The Middle Ground

I used to go to an independent shop in the U District to get our car’s oil changed. They did a good job there, the price was reasonable, and it was close to an auto parts store. If they didn’t have our car’s air filter in stock, they’d send somebody over to the store to get one.

The drawback was that they were always busy. I’d have to get there before the shop opened, early in the morning, if I wanted a chance to get the oil changed. There were a couple of times, at least, that I was turned away with a discount coupon for a later visit. They were just too busy.

Reluctantly, I stopped going to that independent shop. I started taking our car to a national chain, also in the U District. I am a strong believer in “shop local”, but I don’t follow that rule blindly. If I get better service at a national chain, that’s where I’ll go.

The independent shop is still in business, by the way, so my leaving didn’t seem to hurt them much.

I stopped going to that national chain – at least the one in the U District. Our car’s electrical system shut down on our way home from  Craig’s house one afternoon, shortly after getting the oil changed, and we had to have our car towed to the Toyota dealership. The problem, it turned out, was that the hybrid system’s cooling reservoir was empty and the system shut itself down to avoid damage. There was no leak, so it must have been accidentally drained and not refilled. I filed a complaint with the national chain and stopped going there.

I found another shop, also a national chain, Downtown. It’s close to home, and I’m pleased with the service. But I also faced a problem – exactly the opposite problem I had with that independent shop. The place has always been empty. Twice, I was the only customer there, and the staff looked like they were waiting around for something to do. I went there once, and there was one other customer there. There’s noting wrong with that, exactly – it’s just creepy. What’s wrong with this shop?

I returned to that Downtown shop this morning, for my fourth visit there. The shop had been opened for a couple of hours, and it was packed.  Cars were lined up out of both of the bays. The waiting room was full. I decided to go in anyway. I had a book with me, and Phillip had reminded me that there was a Top Pot nearby.

I checked in, took a seat in the waiting room, and about an hour later, I drove out with the oil changed, filters replaced, and antifreeze topped off. I never had the impression that the staff was rushing through the jobs – they appeared to be working in well-rehearsed efficiency.

So, I learned today that there is a middle ground between too busy and not busy at all.

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