ready.”

Ms. Impala drives in. I write up the estimate, looking the car over for any hidden traps under the hood, like dirty fingerprints indicating the backyard boys had beat me to this job a couple times. She signs the estimate, and I give her the copy. Ms. Impala opens her trunk. I take out the new battery, and load test it. It’s no good. Luckily, it has removable caps over the cells, and I show her the brand new battery has a dead cell with my hydrometer. To say she’s unhappy would be an understatement. I remind her it could have been worse. I could have installed it; and when it didn’t run, we’d have both been really unhappy. I load the DOA new battery in her trunk and she leaves.

I take my phone under the GMC with me, because I know what’s coming next. The phone rings fifteen minutes later. It’s the sales manager of Backyard Bob’s Parts R Us.

“Did you tell this lady our new batteries were no good?!! I’ll…”

“No,” I cut him off, “I did not tell her your new batteries were bad. I told her the one she brought over for me to install was no good, and I showed her which cell was faulty. Did you test it?”

“Our batteries are…”

“Did you test it!?” I repeat more pointedly.


“Call me back after you test it,” I add quickly and hang up.

No calls, so I finish the GMC. An hour later, the 2002 Impala drives in. The lady gets out in irritated fashion, and walks around to meet me as I leave the office. She has her arms folded tightly over her chest (body language I’ve learned over the years meaning I’m pissed off). This is better than hands on hips, which means I’m pissed off at you.

“The sales manager put another new battery in for me,” she states.

“Great,” I reply, wondering why are you here then.

“My Chevy is stalling at every other stop now.”

I shrug. “Just drive it for a few days until the computer gets a chance to relearn the idle. Hopefully, that’s the only thing you’ll have a problem with. There will be stuff you will have to reset from your owners manual. When you start having trouble, look in the index, and follow the directions for whatever it is you find doesn’t work right.”

“Can’t you just hook something up and set it for me?”

Uh oh, the hands drop to her hips.

“No, it doesn’t work that way,” and I know this from experience. Something else always shows up in real life driving. I didn’t want this monkey on my back. “You’ll have to be patient. Otherwise, I suggest you take it to the dealer.”

“Thanks… you’ve been a lot of help,” she retorts on her way to slamming into her car and driving off.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Helpful. :)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day

I remember reading about two marines in the Pacific who won the Medal of Honor, one of them posthumously. The story was in a Time-Life Book series I bought about World War Two. It told the story of a Marine Special Weapons Platoon, in charge of guarding the Zanana beach supply area from being retaken by the Japanese on New Georgia. The Platoon put together a couple of 30 caliber machine guns from spare parts and established a rear guard post. Corporal Maier Rothschild and Private John Wantuck volunteered to man the guns. The platoon came under attack from a Japanese battalion, and retreated individually back to the beach, regrouping to face the next charge. It never came. In the morning, the Marines found Wantuck, and Rothschild had been cut off. They found these two Marines with more than a hundred dead Japanese littered around their spare-parts machine gun positions. Wantuck lay dead next to his empty gun, encircled by dead Japanese he had killed with his knife and grenades. Rothschild, wounded, lay surrounded by dead enemies. A Japanese General’s attack failed because of two bad ass American Marines.

Since the Marine Corps just celebrated their birthday, I used this one of many incredible true stories of America’s vets to remember this Veterans’ Day. Thank you all for your dedication, honor, and patriotism. Thank you all for our freedom.

Let me close this with a portion of French President Sarkozy’s speech to our US Congress, thanking America’s Veterans:

“The men and women of my generation heard their grandparents talk about how in 1917, America saved France at a time when it had reached the final limits of its strength, which it had exhausted in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars.

The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how in 1944, America returned to free Europe from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave it.

Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young American soldiers lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole.

Fathers took their sons to the beaches where the young men of America had so heroically landed. They read them the admirable letters of farewell that those 20-year-old soldiers had written to their families before the battle to tell them: "We don't consider ourselves heroes. We want this war to be over. But however much dread we may feel, you can count on us." Before they landed, Eisenhower told them: "The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."

