Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Too Much Drama

A rant, with a moral in the tail:

Got a call early this afternoon from the mechanic's, saying my car was done and I could come get it.

I've known since late Saturday afternoon that my neighbor was right, the front brake rotors needed replaced. And since I pulled the codes off the car myself on Thursday, I knew that the check engine light was on because of something wrong with the knock sensor and because the car was misfiring on all cylinders. Yesterday, the mechanic called and said he'd located a Technical Service Bulletin from Chrysler describing this problem and recommending tackling it by replacing the sparkplugs and wires and installing (reflashing) an update onto the engine computer. This turned out to work, and now the car was fixed.

I'd picked this local garage-- I'll call them O'Brien's*-- over the dealership because the latter is several miles up the Interstate and I was nervous about driving the Little Red Dragon far and fast with an undetermined misfiring problem. True, last time I dealt with this mechanic, he'd expressed some odd and alarming opinions on the moral wrongness of customers bringing in parts for him to install, on the principle that to deprive an auto serviceman of the markup was to take food out of his children's mouths. He thought the same about shade tree mechanics who fix friends' cars very cheaply or for free: not that it might not be wise in terms of getting a good repair, but that it was actual theft from the professionals. But this time there was no question of bringing in pre-purchased parts or letting an amateur have a go at it; I needed a shop that had Chrysler diagnostic equipment and didn't require too much driving to get to, and O'Brien's fit the bill.

So I walked over to pick up my car. As I wrote out the check to pay the bill, I asked Mr. O'Brien some questions about what had been done so I understood it. Everything seemed to be amicable and informative. One thing I inquired about just before I went was, should I expect anything different about the way my PT drove at first, since I'd read that a computer reflash could necessitate its needing to "relearn" some things about how you drive and all. He told me it might be a little rough on idle for a bit, or maybe stall out when I stopped at intersections. But it'd get over that soon.

Good, that's the kind of information I needed. I took my keys and my paperwork and went out and got into my little red car. No check engine light on, great! but it was making a high-pitched jingling sort of noise!

What is this? I know it wasn't doing it when I brought it in. Was this part of the computer's relearning things? I nearly reparked it and went back into the shop to ask, but thought well, maybe it was.

I had to go by the Post Office to get stamps, and by the time I got over there I decided I had to find out. The noise could be heard on idle or while driving, and it wasn't going away. I got out my cell phone and called.

Mr. O'Brien was put on, and when I comfirmed that yes, it sounded like crickets, he said, "That's probably a belt."

"Is that part of the computer relearning things? It wasn't doing it before."

No, he said, it wouldn't have anything to do with reprogramming the computer, and I should bring it back and he could take a look at it.

So I did. By the time I got there, it wasn't jingling at idle anymore (maybe because there had been slightly-rough idle, which now had settled out), but when I revved the engine, there it was. He located the problem belt for me (found out a little later it's the one for the alternator), and that's when things got very bizarre.

I can't guarantee the chronology of the conversation, and maybe it doesn't matter. But Mr. O'Brien proceeded to inform me that he'd been very offended when I'd told him that "It wasn't doing it before," because that was as much as to accuse him of having caused the belt noise himself. That it probably was doing it before, I just hadn't noticed, and now I was noticing only because he'd worked on it. That when he used to work for a dealership, customers would bring cars back with issues like this and they'd put a new belt in for free, but he couldn't afford to lose that kind of money on things that most likely had been going on before anyway; indeed, he said, he'd noticed the noise but I hadn't mentioned it for repair, so far be it from him to run up my bill by being like the dealerships and suggesting it be replaced! And, he said, he has Asperger's Syndrome so he's very precise and does everything in a very set, determined way and now I was bringing my car back and implying that he'd done something wrong by-- by what, I'm not quite sure. Close as I could tell, he thought I was accusing him of some incompetence that made the belt suddenly start to jingle and chirp.

All through this, I'm in conciliation mode, telling him no, not at all, it's just that it was new to me and that I wanted to make sure all was well with my car before I got it too far away. I tried to adduce an example of a time when something unrelated did go wrong with a car just after I'd picked it up from the repair shop, thinking to say, "Hey, it happens, that time I was glad I brought the car back, I learned from that experience, so now I'm doing the same."

He wouldn't hear it. "That makes as much sense," Mr. O'Brien said, "as me saying I had a bad experience at the dentist when I was five years old and now I won't go to the dentist." I could not get him off his idee fixe that by noticing the belt noise I was somehow insulting or condemning him and his work. And once he mentioned his Asperger's, I went into pastoral care mode. Let's be understanding and gentle and all the rest of it.

