Are threats, voice-raising, public shaming, and saber-rattling ever justified? When it seems that you’ve exhausted all manner of patience, kindness, and understanding, when is it okay to let the dialogue go from civil to uncivil, from measured to angry, from quiet acceptance to vocal non-acceptance? I’ve been in such a situation recently, and only when I became irate and threatening after weeks of civil patience did results start to happen. And frankly, that has left me shaken, confused, and sad, with a thin veneer of mild triumph lacquered over it all. The way that worked, finally, is not my way. But I’m left with the question of whether some situations leave one with only one way to success: the way of force. You decide.
What I’m about to recount may seem like a rant, but that is not its intent. Some of you may recall that back in mid-August my white car of many years broke down and died. Despite the inconvenience and our financial woes over its loss I tried to see the good in the situation and wrote as much in my post “Three Samaritans?” This is the sequel to that, the story of the little black car that took its place. The story remains unfinished since the matter (as of this writing) has yet to be fully resolved, but does seem to be coming to a satisfactory end. I am omitting all real names from the post, because to do otherwise at this point would be in my opinion petty. Here goes.
When my white car died, my father-in-law recommended that we go to a dealership outside of Philadelphia that he had had positive dealings with for our next vehicle. We live in Virginia, but we value both his recommendation and insight into car sales, so we took him up on his suggestion. On a Saturday in early August, we purchased a used Ford Focus from a jovial Italian man who slapped a 30 day temp registration tag on our vehicle, assured us that their title clerk who didn’t work weekends would get the registration underway on Monday, and sent us joyriding home. On Sunday, as we returned to Virginia, three things became apparent: the air-conditioning worked intermittently, several fuses had burned out and not been replaced by the dealership in their inspection, and the acceleration on this Focus worked clumsily. I was irked but measured, and a local King George Ford dealership helped me rectify the A/C and fuse issues at no cost. The “pick up” was a design issue that couldn’t be fixed. Life would go on, and I was now driving a mostly working if unregistered car, but that would soon be handled. Or so I thought.
On September 6, the 30-day registration expired. I had received nothing in the mail regarding title and tag from the Philly dealership. I called on the 7th to speak to the title clerk, a gruff middle-aged Jersey stereotype of a woman. She had no idea who I was. She took my name and number and said she’d get back to me. A week went by…nothing. I called the following Monday, only to have almost an exact retread of the first conversation. Who was I? She took my name and number and she’d get back to me. Again I waited a week…nothing.
At the start of the third week without a registered vehicle, having heard nothing again, my father-in-law decided to make an appearance at the dealership. He had, after all, recommended them to us and was feeling somewhat responsible for the situation. He spoke to a manager about the registration concerns, and this man assured him that they would reimburse the cost of titles and tags due to the inefficiency of the dealership, and that they would get my car registered. It wasn’t till the end of that week, however, that I was to receive my one and only call from the title clerk. She was gruff but civil, mildly apologetic, blamed the situation on a month’s long move that the dealership was undergoing, and assured me that the forms, including my reimbursement check and a check made out to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to cover all registration costs were being over-nighted to me tomorrow. I thanked her, relived that the situation was resolved. It wasn’t.
The registration packet arrived a week and a half later (now four and a half weeks at least without registration), and on that Friday I took it to the local DMV. The paperwork was in order, but the check was cut for an irreconcilable amount, and since the DMV doesn’t do reimbursements, they were refusing the check on my behalf. It seems that if they accepted it I would either lose hundreds of dollars or owe hundreds of dollars, depending on whether I chose a one-year registration or a three-year registration, and they weren’t comfortable doing that to me, so they refused it. That was probably the most decent thing to ever happen to me at a DMV office. They told me to have the DMV check voided, have the dealership cut me a check for the same amount, deposit it, and come back next week and pay the balance. Their solution seemed logical and easy.
