Getting Serviced Around Town

by Calendar Hacksaw

I was up in Kern County a few weeks ago, gathering more anecdotal evidence for my University of Phoenix doctoral dissertation, "Rural Heroes and Lounge Lizards," and made the mistake of leaving my lovely bride, Betty, at home.

Well, while I was gone, Betty got restless and decided she needed a new used car, so I came home to an e-mail from a total stranger named telling me that I was now the proud owner of a car he didnít need anymore. I canít tell begin to tell you how thrilled I was.

Bettyís new used car came west on a vehicle transport one week later, and this event provided me with the unexpected and forced opportunity to take a day off work, make three calls to a "dispatcher" in Texas, and arrange a rendezvous with a redneck truck driver in South El Monte. This was a thrill beyond belief, and the six minutes of telephone "conversation" only came to $32.70, thanks to Excel Communications and deregulation of the long-distance industry. Where would we be without the Federal Communications Commission?

The new car came with only one key; an ingenious piece of metal which not only opened the doors, the trunk and the glove compartment, but also worked in the ignition. Gosh, why didnít Ford and Chevy ever think of this?

But it was only one key, and I assumed that Persephone and I would want to drive the beast on occasion, so extra keys would be needed.

I thought this event called for keys of superior quality, as opposed to those 95-cent specials I usually get down at the hardware store. In fact, the last three times I had keys duplicated, the new ones didnít fit the locks and had to be taken back for corrective surgery.

So this time I skipped the nuts-and-bolts joint, opting instead for the Countyís oldest and most prestigious locksmith; a shop so revered it actually houses a mini-museum. I wanted the best keys money would buy, and at $3.75 per cut, I knew I couldnít pay more.

Lo and behold, when I returned home I discovered that the two new keys would not fit the ignition. Comparing them to the original, it was clear that the job had been sloppily done.

The next day was Saturday, and I motored back down to the locksmith for correction. The sign on the window said it all: "CLOSED." Do you have any idea how successful a locksmith has to be in order to lock the doors on a Saturday?

Another six days passed before I had an opportunity to return. I explained the problem to the clerk, who then conducted her own visual examination of the evidence. She concurred with my analysis, and promptly re-cut the keys. End of story, as far as she was concerned.

But she committed a fatal error. She did not apologize to me on behalf of her employer, the locksmith. A simple apology would have been sufficient. Even better would have been an offer to refund all or part of my money as compensation for my time, gasoline, trouble and inconvenience. Hereís a locksmith who undoubtedly signs $100,000 deals regularly, but screws up a customerís order worth $7.50. The locksmith will never see me again. I hope he spent the $7.50 well.

If I bought a can of Budweiser in Twin Oaks and noticed it was dated 15 January 2000, and pointed out to the shopkeeper that the beer was more than 120 days old, Iím fairly certain I would not only receive a sincere apology, but a fresh can "on the house" as well. The present customer is important, but the future customer is essential.

* * *

Bettyís used car came with new license plates, but had no fasteners. I decided to skip the auto parts store, and instead went to a little shop in a nearby industrial area that ships automotive fasteners all over the globe. The name of the business is Hillco Fastener Warehouse. Itís an unassuming little place, but once inside you feel comfortable and at home. You have confidence that these people know what theyíre doing, and the most important thing theyíre doing is attending to your needs.

A woman came to the counter, and judging by some of what she said I assumed she and her husband were the owners. I told her I needed two bolts and nuts for a license plate, and she disappeared into the racks of inventory inside the warehouse.

She returned two minutes later with two small bolts and two nuts. She walked me out to the car and made sure the bolts would fit through the holes and not be too long. She went back inside the office and filled out the order form, longhand. Watching her go to all this trouble, I instinctively reached for my wallet, expecting the worst.

"That comes to 30-cents," she announced, handing me the receipt. Thirty cents, for service that went so far beyond my expectations I hardly knew what to say, except "Thank you!"

* * *

It was our anniversary this week, so Betty and me went down to the beach for dinner at the same restaurant we ate in the night we became engaged more than 29 years ago. It was a family-run place back then; a "secret spot" where we could get shrimp marinated in tequila. But itís changed hands recently, and the new menu lacked "sparkle."

The waiter took our drink order, then disappeared behind the bar. A few minutes later, he returned to announce that they were all out of wine coolers.

I looked at him, and said, "Okay; just put some red wine in a glass with ice, then fill it up with 7-Up."

"Oh, okay," he said, and it was done.

After dinner he brought us our check, which came to $35.18. I laid out two $20 bills, and planned to add another $5 to the tip when the change came back.

The waiter picked up the money and asked, "Do you want your change?"

"Yes," I replied.

But the waiter disappeared, and so did my change. I hope he enjoyed his $4 tip. He deserved it. Maybe he took it to the locksmith and bought a key that would unlock the secrets of ethics and customer service. Maybe not. Maybe they cut it wrong.

Calendar Hacksaw hangs out at He gave the woman a quarter and a dime, and in return she gave him a million dollars worth of good will.

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