Saturday, 6 December 2014


Anyone who is involved in public service is going to encounter all kinds of people. Happily, most of the customers encountered in the service department of a dealership are relatively easy to deal with. In many cases customers evolve to become friends who are always welcome and often bring a special atmosphere to the shop. Of course there are others who about as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool; they are their own worst enemy and tend to drag everyone down with them. Unfortunately the service department hasn't got the ability to pick and choose whose unit the work on; they have to take on each on individually. But through the years, guys like JC have few regrets as to his choice of profession. He often said that the few undesirable customers just made him appreciate the desirable ones all the more. The following posts are part of a series in the collection of customers that JC had to deal with from time to time. All too often the personalities blend with others so there might be some similarities but still there's enough uniqueness to show what place they are in.


Everyone in a service department has had at least one run-in with one of these. Billy is usually someone who has been put down most of his life so he surrounds himself with expensive toys, almost always drives a large diesel 4X4 that never gets used as a 4X4. He usually is height-challenged so he has some of that Small Man Syndrome (big mouth) and has had someone install (what I would call a masculinity enhancer although there are a lot more explicit terms) a lift kit to jack his truck up at least six inches. He's got a fairly good job, or at least very good credit; he desperately needs it because the wheels, tires, lift kit and performance chips will set him back in the neighborhood of ten grand. His truck owns him; not the other way around. When he drops his truck off to be left overnight for service the following morning, he's completely adamant that his truck be put inside.

There was a time when he might have driven a Class 8 truck around the block or into a service bay at a shop where he once worked, and since then he's become a full-fledged trucker. To this he'll talk trucks with anyone who will listen (and half of those who won't) and knows a lot more about them than anyone in the service department. He doesn't think he's got any power unless he sees black smoke pouring out of those exhaust pipes faster than the stacks of a Chinese factory. He usually has some moronic label across the rear window of the cab that says: 'Hybrid Exterminator' or something to that effect. And to prove it he floors the accelerator at every green light in an attempt to obliterate the vehicles behind him by engulfing them in a cloud of black smoke.

JC once talked about one particular Billy who wanted a Jake Brake installed in his Dodge/Cummins diesel truck. JC got out some information and tried to explain the two kinds of engine brakes that were available.

Now the term Jake Brake (Jacobs Engine Brake), over the years, has been loosely attached in the trucking industry. No doubt everyone who has been near a freeway, highway interchange, or truck stop has heard them deploy; they make quite a racket and have thus been banned by most municipalities. Developed by Clessie Cummins (yes, that's him), it uses engine compression to slow the vehicle down in an attempt to preserve the wheel brakes. It was first available on the Cummins engines on large highway trucks, but was later adapted to Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar. Variations of this have been built by Cummins (itself) and Mack. For lighter applications, manufacturers have brought out exhaust brakes which essentially close or highly restrict the exhaust passage in a deceleration condition. Not as effective as the good ol' Jake but still worth it.

Back to our story: JC tried to explain what was available. However Billy wasn't interested in that Pansy stuff, he wanted the real thing; he wanted to be able to turn it on and let it blast away just like the big rigs. Long story short, JC didn't sell him an exhaust brake and Billy would spent many years vainly searching for a real live Jake Brake.

Well, Billy Big Rig, and all the variations to the theme, is here to stay. Like it or not, he's going to be stopping in at some unsuspecting service department where he'll not only request a job be done but will also instruct you on how to do it.


Imagine a cartoon showing the man of the house scanning a bill from the repair shop. He scowls at the bottom line and says: 'Those guys down in the shop are stupid; they only charged you five dollars for a new transmission.' He hasn't seen it yet but his wife is in the bedroom getting undressed and her dress is covered with greasy hand prints. The smirk on her face tells it all: the World's Oldest Profession isn't always on a street corner late at night.

Believe it or not, in the forty plus years that JC has been involved in the service business, that has happened to him more times than he'd care to mention. Most of the time the women were sort of single; that is, living with someone. The majority of them gave the impression of Rode Hard and Put Away Wet. The singer, Jim Stafford, made the famous comparison: 'Would make a freight train take a dirt road.' JC ran into them time and again, picking up their boyfriend's/common law husband's truck then offering a way to take something off of that astronomical bill. In those cases JC just politely sent them on their way, minus their money, and fringe benefits aside, and thanked his lucky stars that he wasn't so stupid and desperate that he might've gotten a communicable disease, or a busted head. But the real shocker was yet to come.

