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This is a rather long.... long story. I normally don't make them this long because it gets boring (to me) to read them. But there is a reason this one is so long. Grab a coffee, take a little time read thru this one... and lets see if you have run across your own Rocky Balboa.

 

 

ADRIAN

 

 

Taking a line from the Rocky movies. “Adrian, Adrian!” If you can picture Rocky Balboa shouting out the name of his girlfriend you have a good idea what I experienced one day at the shop.

 

It all started with a phone call several weeks ago. A referred customer wanted some information about some repairs he wanted done to his late 90’s F150.

 

Mandy (my daughter and office manager) was in the office and as always handled all of this customers questions with the highest level of expertise. Several weeks later the truck showed up at the shop. The keys were in the overnight slot along with a hand scribbled note. The name and contact number with a brief description of the problems were all there. Although, most of it was misspelled but the main information was legible.

 

There was quite a bit on the list. It stretched from the front of the truck to the rear. First thing to do was get it up on the lift. Number one on the list was the front end. All four ball joints needed changed and the idler arm was trashed. (Sounds about right for a truck with 150k miles on it and looked like it had a pretty rough life.)

 

Now, to the other end of the truck. The rearend was the next issue. You couldn’t help but notice the leaking fluid out of the front of the assembly. I gave the driveshaft a jiggle… up and down and round and round….this rearend is shot. There so much play in the gears you could probably stick another rearend between the gaps of the gears. I grabbed the tire and gave it a turn. The growl from the center of the reared was so loud…. I don’t know how anyone could have driven it to the shop. This thing is totally shot.

 

Next item on the list was diagnose the cruise control. Anybody that has one of these should… if you haven’t ---YOU better…. Get the recall on the cruise control switch that is mounted on the master cylinder. Your dealer can tell you if your vehicle needs to have the recall done or not.

 

Obviously this owner never pays attention to those notices that the manufacture sends out. The only thing wrong with the cruise was the switch. The other and finally the last thing was the right side wiper didn’t work… at least that was what was written down on the invoice which was simply copied from the owners own notes. Oh, it worked but do ya think maybe, just maybe…. It might work better if you put the wiper blade on correctly. I’m not sure but I think it’s not supposed to be cork screwed twisted and pointing towards the sky. Another no brainer repair… OK, one more thing to write down on the invoice; replace wiper blades... Finally, all done.

 

Now that the “diagnostic” part of the repair is completed I’ll write up the damages and have Mandy call the customer while I get to the next job in the shop. I’ll wait till she gets off the phone, and then order what parts are needed. You know so far this is just like any other repair. I’ll admit a rather large list of repairs, but nothing out of the ordinary. What could go wrong now…?

 

But as usual there is always the “question and answer” part of the diagnostics. Mandy came out to the shop and asked the usual questions that a customer will usually ask; “Why does it cost so much, why can’t you just stop it from leaking instead replacing the entire rearend, why are the parts so expensive, can’t you do it cheaper…” you know the rest….

 

I explained everything to Mandy and she repeated it back to the customer. Just another day at the shop, just another repair, there was nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Now I never expected the owner to go for the rearend or for that matter the front end, mainly because of the cost. I don’t like to make snap judgments on cars or customers, but it seemed very highly likely that this guy didn’t have the cash flow to maintain his truck in decent shape. Otherwise, things would have been fixed long before they got into the shape they are in now.

 

I expected that, so it wasn’t any surprise that the only repairs I was going to make were the two cheaper repairs. (Cruise and wipers)

 

The work was completed and the truck was set aside to wait for the customer to pick it up the next day. Still, this is nothing new… just another repair.

 

The next day the customer came and picked up the car, well, I should point out that this guy wanted to strut his manly ego at the front counter. Me, I was doing what I normally do every day… fix the cars in the shop. Busy as could be in the back of the shop, Mandy came out to ask me a few questions.

 

A lot of times she may have a question on a part or description of the labor charges. While I was elbow deep in a job at hand she took down the information and headed back to the front office.

 

This guy wasn’t buying her answers. He wanted to “talk” with the mechanic that worked on the job. Mandy told him that I was busy and that if you can wait a few minutes I’ll see if I can pull him away from the job he’s on. By this time he had already stormed out the front door.