And as they listened to their fathers, watched movies, read history books and the letters of soldiers who died on the beaches of Normandy and Provence, as they visited the cemeteries where the star-spangled banner flies, the children of my generation understood that these young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Visit

Had a visitor yesterday who ran the gamut of clich├ęs involving employees of the state. At first they’re funny; and then they become annoying, followed rapidly by enraging. The most important fact us common, private sector people forget is Government employees do not produce anything. Aside from police, firemen, and the many times incompetent so-called leaders, the remainder of government employees are in positions created to solve problems. The only problem with that job description is if they solve the problem, they’re out of a job. Therefore government never solves problems, it exacerbates them.

Thus, over the years I’ve entertained a wide variety of these parasites, coming by to stick their authoritative noses into my business. They come in various endeavors from the federal, state, and local parasitic main frame. Yesterday’s representative of all things arrogant and condescending stepped into the shop looking like he just walked out of GQ’s fashion pages. At first, I thought, wow, doctor, lawyer, plumber :); but no, he was from the government, and he was here to he’p me. I won’t name which parasitic branch, so I will refer to him by the name GQ Leach. Some of these folks steal so much from businesses, they should have a gun and a mask when they visit. Others, like Mr. Leach, wish to dictate how we do business. I won’t go into all the details of Mr. Leach’s pitch, because I do believe in the black helicopters, but I’ll relate some of the more humorous points.

“Hi, can I help you,” I asked in my most reverent tone, cause he could have owned a brand new Cad Escalade, and he’d be the first in my neck of the woods.

GQ Leach doesn’t say anything right away. He merely scans the inside of my building. GQ then hands me a card, with some abbreviated nonsense on it, along with his name and phone number.

“Are you the owner?” Mr. Leach asks, with this tone like he was auditioning for Muldar’s job on the X-Files, and I had Area 51 behind the building.

“Yes,” I answer, with I’m sure disappointment in my voice, cause if this guy owns an Escalade, I ain’t ever going to see it.

“Can we talk?”

“Yes,” I admit, he does a great Joan Rivers imitation. I motion to the office. “Come in the office. I can give you about fifteen minutes. If that’s not enough, it’ll have to wait for a different day.”

GQ did not like that, but he follows me inside anyway. Mr. Leach gives me this five minute spiel on community service; which starts ringing alarm bells in my head, as I unconsciously reach back to see if my wallet is still in my pocket.

“Just a second,” I break in with a polite hand gesture. “I give to six legitimate organizations, where nearly every cent of my donation goes to help: Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Salvation Army, Marines Toys For Tots, Operation Gratitude, and Operation AC. If you ain’t one of those, I don’t donate to you.”

“I’m not representing a charity here,” GQ retorts. “As a small businessman, you surely understand the importance of giving back to the community. I…”

“No, as a matter of fact, I don’t,” I break in again. “This isn’t a charity either. If I don’t do a damn good job of fixing cars and trucks here, as I have for over thirty years, the community would have put me out of business long ago. The Community and I have a great understanding: they don’t give me something for nothing, and I in return don’t give them something for nothing. Listen, Mr. Leach, let’s get to the bottom line here. Put it in plain words for me. What are you after me to do?”

GQ looks around the office, doing some mouth tightening exercises before responding.

“We’d like you to become involved in hiring…”

“This is a one-man-shop,” I cut him off, now realizing where this is going.

“Yes, well… we’d like you to consider hiring someone as a way of…”

“I’m not hiring anyone. I’ll tell you what though. If your agency picks up the tab for workman’s comp, health care, liability insurance, payroll taxes, SSI, and all vacation and sick days, I’ll consider it.”

GQ laughs. I don’t. I stand up. We’re done, because Mr. Leach has not a clue what it would cost me in real money to adopt his little work program. It may be a game to whomever he represents, or maybe to him. My business is not a game to me.

