’Tis the season!

Ah, the holidays. Peace, love, and goodwill towards men. Joy to the world. For most of you in the working world, the holidays are a great time for

    1. Overtime pay;
    2. Cookies;
    3. Someone getting drunk at the Christmas party and providing enough entertainment that you don't mind the hangover the next day;
    4. Avoiding your in-laws legitimately since you “gotta work overtime!;” and
    5. More cookies.

Those of us who work retail don't have such a festive view of the holiday season. The combination of colder weather, constant Christmas music, financial pressure, and children with a sense of entitlement for the latest $500 electronic thing that everyone else has, turns normally sane full grown adults into rabid psychotic freaks at the holiday season. Which is why the retail sector mostly thinks of Christmas as the time for:

    1. Armed robbery;
    2. Drunken customers;
    3. Crying children in the waiting room;
    4. Crying adults at the front counter; and
    5. Credit card fraud.

We try not to turn into Scrooge around this time of year, but it gets harder and harder to tell when it's going to hit. It's somewhere around Halloween some years, and it will start with the very first freak-out at the front counter for something you didn't expect at all and then you realize, oh yeah, it's the holidays. The opening salvo this year sounded something like this:

(Phone call with woman in her early 30s)

Customer: I'm getting a warning light in my car and don't know what it is.
Me: What does it look like?

Customer: It looks like a filter. I had my oil changed a few weeks ago at your shop, is there something wrong with the oil filter?
Me: (get customer name, vehicle info, and look up information on the dash lights on her vehicle) I can't tell from your description which light you are talking about. I see a check engine light which has words, a washer fluid light which looks like a windshield, low coolant light which has words, low oil light which looks like an oil can, high beam light, (name a couple others) but none I would describe as looking like a filter. When you say it looks like a filter, do you mean it looks like a cylinder or a square?

Customer: (raising voice) How the hell should I know! You all changed the oil! Do you think something is wrong with the oil change?
Me: Ma'am it will be impossible to tell without having the car here. We'll be happy to check it for you and find out what the problem is. When can you get it here?

Customer: Well I don't know if I want to get it there if you messed up the oil change!
Me: (confused silence)

Customer: So what should I do!
Me: I can't really advise you unless I have an idea which light you are talking about. Please take a look again and describe it to me and I'll do the best I can with the guide I have here.

Customer: I don't know! It's a light, a blinking light!
Me: Ma'am, calm down, pull the car over. Just tell me this, is it a red light or a yellow light?

Customer: (louder, sounding panicky) I can't pull over I'm on (some street I don't know) there's no place to pull over!
Me: Maybe you should call someone you know who can help you, a friend or family member maybe, if you feel you really need help?

Customer: (still loud, now sounds angry) Well you're the one who messed up my car!
Me: I really can not stay on the phone, there are customers here for me to take care of, I'm not sure what you would like for me to do for you.

Customer: (very loud) I want you to tell me what's wrong with my car!
Me: Again, ma'am, over the phone I can't be much help to you. I would just suggest that if it is a red light, red is bad, blinking is bad, pull over and shut the car off immediately and call a tow truck. If it is a yellow light, not so bad but blinking is bad, pull over when you safely can manage and call a friend or family member to help you out. I do not recommend you continue to drive this vehicle if you are unsure what the light is or what is wrong with it.

Pretty Sure It's a Former Customer Now: (very loud) So now I'm supposed to call a (bleep) ing tow truck! How much is that going to (bleep)ing cost!
Me: We do not own a tow truck and I don't know what they charge but their number is four three ni...

Former Customer: I'm not calling a (bleep)ing tow truck you dumb (bleep)!
Me: Okay, so, don't. I have to get back to work, have a nice day. (hangs up)

A few minutes later I get this call: (from man in his 30s, irate)

Former Customer's Husband: Who is this?
Me: This is Beth. Who are you?

Man: I'm (name I don't recognize, doesn't matter at this point anyway, I already know what this is about). I need to speak to your supervisor.
Me: That would be me.

Man: I need to speak to your boss.
Me: That's also me.

Man: I need to speak to the owner.
Me: Yep. Still me.

Man: There's no (bleep)ing way you are the owner.
Me: I know, I keep telling the bank that, but they keep telling me I have to pay the mortgage anyway. So what can I do for you?

Man: I need to be transferred to your corporate headquarters.
Me: Right here, you got it.

Man: There must be someone else with some authority there.
Me: Checking ... nope, still me, so what can I do for you?

Man: Oh (bleep) off! (hangs up)

At first, nothing about the whole exchange made any sense to me. They were customers that had been coming here for some time, and I have no idea how "what does this light mean" turned into "you messed up my car!" like it did, but I'm not a social worker and I'm not trained like a 911 operator so I really don't know what to do with people who freak out on the phone. Besides the fact that I can't do very much for them from a distance, I still am at work and have business to conduct with people who are already in my shop and deserve my attention. Clearly this woman needed a friend or a hug or therapy or something else I couldn't provide.