 

She didn’t even have a chance to finish her sentence….. The one that ended with…. “As soon as he gets a break he’ll make it to the front office to talk to you.” The next thing I know, that same truck is back in front of the service bays blocking as many doors as he could.

 

 

Then this Italian stallion of the motor world jumps out of his truck stands by the front fender with his arms stretched out and starts yelling at the top of his lungs and gives his best “Adrian” Rocky Balboa impression. “So, what is it? Ya don’t want to talk to me?!?!? I ain’t paying for the work unless I talk somebody that knows what they are doing!!!”

 

The first thing that crosses my mind is… “WHO’S THIS JACKASS!” Then I recognize the truck…got it…it’s the owner of the vehicle.

 

Upset about something but of course, I don’t know what.

 

“If you’re the fella waiting for me that was in the front office, I’m cleaning up now and I’ll be there in a minute…as you can tell I’m a little busy at the moment,” I said, a little louder than normal.

 

Not that I’m pissed, I’m more confused than anything else. “Rocky” leaves his truck where it is and walks to the front office door. I take off my welding gear, turn off the welder and clean up enough to go to the front office. (I was busy welding a door back together for another customer) As soon as I made it to the office the "Rocky" went right back into his ranting.

 

“I’m putting a notice up in my office and tell everybody I know how much of an asshole this place is,” he shouted back at me.

 

“So what’s your problem buddy,” I said, already getting steamed by this butt head’s constant badgering.

 

“I want to talk to the guy who worked on the car, not the gal in the front office. She is not a mechanic so obviously she doesn’t know what she is talking about. I’m a damn good mechanic myself and I don’t want to talk to some girl,” he blurts out.

 

“Oh really,” I said, “What shop do you work at?” Curious as to why a “damn” good mechanic brought his car to another repair shop.

 

“I’m an A/P mechanic…. That’s all you need to know,” he stammers out.

 

Nothing against aircraft mechanics… their great at what they do. But, let’s face it… a jet engine isn’t a car.

 

Well, this Balboa stand in was as much a jerk as I have ever seen. I explained why there is a pretty gal in the front office and what her job duties were. Also, how she has answered all of his questions over the phone and if she had a problem she was perfectly capable of relaying information.

 

“You know, she’s a lot pretty than me,” I said, “So why don’t you let her answer your questions and if at any time she needs more answers I’ll be glad to assist.”

 

This jerk still had his Rocky warm up suit on. It wasn’t a question of man to man information now. His whole attitude was that he was the champ and everyone else is a chump. Sorry, pal, it doesn’t work that way.

 

After I explained the whole thing again to him I asked Mandy if what I said was similar to what she had told him earlier. The answer was “YES”… go figure. As he walked out the door I reminded him that his disrespect to the guys in the shop was unacceptable and blocking the garage doors slows down our ability to offer service to other customers.

 

“Your problem is I’m the customer here….and you should be showing respect to me before I have to show one ounce of respect to you or anybody here,” shouting as loud as he could.

 

“You know, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, I try to keep cost down by having someone in the front office to handle these things. But apparently you’re from the old school of auto repair where a guy talks to a guy about car stuff… sorry, I guess I didn’t think about that,” I said as humbly as I could… which by the way I didn’t mean any of it. It was mainly for his feeble ego than for anything else.

 

He accepted my apology and then wanted to know if he bought a used rearend how much I would charge to install it. I wanted to say….not near enough…in fact…never in your life would I do another job for the likes of you. But I didn’t.

 

However, little does he know, his little sign in his office might be his way of showing his macho ego. But I hate tell him this, his story is in print and it’s all over the country….so if you are going to put a sign in your office area to let everyone you know about “the” asshole, you should take notice of one thing. Make sure “the” asshole you’re dealing with isn’t a writer of such stories. Because, I think my little sign is bigger than your little sign…. there, Mr. Balboa…..!

