Monday, June 10, 2013

Week of 06/10/2013

The Tale of Two (Horrible) Mechanics
– by David Matthews 2

One day my car ran over a nail and punctured one of the tires.  I had a spare, but as automakers have done in recent years, they gave me a horrible little temporary tire that will screw up my alignment the minute I start driving with it.  I knew I had to get the tire repaired as soon as possible.

Fortunately there was a service station just down the road, and they were eager to take a look at my tire.  Now this wasn’t one of those big-name franchises you may have heard about.  No, this was some long-time mom-and-pop operation that looked every bit its age.  If I had my choice, I would have tried to find a better place.  Unfortunately the next-nearest store was miles away, and by then my car alignment would be shot to hell because of that cheap donut some car manufacturer had the gall to call a spare.  So it gritted my teeth and handed them my keys and went to the very full waiting room with all the other drivers.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one that found those nails.

Now the first thing I noticed about this place is that there were two mechanics working there, but only one of them was working on all five cars that were in the bays.  However he didn’t really “work” as much as he complained about everything with the vehicles in the bay.  According to him, every automotive advancement made from the 1960’s on up was either “unnecessary” or else “just plain wrong”, and he had no qualms letting everyone know that.

His name, according to his nametag, was “Gus”.  Gus was in his fifties and wore faded red coveralls and a dark-red tee, both of which were full of all sorts of dirt and stains.  Even though he “worked” on those five cars in the bay, it seemed like he didn’t know what the hell he was doing.  Most of the cars there were like mine; they just needed a tire fixed and their alignment checked.  But Gus decided he would check more than just the tires and the alignment.  He also took it upon himself to check the brakes and the transmission and the oil and anything else with the vehicle. 

Then there was the other mechanic… an even older gentleman wearing faded blue coveralls with a blue tee.  His nametag said “Don”, and all Don did was to sit in a chair in the corner of the garage and watch Gus.  And Don seemed rather amused by this.  Every so often Don would comment about something Gus was doing and Gus would have to break away from his “work” and berate Don for being incompetent and told Don to just sit there and shut up and let him do all the “work”.

Of course the customers in the waiting room were getting angry just sitting there and watching this farce go on.  They can’t help but hear Gus and Don argue over and over about the cars and what was supposedly “wrong” with them.

While Gus was busy “working” on the furthest car in the shop, Don explained to me that he just eggs on Gus because Gus like to do everything, even if he doesn’t know what he is doing.  But he told me “not to worry”, because Gus would soon work himself into exhaustion, and then Don would supposedly “make everything right”.

Sure enough, after thirty minutes or so, Gus was working himself into a fluster.  He was forgetting things, dropping tools, and banging himself up.  Finally after sliding on a patch of oil and nearly falling on his rear, Gus excused himself to the breakroom.

Don took the cue to get up out of his chair and slowly make his way to the first car in the bay.  The folks in the waiting room were relieved that maybe they would get their cars fixed.

Unfortunately it turned out that Don was just as incompetent as Gus.  Instead of changing the tire on the first car, he started changing the oil; something that Gus already started to do but failed to finish.  He then moved to the second bay and started working on something.  He went down the shop, starting to do something on each vehicle, but not really doing what needed to be done.

The “hope” that existed in the waiting room was quickly dashed when Gus showed up thirty minutes later.

“What th’ heck do you think you’re doing, old man?” Gus bellowed as he came out from the breakroom.  “You know you’re not supposed to be working on those vehicles!  Git yer butt back into that chair so I can fix what’s wrong with these cars!  You’re holding up these customers!”

With that, Don retreated back to his chair and Gus spent his time undoing everything Don started to work on before resuming his own cavalcade of mechanical failure.

It was almost as though it was deliberate.  As if Gus and Don were simply padding things out to milk the customers for all the parts used, and of course all the “time and labor” expended while those cars were in the bays.

At this point, the customers in the waiting room started complaining.  For the customers who had cars already in the bays, there wasn’t much they could do.  The cars were missing parts and were already drained of vital fluids like the transmission and brake fluid.  Even if they insisted on taking their cars elsewhere, they still needed to have Gus make them capable of driving off the lot, and it didn’t look like he was going to do that anytime soon.

As those customers began wondering what they would have to do to fix things, the girl behind the counter gestured me over.

When I got there, she slid me the key to my car.

“Your car’s in the back lot,” she said softly.  “They wouldn’t be able to get to it until the afternoon anyway, but you weren’t supposed to know that.  The next station is five miles away.  Tell them Libby sent you.”

Now let’s get brutally honest here… if you saw this level of incompetence, wouldn’t you want to go elsewhere?

So I slipped Libby ten dollars as a tip, took my key, and headed out back to get my car.

As I started to pull away, Don egged Gus on about how they lost another customer, which Gus loudly blamed on Don and his “incompetence”.  I also saw some other customers from the waiting room slip away as well to follow my lead.

Sure enough, five miles away was another service station which was all-too eager to fix my flat tire, mount and balance it, and even threw in a free alignment because I told them “Libby sent me”.  I was out and on the road in an hour’s time.  That was far better, and cheaper, than waiting for Gus and Don to fix things.

As I continued on my journey I thought about all the people who were in that waiting room and held at the mercy of Gus and Don of “Government Garage”.  How could two obviously incompetent mechanics still have a business?  How could they even get customers if folks knew just how bad they were?

But then something else occurred to me.  Something that suddenly made everything fit right in place.

Someone had to put those nails in the road.

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