27 December, 2007

Service calls, uncertainty and ridiculous people.

Part of my job as a diesel mechanic is to handle emergency road service. During business hours, we (the mechanics) are rotated so no one particular person is handling all the service calls. There are exceptions to this unwritten rule which are unavoidable. Sometimes a service call demands a specific skill from one of us, so occasionally someone will run two service calls in a row. In the warm months nobody complains about being out on the road all day because it's nice to get out of the shop and away from the drama. After the shop closes, however, the phone gets transferred to whoever is on call that week. Each mechanic does a tour of seven days on call, starting Friday night and ending the following Friday morning, when the shop opens. I hate being on call. I don't mind the service calls themselves, it's not knowing when they'll come in that irritates me. I'm one of those people who thrives on routine and dislikes uncertainty. I find it impossible to completely relax when I'm on call because I'm always waiting for the phone to ring. As soon as I forget about the phone, the damn thing will ring and off I go, into the night. Thankfully, we don't get too many calls after hours. When I do get a call, sometimes the price scares the caller away. Service calls for big trucks are expensive. Any service call from 17:00 to 08:00 is charged $90 for the call out and a minimum labor charge of two hours at $90/hour. That's $270 just for me to show up! Time over two hours will add to the cost (we bill labor from the time we leave the shop until the time we get back) and parts, obviously, will raise the price. When someone calls us and asks us to do a service call, we are very clear when telling them what kind of money is involved. It's shocking how many people don't understand. If a driver calls wanting a jump start, I'll show up, get the truck started and then hand him a bill. If I can get back to the shop within two hours from the time I left, the bill will be for $270. That's when the drivers get angry. They'll see me for only 20 to 30 minutes and think that they'll only be billed for that time. I then ask them if they drive for free. That usually clears things up fast. If they try to wheel and deal with me, I simply tell them that there is NO dealing. The price I give them is what they pay. Period. I then remind them that arguing will only waste time and make the bill increase in price. If that doesn't light a fire under their ass, I remind them that the work order which they had been told to read before signing (they sign the work order first thing upon my arrival) states that if they refuse to pay, we take possession of the equipment until they they pay for services rendered. If I work on the tractor, the trailer gets dropped where it sits and the tractor is then towed back to the shop. The driver can find his own ride. If things progress to this point, the driver is usually pretty hostile and I've already punched in the phone number for the state police and have only to hit the send button on my phone. I've also had incidents where I've handed the driver a bill for, say, $300 and they come back with "Oh gee, I only have $150 on me." Since they were told right when they called what the charges would be, I don't take any shit. I walk right up to the tractor, start disconnecting the air lines and light cord and go to pull the fifth wheel release. By then they know I'm not fucking around, and all of a sudden money is falling out of the woodwork. Thankfully, assholes that don't want to pay are fairly uncommon, but I do run into them. I like our charge accounts. There's no worrying about getting paid so we can just show up, repair the rig and send the driver on his way. Oh, I can't forget about the auto clubs. Every now and again some auto club will call up and ask if we can go do a jump start or change a tire. I love hearing the reactions of the operators when I tell them the prices. Places like AAA will, for the most part, expect you to do anything for $30 or less. If you know a towing operator, ask him or her what they think of AAA. They'll probably roll their eyes and say something sarcastic. Then there's the guys with one ton pickup trucks and the people with campers and boat trailers. They'll see our ad at a truck stop or in the yellow pages and focus on the "Heavy duty truck and trailer repair" part. They are just as shocked as the auto club people when they hear dollar amounts. The pickup dudes apparently don't realize that the "heavy duty" sticker on the side of their truck is only a marketing ploy. Sticker or not, a pickup is a light duty truck. The same goes for the boat trailers. In the summer, I get calls for trailer tires all the time. When I ask them what they have, expecting to hear something like "24 inch bud" and they'll say "Oh, a 15 inch six bolt." "Sorry, sir. We don't work on small stuff like that." They'll usually start griping about our ad and the trailer repair part. They calm down when I tell them how much it will cost for me to do the job. If I can get a tire. We simply don't stock parts for light duty vehicles. That's not our business. But, sometimes people are persistent.

The shop's owner never says "no" to the state patrol when they call, but I do. Last summer I had a dispatcher call me and ask if I could help a motorist out. I was told that the person had a flat tire on a boat trailer and couldn't get the wheel nuts loose. I asked if they could put me in contact with the driver so I could tell him how much it would cost. The dispatcher said she would relay the information. The guy must've flipped out when he found out how much it would cost him. He was only five miles from the shop, so I could've been out and back in under an hour. I understand that the state patrol was simply wanting to get a citizen back on the road, out of harms way, but I think that this driver had a right to know what the charges would be. Not to mention how the boss would chew me out if I didn't get paid. Well, if I went out I'd either get paid or I'd be pulling a boat trailer back to the shop. It's a freakin' circus sometimes.

I also get calls for jobs that I have no way of completing. I can't fix a rig if I don't have parts to put on it. Saturday nights, Sundays and holidays are tough times. If a driver calls wanting something like an airbag, I have to tell him that I won't be able to get parts until Monday. They don't understand that we're a truck repair shop and not a parts house. It's totally insane to think that we stock one of every part for every truck ever made. That's financially impossible. They'll ask "So, what do I do know?" Wait, that's what you'll have to do. I'll ask if they'd like me to come out and look things over and see if I can do something, making sure they know they'll have to pay me to show up, and then remind them that they'd be wasting money if I can't do anything. Over the years I've been doing this job, I've become jaded and callous. I used to feel bad when I couldn't do anything for a driver and would dwell on it for days afterward. Now, I don't give a shit. Things are black and white. That's all. Either I can help or I can't. It's that simple.

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