The Little Stuff Doesn’t Work

I used to eat a lot at McDonald’s. Right now I can taste a quarter pounder if I think about it. The fries became less satisfying over time, but the food was always consistent, and back before the chainification of America this was important. I remember eating roast beef outside of Yellowstone back in ’74. Tasted like that shoe Charlie Chaplin consumed in “The Gold Rush.” And when you’re alone, in the middle of nowhere, in the pre-cellphone era, that’s pretty depressing.

Now the reason I bring this up is because I ate at Mickey D’s so much that I knew more about ordering than the people who worked there. I always wanted to jump over the counter and key my own order in. Even when they went to pictures, the clerks couldn’t do it. Even more depressing were the should-be retireds not only taking your order, but sweeping up. You looked at them and wondered if that could be you. I know a number of people who are living on social security, still in their sixties, what are they gonna make it on in their nineties? Life is long, wait until you’re seventy to take social security. Because if you live past your mid-eighties, the crossover point, and you probably will, the extra cash will make a difference.

So yesterday I had a flat tire.

Now in the old days, you’d have a full-sized spare. I changed the tire on my BMWs numerous times. But now you’ve got a donut if you’re lucky. Some new cars come without a spare at all, just an inflation kit, to get you to the next stop. As for BMWs, they’ve got run-flats, which cost a ton to replace, but you can still drive on them. I no longer drive a BMW, I’ve got a donut, but I didn’t think I’d need it.

Monday I parked on a hill. You know, with the car leaning sideways. I saw the rear tire looked low. But today, tires are so low-profile that you’re not always sure they’re flat. And these low-profile tires give a worse ride, but they look cool!

Now I would have taken the dirt road into the trailhead, but there were potholes and I was worried because of these low-profile tires that I’d bend a rim, never mind puncture a tire.

But I have OCD, I’m always looking for problems.

So the next day, yesterday, I’m driving on the freeway and when I drive over the Botts Dots, I hear a thump, louder than usual, I chalk it up to my radio being turned down low.

I made a stop.

And then an hour later I went to my next appointment, parked, and the tire still looked flat, I realized I had to take action.

That’s another facet of the modern world, you’ve got no time, everything’s squeezed together, one problem screws up your whole day.

But at least we have Uber and Lyft. Used to be you were stuck completely. Now I was worried whether I’d have to use one of these two ride-hailing apps to get to Hollywood for my Sirius XM show.

I had an hour, wherein I planned to read the papers. I wanted to go to lunch, but there wasn’t quite enough time. I had it all figured out. I’d finish this appointment, drive to Hollywood to beat the traffic, eat lunch and then do my radio show. But the older you get, the more you realize plans are worthless. You can lay it out, but it rarely goes down that way. Our smartphones are seamless, but the world they exist in is not.

So I figured I’d drive to the Pep Boys nearby. Maybe they could fix the tire in the interim.

They said it would take an hour and a half. That would work, assuming it was true.

And so I called a Lyft, since they were proffering a discount, and engaged in a conversation with the driver. Which I enjoy, but sometimes I don’t want to do, but I feel guilty if I don’t. And then I start thinking about the tip. Travis Kalanick had it right, the price should be the price. Raise it, I’ll pay it, I don’t know any better, there’s no comparison shopping. But now, from the time I get into a car I’m worried about it. Danny Meyer gets rid of tipping in his restaurants but Uber succumbs to the blowback and institutes tipping. Everybody blinks in response to public pressure when they should not.

And there’s a new law in California, having to do with independent contactors. To avoid its drivers being classified as employees, Uber no longer gives a final price, but a range. I could explain the legalities, but that’s not my point. Uber used to be seamless, the price was the price. But now? As for those complaining about the gig economy, you have to realize most Uber and Lyft drivers are now professionals, doing it full-time, making fifty plus grand a year. I know, because I quizzed them. They like doing it, even though they’re working twelve hours a day, six days a week. And they like it because their previous jobs were so heinous or disappeared. This does not mean there’s not a problem with the gig economy, but let’s stop talking about bringing manufacturing back and give well-paying service jobs to the populace. That’s today, the focus is always taken off the main issues. People want to work. And they want to be able to pay their bills.

So while I’m at my next appointment, the phone rings, I’ve ruined the tire.

I’m always paranoid about that. Even more the rim. In the old days, tires would go completely flat, you’d know. But today?

I was driving to Pep Boys and I was worrying about this. Should I stop and inflate the tire half a mile away or keep rolling? Last time I stopped and saved the tire, this time I did not. Then again, last time they said the tire needed to be replaced, the tread was too low, so maybe I didn’t really save it.

And now you get into the warranty… “Consumer Reports,” everybody tells you not to buy the warranty, because no one gets a flat. But I just did. And since the tire needs to be replaced, it’ll be pro-rated.

But they don’t have the tire in stock, Rodrigo said it would come this morning.

But Rodrigo did not tell me he was not working today.

So I called and got Gus, he said my car was ready.

So I called a Lyft.

But the problem is, Lyft drivers are trying to save money, so they all have T-Mobile, maybe Sprint, and as a result their phones don’t work in the hills. So, once they get near my neighborhood, signal drops out, you don’t know if they’re near or far, and you don’t want to keep them waiting, you might get a bad rating.