 

 

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

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The first encounter with reality After my ride in the ambulance on my first day at the “new” hospital I was sitting there in my room, in between one monitoring device and another with my two grown daughters holding each hand, I started to feel something wasn’t right.  I’m still a bit groggy from the stent debacle from the last hospital, but I could tell the medication was wearing off.  Just then, another massive heart attack decided to invite itself.  My only thought was… “Don’t you die with both your daughters holding your hands, ya old fart… pull yourself together!”  The wife was already out of the room looking for the nurse.  The nurse, quite calmly hit the code button, and methodically, as to not bring on any more chaos from the scene which was already happening, carried in a nitro pill for me.  In just a few seconds the pill dissolved under my tongue and I could feel the pain and pressure lifting away. Waiting on surgery day          A few days passed, I’ve been poked and prodded, medicated and subdued by so many different IV’s and pills that I’m feeling like a new guy already.  Even though the actual surgery is still days away. Friends and family called or stopped by on a regular basis.  Physically, you can deal with this, emotionally, I don’t know how to put it all into words.  At best, all I can say is that nearly everything you do, hear, or read about has a higher emotional connotation than ever before.  You’ll have no idea how much your emotional state is brought to the surface while going through all of this.  I’ve never been one to cry at the drop of a tissue, but I found myself in these uncontrollable moments over some of the silliest things.  I was later told it’s the medication, then I was told… it’s your heart speaking out, I’m not sure what it is… but it certainly is a change from the norm.  (For anyone who has been through this you know exactly what I mean) Big John          The night before the actual operation my usual nursing staff was in for a bit of a change.  The typical female nurse was replaced with BIG John.  Oh yes, I mean big too.  6’5” and towering over everyone and anything.  His job was to get me prepped for the operation.  Now, I’m not a little guy myself.  I’m no 6’5” but I’m not a frail little guy by any means.  Big John comes into my room carrying several items.  First there was the bacterial wash.  “Use this entire bottle and don’t miss a spot,” John tells me.  Then, there were these two pill cups.  John presses the cups in my direction.  “OK, these you take orally, and this one goes knuckle deep, and I’ve got to make sure you’ve done both.”  The realization of why “Big John” was here on this special occasion has become apparent. If I don’t get this done myself… I’m pretty sure he will. Obviously, modesty has left the building quite some time ago, so it wasn’t a stretch to be in the same room with this mammoth individual while I made the knuckle deep insertion.  Although, he wasn’t present for the eventual outcome he was well aware of the results.  I don’t know what they put in those, but a toilet seat belt and ceiling padding would have been appropriate. The CABG          The surgery itself (as I was told, because even though I was there…what the heck could I tell you about it) had a few difficulties, but as if it’s not noticeable by now I made it through with my heart beat intact.  The surgeon performs an operation called a CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft). Mine was a double, meaning two grafts were made. One graft was taken from the left side of the chest and one was taken from behind the left knee. A heart pump is used during the operation to ensure a steady flow while the heart is being worked on. Believe me, you (the patient) have no idea what is going on until you’re told later on.  Hopefully, when the medication wears off and you’re coherent.  For me, the wife had to retell and retell the whole thing to me, because I wasn’t comprehending much of anything for quite some time. The ICU The ICU (Intensive care unit) is a whole new experience.  The first thing is the introduction prior to the surgery.  I was wheeled into the adjacent room to the operating room where I would be monitored and was told what to expect when I first woke up from the surgery.  The big thing the nurse kept stressing was that I would feel some discomfort from the breathing tube and not to make any attempts to pull it out.  Besides I would be strapped down to the table for my own safety.  I remember waking up and hearing the nurses talking to each other, “He’s coming to, be ready.”  “OK sir, don’t pull it out…Don’t pull it out!”  I realized where and what was going on and understood her commands. To me it was just seconds ago that she had told me to not try to pull out the breathing tube, but in reality it was about five or six hours later.  However, the “minor discomfort” was over shadowed by the fact you’re trying to breathe through a drinking straw.  That I wasn’t expecting at all.  Yea, Uhm Ms. Nurse… you forgot to mention that part.  My night nurse for ICU was the most anal retentive-OCD person I’ve ever met.  The guy spent every waking hour neatly aligning all of the monitors, bottles, tubes, and me over and over again as if we were about to have the commanding general stop by for an inspection.  