Humility or Humiliation?


Have you ever found yourself so surprised by a situation you don’t know what to say or do? Of course, the perfect response comes to you in the middle of the night a few days later.

Last week I got one of these surprises, but the perfect response remains elusive. Here’s the deal:

My Car Won’t Start

Luckily, I’m at home and safe, but I’m trying to get to a family dinner. My husband is at work and we don’t have an extra vehicle.

My brother-in-law graciously comes over and lets me use his truck to jump the battery, then my car gloriously revs back to life long enough to get to the closest auto parts store. When I ask to purchase a new battery, they respond

“We’re too busy. You’ll have to come back later.”

What? What kind of store won’t sell a battery because employees are “too busy” when there are four guys just standing around? There must be some misunderstanding. I explain that I can’t come back later, or even leave, for that matter. My battery is dead and my car won’t start.

They elaborate that they’re too busy to change it for me and I’ll have to come back tomorrow. Again, they don’t seem to understand that my car isn’t going anywhere, but at least the disconnect is now clear. I let them know that I don’t need them to install it for me, just sell it to me and I’ll install it myself. One guy stares at me oddly for a minute, then chuckles and yells across the store to his buddy

“Did you hear that, Joe? This lady says she’s going to install it HERSELF!”

Internally, I’m seething. I want to tell him off or walk out and go someplace where the staff is helpful and respectful, not rude, sexist, and condescending.

Externally, I paste on a smile because they still have something I need.

Why is this such a big deal? Why do they initially assume I need them to install it for me? It isn’t rocket science. Why don’t they just do their jobs? Why do they tell me to come back later when changing a battery only takes five minutes and is clearly an urgent matter? Why are they so surprised that a woman can perform simple auto maintenance? Argh.

The process of actually selecting the proper battery and paying for it takes three times longer than it should because the employee still can’t believe that a woman is capable of installing a battery. He acts as though I just told him I have an extra nipple–he can’t quite believe it but is intrigued and eager for the show. He makes sure he tells all his buddies about the rare creature standing before him before he hands over the goods.

Finally, I lug the battery outside, pop the hood, and fish in the back of my car for the wrench. But it isn’t there.

I do find a pair of pliers and am able to unscrew three of the four nuts. The fourth, however, is in an awkward location and is too tight. It won’t budge.

It’s summer in Phoenix, and it is HOT. I’m frustrated and drenched with rivers of sweat. I am angry that the guys inside don’t believe I can complete the job, so the deepest part of my heart really wants to show them how wrong they are. But I can’t.

I swallow my pride and am debating whether to call roadside assistance or my family for help, but as I grab my phone the store employee walks out and takes over. He finds an appropriate wrench in his stash and, after dropping a few important parts into the depths of my car, eventually trades out the battery. I thank him and drive away.

Am I humbled? Certainly. Am I appreciative of his help? You betcha. Am I humiliated? I definitely feel uncomfortable, but more because I feel as though I let womankind down and because the employee ended up helping me (though I didn’t ask him to) when he had already made a big show of telling me he was too busy.

My mistake was not being prepared, and I learned my lesson. The proper wrench now lives in my car next to the jumper cables and I have found another auto parts store for any future needs.

Update September 7, 2016: A new manager for this Pep Boys location called and apologized for this experience. HE said he knows exactly how I feel because the same thing has happened to HIM before. Um, right.

Was I overreacting? What would you have done in this situation? How could I have made better choices? 

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Comments 20

  1. Wow – that’s really interesting and I don’t think you over-reacted. I would hope that they realized what jerks they were because you clearly could have done the job with one more tool. I wonder if the “gang leader” is a manager or not. Sometimes one stupid employee can lead others to not feel like they can do the right thing. I probably would take my business elsewhere – but I might call the manager too. There behavior could be considered harassment by some and if I was the boss, I’d want to know. Glad your car is up and running again!