And my driver was Mary, usually they’re men, almost always foreigners. (Once again, who else is gonna do this job? But immigrants are the enemy!)

Mary eventually showed up.

But her phone had no signal, so I gave her directions.

But she wouldn’t believe me.

And then it turned out she was Russian and really didn’t speak English.

I told her I knew the route, and when she got to the freeway, her phone would come back to life.

She didn’t believe me, she turned her phone off and on twice as she crawled along.

End result? She lost the ride.

So I’m giving her directions. Meanwhile I’m on the phone. And then she pulls over in the middle of Sepulveda.

She starts talking but I don’t get it. This is before I recognize the language problem. I tell her to turn down the radio, but she doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Finally, I get it. I tell her not to worry, I’m in the car, I’ll pay cash.

Meanwhile, the Lyft system is sending another car to my home. But that guy Cody also has a cheap cellphone provider and I can’t reach him to cancel. I keep calling and calling. I text and text. Now I hear from Lyft that he’s gonna be outside and I should be waiting. Finally I get Cody on the phone and cancel the ride.

Meanwhile, Mary hands me her phone, because she can’t understand me. She wants me to enter the Pep Boys address. WAZE is in Russian.

Now she’s on the wrong side of the freeway. We’ve got to switch to the 10, but she’s in the number one lane of the 405. I have to throw off my phone call for the second time, I tell her to get to the right, she eventually makes it. We arrive at Pep Boys, thank god I’ve got correct change.

So I go in to pick up my car. The guy is not wearing a uniform. Which makes me suspicious. Actually, it takes five minutes for me to find him, the desk is unmanned. He’s got a haircut like the Weeknd, flopping almost down to his eyes, he’s got a neck tattoo, he’s nice, but he’s clueless.

Before I pay the bill I want to know how they arrived at the number. I got sixty percent off on the new tire, but they charged me almost fifty bucks to install it. Watcha gonna do?

But after I pay, and they print out the paperwork, I ask this guy to go line by line, I want to make sure I’ve still got a warranty on this new tire.

And I see a line that says ninety day balance. Well, I’ve got lifetime balance, rotation and alignment, I don’t want to get stuck further down the road.

He keeps saying I’m wrong until he realizes I’m right, uttering acronyms I don’t understand along the way. He says he’s got to call his boss, the aforementioned Gus.

Gus tells him the bill is wrong, to give me a free oil change to make up for it.

I don’t want a free oil change.

Mr. Weeknd doesn’t have the password, so I’ve got to wait for Gus to come back from lunch, it’s supposed to be fifteen minutes, could be an hour. And I start wondering if it’s worth it, to wait, for the money. But I could envision the future, driving up with a flat in that same tire, them charging me to repair it and balance it, and I did not want to be ripped-off when it wasn’t my fault.

So I go in the waiting room.

The TV is on. Everywhere the TV is on. It’s like no one can read, we all have to watch inane television while we’re waiting.

There’s only one other guy there, he’s not watching, I figure I’ll take control, turn the volume down. I go up to the set, but it has no buttons, few do anymore.

So now I need the remote control. Usually establishments hide it, they don’t want you messing with the volume, stealing the remote.

But I found it and turned down the TV and got back on my call for the third time.

Gus arrived early actually.

Then he started blaming it on me.

Didn’t Rodrigo tell you how much it would cost?


Didn’t this new guy go through every line before you paid?


But you definitely want the oil change, it’s a better deal.


So I owe you $18, $16.99 plus $2.50, right?

Well, no. First, explain what you’re refunding on the paperwork.

He can’t do that.

So we’re back to the eighteen bucks. And I tell him that $16.99 plus $2.50 is actually $19.49. Is he ripping me off or can he not add? Both!

So he tells me to put my card into the reader for a refund and…

Then he needs to change the cash register tape. Only he does not know how to do it.

So he calls over the young ‘un, who eventually has to peel away stuck tape for the better part of five minutes.

But after installing a new wheel of tape, it doesn’t print.

And this is just about the time I realize the young ‘un didn’t give me a receipt the first time around.

So Gus tells me he can’t print a receipt.

Okay, I’ll live with that, even though I don’t want to. But can he print out another work order to keep in my glove box, the other one going into the file in my office?


Only he can’t.

He can’t make the printer work. He tries over and over again. Then he just hands me Pep Boys’ work order.

Do I think Pep Boys was intentionally screwing me?

No. I think it was just ineptitude. But one reason I did not want the oil change is I knew they’d try and upsell me. That’s how these outfits make their money, go in for a minor repair and they’ll scare you into more work you don’t need, and I’m a paranoid guy, I fall for it.

So, what we’ve got is a legion of undertrained, inefficient workers. How could the bosses let them do the job?

Because it’s a corporation and those at the top need to get rich, and turnover is so heavy they don’t care about the employees anyway.

And the employees don’t care about the job, because they don’t make enough money.

Talk about the American worker.

And our best laid plans fall by the wayside, this happens every week, you’ve got to build in time to deal with the system. The products are better than the people, which is why I’m always wary of a person touching my stuff, they usually screw it up.

So, in an ever more automated world, we’re dealing with the same damn problems.

People, you can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em.

Comments are closed