I try not to use blogging as a substitute for psychotherapy. Really I do. Partly because I don’t think it’s fair to expect unpaid strangers to slog through my neuroses, but mostly, I think, because I blog under my real name and I’m worried that y’all would send me bills for each 45 minutes you spent reading about my inner turmoil and conflicts over toilet training.
Today, though, I’m gonna rant. I’m gonna rave. I’m gonna kvetch, ’cause I’m pissed. At what, you ask? Oh, this one’s new. This one’s exciting and original. I’m angry at my car mechanic!
Still awake? Really? Maybe you should send me a bill.
OK – so here’s the story: Vaguely Sinister Wife’s stepmother arrived today for a visit, leaving her home somewhere in Yenemvelt (which is one of those untranslatable Yiddish words that in this case refers to the far-northern stretches of America’s Midwest) to stay for a week or so in our happy climes. We’ve planned to spend next week in Eilat, with hotel rooms booked starting Sunday. And, just to be responsible, we brought my car to the mechanic on Wednesday morning, to get the timing belt and the water pump replaced before the drive down south. Nothing was broken, mind you; the water pump had a slight leak and the timing belt should be good for another 40,000 kilometers, but we figured we’d be virtuous and make sure the car was not going to die on us in the middle of the trackless wastes of the Negev Desert.
The mechanic told us he should have the car ready for us at the end of the same day we brought it in – which was yesterday, as I write this. Yesterday evening came and went; no call from the mechanic. (Israelis are famous for calling when they have something they want to say, not when you expect them to call to keep you up to date; the idea of progress reports as a courtesy seems never to have reached our happy little country. Probably has something to do with the fact that telephones used to be an unreliable, scarce, and expensive luxury; but this mechanic came of age in an Israel with an excellent, modern phone system and more than one cell-phone per citizen.) Today we continued to hear nothing from the mechanic; finally, as evening approached, we called him to find out what was going on.
It turns out that the mechanic’s part supplier had (supposedly) sent the wrong parts – after the mechanic had already spent a good deal of time on fiddly disassembly of the relevant bits of my car’s engine. The mechanic sent the parts back. The supplier sent different – but still incorrect – parts. Now the mechanic is hoping to get the right parts. Tomorrow is Friday, which is normally a half day for businesses like repair shops. Tomorrow evening is the beginning of Succoth, a major holiday – and the Sabbath to boot. And Sunday morning is when we’re supposed to be off to Eilat. (And yes, we’d told the mechanic in advance what our situation was; now stop interrupting, I’m on a roll here.)
So: I don’t have a car. Vaguely Sinister Wife’s jeep (actually a little Suzuki Vitara) can hold four people and a couple of six-packs. (We were planning to take four people in my car, plus two people and Wolfoid Dog in the Vitara.) As of a couple hours ago, the mechanic has my car partly disassembled and doesn’t have the parts he needs to finish the job.
Now, the natural solution – assuming the correct parts do not miraculously appear in the very near future – would be for the mechanic to give up for now, put the car back together as it was, wish us good luck on our trip to and from Eilat, try to get his stupid parts supplier to compensate him for his lost time, hope that our repeat business would be worth his extra trouble, and maybe overcharge us a bit when we come back and he redoes the repair. Normal, no? Ahhh, but this is Israel! When we reminded the mechanic that we absolutely need the car by Sunday morning at the latest, and that if he can’t finish the job he’s got to at least get it back to the perfectly drivable state it was in yesterday morning, he informed us that we would still have to pay him something like 600 shekels – call it U.S. $140, but remember that salaries here are much lower than they are in the States – for his labor taking the engine apart and reassembling it with the same old parts he started with.
Now this, as we say in Hebrew, is not OK. So his parts supplier screwed up; why is this our problem? Mister Mechanic insists that the whole mess isn’t his fault, since he’s not the one who made the mistake. Very likely (since renting a car for a holiday week would cost a lot more than 600 shekels), we’ll indeed have to shell out the aforementioned sum for a car repair that didn’t happen; we’ll go away mad, and the mechanic already feels persecuted because we have unrealistic expectations having to do with not paying for services ineffectively rendered. And even if by some miracle he gets the right parts and fixes the car in time for our trip, we’ll never take either of our cars to him again: Screw-ups happen, and how could we ever feel comfortable doing business with a guy who expects us to pick up the bill when things go wrong in his operation?
The problem, of course, is that Mister Mechanic is passing the buck: The person at fault is the parts supplier, so we’re told that we can’t hold the mechanic responsible. But life doesn’t work that way. From the customer’s standpoint, “the mechanic” is not just the guy with a wrench in his hand; it’s the facility he works in, his network of suppliers, and so on. We don’t pay him to tighten (or, in the current case, loosen) bolts, but to fix cars – and the difference between those two concepts is an important one. The mechanic isn’t selling us his labor; he’s selling results. Labor he wastes because he hasn’t developed the right network of parts suppliers is his lookout. But since Mister Mechanic doesn’t seem to understand this, he’s going to lose us as a customer – along with a lot more that 600 shekels in future business.
At the moment, both Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy seem to be having their own Car Mechanic Moments. Here in Israel, generals and politicians are scrambling to absolve themselves of all blame (and cast it on their colleagues, of course) for the less-than-satisfactory outcome of the recent unpleasantness in Lebanon. (I’m still not sure whether to call it a war; it certainly lasted longer than many of our wars, but during most of that time it consisted almost entirely of aerial bombardment and not ground conflict. But unpleasant it certainly was, except possibly for the pilots; so “unpleasantness” it is.) And the Palestinians are having a great deal of trouble deciding whose job it is to make the trains run on time, or indeed whose job it is to build railroads (and pay teachers, and so on) in the first place. Lacking clear answers to their problems of governance, many Palestinians appear to be taking rather drastic measures (i.e. shooting one another) as a means of expressing their discontents. Nobody – Israeli or Palestinian – seems to be ready to say, “It’s my fault; I screwed up; I’ll fix it.”
Why do I get the feeling that a lot of ordinary Israelis, along with a lot of ordinary Palestinians, would be happy to take their business elsewhere?