Think of a well-respected family; active in the community, good kids. The man of the house was a decent customer and always dealt at the dealership. JC always thought of them as pillars of the community, and always gave them the respect they deserved. Now just imagine that image; that aura of strong family values getting shattered when the wife suggested that maybe they could get a sizeable discount on the work order if she offered something like a personal service to help out. It first happened to JC after he'd been in the business about five years. Of course in trying to be a gentleman, he first ignored it. When the proposition was repeated, JC just chuckled; just a friend teasing. But then, by the third time he suddenly realized that she wasn't kidding; she was downright serious!

Now JC was no prude but that was the last straw. No, if the lady wanted to jeopardize her marriage that was her problem, and she'd have to proposition someone else. JC refused to even consider it. The interesting part of all this was when he attended some update courses. He was in for quite the surprise when it was revealed that some of his colleagues actually gave in to that.

Well, Loosey, I just told the world about you, but I kept your real name a secret.


Anyone who has read the works of James Thurber knows who this character is. Very, quiet, humble, soft-spoken, polite. Never expects any miracles, and never asks for anything special. Overall, a nice guy to do business with. A typical service department isn't likely to take him for a ride because he exudes honesty; sort of akin to one of those 'Support Your Favorite Egg' ads on TV from forty years ago, where a monk says: 'Hello, I'm soft-boiled and I'm a candidate to be your favorite egg...' That's all well and good, BUT, this guy is usually married to someone like Zelda from one of my earlier posts.

His wife is capable of taking the paint off the walls without using a scraper or sandpaper. All she has to do is open her mouth. She calls him down, telling him to develop a backbone, and any other insult she can come up with.

For this post we'll Borrow a name from James Thurber; she'll be known as Ulgine. And we'll refer to Milton and Mr. Martin.

There was an incident in JC's shop where Mr. Martin brought a garden tractor in for some major work on the transmission. It was a time when, luckily, JC had someone who could get right at it. The tractor was tested, a diagnosis was made, the mechanic stripped it down, and parts were ordered. JC advised how long it would take, and Mr. Martin left, happy that he'd left the fate of his tractor in the hands of a qualified crew.

Monday morning came around and Mr. Martin phoned to inquire about the job. JC told him that they wouldn't have parts until the next morning but there was a very good chance that it would be completed on Wednesday. JC also advised him to call ahead and make sure that nothing had gone wrong.

Well, as luck would have it the parts didn't come in till Wednesday. The mechanic, knowing that the owner needed to get his machine back to work as soon as possible, went right at it and by noon, had the transmission reattached to the tractor, and had managed to test it before his lunch break. All that was needed was to put the operator's platform and seat back on, and connect the wiring. Just before lunch hour was over, Mr. Martin walked into the shop.

'Ahem, is my tractor finished?' JC told him that they still had some final reassembly to do and that the mechanic would be at it shortly. He also reminded Mr. Martin that he should've phoned ahead. Mr. Martin appeared satisfied and headed out the door. JC thought all was well and proceeded to organize the shop for the afternoon's workload. The sound of high heels on concrete told JC that things might not be all that good after all.

'Who's in charge?' a female demanded. JC turned around to see a rather attractive, fairly well-dressed woman facing him.

'Can I help you?'

'Why isn't our tractor ready? You promised us it would be ready on Wednesday!'

'We're just finishing it up, Ma'am. We'll have it out in half an hour or so.'

'You promised it on Wednesday!'

'Yes, ma'am, I did,' JC said wearily, 'today's Wednesday, and it will be ready. Now I advised your husband to phone ahead, which wasn't done. So you'll have to wait.'

'We shouldn't have to wait around no damned filthy shop!'

That one got JC's dander up. 'Ma'am, we're doing the best we can,' he said shortly then turned and headed back toward his office.

Obviously, that didn't satisfy Mrs. Ulgine. She had more to say. Don't turn your back on me when I'm talking to you..!'

JC stopped. What was wrong with this bitch anyways? Did she have to go to the bathroom that bad? He turned again. 'Ma'am, I told you that we're working on it! You'll just have to wait!'

He turned his back again but she reached out and grabbed his shoulder. JC spun around and pointed his index finger at the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. With his finger almost touching, he half-snarled. 'Ma'am, don't even think about it! Now, get yourself out of here and and wait!' He turned and headed back to the office.

