It’s yet another rainy Wednesday, and I sauntered back from lunch. The sandwich shop in the strip mall next door had become such a frequent visit for members of the service staff that they had a Dishonest Used Car Dealership Special on the menu, which I had gleefully partaken in. I walked into my office to find our Incompetent Tech Guy rifling through my desk.
Me: “Can I help you?”
ITG: “I’m looking for the credit card.”
Me: “You could have asked. Colossal Redneck has it. You gonna put all that stuff you threw around back where it belongs?”
The answer apparently was no. ITG went over to CR’s office and began banging around in there. Service had a credit card we used to pay for things at businesses where we didn’t have an account, and it was an essential part of day-to-day operations. CR was AWOL, which was not atypical, so I rang his cell to try and figure out what was going on.
CR: “What? Hang on. (muffled) No, I’ve gotta answer this, baby.”
CR was unmistakably at the strip club down the street.
CR: “What do you want? I’m in a meeting.”
Me: “ITG’s in your office, looking for the credit card. You know what’s going on?”
CR: “What? No. Try an’ keep ‘im there, I’ll be back in a sec.”
I stalled ITG with a bunch of asinine questions until CR reappeared. CR stood blocking the doorway, pinning ITG inside.
CR: “The f**k you think you’re doin’?”
ITG: “Rom and The Amazon are canceling the credit card. From now on, you’ll need to send me an e-mail to get a check to pay vendors.”
ITG spotted the card, snatched it up, shoved his way past CR, and marched over to the sales office. CR followed.
An hour later, CR returned, shaking his head.
Me: “What the f**k was that all about?”
CR: “You ain’t gonna believe it. ITG convinced Rom and The Amazon to cancel the credit card, and – get this s#!t – they went an’ closed all the vendor accounts too! From now on, I guess we’re supposta e-mail ‘im every time we’re needin’ ta pay for sumthin’, and he’ll write up a check. Apparently the whole company’s gotta do it this way now. Every bill an’ purchase’s gotta go through ‘im first.”
Me: “That’s insane.”
And that was that. ITG had somehow convinced the owners that he, our tech guy – not a business guy, not an accountant, not an auto repair guy, but the guy who routinely “fixed” our computers until they didn’t work any more – needed to be in charge of all business expenditures for the entire company. ITG was a mysterious character – no one knew how he got the job, no one knew what he did all day, and no one knew how he managed to stay employed. My lackeys and I figured he had caught one of the owners on video soliciting a prostitute or buying an 8-ball of cocaine, and used the threat of blackmail to stay employed. We were now supposed to send him an e-mail with a check request every time we needed to pay for anything from an outside vendor, which might be twenty times a day. Daily parts deliveries from six suppliers, the glass repair guy, the tire shop, the alignment shop – we now had to get a check cut every. single. time.
“That ain’t all. ITG’s got ‘em convinced that we needta keep him up-to-date on every repair we do.”
Me: “Wait. What? Isn’t that what our computer system does? They can just look up any car and it’ll show the current repair order on it and its full service history.”
CR: “I know, I know. But that’s how they wan’ it. And get this – he wants to be updated live.”
This meant my contact with ITG had just expanded from refusing to talk to him (because he was a vindictive, argumentative d!ckweed) to having to send him an e-mail for every car, for every repair, every day. As an example, if we got a new car in, my e-mail chain was supposed to look like this:
9:00 AM: Hotshotter has delivered 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GL TDI sedan, silver on black cloth, VIN 3VWRR69M74M123456, inventory number #3456, opened RO #2174, mileage 106,774, authorized pre-sale inspection ($price).
9:30 AM: Technician has pulled #3456 in for PSI, RO #2174.
11:00 AM: Technician reports #3456 needs front and rear pads and rotors ($price), tires ($price), and new front ball joints ($price). Recommends timing belt ($price), fuel filter ($price), replacement windshield ($price). Estimate added to RO #2174.
11:15 AM: The Amazon authorizes replacement front and rear pads and rotors ($price), tires ($price), windshield ($price), refuses ball joints, refuses timing belt, refuses fuel filter, for #3456, RO #2174, RO updated and returned to tech.
11:20 AM: #3456, RO #2174 is scheduled with mobile glass shop for replacement windshield ($price) for 3:00 PM.
11:25 AM: Technician has begun replacing front pads and rotors on #3456, RO #2174. Estimate repair time 0.6 hours.
11:55 AM: Technician has finished replacing front pads and rotors on #3456, RO #2174, 0.1 hours ahead of schedule.
…and so forth, for every task on five to ten cars a day. On a typical day, this would have been in the range of 200 e-mails. Now remember, the important details of this were already being entered live by yours truly into a computer system that anyone in the office could look at, so this was a complete duplication of work. In addition, having to constantly ask ITG for checks slowed us down so badly that we were beginning to fail to get customers’ cars finished by the end of the day. What would happen is that we would sent a check request e-mail, nothing would happen, 5:00 would roll around, and our outside vendor’s shop would close, with our customer’s car stuck inside.
