My Disastrous Birthday

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Last Monday (14th April) was my birthday. It was quite possibly one of the worst days of my entire life.

It was my first day off work for the week, and I had some errands to run. I had started by meeting a carpet installer to get measurements and a quote for installing a new carpet. I had cringed at the thought of having to use this company as they'd struck me as being rather unprofessional to date (and I'm dealing with the owner, not just any salesperson), but woe to those of us with little means. The quote ended up being about $150 more than the previous estimate he had given us, but the work would be done in less than a week.

After this meeting I went to run my other errands, which included returning some items I had purchased in the previous week and had a change of heart about, as well as dropping off some dry cleaning. As I pulled out of the parking lot of the first store on my list I heard a loud 'thunk' and immediately noticed that I no longer appeared to have power steering. This was where my day started to go horribly, terribly down the crapper.

Fortunately, directly across the street from the store I was leaving, was a commuter parking lot. With some tugging on the steering wheel I was able to at least get my truck off the roadway and out of danger of being hit by another driver. Once I had parked I got out (I'm still not sure why I did this as I had no idea what I was looking for) and looked under the hood to discover that my serpentine belt was trailing out under the engine compartment.

Back in the cab of the truck I got out my phone and started going through my phone book. I called dad first since he was the one most likely to be off work and at home. No answer. I called his work next, figuring he might be the easiest one to get out of work to come and get me. Not there. I called his house again. Still no answer. So I called mom. She didn't know where he was, but would be able to leave work to come and fetch me, since her day was nearly finished anyway.

Mom picked me up and took me home. When I got there I pulled out my phone directory and looked up the number for the dealership where I leased my truck. I spoke with a girl in the service department and told her what had happened, and asked what I needed to do to have repairs made under warranty. Did the truck have less than 12,000 miles she wanted to know. No, it had more than 12,000. Sorry, the serpentine belt isn't covered under warranty after 12,000 miles.

Now, wait a minute! My truck isn't even a year old yet! Well, hold on, she'll go ask someone else. Someone else eventually came on the other end of the phone.
'I'm sorry ma'am, a belt is considered a 'wear item' and isn't covered under the warranty after 12,000 miles.'

But I haven't had my truck for a year yet!!
'Well, if something else is found to have caused the belt to break and the something else is covered under warranty then the belt will be covered under warranty.'

Obviously this person wasn't telling me what I want to hear, so I asked to speak to someone who would tell me what I wanted to hear. I was informed that the service manager has stepped out of his office and that I should try to call him 15 or so minutes later using the extension number he then gave me. I impressed upon this person that I had no desire to call back only to get voice mail, leave a message, get no call back, call again, leave more voice mail, continue to get no call back, etc. He assured me that the manager would be back in 15 minutes and that I should call then.

Twenty minutes later (3:35, my truck had now been sitting on a parking lot for just under an hour and a half) I called the service manager on the extension number I was given. I got his voice mail.

I left a message.

I called again fifteen minutes later. I got an operator who informed me that the service manager I was looking for had left for the day. I told her I had been assured that the person I sought would be there until 9. No, he'd gone for the day, but she could transfer me to the other service manager, who would be there until 9. Great! She transferred me. I got his voice mail. I left a message.

I called again fifteen minutes later and asked for the same service manager. Again she transferred me. Again I got his voice mail. I hung up.

I called back, and this time explained to the operator that I didn't want anyone's voice mail, that I wanted a real, live, breathing service manager on their end of the line. She assured me that wasn't possible as they were both in meetings all day.

It was at this point that I seriously began to lose my patience.

After insisting that I must to talk to somebody, I was finally transferred back to the service department where yet another person who wasn't a manager assured me that my problem wouldn't be covered by the warranty. I demanded that this person physically went to locate a service manager and hand the phone to him - I did't care who he was in a meeting with.

The first thing the service manager told me was that I should have a card with a phone number for roadside assistance on it, and that I should call them because they arrange all towing. They would tow to the nearest dealership which, needless to say, was not the one I leased the truck from. Of course I had no card. He assured me it would be in my owners manual packet (when I checked later it, of course, wasn't there). I asked him for the number since I wasn't at my vehicle and didn't have the owner's manual with me. He gave me the number. I then asked him why the first person I had spoken with in his service department over an hour beforehand couldn't have told me that.

'I don't know, ma'am.'

Well, of course you don't.

