The Key Box
I was in my office at Dishonest Used Car Dealership one lazy Friday when my cell phone lit up with the caller ID for Rom. Why he almost always called my cell instead of my desk phone is a mystery for the ages, but I picked up.
“Service, this is 36055512.”
Rom: “Hey. Come out to the bay.”
Rom had called me on his own cell phone from literally the other side of my office door.
I clicked off my monitor to hide the fact that I had been shopping for parts for my Jeep, and wandered the ten or so feet to where Rom was standing. At his feet was an open package with what appeared to be a large metal box and a phone keypad inside.
Rom: “Check this out. It’s a new key box. You know how keys are going missing all the time? This’ll solve everything.”
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise. Rom had a habit of coming up with “brilliant solutions” that “solved everything,” which typically exacerbated whatever problem they were supposed to fix and were usually abandoned almost as quickly as they were adopted. But, he was right, the keys to the used car inventory had become an issue. You see, the sales staff are in and out of the cars on the lot all day long, showing customers this and that, letting them go on test drives, and it’s easy to slip a key into your pocket and forget about it.
It was not at all uncommon for ten or more keys to be missing from the key board on the wall in the bay, and in spite of only having two salespersons, no one ever seemed to have the slightest clue where the missing keys were. The techs and I began joking that gnomes were taking the cars out for joyrides, though Felonious Monk didn’t know what a gnome was, so he supposed it was Mexicans instead.
The key box was actually a clever little thing in theory. Each staff member received a little keycard that you swiped, and then you punched in the inventory number of the car you wanted the keys for. The box opened, you grabbed your key, and then checked it back in when you were done, with the machine keeping track of who had the keys last. I bolted it to the wall, set it up with all the inventory numbers, and distributed out everyone’s little key cards.
Fast forward one week.
“Service, this is 36055512.”
It was Rom.
Rom: “Hey, I’m in the bay, and I can’t find the key for 0407. Can you get in the thing and see who has it?”
I walked the ten feet out to where he was standing, and punched up 0407 into the keypad. The screen flashed back “CHECKED IN.”
Me: “Says the key’s here, boss.”
Rom: “Well, it f***ing isn’t, is it?”
Sure enough, the key was missing from its designated hook. Oddly enough, a handful of other hooks had missing keys as well. I punched in the code to scroll through what keys were currently checked out. Each of the sales staff had a single key checked out, and one other was checked out to Colossal Redneck and was hanging on the key board in the service bay. All the others were listed as being in the box. Obviously there was a serious discrepancy. Rom indicated to me that he would call a meeting of the sales staff and see what was going on.
Fast forward about two hours.
“Service, this 36055512.”
Rom: “So here the story with the missing keys. I had a meeting with Sales, and apparently they’ve just been grabbing handfuls of keys every time they open the box. They say it’s too annoying to punch in each number every time they want to open a car, so if they’re showing Jettas, they just grab all the VW keys, and then they get misplaced. Isn’t that some bulls**t? What are you going to do about this?”
Me: “Well, the key box wasn’t my idea, but the only thing I can think of that would help the situation is to put penalties in place should keys continue to go missing. Seems like Sales might respond if their commission is on the line.”
Rom: “Very funny. Figure out a way to fix it by the end of the day.”
Me: “Look, there’s no way to prevent them from doing that with the way the box is designed. In fact, since it’s more annoying to get into the box than it was to just grab keys off the rack, it’s just going to encourage them to grab keys to more cars than they need, just so they don’t have to get in the box every time they want to open up a car for a customer. And then, the box is closed all the time, so no one notices how many are missing. Unless you’re going to can somebody or dock somebody’s pay, I don’t know how to fix it.”
I heard the phone on the other end of the line slam down. Later that day, Rom called an all-hands meeting. Having spoken with The Amazon, he decided that the key box was a stupid idea, and I should have never come up with it in the first place. The next morning, I walked in to find the key box taken off the wall, sitting in the corner with all the cracked Volkswagen oil pans and other garbage that we didn’t want to throw out for some reason.
And so ended the brief reign of the key box.
It was yet another anonymous grey winter’s day at Dishonest Used Car Dealership, and I was sitting at my desk semi-consciously staring at my computer screen. There was a pile of paperwork on my desk that probably needed attending-to, but I hadn’t yet done anything productive all morning, and I wasn’t about to break my streak.