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      Thanks for your support 🙂
      I thought of calling the manager and was torn. Often, this type of environment exists because it’s permitted or supported, but I guess it couldn’t hurt to make my voice heard.
      I was very glad to be in a big city with a cell phone and family available rather than stranded at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere with these guys.

  2. I would definitely say something. The fact that they were willing to turn away business should be cause for concern for a manager. And I don’t think you’d be wrong to share the anecdotes either. People can be so ignorant.

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  3. I think I’d write a letter to the DM (not necessarily the store manager). Or try using the company’s customer service email. That attitude was unfortunate and lost your business. Unfortunately, you don’t know if the store manager was part of it.

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  4. I totally commend you for trying! I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself by simply giving it a shot and attempting to fix something myself. But as I get older, I’m learning that some things are simply better left to the pros. Though it takes them 5 minutes to get it done, it saves me two hours of trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing!

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      You’re right that it can be a timesaver. Unfortunately, this “pro” told me he wouldn’t do it. Would you have called roadside assitance to jumpstart your car again and drive to another shop?
      At least now I should be ready for next time.

  5. I’d be tempted to call the company out on Twitter if they have a presence. Otherwise I’d find the email address for the owner (or CEO, or a VP of Customer a Relations). Or perhaps send snail mail I wouldn’t go to the manager because as you noted in your response to Vicki, he’s responsible for the environment. And I would have been seething too.

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  6. Julie- I would be seething also! I am glad that you are taking your business elsewhere! Also, I would definitely contact upper management (I just saw that you did!) because HR definitely needs to bring their sexual harassment training out to this location! What a bunch of bullies! I wouldn’t have thought about it at the time, but you might have purchased the proper size wrench and then returned it after completing the job! That might have caught them off guard! Was it the head bully that came out to help or one of the followers? Keep us posted! K

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      Kathy, that’s a great idea. I wish I had thought of it at the time and wasn’t so flustered. It was the head guy who came out to help, and to his credit he didn’t gloat. I haven’t heard back from corporate yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

  7. Oh, Julie! That comment made my blood boil! Kudos to you for maintaining your composure. I understand your frustration with the entire situation. You were in a tight spot, for sure. Maybe letting management know would help. It certainly wouldn’t hurt anything, but I would guess there is a culture there that won’t easily change.

    Now I’m going to go check to make sure I have the appropriate wrench in my car.

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      Thanks, Amanda. And yes, check for your wrench! And a pair of gloves, too, since those suckers get hot in the summertime. And a rag since you’ll be dirty afterward, and…

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      Aw, thanks. They did help me out in the end, though, so I’m torn about how upset to be. Whenever there’s an atrocious customer service moment, I also try to remember that people who are super-smart with great social skills probably aren’t working in the retail customer service arena. It’s not that they can’t improve, just that they might be doing what has been modeled to them and they don’t know any other way.

  8. As the father of a little girl, I’m pretty ticked off! Good job not taking their initial ‘no’ as an acceptable answer. Unfortunately I know some people that might have meekly walked off and called someone else for help. Glad you didn’t.

    Then there’s this: “He acts as though I just told him I have an extra nipple–he can’t quite believe it but is intrigued and eager for the show.”

    I. Am. Dying! Seriously giggling to myself on the bus. I’m sure I’m now the crazy bus-guy that laughs by himself, but it’s totes worth it for that fantastic comment!

    Also, I can’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where George is struggling for the perfect comeback after he’s been insulted 🙂

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      Thanks, Ty. It was very surreal. It’s so weird to think that some people are still living in the dark ages and assume that everyone thinks how they do so acting that way is okay. I can forgive it in 98-year-old men, but not in guys just a little older than I am.

  9. Ugh – I hate that!! I usually like to tell people not to insult my inlettliginece but it seems some men aren’t used to seeing women be strong and in control. I so so so wish you could have hanged the battery that day and peeled off into the sunset but you did a little bit better. You showed you were willing to try and gave that guy a chance to redeem himself.

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