Less than twenty minutes later, the job was done. JC even went out and helped load the tractor into Milton's truck. He noticed that Ulgine was sulking in the passenger's seat. No doubt Mr. Martin got many an earful on the way home.

JC felt sorry for him.


This kind of customer isn't exclusively attached to the personnel in the service department; they are found everywhere retail sales happen. One might even equate Bobby with the aforementioned Billy but Bobby is usually above average in height and somewhat on the stocky side. A bully in every sense of the word, he loves to boast about the deals he made and came out on top, smiling. One such individual showed up at JC's place of business and his attitude rang loud and clear.

The secretary/service writer noticed that his truck was fairly new and asked him about it. 'Ha!' Bobby responded in a voice that probably carried on to the next town, 'those guys in that dealership thought they had me where they wanted me but I showed 'em. I got the price of that truck down almost six-thousand bucks when they finally said they couldn't go any lower. I sort of let it go, then when I cut that check I dropped it down another thousand; told 'em that was all they were gonna get. And they fell for it--stupid bastards!'

That show of arrogance really got JC's dander up. He'd seen it time and again, always with the Bobbies of this world; they were convinced that they could bully anyone into giving in. Besides that, JC had worked for a dealership long enough to know that there wasn't a lot of mark up between cost and retail of a new vehicle--the complete opposite of what the average car-buyer thought. If it was well-optioned then the margins were higher; but JC had seen with some, especially compact cars, where the margin could be as slim as $800.00. Maybe the dealership made out OK with Bobby, but JC had his doubts.

He continued to eavesdrop as the conversation turned to other things. 'Who owns that old red Ford pickup off to the side?' He was referring to a '47 Ford pickup that JC had used as a parts truck for his current restoration project.

'I don't think it's for sale,' Bona responded, 'JC is planning to haul it home when things dry up later this spring.'

'Everything's for sale!' Bobby said confidently. 'Let me talk to him.'

Bona went back to the shop and asked JC to come up front. JC frowned and reluctantly followed her. He preferred to avoid what was about to happen but he also had to admit that he enjoyed tangling with those arrogant asses. Bona introduced JC and added that he owned the truck that Bobby was interested in. JC also noticed several others hanging around the reception area awaiting their turn to be helped.

'How much for your truck?' Bobby's question sounded more like a demand. 'It's not for sale,' JC responded evenly.

'Oh c'mon, everything's got a price!'

Not for you, buster. JC never said that aloud even though he was tempted. 'I told you it's not for sale,' he repeated himself.

Bobby pulled out his checkbook. 'What'll it be? Five-hundred, maybe six?' JC smiled grimly and stood his ground. 'Maybe after I'm dead and gone, my kids might want to sell it--.'

'Whaddya mean, after you're dead and gone? I want to take it home now; I've got plans for it.'

No doubt he had plans for it. Butcher it into something barely recognizable, with a small block Chevy engine to add further insult to injury. JC hated this guy and there was no way he was willing to sell it to anyone, especially this jack-ass. But he knew that the guy wouldn't take no for an answer. The only way out of it was to give the guy no place to go. He pulled his mouth into a tight line and leaned across the counter to glare at Bobby.

'You--haven't got enough money!' he half-snarled then slowly backed up, keeping his eyes leveled at Bobby's. Bobby was the first to turn away, his face an expression of shock and defeat. JC turned around and strode back into the shop. He could hear Bobby muttering something to Bona but couldn't make out exactly what was said. But then, JC really didn't give a rat's backside either.


  1. Oh, man, I can see every one of these! You've painted a perfect picture! And a bit of a shocker, too . . . Yikes. Loosey? Really?

    1. I've got some more coming up. In 40 years you meet everyone imaginable. And yes, Loosey, she surprised me. I'm amazed at how many mechanics in the Calgary Zone actually took some of the Looseys up on their offer.

  2. I'm certainly glad I didn't work in a garage or dealership, checkout was bad enough with the dithering oldies and the youngsters trying to buy cigarettes.

    1. Hi River. I don't think that things in the checkouts have changed at all. In Great Falls it seems that there's always someone underage trying to buy beer or cigarettes. In the service department it really didn't matter as long as the customer wasn't drunk. The trouble with customers is that you have to be part psychologist and learn (very quickly) how to handle each type. It takes/took a lot of practice.