I called the title clerk the following Monday, left my name and number, and waited. Nothing. I called three times on Tuesday, spoke to their operator, got funneled into three different voicemails and chose not to leave messages. I called again on Weds., asked to speak to her, got a voicemail. I called back and asked to speak to a manager. He or she picked up, kept me on hold for about seven minutes, and hung up on me without a word. I called a third time. This time, when the operator tried to take my name and number again, I blew up. I demanded to speak to a manager. I was tired of being put off. My car was nine weeks plus out of registration and I was driving it for five weeks illegally with a toddler in the car. What were they going to do about it? I was told that there was no manager who could be bothered to speak to me. I was told that the man who assured my father-in-law that things would be worked out was no longer with them. I had their move into the new building hammered at me like a catch-all excuse for all the problems and inconvenience. I threatened to call their national office if the title clerk didn’t call me back in an hour, and I would leave them a bad review on their ratings site. I left my name and number and waited two hours while no one called, and everyone went home for the day. I called their national office and registered a complaint. I wrote a 1 star review of my experience and posted it to their wall. And I waited.
The next day late afternoon I received a phone call, but not from the title clerk. It was the salesman who sold us the vehicle calling from his personal cell. He called to apologize for the inconvenience and assure me that this would be handled. He had the Controller with him and together, next week, they would make things right. In the midst of the conversation he again started telling me about the woes of the building move, and how the title clerk had called me several times but was calling the wrong number. Though I had left my number numerous times, including both the previous Monday AND Wednesday, she was calling the wrong number and it was all just an accident. The fact that the salesman had no trouble reaching me was not lost on me. He then, in a veiled and roundabout way, accused me of dropping a public nuclear bomb on the dealership where only a pipe bomb was warranted. His wording was systematically vague, but the underlying message was clear: I had overreacted and caused them pain, so now they were dealing with me quickly to resolve the matter and be done with me.
We hung up civilly, if coolly, and I sat in stunned silence. Three people had now (kind of) apologized for the situation, but it seemed to me no one at their end was willing to take responsibility. On the contrary, they seemed to blame me for escalating the situation and being angry after five weeks of driving an unregistered, illegally driven vehicle. I did not and still don’t understand their point of view. That said, the Controller, actually a very nice young woman, called me on Monday and proceeded to tell me that she had tried to reach the King George DMV, but had been put on hold for so long that she hung up and decided to take action herself and just cut me the check the way the DMV recommended in the first place. We emailed some official paperwork back and forth, and my check was supposed to be put in the mail a few days ago. If she was as good as her word, it will arrive shortly and the matter will be considered closed. Six weeks of illegal driving behind me, with lots of hard feelings to sift through, I just keep asking myself, what could I have done different?
As I said, I haven’t written this to shame them further, but to learn from the experience. Should I have called national sooner? Should I have made a special trip to Philly and shown up on their door at great inconvenience to me? Should I have called the salesman? Should I have just remained patient and submissive for longer while they ignored my needs? As somewhat of a pacifist, I hate the fact that only public shaming and a display of force started to get the ball rolling, but from my end, for weeks I felt unheard, and unattended, and I’d had enough. Even if she was calling the wrong number (a fact that she knew since it was noted on my paperwork), when is it a person’s responsibility to go the extra mile in one’s job and make things right?
A minister I heard speak last week stated that leaders lean in to conflict, while followers shy away from it. What does that statement say about how I handled this situation? Did I avoid conflict till it was unavoidable to everyone’s detriment, or did I give them ample time to make good and lash out justifiably when no other recourse seemed available to me? I haven’t decided. What I do know is that I prefer to resolve conflicts amiably and in this case I wasn’t able to do so. So now I’m asking the universe and you all:
- What could I have done different?
- What could I have done better?
- Are there times when (armed conflict aside) the usage of force and/or shame is the only way to resolve things?
I welcome your thoughts. Please send them care of the Aggressive Driver with the Marginally Guilty Conscience.