DUM da DUM DUM
The story you are about to read is true; some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. My name is not Friday and I am not a cop.
If you don’t understand the above, ask somebody over fifty about the TV show “Dragnet.”
I walked into the garage yesterday, and happened to glance at the right rear tire on my wife Suzanne’s aging BMW. It was almost flat. I try to check her tires fairly often because her car has a history of tire troubles. The car is eleven years old, and she has had at least four flat tires in that time. My Acura is ten years old and has never had a flat tire.
I have a theory about this. Nails look like very simple objects, but they aren’t. Under that seemingly simple exterior lurks a clever and sophisticated detection and guidance system that is tuned to BMW’s with the license number SUZSEZ. I have always wanted to test this theory by finding a deserted stretch of highway where I can strew some nails along the shoulder, and then have her drive by as I watched what the nails do. I am convinced that they would wiggle and squiggle and work themselves into the path of one of her tires.
I bent down and examined the tire. Sure enough, there it was. It looked like a big one…eight or ten penny size, inserted into the tread close to the sidewall. Too close, I feared, to allow the tire to be repaired. It was new tire time.
I called the local Sears Auto Center where we have had tires repaired before. When I gave the guy the tire size, he hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that he didn’t stock it, and that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) order it. He said it was an “unusual” size that had to be special-ordered. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. I called our repair shop, a BMW specialist, and asked the owner, John, for a recommendation. He referred me to a tire shop which I will call Tire Shop A, and told me to ask for Dan, the manager, and to tell Dan that he had referred me to him.
I talked to Dan, and he said yeah, he could get it, but it was a size that wasn’t used much any more and it would take a day to get it. He quoted me a price of $150 (all numbers are rounded to keep things simple) including mounting and balancing. I thought that sounded high, so I didn’t commit to a purchase. He didn’t push me at all, just told me to call back if I decided to buy it.
His shop was about ten miles away, and I decided to try to find a closer place…and maybe a lower price. I found a place only a couple of miles from home which I will call Tire Shop B. I called, and gave them the specs for the tire and they quoted $175 plus mounting and balancing. I said thanks, but I had a lower quote and started to hang up, but he said, “What were you quoted?”
I told him, and he hesitated for a moment and then said, “Okay, I’ll match it.” I asked him if he had it in stock, and he said no, but he had a “truck leaving right now, and I can have it here in thirty minutes.” He asked for my name telephone number and credit card number, which I supplied. I told him we would be right down with the car.
And then he said, “Oh, by the way, what store gave you that quote? We need to verify that.” I gave him the name, telephone number, and told him to ask for Dan.
We jumped in both cars…we were going to leave the BMW and pick it up later…and drove to the store. When we walked in, I introduced myself and he was shaking his head. He said he had called Tire Store A and they gave him a much higher quote. He said, “I can’t sell you the tire for that price. I would be losing money. He went back to his original quote.
I questioned him. What number did you call? Did you ask for Dan? He’s the manager. Yes, he said. They told him there was nobody working there by the name of Dan. The manager’s name was Steve.
When I am confronted with challenging situations like this, my brain does not always function efficiently. I was flummoxed. What was going on? Did I drive through a worm hole on the way to the tire store, and was I now in a parallel universe? Wait! Now I hear it!
DOO DEE DOO DOO, DOO DEE DOO DOO…
Rod Serling’s voice is quietly intoning, “You have entered the Twilight Zone.”
Finally, after much longer than it should have taken, I worked it out. Someone was lying, and I knew it wasn’t me.
Suzanne had been standing next to me, quietly taking all this in. I looked at her face. We have been married for over fifty years, and I can usually read her pretty well. Right now, her silent face is screaming, “I DON’T WANT THESE SCUMBAGS TOUCHING MY CAR!!!!”
Suzanne is very protective of her car. In fact, she has named it Flo-Jo, in honor of the beautiful Olympic sprinter, Florence Joyner, who died tragically. She says that her car is, like Joyner, “black, beautiful, and it goes like stink.”
She sidled up to me and said softly, “Let’s walk.”
We start for the door, and the guy sees that he is about to lose the sale. He gets very excited and says, okay, he will give us the tire for $150, but he has to add $20 for mounting and balancing. I look at Suzanne and she shakes her head and keeps on walking.
We are outside the door now, and the guy follows us out. He finally says, okay, he will match the quote. Suzanne isn’t even slowing down. In fact, she is practically running to her car. She gets in and blasts out of there.
As I start to leave, the guy comes up and knocks on the window. I push the button, lowering the window, and wish I hadn’t. He’s mad now, screaming at me that I have wasted his time ordering the tire, costing him money. I point a finger at him and say, “Don’t you put any charges on my card. I will not pay them.” He says no, he won’t do that, but he keeps yammering that I have wasted his time.
I finally tell him that I don’t feel good about the deal, that something is wrong, and I am going to find out what is going on. I don’t confront him directly, but I think he is lying to me, that he never made the call to Tire Store A.
On the way home, I start to get really mad. I wasted HIS time? He agreed to a price, took my credit card number, and then when I came in his shop he tried to back out of the deal and jack up the price. He wasted MY time, and my wife’s time and the gas for both of our cars to drive to his place! I always think of those things when it’s too late, dammit!
I’m already late for my meeting with my jogging companion at the gym, so I ask Suzanne to call Dan at Tire Store A and find out if he actually got a call from the guy. And if he didn’t, I tell her to call the guy, call him all the names she can think of for trying to scam us, and tell him we will never do business with him again, and we will tell everybody we know what a crook he is.
While we were jogging, I tell my companion the whole story. He points out that I forgot one possibility. Dan at Tire Store A may have deliberately quoted high to the guy to torpedo my deal! Why should he cooperate with the guy at Tire Store B to help him get a sale? For some reason, that obvious solution had not occurred to me.
When I got home, Suzanne told me to pour us some drinks, and she would tell me what happened. It turns out, my companion was exactly right. Dan said that he gave us a “special” price because of the referral from John. He said he had to “protect” himself.
I wasn’t too happy with him either, but Suzanne had already agreed to buy the tire from him. So…his strategy worked. He blew my deal at Tire Shop B and ended up getting the business for himself.
So…what to make of all this? Times are tough, the economy is bad, and merchants are scratching and scrabbling for every buck they can make. Both of them did what I would consider unethical things, but of the two, the guy at Tire Shop B was by far the worst. He made a deal and then tried to back out of it. What difference does it make whether my quote was real or not? He agreed to a price. And then he tried to jack me up. I will never go back there, and I will tell everybody I know not to go there.
The other guy, Dan, wasn’t “protecting” himself. He was engaging in “sharp” business practices to maximize his business. He certainly is not obligated to cooperate with a competitor to help him close a deal, but it would have been more ethical if he had just refused to confirm or deny his quote.
On the other hand, his creative treatment of the guy in Tire Shop B sure made life interesting for me for awhile. Maybe I should thank him for that.