I heard the back door open and an elderly gentleman in a grey suit strolled into my office. Around back, we had a small, questionably-legal biodiesel pump, where customers could come and fill their tanks. It ran on the honor system - you’d fill off the pump, then come see me and I’d run your card. I sort of vaguely recognized the man - he had been in a handful of times before to fill up his Mercedes. I took his card, ran it, and handed it back to him.
Him: ”Hey, do you folks ever have trouble with that stuff clogging up in the winter?”
Now, biodiesel is amazing stuff - I recommend it highly if your car can run it - but one of its disadvantages is that it turns to a waxy gel when it gets cold. Regular diesel (often called “pump diesel” or “#2 diesel”) does too, but at a considerably lower temperature. This isn’t ordinarily an issue with the mild winters we have in my part of the world, but occasionally it does get below freezing, and that’s when the trouble starts. To alleviate this, we recommended customers fill only half their tank with biodiesel and the rest with recycled dinosaurs in the winter, which neatly solves the gelling problem for all reasonable temperatures. This is a known issue with all pure biodiesel, and since the kind of people interested in bio back then tended to be fairly engaged and savvy, this was almost never an issue in reality.
Me: ”Yes sir, it’ll start to gel around freezing. It’s a known issue with bio. We recommend you mix 50/50 with pump diesel in the winter.”
The man’s pleasant demeanor instantly changed.
Him: ”Well, I had my car up in the mountains a while back, and the tank “gelled” or whatever you call it and I couldn’t get it to start. I had to pay to have it towed. You need to be warning customers about that.”
Me: ”I’m sorry to hear that, sir. We actually have a big sign on the pump and another just behind it warning of that very thing.”
Him: ”Well I didn’t see it.”
Me: ”Really? Maybe it got moved, I’ll have a look.”
Him: ”No, there’s a sign there, I just didn’t read it. It could have been about anything, like your lunch breaks or something. You need to tell customers these things. You should have someone at the pump to tell people about this “gelling.” Why, I have half a mind to just forward my towing invoice on to you, and you can pay for it.”
At this point, I was done with this clown. This had transitioned from an honest concern into willful ignorance.
Me: “With respect, sir, do you think we’re likely to post notices about our lunch breaks on a fuel pump, or is it more likely that it is pertinent to people fueling up?”
Him: “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have time to read every sign in every building I go to. It’s your responsibility to tell customers if they’re going to ruin their cars with that stuff.”
Me: “Look, 1. bio didn’t ruin your car, and 2. we agree that it’s our duties to inform customers about the properties of alternative fuels, but it’s unreasonable to expect us to position an employee out there eight hours a day to read off the text of a sign to every customer that pulls up. I am very sorry you had trouble with biodiesel in your vehicle, but we have done our due diligence.”
Him: ”You can’t expect me to read a sign that could be about literally anything. This is the last time I buy this garbage from you.”
Me: ”Sorry to lose you as a customer. Good day.”
The man marched outside, turning around briefly to shout “Go to hell” and screeched off in his Mercedes. I followed out to the bay. The sign was still there, reading plain as day in bright red letters:
WARNING: Biodiesel gels when cold. Mix 50/50 with pump diesel if it will be cold out!
One of my regulars pulled up, a very nice lady with a beautiful and quite rare BMW 524TD. Having seen his little display, she asked what the fuss was all about.
Me: ”Oh, he had a tank of bio gel on him and he’s mad about it.”
Her: ”C’mon, everybody knows you’ve gotta mix in the winter. And isn’t there a big sign on the pump?”
Yes. Yes there was.
Mr. Ferrari rolled up into Dishonest Used Car Dealership’s parking lot his usual hour or so late, only this time, he was piloting something new. Rather than his usual 5-series, he had a brand new Land Rover LR3. Mr. Ferrari regaled us with what a superior off-roading machine it was, concluding with a direct assault on my poor old Jeep.
”And they’re far better off-road than that piece of sh!t Jeep, or whatever it is you drive.”
He was probably right. My Jeep was pretty basic: small lift, mud tires, rear locker, skids - certainly no rock crawler. His Land Rover certainly better have been better - it was nudging up on $45,000, and my Jeep was $2200 at an auto auction and came free with eleventeen hundred thirteen thousand million pounds of dog hair stuck in the carpet. More to the point, my magnitude of not-giving-a-shit was immense, so I walked off. Mr. Ferrari followed me into the office, jawing endlessly about what a better rig his Land Rover was than my old Cherokee.