Although, when the day came for me to be wheeled back into a regular room a new nurse was assigned the task. My OCD nurse was sent off to another patients ICU room to straighten up their hoses and IV units. The new nurse on the other hand, starting grabbing monitors, IV’s and whatever else needed to go, or that was still attached, and flung them on or around me while I was seated in an oversized recliner.  At one point she said to me as monitors were being tossed about, “Hold this…and this… and this.” and before long I’m being wheeled down the hallway at record setting speeds, as if it’s the Indy 500, only slowing down to make the corners or to change elevators. The overhead florescent lights were moving by so fast I thought they were camera flashes. I’m not sure the reason for the mad dash down the hallways, but it sure was the quickest sprint I’ve ever been on in a recliner race. Sleeping in at the hospital          Not that I hate hospitals, OK… I’m not their no#1 fan, but a hospital is not the place to get any sleep.  It seemed at exactly 5 minutes past the hour-every hour-day or night somebody was going to come into the room.  7 o’clock was the worst. That was shift change and it never failed that somebody didn’t tell somebody about what somebody was to do or not do, which meant even more trips in and out of the room. I learned very quickly that the best way to avoid the ever present knock on the door was to just leave the door open….at least that way they didn’t knock, and if you were just about to doze off you might actually catch a bit of shut eye before the next round of visitors, and if you’re really lucky you could avoid the guy coming in to check the serial number on the IV for the UPTEENTH time.   It was always the same guy at least twice a day from the inventory department.  I told him, “Dude, look around, I’m stuck in this room with this IV monitor and I assure you if anybody comes in here and steals it, replaces it with one that looks just like it, I guarantee I’ll call you and let you know. With all these interruptions I’m awake 24-7 which means me and this IV have become the best of friends. I’m dammed sure this is the same IV unit that was here yesterday! So why in the world do you need to come in and scan the serial number twice a day?!”  I don’t think I came off as his next best pal by a long shot. Eventually, the day came to get out of the hospital.  One the happiest days of my new life. Me and my IV had to part ways, and no, I didn’t tell the inventory guy. Home at last          When you finally get to be home, start your rehab schedule, and try to reassemble your now broken apart life, you begin to reevaluate what is most important for your future. Walking is your foremost concern. I had a routine I would do and set a goal each day a bit farther than the previous day.  Oh, I’d push it too far, and the wife or my son would have to come haul the emotionally incoherent old guy off of our hilly driveway more than once. It does get better, but it does take time.           You soon learn new routines, things like coughing and sneezing should only be done if your heart pillow or Teddy bear are close by.  Squeezing the pillow (or bear) against your chest prevents you from popping your sternum open. You also learn how to stand up and roll over without using your upper body as much as you previously did. Sleeping in a bed is out, at least for a month or so (if not longer) you’ll have to learn how to be comfortable in a recliner 24-7. Breathing, talking, walking, and bathing, etc… all their problems that you’ll need to overcome. And, probably the most important thing or the most annoying... (Your interpretation may vary) is the now-and-for-ever-more medications you’ll be on. Family and friends take precedence over work and bills.  The realization that life is all about a beginning and an end and that you’ve been given a chance to change your life’s conclusion differently than what it could have been.  Not that you need a lightning bolt to drop out of the sky to tell you to change your life…but a heart attack and open heart surgery is close enough to the same thing. So heed the warning, do yourself a favor. Except it for what it is, and discover what is more important.  Not a lot of people get this second chance. For some, it’s as sudden and as unexpected as a car crash. I feel there’s reason for every action and reaction.  It’s how you cope and/or do with those actions and reactions that make a difference.   Putting it all into perspective           Life is what you make of it.  There is no perfect solution, there is no golden key, it’s up to you to make it a difference. It’s not money or fame… just you.  As we’ve all heard before, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have much at all.” True to some extent, but not always true and not always is your health something that you can have the way you’d like it to be. What is possible is living life to the fullest no matter what the odds.  I for one, love to hear stories of people who have found out they have some sort of rare disease and decided to fill their bucket list of personal accomplishments until their time has expired. I commend them and hope I can do the same. So even though my stamina and strength may not be equal to what it was of years past, I’m still able to experience all there is out there. For me, I’d like to think I still can try. Maybe it’s not all about the challenges, maybe it’s not all about solutions, perhaps it’s just about the adventure.  Becoming a member of the Zipper Club isn’t the end… it’s a new beginning.             
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    • Article: How Long is a Labor Hour? - - Time keeps ticking away