I called roadside assistance. After explaining my predicament the operator took my name, what kind of vehicle I had (a green F-150, which will be important later), where it was located, and a phone number I could be reached at. I gave very specific directions to where the truck was located, by highway, street, directionals, and landmarks. I gave my cell phone number as I didn't plan to be at home. She asked me where I wanted to be towed. I thought it was to the nearest dealership, so I told her the name of the nearest dealership. She informed me there was no listing for that specific dealership. Well, there should be, it wasn't built yesterday. What street was it on? I told her the street. Still nothing. In the end I had to look it up in the phone directory and give her the address. I did tell her she might want to say something to someone about the directory being incomplete, the dealership in question had been around for more than 50 years and it's not like we're in a little podunk town, we're a major metropolitan area. As you can guess, she didn't care. I asked her if I needed to wait with the truck for the tow, she told me I did. She assured me that a tow would arrive within 60 minutes. Okay, so the day wouldn't be a complete waste.

It was now 4:45 and I phoned my parents to tell them that I had to go and wait for a tow truck and they should go on to dinner without me (they were taking me out to dinner for my birthday). I took hubby's keys, a book, my cell phone, and left to wait with the truck. I got there at 5:15.

5:45 still no tow truck. I decided to give them a bit of a grace period, it was rush hour after all. At 6:00 I called roadside assistance back. I selected the option for checking the status of a previous call. The operator that answered started again from scratch.

'No, you don't understand. I've already called. I'm waiting for a tow. It's not here.'

At this point I am seriously not happy. At first he told me that, according to his screen, this call had already been handled. I assured him that it hadn't. So he placed me on hold while he called the dispatcher. Several minutes later he came back on the line and said that the towing dispatcher said the driver should be there, and if I didn't see him just then he would be arriving any minute.

But I'd already been waiting for over an hour! Well, according to the roadside assistance call center, my call was processed 62 minutes ago. So, obviously, their clocks were wrong because, by my watch, it had been an hour and 20 minutes. The operator assured me that this was impossible since their system was computerized. I told him the other operator must have taken a coffee break before processing my call because it had indeed been an hour and 20 minutes. It won't surprise you to find out that he didn't care.

So I asked what I was supposed to do when the tow didn't show up in the next 5 minutes - 'Call us back'.


Don't give up now, the best part is coming, I promise.

Just after 6:20 I called roadside assistance again, and got an entirely different operator who again attempted to start from scratch. I felt kind of sorry for the girl because it wasn't her fault, but I let her have it with both barrels.
'I know your little screen there says I just got off the phone with your call center three minutes ago, but it has in fact been fifteen. I Your clocks are wrong, you see. I am waiting for a tow truck to get my truck, I've been waiting for an hour and a half (time since my first call) and I'm still waiting and I want to know where the tow truck is and if I can expect to see him before 10:00 tonight!'
'It says here your call has been handled.'
'I can assure you it has not.'
'Let me place you on hold while I call the dispatcher.'

I was on hold even longer than I was the first time. Finally she returned and conferenced the call between the dispatcher and me.

Dispatcher: 'You're waiting to have your truck towed?'

Me: 'Yes.'

Dispatcher: 'The driver has already closed out this call.'

Me: 'What does that mean?'

Dispatcher: 'He already has your truck.'

Me: 'That's impossible. I'm sitting right in front of my truck looking directly at it.'

Dispatcher: 'You're still at your truck?'

Me: 'I just said I was (because, you know, I lie about stuff like this all the time)'

Dispatcher: (to someone in background) 'Get him on the phone and see what he's got. (to me) you have a green F-150?'

Me: 'Yes.'

Dispatcher: (to the someone else) 'He says it's a green F-150? She says her truck is still there. Tell him to take it back. (to me) Our driver picked up the wrong truck, he has to take it back and he'll be there where you are shortly.'


By this time I was absolutely livid. So I asked the dispatcher:
'Tell me, if I was supposed to wait here with my vehicle until the tow truck arrived, how could he possibly have gotten the wrong truck if there was no one there with it?'
'I don't know, ma'am'

Well, of course you don't.

There was another commuter lot in the same general vicinity as the one I was on. When I had driven past it earlier it had been empty. As luck would have it, by the time the tow truck got there the only thing sitting on it was a green F-150.

Nearly in tears by this point I called hubby to tell him to order a pizza or something for dinner because I had no idea when I would be arriving home, and would probably not be very favorable company when I got there. He said they would wait.

At about 7:00 the tow truck arrived. I made no secret of exactly how I felt about the whole business at that point (well beyond livid, if you can imagine). With the demeanor and tone of voice that said 'lady, I don't know what you think you're so upset about' he informed me he had just stolen someone else's truck, as if it were somehow my fault.