We lose a few every year this way, people who either are too embarrased to return after acting that way, or they really do blame us for their stress and problems and think we messed up their lives.

The long trip

I will never understand why people wait until the last minute to ready their car for a trip. If you are using your car to travel, it's pretty much the most important part of your trip details, and if something goes wrong with your car, what choice are you left with? If you are unsure about your car, rent one, save yourself the hassle and the out-of-state breaking down problems. If you are sorta sure about your car, have it checked out at least a week in advance. Not the morning of your trip.

Whatever bad news we give you the morning of your trip, how much time are you allowing yourself to get the problem fixed? And you aren't the only one going on vacation, many auto shops are short employees or closed entirely, parts stores and dealerships are the same, so chances that an auto shop can fix anything beyond a routine problem are slim to none. Yet I see it every year, normally sane and reasonably educated people insisting on loading up their family and leaving town with a badly leaking steering rack, failing brakes, bad tires.

It scares me to death to think of traveling on the highways in the holiday season, because I know how poorly the general public maintains their cars. But I'm not here to lecture, I'm not everyone's Mom, so I'll just say everyone be careful out there. Being careful out there in more than one way - like I said, normally sane, decent people become desperate idiots around the holiday time, and the craziest things you would never expect will happen.

The front counter

Ah, then the front counter dance of the sugarplum fairies begins. I don't have enough money, can I pay you after the holidays, don't you have a payment plan (Sure! Pay, then plan to pick up your car.), can I call you back with a credit card number, and on and on.

(Conversation with a man in his late 30s, been a customer for 4 years, at the counter)

Man: I'm here to pick up my Nissan.
Me: Ready to go, that will be $125.82
Man: Shoot, I left my debit card at home. I'll call my wife, she'll bring it to me.
Me: OK. (busy with other customers, several minutes go by)

Man: She's not answering. I can go across the street to the bank and cash a check and be right back if you want (you can see the bank parking lot from our front counter, it is about 3:00 in the afternoon).
Me: Sure.
Man: Mind if I have my keys and drive over there? I hate to cross this busy road this time of day.
Me: Sure, here you go (keep in mind, we are in a small town, these are people I've known for years, and their house is literally within walking distance of the shop).

Man: (never returns, this was on Tuesday, I called him several times and he never called back or came by)

Continued on Friday ...

His Wife: I'm here to pick up my car.
Me: Sure, also there's still a bill owed on the Nissan.
His Wife: On what?
Me: Your Nissan.
His Wife: I don't have a Nissan.
Me: Sorry, your husband's Nissan, he was in on Tuesday and got some work done.
His Ex-Wife: We're not married any more.
Me: Sorry to hear that. Got a way for me to reach him? (the bill got paid)

(Conversation with man in his late 50s at the front counter)

Man: I had some work done a few months ago and I have a question.
Me: Sure, what can I do for you?
Man: I charged it on my credit card and I don't have enough money to pay it. I need to figure out a different way to pay it.
Me: You mean, refund this payment and charge it to another card? I can do that, I just need the ca....
Man: No, I mean, I need a refund, and I'll pay you part of it now and part of it later.
Me: Uhhhh ... it doesn't work that way, the work was done months ago, I'm not going to just give the money back.
Jerk: Well, I don't have enough money to pay the credit card bill, so I need to get the money back.
Me: That's really not a problem I'm equipped to deal with here. I suggest you call a friend or family member to get some advice about personal matters like that.
Jerk: But I need the money, and I can pay you later.
Me: Sir, you need to work that out with your credit card company, not me.
Thief: Well, here's what I can do. I can buy the parts that you put on my car and return them to you so you can give me the money for the parts.
Me: No.
Thief: Well, then you can return the parts and get your money back.
Me: No. Not interested.
Thief: Then tell me what you need, and I'll buy it for you, and just do a chargeback on the other company instead.
Me: I'm done discussing this. Not interested.
Me: Get the hell out of my shop.

(Woman at the front counter in her 50s)

Customer: Oh, you don't take personal checks. (She had to push aside a sign that says "We do not accept personal checks" to put her checkbook on the counter.)
Me: We take debit cards, credit cards, and cash.

Customer: I don't have any credit cards and I don't think I brought enough cash.
Me: Debit card?

Customer: Well, I can't use the debit card, I only have $5 in my account (the bill was $32).
Me: Your debit card to your checking account only has $5 in it?

Customer: Yes.
Me: So how were you going to write me a check?

Customer: Oh. You're right, I didn't think about it that way.
Me: (silence)

Customer: (glaring at me because I'm sure all this is my fault) I have enough cash.

And thus the holiday season begins. God bless us every one.


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