Mr. Ferrari: ”Not only is it better off-road, but if you pulled up to my country club in that Jeep, they’d kick you back out.”
Me: ”That’s nice. I’ve got better things to do on the weekend than stand around in a polo shirt with irritating people and hit balls with sticks.”
MF: ”Well, good, because they wouldn’t let you.”
After a few minutes of this, Colossal Redneck was getting tired of listening to Mr. Ferrari, and made him a bet. ”You know that there pile of concrete at the back of the lot? You should try an’ climb it. I’ll bet that thing can’t make it up.”
The Raver saw what was going on, and joined in on the conspiracy. ”Yeah! I’ll bet he gets stuck or breaks something!”
Mr. Ferrari was very interested in proving the value of his new purchase, and practically ran out to his Land Rover.
Back behind the building that housed the service bays was a pile of concrete from when we had the bays re-poured earlier in the year. The old floors were cut up into chunks about 3’ square by a foot thick or so and piled up for disposal. Of course, the disposal cost money, so therefore it had never happened. Thus, we had a mound perhaps 25 feet long by eight or so feet high of broken up chunks of concrete just waiting for someone with something to prove to try and climb it.
Mr. Ferrari idled the Land Rover to the bottom of the pile. He pressed a handful of buttons on his dashboard and began climbing. The thing actually climbed pretty well, until it got toward the top, when the small stock tires did it in. The front slid into a gap between two pieces of concrete, and the vehicle slammed down on its belly with a satisfying crunch. The peanut gallery, now composed of the entire office staff, let out the kind of “oooooh” you hear when someone gets punched in the face, and we proceeded to laugh our asses off about his predicament. Mr. Ferrari was thoroughly stuck, but he was so high in the air that he couldn’t even really get out of his vehicle to survey the situation.
”What the f*ck? This isn’t funny! Get something and pull me down from here!”
Of course, the best way to tell if something is funny is when someone tells you it isn’t.
Colossal Redneck gave me a grin and shouted over to Mr. Ferrari. ”Alright, but first you have to tell everyone that you have a really small dick.”
MF: ”What!? Pull me down!”
CR: ”Your dick! How tiny is it?”
MF: ”I’m not going to dignify that with a response!”
CR: ”It’s the smallest dick in the world, isn’t it?”
By this point, we were bellowing with laughter. Mr. Ferrari shouted a stream of expletives, opened his door, and practically fell out of his Land Rover. The howling got even louder. He dusted off his cheap suit and swept an accusatory index finger across the audience.
MF: ”F*ck each and every one of you. Go get a truck, and pull me down, NOW!”
CR: ”Alright, alright, but just because you have such a small dick and I feel sorry for you.”
Colossal Redneck pulled his battered old Chevy pickup around and backed it up to the pile of rocks, intending to pull the SUV backwards and down. He grabbed a tow strap out of his toolbox, hooked one end to a clevis on his rear bumper, and handed the other end to Mr. Ferrari.
CR: ”Hook it to a tow hook or somethin’ solid. I ain’t gonna do it for ya’.”
Mr. Ferrari grumbled, hooked the strap under his new toy, and gave Colossal Redneck the go-ahead. Colossal Redneck idled forward to put tension on the strap, and gave a tug. We heard a creak, the Land Rover slid backwards an inch, and then unleashed a huge bang and crunch as the Chevy lurched forward a few feet. On the other end of the tow strap was Mr. Ferrari’s exhaust system, which like an idiot, he had attached the strap to. In the process of being forcibly removed from the car, the exhaust caught on the rear bumper, which was now hanging on by a thread.
By now, our laughter had gotten to the point where it was beginning to hurt, which was only amplified when Colossal Redneck walked back to see the damage and started cackling his stupid redneck laugh. Still stuck on the rocks was the LR3, only with exhaust having landed about ten feet away. Mr. Ferrari was livid.
MF: ”What the F#CK!? That thing has only 50 miles on it, and you destroyed it!”
Practically having a fit from all the laughter, Colossal Redneck gasped out,
”I know! And… the worst part is… you still have… a tiny dick!”
We left Mr. Ferrari’s new car up on the mound for a couple more hours before we eventually winched it down. Aside from the bumper and the exhaust, he had munched a rocker panel pretty badly when it got stuck. He refused to have us do the repair work, and as far as I know, he never drove it into work again. We hung the fugitive tailpipe on the wall above the door to the service bay for all to see.