“Sorry, I can’t help you,” I reply as a polite way of saying get out.

“I think you should reconsider,” GQ stands up, but stays with the pitch. Maybe he works on quota. “After all, you…”

“No,” I open the door for him, as he finally takes the hint; but favors me with some muttering about short-sightedness, which will definitely warm me up to his plan.

After he’s gone, I think about my favorite George Washington quote:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel

This episode is under general info. Over the last couple months, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being the middle man between three different dealerships in the area, and customers with legitimate warranty issues. They were all different makes, so it may be just a hard line tactic here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll skip the boring details, and get right to the chase. Customer comes in to have late model vehicle checked out. I find their problem listed under legitimate warranty coverage. Customer gets run around at dealer, including the usual independent garage insults directed at me; which I take good-naturedly, because I’ve been in business longer than any of them. I talk the customer into using my diagnostic findings in a call to their particular vehicle manufacturer’s customer service hotline, listed in the owner’s manual. In all three cases, the manufacturers put in a call to the dealer with an order to fix under warranty.

I know there are unscrupulous people who buy a new car; and then expect the dealer to make good on everything, including stuff their own poor maintenance habits caused. That does not mean it’s okay to give everyone through the door the old heave-ho. If you read this, and you have a relatively new vehicle with warranty issues, keep the old adage in mind about the ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’. Use the customer service hotline when there is a question. Anything to do with emission controls, by law, has at least a five year/50,000mile to ten year/100,000 mile warranty, depending on your location.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I heard a car with very high idle revving up into my shop, just before the motion detector went off. I didn’t have time to walk around the car I was working on before the driver beeped his horn for attention. This is on a par with an author sending out a query letter, stating in the first line the agent would be an idiot not to represent the author’s work. I approached the old 1984 Honda, with real interest now I’d been beeped at. Two men, one in his early twenties, and one in his late twenties, jumped out of the car, leaving it running at high rev.

“Can I help you?” I asked the driver, while keeping an eye on the guy approaching rapidly from the passenger side. The driver gestured at the car, rolling his eyes and not saying anything. Oh great, a mime. I hate mimes.

“Say man, I need you to show me how to turn down the idle speed on this,” the guy from the passenger side speaks for the mime.

The middle eighties Honda has one of the most screwed up monstrosities for a carburetor ever designed. It has a plethora of vacuum hoses streaming out of it in all directions, and multitudes of problems I won’t bore any of you with. Needless to say I had no intention of wasting the next half hour showing beep-beep and his friend how to do anything on the Honda.

“Sorry, the only thing I can do is make you an appointment to leave the car off for a diagnostic check,” and I tell them how much. The mime immediately throws his hands up in the air in disgust; and does a little walk around, shaking his head.

“Look, I had a guy turn up the idle, but I wasn’t watchin’,” the passenger informed me. “I’ll give you a few bucks to show me where to turn it down at.”

“I don’t work like that, and especially not on one of these old Hondas. Find the guy who turned it up for you and have him show you,” I tell him, as he opts to now try and invade my airspace (three feet minimum, for all those not familiar with my preference from prior blog descriptions). I hold up a hand. “If you can do a palm reading on this hand, Sir, you’re too close.”

“Just turn down the damn idle for me!” He tries a little high volume persuasion, as he backs away slightly.

“Not going to happen, Sir,” I inform him politely. He stares at me. This is good stuff. I’m already making blog notes in my head: a beep-beep, a mime, an attempted personal airspace invasion, ordered to do a freebie in my own shop, and a stare down.

I lost the stare down. I couldn’t help it. I smiled first. Then the mime comes over and gestures for the passenger to get into the car.

“C’mon, let’s go,” the mime speaks, as he slides behind the wheel and slams his door.

The passenger stares for another moment, consolidating his win in the stare-down I guess, and then gets in on the passenger side. The Honda rev’s out the shop doorway, and zooms down the street in a huff. I admit I lost the stare-down; but I did provoke the mime into speaking. :) Another meaningful interaction in the Naked City.