This past September, taking momentary refuge from the river of people flooding out of Interbike, Mike from DirtRag sat down next to me and asked if I'd be interested in doing a recurring column for the magazine. My own sort of Grimy Handshake. A "from the trenches" moment. We had the loosest idea of what that would really be, save for stories. And that we knew I had many stories... about many things. From insane customers... to insane repairs... to insane situations... to my own insanity.
And even though I knew I would never be as good as Ferrentino... or anyone...
Yes. Fuck yes. I'm in.
He asked me to submit 300 or so words... and I submitted just under 1000. Because... reasons.
And while he was undoubtedly vexed by this... he's also pretty used to it, I suspect. And lucky for me, he liked it enough that the 300 word column became a full page.
But he still had to edit it. Because... reasons.
By now, most of you have received your copies of DR. And possibly read my words. So with Mike's blessing, I'm reposting my original submission here on the blog. Unedited. Because it's a bigger story than could fit on that page. But that's what happens when you submit too many words at the last minute of your deadline... from your phone.
I'm not going to make a habit of doing this, so go subscribe. Seriously...
And not because of my words, fool. Because of the words by folks like Bama and Stevil. Rebecca and Mike. Eric and ASS. Or the story in this issue by Hank Hansen. I almost threw my pint glass across the room it was so good. Srsly.
Hangdown in the Wheelstrings:
My First Time.
As he walked out the door, the extent of what he had just said, and what he had implied...much less everything we'd dealt with to get to this point... sank in.
"Man..." I began, knowing I should stop, but unable to impede the oncoming wave of vitriol. "...Go fuck yourself!"
I didn't say it so much as it burst out of me...rising awkwardly in pitch and vehemence with each syllable.
I was instantly chagrined... because I'd just gone that place I never wanted to go as a business owner.
It started with a "spot." A spot that wasn't a crack. Years of experience later, I recognize a ding when I see it: A blemish in the carbon indicative of some minor trauma. A rock or piece of debris getting flung into the frame with enough force to take out a small brittle chunk of clearcoat. But I was pretty new to the game and to owning a shop, and subsequently hypersensitive of everything, good or bad, that we did. And I was confounded enough that I was going to bat for the customer, regardless of how illegitimate I thought the claim was. Or...of how difficult a position he was putting me in. Because upon seeing the blemish, instead of coming straight to us, the dealer for the bike in question...he'd taken it to another shop. Where he was told (by this shop that did not sell him the bike) that yep... it was a crack and probably unsafe to ride. At which point, instead of getting the opinion of the shop that would handle the warranty, the customer then paid this other shop to take the bike apart and brought us a naked frame. Now... this should come as no surprise, but in the case of a potential warranty, first and foremost, the companies want to see the bike intact. So that they have some clue as to the nature of the damage. To ensure that "just riding along" wasn't really "accidentally drove it into my garage."
I explained this... but it didn't register. The other shop had planted a seed of doubt and then willingly watered it by undermining any possibility of warranty. I ultimately acquiesced and contacted the company, nonetheless... explaining the situation and sending photos of the "damage."
They declined the warranty. Surprise.
He came in one evening and asked about his bike. I could smell alcohol on his breath. On his being. I broke it as softly as I could. It went as badly as you can imagine. He told me that he just knew I was going to fail him...picked up his frame and stormed out... adding that "it must be nice to be able to afford to treat customers this way."
At which point... I lost it.
Because I couldn't afford anything at that time. I couldn't afford a house. A car. A credit card. A baby. A wife. A life. NSF notices were my norm. I was doing everything I could to hold on...even going so far to pursue hopeless warranty cases because the thought of telling someone NO at that point seemed like a death-knell.
So as he approached the door, I said what I felt. What I'd wanted to say the moment he walked in with a blemished but not broken frame and a head full of attitude. Go. Fuck. Yourself.
Which I immediately regretted. Not because I didn't mean it. Or that I didn't think he deserved it. Because as friendly as most of our interactions had been, most of them had been a monumental pain in the ass. I regretted it because it wasn't a place I'd ever wanted to go in "customer service."
So I went outside to apologize. At which point things...devolved. He got right in my face. All 7 feet, 250lbs of him. His pupils were the size of atoms and his fists were clenched at his side. Fists that were nearly as large as my head...were rumored to have been involved in mixed martial arts fighting...and could, I had no doubt, knock me unconscious or dislodge something vital with one blow. He screamed at my forehead for a bit, telling me he'd beat my ass if I "wasn't the kind of pussy who would sue" him.
I was serene as I talked him down. I didn't try to explain the impossibility of the situation...but just offered sincere apologies. When he left, and I walked inside to find my staff clutching u-locks and ready to come to my aid...my eye finally started to twitch the way it wanted to from the get go.
And that...was the first time I told a customer to go fuck himself.
And I'm only a little embarrassed to admit that it wasn't the last.