      How Long is a Labor Hour?          Did you ever stop and wonder how long a labor hour actually is?  I’m not talking about time ticking away on a clock. I’m talking about the actual time spent on a repair vs. the labor guide’s suggested time. Personally, I’ve never had a job that started and finished exactly to the second of the given labor time.  It’s not like the labor guide’s hourly chart is set in stone, or that they’re wrong, but when it comes to getting paid it sure seems like they are.          Any mechanic will tell you that a labor hour can stretch to half a day if a lot of research is involved, or it can last 15 minutes. Most labor guides typically don’t take into account how much research, diagnosis, equipment setup, or the time it takes recover your 10mm socket that just fell down into the motor.          Time, as they say, is money. If you don’t think so, take your car to any bodyshop and read off the labor charges.  You’ll find the labor time is divided into a 1/10th of an hour. However, in the mechanical repair shop, seldom are the labor costs scrutinized as they are when dealing with insurance companies. Even still, I’ve never once been asked to break down the mechanical repair labor into diagnostic time and the actual physical labor when giving an estimate.          Estimates are usually quoted by the R&R labor time for a particular repair.  Generally, that doesn’t include diagnostic time.  Even though the book time has been calculated out, it’s still not a complete guide and certainly not the Holy Grail of the repair industries time clock.  Try sticking with an estimate for changing a starter that’s listed as one hour job.  More than likely the estimate is only going to be quoted straight from book of a one-hour labor charge and not any diagnostic time included.           Even with all the technically advanced diagnostic tools a professional mechanic has at their disposal there are still people who can’t understand why diagnostic time should be included in the labor estimate, even though it’s not part of the R&R for the component.  In their mind, (as I’ve been told numerous times), the mechanic should already know what’s wrong when they pull their car into the shop.           What’s worse is the price shopper who calls from shop to shop looking for the cheapest repair. I’d bet to say the cheapest quote is probably nothing more than the R&R labor time for whatever part they’re concerned about. However, nobody mentioned anything about the crusted connections at the battery, or the leaking valve cover that’s coated the starter in oil, or whether you’ve installed aftermarket headers. Not to mention any diagnostic time, because the real problem isn’t the starter at all.          On the other hand there are the stop watch aficionados. You know, the people who literally count the seconds of every minute and are bound to argue over any labor time discrepancies on their invoice. The mechanic’s entire career, (in their way of thinking), is strictly turning bolts and slapping on parts. These tick-tock-time-keepers, watch their timepieces with precision and inevitably use “time” as the only determining factor for the cost of a repair.          For instance, let’s say the book time said an hour, and everyone involved agreed upon the charges, but the mechanic got it done in 25 minutes. The argument has always been that the cost of the job should be no more than the time it took to do it.  Should the mechanic be penalized for doing his job proficiently and having completed it early? Where does it say he should give the job to the customer at some discounted rate because he can beat the book time?  Doesn’t seem right at all. But, what if the same job that was quoted for an hour has taken four hours to complete? Who pays for the time difference now?          So in a sense, a labor hour isn’t an hour at all.  It’s an arbitrary amount of time that may or may not be exactly 60 minutes. If it was as accurate as some people believe, then theoretically you should get an estimate for that hour’s labor, pull up to the repair shop, and walk out in exactly 60 minutes with the job completed.  Not a second sooner or a second later. Yea, good luck with that one.          Like most trades mechanics get paid by the hour, however it’s not like you punch a time clock in the morning, work all day, then collect a 40-hour paycheck at the end of the week.  Most mechanics work on flag time. Realistically, let’s call it what it really is… piece work, (the piece being the car). Very few mechanics are offered an hourly pay and a guaranteed 40-hour work week, (although there are some places that use a combination of both flag time and hourly pay).          More times than not, a mechanic ends up eating a whole lot of labor time for problem solving. Whether there are rusted bolts, bad connections, illusive intermittent problems or poor information from the get-go, something is going to use up time which eventually won’t go towards a paycheck.           Any time money and people are involved in the same situation, and you’re dealing with something that’s not widely understood, such as the modern car, it’s up to the mechanics and the repair shops to make sure they do.  Customers also need to understand that this is a business based on suggested labor hours and not a time clock. There needs to be a reasonable amount of trust in the labor guide estimates from both sides of the counter.  Because, it’s hard to say how long an hour of labor really is.                    
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      By Gonzo, in AutoShopOwner Articles

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