The following is a guest article by Dr. Robert (Flute) Snyder of Hudson, Wisconsin, who worked thirty years as a college professor of music, appeared at Carnegie Recital Hall and was reviewed favorably in the New York Times. He served several years as a professional secretary, filled unemployment gaps for almost thirty years as a small engine repairman, all the while writing occasional essays for his and close friend’s amazement and amusement. His present contact with repair shop customers affords him insight into wildly varied personalities and rewards. Enjoy. — John R. Ingrisano
As customers come and go through my repair shop, I’m amazed at the diversity of their habits. For instance, I had this customer I’ll call Jon. Jon drives a black BMW convertible, dresses in $800 suits, walks very vertically, and surrounds himself with an aura of entitlement. He’s an insurance executive in a small town agency downtown. Because of the aura he exudes, he’d be able to walk into the head offices of Aetna or Prudential without drawing attention to himself. The receptionist would probably mark him as a Vice President.
When he brings me a piece of equipment to repair, he wants it tomorrow, because he’s got a desperately important job to complete at home. I’ve visited his homesite on the north side of town and know that it really couldn’t make that much difference to the state of international affairs if he never cut his grass or raked his leaves: he lives behind a grove of trees and one can hardly see his place.
Jon always leaves my shop with, “I’ll come back tomorrow at the same time to pick up my machine”. He has no thought about the possibility that other customers might come first. As far as he’s concerned, there are no other customers. He must think I keep this shop filled with equipment to keep up the image of being busy. I need to practice fixing machines so I’ll be ready to fix Jon’s machine as fast and efficiently as possible. Oh yes, and since I’m fast and quick, that means I won’t charge much money.
Jon always wants a re-do on his repair job. Even though his little blower is ten years old and in need of replacement, he wants it to run better than new when it leaves my shop. “Well, I’ll take it home and try it, but if it doesn’t work right, I’ll bring it back for adjustment.”
This past week I lent him my own excellent blower to use for one day while I “adjusted” his mediocre blower. One week later, it became clear that he was using my blower to clear out the leaves for unimagined acres of forest. I didn’t intend for him to keep it so long so I drove to his house on the seventh night of the week: about 8:30 p.m. I knew he’d be home, hiding in his forest with all the lights in the house off. However, I could see the faint stirrings of light from his TV. I demanded the return of my blower. He obliged, but reluctantly: in his bare feet and silken lounging apparel.
The next day, he came to pick up his blower which I’d completely dismantled and reassembled to repair a loose cylinder head. “This doesn’t have much power. It starts better, but it just isn’t right.” “Yes, Jon, I know it isn’t like new. It’s over ten years old”. “It just isn’t right. I’ll try it and let you know.” The “let you know” part of this discussion is the “I’ll decide if your $45.00 bill is too high to pay.”
To relieve myself of the agony of chasing him for the $45.00, I said, “Take it. Don’t bring it back and we’ll call it even.” In other words, I’ll sacrifice my $45.00 for the assurance that Jon takes his future repair work elsewhere. I’m going to practice saying, “Please take your snowblower to Jake out on Vine Street. He’ll be able to repair your machine.” I don’t want to see Jon again.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Mr. Matruska on the east side of town. I took his snowblower, riding mower, and chainsaw back to him yesterday. When he saw the $272.00 bill for the three pieces, he reached into this truck glove box, pulled out three one hundred dollar bills and said, “I didn’t expect the job to be so inexpensive. Also, I’m really surprised you returned the work so soon. Keep the change. I’m going to give your business card to my son in Hammond. Do you pick up work fifteen miles east?”
To myself I’m thinking, “Thank you, Mr. Matruska. For your kind of customer, I’d drive to Chicago six hours down the road. Excuse me while I erase the unkind thoughts I’ve carried in my head for a couple of days about Jon, the entitled insurance man. You make my faith in the goodness of people grow. Thank you. Thank you. Again and again.
What kind of a customer are you?
– Flute November 2008
P.S. And then there is the little wife who brings her husband’s chainsaw for repair. “We’re not sure we want to repair this old thing. If it costs more than $45.00, we’ll probably want to buy a new one. Be sure to call us with an estimate.”
When I discover that the sprocket has split in two, the fuel lines are broken, and the carburetor needs to be replaced, I call the husband, who says, “Sure. Fix it. Whatever it takes.”
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