It did no good. He kept insisting the noise had been there all along and to "prove" it, told a story of how his sister-- his own sister!-- had started hearing some noise or other right after he'd fixed her car for something, and the noise and the repair had been totally unrelated! If his own sister could do that, why then, certainly I--!

His anecdote was even less to the point than my story about my old Mazda twelve years ago in Fremont, Nebraska, but no use in mentioning that. Especially not when he was growing ever more defensively emphatic that I had deliberately insulted him by bringing the car back when he'd said it was the belt. There was nothing wrong with the belt, he said; his own car has been making noises like that for a long time, and, he was sure, so had mine!

I nearly got angry back at him as he kept on like this, imputing thoughts and motivations to me that were grossly unfair and untrue. But I remembered who I am, and I considered his Asperger's, and kept my anger down. But when he wound up by saying that he's a trained professional and he knows what he's talking about, I couldn't help it-- I said, "Well, I'm a singer, and I would notice if my car was making a high-pitched noise like that."

"You're a singer?" he said. "So am I." And he goes back into the shop and brings me a CD of country-western tunes penned and sung by his brother and himself. I haven't listened to it yet.

But back there on the street, I was so busy playing pastoral counsellor that I never got around to saying, "Never mind when the noise started, how much would it be for you to make it go away? How much just to replace the belt right now?" Maybe since he thought it was actually still good . . . He certainly never suggested that solution, he was too busy questioning my motives and assumptions.

So I took the CD in the PT and drove away. I had errands to run. The belt noise was a maddening, headache-inducing whine. At the supermarket, I decided, no, I didn't want perishables in the car until I'd dealt with this. Screw Mr. O'Brien's attitude towards customer- bought parts, I was going to the neighborhood AutoZone to do something about it.

The nice clerk there first tried to set me up with a can of belt conditioner. He even came out with me and sprayed it on.

It didn't work. The belt chirped and jingled as much as ever.

He looked more closely at it. "It could cut soon," he said. (The clerk, by his nametag and appearance, seemed Persian in origin. So it didn't surprise me that his English was a little creative.)

"You mean, break?"

"Yes. Break, cut. Especially out on the highway. It's getting worn."

Now, you could say this is just the opinion of a guy at the auto parts store. But let's say he's right. Mr. O'Brien said he didn't do anything with the belt because I hadn't mentioned it. Well, I originally booked the repair session because of the engine light only. I only mentioned the brakes because my neighbor said something to me about it later on. You mean if I hadn't said anything about the brakes, Mr. O'Brien wouldn't've fixed them, either? I'd been thinking I wouldn't go back to him because I can do without the defensiveness and the drama, but if he's going to use his Asperger's as an excuse to overlook unsafe situations, I don't want to go anywhere near his shop again.

I bought a replacement belt. The auto parts guy said it would be easy to put on, pointed out how under the hood, and even printed me out a diagram on how to do it. He said the area repair shops get their parts from them anyway, so it'd save me time if I had it already. And if the shop preferred to get it themselves, I can bring it back. Sounds fair to me.

Then I called another repair shop in town. They didn't seem to mind me bringing the belt, but they couldn't get to it till Friday. Friday! I've got places I have to get to! Maybe I know some guy that'll put it on for me?

After that, more errands (no highway driving). Noise still there, drilling into my brain. And the feeling of depression, weighing into my soul. Damn! a week later, and my car still isn't fixed, I'm having to spend more money on it, and here I can't insist on sensible treatment from the repair shop because the owner has an autism spectrum disorder? Why don't I just start whining about having cancer? (Oh, yeah. Because I don't want to go on the assumption that I still "have" cancer-- the chemo is only for "just in case"). Or maybe I can justify being a pain in the ass because I'm going in for chemo this next Monday? Does having Asperger's absolve a person from trying to see something from another's point of view, especially when the one who has it is aware of his condition? I hated being falsely accused! I hate being broke! I hate that my hair won't lie right and looks awful all the time! I got more and more depressed and had to make a special effort to smile and be kind to the people I encountered as I finished my shopping.

Getting home and making a meal of lots of fresh fruit and tons of (homegrown) lettuce elevated my mood. But now that I've had my rant, I have to remember that defensiveness is not pretty or productive, no matter what causes it. I have to buck up and remember that in the weeks to come, my feeling pleh from chemo will give me no license to inflict my discomfort on other people. It's not their fault I'm fighting cancer. May I refrain from doing drama unto others, as I would not have them do drama unto me.

1 comment:

Marlene said...

I find those internal rants to be so productive in "getting it all out". Thanking God that it's only He and Me.