Me: 'Do I have to go to the dealership as well?'

Driver: 'No, but your truck will just sit there until you tell them what to do with it.'

This day had just slipped into the surreal. I didn't think at that point that I could get any madder than I already was. So I went to the dealership. It was only about 5 miles, but how I managed to get there without getting pulled over or killing anyone I don't know.

By the time I approached the service desk I had regained some semblance of composure. I began my story again from the beginning: I was driving along, heard a 'thunk' and lost my power steering. I checked under the hood, found the serpentine belt to be in pieces and would like repairs made under warranty.

Service rep: 'How many miles are on your truck?'

Me: '20,000'

Service rep: 'A serpentine belt is a 'wear item' and isn't covered under warranty after 12,000 miles.'

(where have I heard this before?)

Me: 'But the truck won't even be a year old until Saturday!'

Service rep: 'If a diagnostic reveals something else has caused the belt to break then it will be covered under the warranty, but if the belt has just broken with no apparent cause then it is not covered.'

Me: 'Have you ever heard of a serpentine belt breaking in a year?'

Service rep: 'It is a bit unusual...'

Me: 'Have you ever heard of a serpentine belt breaking in a year?'

Service rep: 'Well, not that I can recall...'

Me: 'So what are you telling me?'

Service rep: 'We have to replace the belt to run a diagnostic to find out what caused the other one to break before we know whether or not it is covered under warranty.'

He estimated that it would run $120 or so if they found nothing else to be wrong. I attempted to convince him I wasn't going to pay $120 for repairs to a truck that was less than a year old. He asked me to wait while he went to check with some sort of superior.

Upon returning he confirmed that the information he previously gave me was correct. In a moment of desperation I leveled with him.

'You have an opportunity here. I have already been through this with the dealership I've leased from, and the ordeal I went through with them has assured that I will never get another vehicle from them. How you handle my situation and how satisfied I am when I leave is going to go a long way towards determining whether or not I buy another Ford or whether I buy a (name brand of competition), which would be a shame since I have happily been driving your products for more than 12 years.'

He asked me to wait again while he went to check the truck out himself. So I waited.

And waited.

He returned, but asked me if I would wait again while he looked something up in a book. So I waited.

He left to check something else. I waited.

Finally he decided to write it up as a warranty repair. The reasoning behind this was that if I had brought my truck in complaining that the belt was squeaking then they would have replaced it. So he didn't see any reason why they couldn't replace it for breaking. Upon inspection the belt that had been on my truck showed no signs of wear at all, it 'looks like a brand-new belt' is exactly what he said.

It was now after 8:00 and I was going to get my truck fixed under warranty. I was STARVING, and still holding on to a lot of residual anger. The dealership arranged a loaner for me, since they didn't know whether they'd get to my truck that night or the next day.

I shortly thereafter went out and had some nachos and a bucket of beer for dinner with my hubby and sister.

Although this has been a terribly long story, there are three things I would like to note before closing: the outcome of the truck ordeal, the best thing that happened on my birthday, and quite possibly the finest piece of irony I will ever personally come across.

For my birthday I had received only one card in the mail. My friend in Florida had called to say he had forgotten and would send his late. My grandma called to say she had forgotten and would give it to me when she saw me. Others who had sent me cards in the past had either gotten out of the habit or forgotten, and the rest of my family gave me cards when they gave me a gift or took me out. The one single card I received in the mail on the day of my birthday was from Ottox. In light of the day I'd had and the cards I hadn't received, the idea that someone so far away, someone I had never actually met or spoken to, was thinking of me on my birthday was absolutely overwhelming. Such is the power of h2g2.

I finally got my truck back on Thursday night at about 8:30. This was after three phone calls to the service department trying to determine whether or not it had even been fixed yet. And every time I called they couldn't pull my name up in the computer, had trouble locating the ticket, couldn't find the truck, and couldn't tell whether or not it had been fixed or what had been done to it.

And for the finest piece of irony I'm ever likely to personally witness, I received this letter in the mail on Wednesday:

(On leasing dealership letterhead)

(Dated 14 April)

Dear broelan,

Happy Birthday!!!

This is the month we celebrate, YOU! One of our most valued Customers.

Spend some time enjoying your special day with your family or a valued loved one. Birthdays are a momentary pause between yesterday's adventures, and tomorrow's expectations. They are also a time to reflect on your accomplishments, the friends you have along the way, and your future plans and dreams.

We wish you much happiness and a day so great, that you would want to live it all over again!


(Signed by salesperson)


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