Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Hard Case, The Lure of Hell, Summer Rain, and Customer Relations
I came into the shop this morning with a great attitude. HARD CASE II: THE LURE OF HELL reached #2 on the Amazon Men’s Adventure list again, with HARD CASE hanging around at #6. My partner, publisher, agent, and friend Author RJ Parker has done a remarkable job in a relatively short period of time and he has a promotion going on. Although battling sock puppet book killers and the Amazon badlands of ferocious competition, we’re clawing our way up in recognition.
My new novel starring aging P.I. Rick Cantelli is approaching 60,000 words and the third book in the HARD CASE series is nearing 15,000 words, so writing is still going well. My characters from the YA trilogy, DEMON are rattling around in my head for another humorous adventure too. So much for my fictional world, because I got a funny introduction to a new customer first thing this morning. She had an appointment for a brake check. When I opened the shop at just after 7:30, a 2002 Buick Regal crept in making the worst metal to metal screeching racket I’ve heard in quite a while. The owner, who will be known as Ms. Grindy Regal, was a harried looking woman with auburn hair, around five and a half feet tall. We had an unusual California summer rain this morning, so she had on a full length tan fashionable raincoat and medium heels. Ms. Regal exited the car, closed the door, and gestured at her chariot, with one of those pasted on smiles people think make them look friendly. In reality, they look kind of creepy to me, but hey, sometimes it’s just nerves.
“I have an eight o’clock appointment. Well, what do you think?”
Yes, the devil tried to pounce into control of my sarcastic nature, and make me fire off a few acid tongued one-liners I’m sure would not have been beneficial for anyone. I instead tried to draw the opening conversation to polite business interaction.
“Let me fill out an invoice for you, and I’ll get your contact information. I should be able to phone you with a complete estimate within the hour, Ms. Regal.”
As I started toward the office, Grindy brought me up short.
“I don’t have time for a complete anything. I’d like you to put pads on the front, and I’ll have a seat in your office. I brought a book to read.”
Oh boy. First off, on the phone I was very thorough in explaining how I estimate brake work, particularly the fact she would have to leave the vehicle. These situations rarely end well, when a customer comes in, having entered their own parallel dimension of reality instead of mine. “I can’t do that, Ms. Regal. By the sound your Buick is making, you have extensive damage to the brake system. When it comes to brakes, I only do complete repairs, because of the danger in doing patch work to the customer, and others on the road.”
Polite, formal, and disparaged in an instant.
“Just the pads for today please.” Return of the pasted on smile.
Uh… no. “As I explained, I don’t do that. If you’d like, I can inspect the brakes while you wait in the office, but I have no intention of throwing pads on your vehicle, and taking responsibility for you endangering yourself and others.”
Ms. Regal’s smile fled without even a vapor trail. Her eyes narrowed and the lips tightened. To her credit she thought it through before speaking. “To be clear I will not authorize you to do anything so you may as well not bother wasting your time with an invoice.”
“It’s not a waste of time, Ma’am. It’s state law. When I do anything to your car in my shop I have to by law have an invoice on it for your protection and mine. Come in the office.”
Grindy followed me in reluctantly. I filled out a complete invoice with mileage, license, and VIN number. I then had her sign it although I was not charging her for the brake estimate. Yes, it’s not a profitable business practice, but to avoid misunderstandings, I don’t charge for brake inspections unless it involves the ABS system. I clenched my teeth pulling the Buick ahead into a stall for the check. The brake pedal was spongy, and I had a good idea why. The master cylinder was low on fluid and had an inch of goop at the bottom from overheated fluid. After making sure the drum brakes in the rear were good and the wheel cylinders weren’t leaking, I proceeded to the noisy front. The rotors were ground down to the point they were wafer thin in spots. The hydraulic calipers were toast. The heat from metal to metal braking had turned the outer seals and boots into crispy critters. I have no clue how people can drive a vehicle in that condition. I immediately took pictures with my HD camera and adjourned into the back where I did a complete estimate, transferred the pictures, and printed out a two page collage for Grindy.
Back in the office in record time, 35 minutes – not bad for an old man, when the inspection required mechanics, photography, and computer skill. Ms. Regal was unhappy to say the least. Unhappy with my diligence, my explanation of repairs, the price of repairs (although very reasonable), and especially my pictures. She grabbed the pictures.
“I’ll take these.”
“By all means. I have file copies.” I watched the realization hit that I controlled the vertical. I controlled the horizontal… whoops… sorry… my TV time exposure to the ‘Outer Limits’ when I was a kid crept through. “I attach a sheet to the invoice for my records, so in case anything happens I’m protected.”
“What the hell do you need to be protected from?” Ms Regal was getting a little testy.
“Calm down, Ma’am. Your brakes are in a very dangerous condition. I urge you if you don’t want them repaired here, to have your vehicle either towed home or to another shop. I’m afraid you’re going to kill yourself or some other innocent people on the road.”
It could have been the mention of killing herself… or the innocent people. I won’t make a value call here. Grindy shifted into neutral. She sighed. “Can I leave it here for now until I make a decision?”
“You sure can, and you’re making a wise decision. I don’t charge storage fees for the first week if you stay in contact with me. You have a detailed estimate there. Take it and shop it around. For your own safety I advise you not to have a Backyard Bob do it.”
She brightened up at that a bit, so maybe it was a money issue, although I doubt she could beat my price for Delco replacement parts, labor and tax anywhere. Grindy called her sister for a ride, and I have adjourned here to the back of my bat cave to type up this latest excursion into customer car repair land. :)