Thursday, July 28, 2011

Calling ahead

In retrospect, it does seem strange that I assumed my spouse would know whether a service department he’d never visited before required appointments or not. But he told me an appointment wouldn’t be necessary, and I took him at his word, which is why I drove twenty minutes yesterday morning for an oil change that I was then told I’d have to wait three hours for because I hadn’t bothered to call ahead and schedule my visit.

Not having three hours to spare waiting in a car dealership waiting room – even one with gourmet coffee and free wireless like this dealership has – I instead made an appointment for Friday and drove back home, wondering all the way why it was I hadn’t bothered to call first.

Several years ago, one of the phone companies had a TV ad campaign whose tagline still rings in my ears regularly to this day: “How could you have known? You could have called!” The premise of the campaign was that people waste a lot of time chasing false leads that a phone call ahead could have set them straight on. The campaign actually gained quite a lot of flak that the company didn’t anticipate because in one vignette, a mother spent a long time rounding up her young sons and packing them into the car for a long drive to a museum so that they could see a dinosaur exhibit….but when they arrived at the museum, the dinosaurs were gone and in their place was an exhibit of dolls. The flak came from the implication that young boys would be disappointed to see dolls rather than dinosaurs. (Quite a sweeping assumption on the creative director’s part, I realize.)

It’s hard for me to believe that after having that tagline echo in my head for a decade or more, I still make mistakes like this. Of course I should have called first to see if I needed to schedule an appointment. But in truth, I enjoyed the drive to the dealership and back so much that I couldn’t help wondering if maybe there was a message in my obtuseness. Maybe a part of me just really wanted to get out of the house by myself for the forty-minute round trip. I know this was the principle behind a similar error I made a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday, and I’d been looking forward all day to riding my bicycle to Concord to buy a book at the Concord Book Shop. I didn’t think twice about the viability of my plan when I finally hit the road for the nine-mile journey to Concord at 4:30 in the afternoon.

But when I arrived in Concord Center, I discovered the bookstore closes at 5. And when I managed to sneak in anyway because at 5:10 there was still a trickle of customers making their way in and out, I learned that the store didn’t have the book I wanted.

Part of me couldn’t believe I hadn’t checked on either the inventory or the closing time relevant to my journey, but another part of me just had to laugh. Clearly I had wanted to do the ride enough to deliberately overlook those seemingly obvious precautions. And in fact it was a notably enjoyable ride, even though the intended errand didn’t get accomplished.

Still, it makes more sense to check ahead. I make mistakes like this far too often. Especially typical of me is to head somewhere without knowing the exact directions. Not having a GPS, I waste a lot of time getting lost when it would have been easy enough for me to look up the directions before I left. And unlike the bike ride or even the drive to the car dealership, being lost never feels like a fun use of time.

In any case, it was uncharacteristic of me to assume Rick would know whether or not I needed an appointment. I’m a journalist; I’m trained by my profession to check facts and not to assume that something is true just because someone says it is. But I also appreciate any chance to find a silver lining. The peaceful, quiet drive to the dealership and back that fell in the midst of a busy day with the kids was definitely a silver lining. Wasting time as well as fuel is never a great idea, but sometimes, appreciating the up side of this kind of error seems to justify the fact that I made such a silly mistake in the first place.

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