Merchant Princes

Sometimes The Folks Behind The Counters Actually Do The Right Thing.

By Jeff Smith

WHOEVER FIRST SAID no news is good news, he probably was some poor schmuck of a newspaper editor who was trying to get the Legion of Decency off his ass.

Smith By this he meant that Ozzie and Harriet should be glad that their family isn't showing up in the paper every day, on account of what tends to show up in the paper everyday is homicide and drunk-driving and city council and school board meetings and famine and flood in faraway places with strange-sounding names, like Afghanistan. In fact the term Afghanistanism is applied to journalism that concentrates on things happening far away and generally outside the actual concern of the reader. It's a way in which gutless newspapers affect to sound serious and concerned and gutsy enough to take on the tough issues--without risking getting any local advertisers or big rock-and-rollers pissed-off.

Getting back to the no news/good news thing, what real newsdogs mean by this is that good news really is no news, or at least not very interesting news. And you good people out there should be grateful for this, because it underscores the essential fact that normal life is relatively benign and that horrible things are notable and therefore newsworthy because they contrast to the daily routine.

Ozzie and Harriet are bad examples because they actually were TV stars and in the news on a daily basis. It is the metaphoric Ozzie and Harriet who make my point here: a nice, wholesome, unremarkable and un-newsworthy couple with a couple of nice, wholesome, etc. sons, who don't hit the front page until Ricky dies in a plane crash with a load of cocaine in his bloodstream.

Having unburdened myself of all these verities, I would now like to let you in on a little good news, put a few names in the paper in a context that might ordinarily chill somebody's shit, so to speak.

Case One begins with a transmission gone wrong. Happened to me a year and a half ago. Just as I pulled into a lumber yard to buy enough stuff to build a flute factory. I headed straight for Star Automotive on the northwest side, where years earlier I had taken my old Bronco, and got a rebuilt tranny installed overnight for $274. Assuming the same sort of quick and cheap service, I was surprised and chagrined when they got my truck taken apart and informed me that it would take longer and more money than I ever dreamed.

A lot more.

It was then that I learned that Star Automotive had changed hands and that I wasn't dealing with the usual suspects. Make a long story short, it took close to two weeks and over two grand to get my truck back.

Transmissions ain't like they used to was, I was told, by lots of experts. Still, I had this uncomfortable feeling in the seat of my shorts. Less than a year later, while still under warranty, the tranny began acting up. I told Star, they checked it out, said it was fine, then the same happened again, same result. Well, things sometimes go that way.

Bottom line, the tranny goes beyond warranty and then really begins to take a dump. I go back to Star and say, hey, this is what started while it still was under warranty. They fiddle with it and say it's okay. It's not okay and I take it back. They have another guy check it out and he says it's bogus. They try to fix it again and I get it back a week later, supposedly good as new. It's not.

I am thinking, just now, what most civilians think when dealing with mechanics, plumbers, lawyers and other practitioners of black arts: They're trying to screw me.

You know what? They weren't. After all this roundy-round, Star Automotive put in another transmission, got the outside help they needed to double-check its proper function, and they didn't charge me a penny.

God knows they were as sick of hearing my voice on the phone as I was of having to hitchhike back and forth from Tucson. But they did the right thing and I am proud of them.

Truth to tell, I was hoping all through this ordeal that they were readers of The Weekly, and would think I was going to rip them a new one in print. It's not nice to use one's position as a journalistic defender of the weak and the helpless to get people to fix your transmission for free--even if they really should because you paid a shitload of money and it's not your fault the new one was a lemon. Hell, if Erasmo had something like this happen to him, I'd have written about it. But you aren't supposed to help yourself.

I was tempted, but I remained an oak. I'm glad now that I can write about this whole ordeal and tie it up with a happy ending. David and Don at Star Automotive are a couple of stand-up guys.

As are Jimmie and Jason at Circuit City. They replaced my laptop computer with a new one, even though, technically, they didn't have to.

They did it because a few months back the keyboard on my old computer went south, and since I was past the year's warranty with Circuit City, but had bought the extended warranty, I had to get with G.E. Service for the repairs. That involved long-distance calls to one of those sonofabitch automated switchboards that has you punching buttons on your phone through a half-hour of menu choices, until you finally get to speak to a human...

...who tells you that he can't help you right now, but will talk to his supervisor and get back to you within 10 working days.

At 13 working days I called back, waltzed through the telephone menus again, got more delays and excuses. Finally, after many repeats of this I got mad and had Circuit City get on G.E.'s ass, and they told me to take my computer to a shop in town and they'd authorize the repairs.

This, by the way, was after one of G.E.'s phone techs tried to get me to fix the thing myself.

Anyway, after being without a computer for a month, and having to drive 120 miles every time I needed to write something to pay the rent, Circuit City said they'd replace my unit if nobody else could fix it. I called to tell the shop the good news, but when I went to retrieve the computer, they said they finally had it fixed. I could have had a new one, and maybe not had to wait a month and drive 2,000 aggregate miles.

Oh well.

Then a couple weeks ago the computer screen began growing this little cancerous-looking lesion, so I called Jimmie the manager at Circuit City and told him about it, and he remembered what a nosebleed I went through the last time, and he said, unsolicited:

"Hey, bring it in tomorrow and I'll take care of it."

Which he and Jason did: with a new computer.

And you know why they did it? Because it makes for good customer relations. I never hinted that I would hold my breathe and turn purple if they didn't bail me out of that old lemon, and I never let on like I was going to give them a big ol' wet kiss in print if they were extra special nice to me. They just took pity on a poor, crippled, divorced, orphaned (and sort of homely) newspaper writer--and put him out of his misery.

Compassion on this order deserves recognition. TW

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