In fact, ITG’s batting average of providing checks in a timely manner very rapidly fell from about 0.500 at the beginning of this ridiculous scheme to just about zero by the end of the first month. My previous employer, who I was on great terms with, eventually terminated their business relationship with us, because we so infrequently were able to pay their delivery driver.
Then one day, it all came crashing down.
It was a rare clear Monday in January. The metal spokes of my Jeep’s steering wheel stuck to my hands from the cold, and the overhead display read 11º F. Once at work, I kicked open the back door to the office and immediately something seemed off. It was cold. And it was oddly quiet. The usual beep-beep-beep of the alarm failed to greet my entrance. I walked over to the alarm panel to see what was up, but the display was blank. I pulled the big knife switch on the wall to turn on the lights in the sales bay, but rather than being rewarded with the usual clunk-whoooooooom of a row of big HID lamps kicking on, I got nothing.
I went outside to look around. The gravestone company next door had power, and so did the kayak company on the other side. The Chevy dealership across the street was lit up too. For all the world, it looked like the power company had disconnected us.
I went back out to my Jeep and idled in the parking lot to keep warm until the rest of the staff started showing up. Felonious Monk, one of my best technicians, who had indeed spent the better part of a decade behind bars, pulled up next to me and rolled his window down.
FM: “The f**k you doing out here, why aren’t the doors open?”
Me: “Power’s out. Disconnected, looks like.”
The barely-contained murderous rage that lived behind FM’s eyes flashed to the surface, but he merely snapped his car into gear and screeched out of the lot, not to be seen for the rest of the day. CR came in immediately afterwards, and we went through a similar conversation. He tried calling the owners, but they didn’t answer, nor did ITG.
CR: “Suppose we ought’a open ‘er up anyway? Rom and The Amazon’ll probably get the power back on in a sec once they get in.”
We walked over to the service bay, whose big ancient garage door took two people to open on the best of days. CR unlocked it, and we gave it a tug. For all the world it wouldn’t budge. As we were fighting with it, I began to notice an odd sound from the inside. Someone was in there using the big utility sink! CR supposed one of the techs had come in a bit early “just to bust up our s#!tter.” I, being paranoid, immediately thought it was a crackhead trying to jack all the tools to pawn. We walked around to the man door to try and get in that way. Oddly enough, the man door was hard to pull open as well, but one herculean tug from the two of us, and the door whipped open.
The source of the sound was immediately apparent. It was not the utility sink we had heard. It was a broken pipe. With the power off, the heater hadn’t kicked on once all weekend, and the temperature in the shop had fallen well below freezing, causing one of the overhead pipes to burst. Left to its own devices, the broken pipe coated the entire floor of the shop with an inch and a half of ice, not to mention the beautiful silver E-class directly beneath the breach.
CR rushed to turn the water off, and I got on my cell to try and warn the other three techs to turn around and go back to sleep. The rest of the office crew arrived over the course of the next hour, each in turn surveying the skating rink in the service bay. The owners arrived, called the power company, and got the power turned back on and CR and I placed a salamander and a few space heaters around the bay to get it to start to thaw. ITG didn’t saunter in until 10:00, but when he did, be assured that the screaming match that ensued was of biblical proportions. My youngest tech, Mr. Sarcastic, whose bay the Mercedes was in, shoved ITG against the wall, reaching a fist up to knock some sense into him, but unfortunately CR pulled him off before any lasting memories could be formed.
So how on earth did the power not get paid for? In the end, it all came down to Outlook, of all things. ITG had set up a rule in Outlook to catch any e-mail that came in with the word “check” anywhere in the subject or body, so that he could quickly be alerted to check requests from us peons. Unfortunately, at an auto repair shop, the word “check” gets used a lot for things that aren’t slips of paper that substitute for cash. Things like:
“The check engine light is on in that red Golf.”
“Tell sales to check that the gas cap is tight.”
“Technician wants to check for technical service bulletins on it before proceeding.”
“Door check strap is failing to keep door open.”
“Check valve on the fuel pump has failed.”
“Tell Felonious Monk to check in that E300 when he has a minute.”
“Can you double check that the shimmy in the steering wheel is fixed?”
And so forth. With Service having to constantly update him on every task on every car, ITG was racking up thousands of e-mails a month with the word “check” in them, and only the tiniest fraction were check requests. Amongst all the noise, the vast majority of check requests were not being spotted, including our admin requesting a check to pay the power bill.
The final damage totaled more than $50,000, but the owners fudged a few details and got the insurance company to pay for it. The driver’s window of the Mercedes had been left down all weekend, so its entire interior was flooded, and insurance totaled it. We also lost our clunker greaseball laptop we used to look up diagrams, but more critically, our STAR Diagnostic System machine, a $20,000 laptop and fancy cable we rented from Mercedes-Benz. Mr. Sarcastic also lost every electronic tool in his box – multiple Fluke meters, an optical tachometer, a very trick circuit tester, and so forth. Unfortunately, ITG kept his job, which only led to further rumors that he had some kind of saucy blackmail on the owners. But, the good news was that, in the end, the firehose of e-mails I had to send every day ceased and CR walked into work one morning to find a new credit card on his desk.