The keys to the 1998 Ford Explorer grazed my left temple before landing in a pool of water, oil and brake fluid near the new Ford Mustangs. Thankfully for my head, the force of the blow was softened by the shocking pink colored troll doll hanging from the keychain. No doubt about it. This was going to be one of those days.
The young lady in front of me–and by her adept use of off color language I use the term lady loosely– was no more than 35 and the mother of three children under the age of five. I wondered to myself how many new words they must have been learning from their mother that day. They all sat in the back seat of the Explorer whose keys nearly took my head off, in complete silence, entranced by their mothers rage.
“How do you think you guys can get away with this?” the young woman continued to bellow. “You are killing my babies! These Firestone tires are going to kill my babies!”
Her long brown hair tastefully streaked with expensive looking red highlights was pulled up in a knot over her head. I was pretty sure that when her hair was down and her face wasn’t contorted in absolute rage she was probably a very attractive woman.
Not that this held much sway with me. If she had sent her hot six foot two husband–maybe a financial analyst who worked in the city named Brad–I might have tried to help a little more. But even with my straight colleagues, a hot woman throwing a complete and utter hissy fit usually got them nowhere.
That is until this would happen. The young woman pulled out what to her eyes were the big guns. She started to cry. “Oh, please lady there is only room for one drama queen on this service drive!” I thought to myself.
Tears, as most women know, always work with straight men. For me, I was just horrified that she was letting her eyeliner streak so unattractively.
I continued to listen intently, interspersing comments like, “I really understand what you are going through. I really do. I would love to help you but we just don’t have any replacement tires yet. They just announced the recall for those tires.”
As you might have gleaned from these events, I was working at a Ford dealership in the service department. I started the day the Firestone “exploding tire” recall was announced on the Explorer. It was a funhouse of abuse from day one.
I always tried to speak to customers in the calmest tone, a trick I learned early on in life. It usually worked with most human beings unless they were just ready to go on a tear. Customers, I had found, just wanted to be understood. Not that it made me resent them, or my polyester uniform, any less.
Polite and calm customers, on the other hand, always were given the utmost respect. The day I started my job as a Ford service advisor my mom said to me, “You know what I hate most, especially as a woman, about bringing my car into a garage? When I am totally ignored and people on the phone or at their desk do everything but make eye contact with me. No matter what the wait is, I just want someone to acknowledge I am there.”
From that point on, I always took that advice to heart. It was probably the reason I made so much more money than the other guys I worked with. We worked on commission and all that. So you would think that would make them get off their lazy butts and talk to customers. But they so rarely did. Laziness does strange things to people.
But the customer I was facing now, she was testing the last bits of my frazzled patience. It is hard to have compassion when the person you are dealing with is besmirching your character and calling you all manner of foul things. Didn’t she remember that I, too, was a human being? Being in customer service is a thankless and abuse-filled endeavor. Remember that the next time the waiter accidentally brings you a Cobb Salad instead of a Caesar.
In my head, I was just dying to say to this woman, “Sister, didn’t your mama ever tell you that you can catch more flies with honey…honey?”
But that might have sounded really gay. And my co-workers, who were all watching but not helping, might have found out that dirty little secret of mine. Although I am sure they had to know I was gay, what with my predilection for singing along to the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet “Endless Love” when it came on the radio.
Yes, I loved Lionel Richie and was not afraid to let people know it. Now, letting 300 pound mechanics know I was gay. Well, that’s another story.