The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The cost is insignificant

Yesterday, on the phone with my mom, I said "sometimes, I feel sorry for the people who are on the receiving end of me." This is something I used to say about my father and now realize about myself. She asked if she could have that in writing. I'll do one better, I'll expound.

As a prelude, I would like to say that the anal-retentive, argumentative, stubborn, pain-in-the-ass consumer that I am is not a product of my own making. These traits are inherited from my daddy and his side of the family. Anyway, as a wee Law-Rah, my most vivid memory of my father's consumer wrath was directed at the cashier at Pizza Hut. We were on our family pizza outing and I cannot recall if we were finished eating or had not yet begun, but regardless the whole family was standing up front between the buffet and the teenager ringing us up. The last time we had eaten at Pizza Hut, they had run a special where if you buy a big red jug of Coke (aka: cola, pop, soda), you can get free refills every time you bring it back. Dad brought our jug with us this time and handed it over for our 200+ ounces of Coke. "Um, sir," says the cashier, "we aren't running this special anymore." Dad's response: "what do you mean you aren't running it anymore? When I bought this you didn't say anything about an expiration date on the jug." "Um, sir, we haven't run this special in over a year." I cannot remember exactly what happened after that because I was running my fingers along the grout in the bricks hoping the wall would just fall on me. In the end, there was some arguing and some yelling and my father telling them we refuse to go back to Pizza Hut ever again. (This was not nearly as bad as the time my aunt was not satisfied with one of the burgers in our MickieD's order and after attempting to reverse in the drive-through only to find a car behind her, she got out and walked back to the window, wedging herself between the cashier and the next car in line to demand the onions be taken off.) Yep, I lived my childhood fearful that one of my relatives would make a scene over some insignificant purchase.

Now, I am the one making the scene:-)

Yesterday, I went to get my car inspected. The mechanic was a little less than nice, but what can you expect. We'll call him Flea because he looked like Flea from the Chili Peppers. The guy at the desk, however, seemed really nice in the HOUR that I listened to him answer the phone while I waited for my car. We'll call him Victor because that was his name. So, Victor calls me over and tells me that my left rear brake light is out and the car will not pass inspection until that is fixed and the windshield wipers are replaced. The conversation went like this:

"Well, do what you have to so it passes" I tell him.
"Okay, the light is gonna run you about $24 and the wipers about $40."
"Woah! Fourty bucks for wiper blades. That seems steep, why are they so expensive?"
"I don't know, that's just how much they cost." (nice Victor is getting a bit defensive at this point)
"Are all of your blades so expensive or is there like a generic kind?"
"That is just how much they cost. It's because they are ultra zip tight squeeqie blah blah blades."
"Is it a necessity that I have them done here? I mean, could I just go to Target and buy the blades?"
"I don't care what you do." (Victor is really pissy now)
"Hang on now, there's no need for the attitude, I'm just curious if I could save some money by getting the blades myself."
"Hell, if you want to do that, you can walk next door and buy the blades"
"Really, how much would they cost over there?"
"I don't work there, you have to ask them. If you get them there, we ain't puttin' them on." (pissy Victor now has his arms crossed) (Law-Rah is now beginning to get pissy)
"Well, if I get them next door, I bet they could help me put them on."
"They aren't allowed in our shop and your car is taking up space, so we would have to move it."
"Fine, put the $40 blades on my car. I don't care." (By now, I realize Victor is going to make it real difficult for me if I don't get his rip-off blades. I had been there for way too long and by that point just didn't care.)

Victor tells Flea to go ahead with all the work. After reading for a little while, curiosity begins to get the better of me, so I walk next door. As the nice gentleman is looking up the prices for me, he asks how much they are charging me. When I tell him, he chuckles, as does everyone else behind the counter. "Yep, just as I thought, they run $8.99 a piece." WHAT??? Thinking possibly labor costs could raise the price of the blades closer to $20 each, I asked how difficult they are to put on. "They snap right on, I could do them for ya. I would tell you to go back next door and tell them nevermind you'll get the blades yourself but they already came and got them" he says. "Hang on just a damn minute. You mean they bought my wiper blades from you?" "Yeah, they get all their blades from us, why?"

Steam coming from my ears, I march back to talk to Victor. Lucky for him, he is on a phone call that lasts about 8 minutes. I stand right in front of him staring the entire time. He's so uncomfortable, he swivels his chair around with his back to me. Bad move, compadre, I am not leaving. He swivels back to: "I think it is really dick how you treat your customers especially considering I have been coming here for four years."
"The wiper blades cost $9 next door."
"I don't know."
"I'm not asking you. I'm telling you. They cost $9."
"Whatever. I already told you we are a separate business and I don't know how much they charge."
"Well, Jack-Ass, you should. All you have to do is look at the receipt considering Flea just purchased MY blades from next door."
"Wait, uh, well, uh..."
"Yeah, apparently, wiper blades more than DOUBLE in cost when they enter your shop. Fascinating."
"Well, uh, uh..."
"Is this the manager's card?" I ask pointing to a stack of business cards.
"Uh-huh. Um, hang on a sec." (He frantically types in the computer as I write "Victor" and the time down on the back of the card.)
"Oh, yeah, I, uh, gave you the wrong price. The blades aren't $40, they are $30."
"Actually, I believe they are closer to $18, but whatever."

Moral of the story: It's not about the insignificant price. It's a matter of principle. Oh, yeah, and DO NOT got to Arlington AutoCare on Wilson under any circumstances. Since I have no kids, I am issuing this ban on my readers!