Friday, July 27, 2007

When I was a kid I wanted a go-kart, but I didn't think I'd ever get to have one. We didn't have money for those kinds of things. A go-kart was something hopelessly out of reach, something exclusive to princes and potentates.

I'm not sure why I wanted one so much. It might have stemmed from the fact that after my parents' divorce, I was at the mercy of adults to visit my dad. I couldn't see him at will, but only when someone could drive me there, so I think I became obsessed with transportation. I was fascinated with mobility. I can remember vowing to ride my bicycle to my dad's house (50 miles away) when I was seven or eight years old. I didn't actually accomplish that until 8 years later. To my surprise, the go-kart dream came true first.

(Incidentally, the post-divorce transportation-fixation probably factors into how I wound up becoming a "motorscooter professional." I remember seeing the older neighborhood kids riding mopeds and scooters home from school. It was like seeing Aladdin swoop past on a flying rug, or Elroy Jetson on a space-bike. As they passed, their engines steadily whirring like magical bubbles popping, the riders smiles transcended the limitations of my own little world. It was a freedom I coveted, one that wasn't too far out of reach.)

I was about 13 when my brother Tom brought news that an older neighbor kid had a broken go-kart in his yard. We immediately set about scheming to procure the kart. As it turned out, Scott didn't really want it anymore. It was broken, and he was old enough to drive. Tom and I, along with a couple of his friends, pooled our money and bought it from him. I don't remember exactly what it cost, but I'm sure it was less than fifty bucks. I think I probably conned the other three investors into letting me make a small cash contribution in exchange for putting my mechanical skills to use in getting it running.

The other three raised money with a lemonade stand, and briefly, a lip-sync stand.

In case you were wondering what a lip sync stand is, think of a lemonade stand, only instead of paying a dime for an icy cold glass of lemony refreshment, you pay a dime to watch kids dance to top 40 hits. Not surprisingly, people didn't want to pay to see them lip sync so the venture went under. This was a bitter irony though, since the songs on the menu were all by Milli Vanilli, a duo who at the time were playing to sell-out crowds, but were later exposed as lip synchers themselves.

Somehow, in spite of their failed business venture, Tom and Co. were able to chip in with me and buy the go-kart. One of the front wheels was broken off, but that didn't stop us from riding it. We just couldn't make any left turns, or the front left corner would dig into the pavement, showering the driver with sparks and gravel.

It was the best thing we had ever bought.

We had a lot of fun with that old kart, until in 8th grade I decided to try and stretch the frame to accomodate my now longer legs. I did a pretty good job cutting it in half, but a pretty sucky job welding in the extensions. It broke in half on the maiden voyage.

So in 9th grade I took a metals class and built a new go-kart. I fixed up an old 8hp roto-tiller engine, and built a frame that had two seats so Tom and I could ride together. I even leveraged the project to get my "model design and building" merit badge. We also had a lot of fun with this second kart. We even took it to our dad's house once and he drove around in it with us.

In many ways kart #2 was the best car I've ever owned. But it wasn't without its problems. It only had one-wheel drive, the steering was jerky and imprecise, and the brakes were nothing more than big metal pads that rubbed directly on the tires to slow it down. By 12th grade, I had higher aspirations. Having considered all of the weaknesses of the original, and having need of a project to keep me sane in the wake of Becky's death and Zeebo's dumping me for a major douche, I decided to make a new go-kart. (If you want to see a movie about this period of my life, go watch "Better Off Dead." It's basically the same story only there was no cute French foreign exchange student in my version.)

This third kart was supposed to be my crowning achievement, though few people around me understood what I was trying to do. Like beating a sword into a plowshare, I aimed to make a 1974 Yamaha DT250 into a high-performance go kart. I had only ridden the motorcycle once, with Becky actually, before disassembling it to see what made it tick. Since I had the motorcycle engine already, I designed the kart around it. The frame I built had front and rear suspension, a special homemade steering box, disc brakes, and a really wide track for stability. My objective was to reach a top speed of 100 mph, though I didn't know what I would do after that.

In the end, it didn't work out the way I'd planned. Not that the kart broke in half or anything, I just never really finished it. I drove it home from school one day, without brakes, and parked it in the backyard. Soon after, I graduated from high school and moved on to other things.

Sometimes I regret never finishing that kart, but maybe some things are better left unfinished. Like a lip-sync stand, or Milli Vanilli, the Go-Kart served its purpose without actually accomplishing its goal. I didn't need to drive it, it didn't need to actually work. In the end, none of that mattered. It was a con. The real purpose of the machine was revealed in my own survival. In the middle of a maelstrom of personal problems, I daydreamed about a vehicle, planned and calculated and designed a vehicle, and I built a vehicle to see me through to the other side.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yesterday, as I was leaving my mom's house, I noticed some weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks so I pulled them. Then I noticed that the storm drain was partially plugged with pinecones and mud so I cleared it out. Then, since I had the garden hose out already, I watered some dead spots on the lawn.

Dxxxx came out and asked me what I was doing. When I told him, he gave me a suggestion on a "great product" to help with the situation. He says, "each time it rains on that, it grows very fast." And, "They are even better than ordinary seeds, they're robot seeds."

I gotta stop letting them watch infomercials. What kind of sicko television programmer decided to put infomercials on when they should be airing Saturday morning cartoons?

"Um, Dad, what if you took a shower with patch perfect all over you?"

I gotta ask again, "What kind of sicko. . ?"

Saturday, July 14, 2007



So here's a fun one: After nearly five years in business, I finally reached a milestone of having a complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau. Not only that, but the day before that complaint was filed, a different customer also threatened to complain to the BBB, but didn't follow through.

I won't pretend to be a saint or anything. In both cases I felt that the customers were being unreasonable to the point of frustration. There were no compromises to be made. Both were way out of line in my view, and I wasn't about to get pushed around or forced to kiss up to them. I was direct, firm, and a little volatile.

The first guy to threaten me was some turd who bought a piece of junk Roketa scooter. Like most, he began experiencing problems with the scooter in short order, and adding insult to injury, the place he bought it from didn't have the resources to help him troubleshoot it. This is almost always the case with these gray-market scooters.

So a few months ago he called and said his scooter wouldn't start and could we pick it up and bring it in to the shop. We explained to him that we charge $25 for in-town pick ups. He agreed to it and Dustin went and brought the scooter in for repairs. As soon as Dustin unloaded the scooter from his truck he found the problem: there was no battery in the thing. That's right, just an empty compartment where the battery should have been. (I think that was the case, but actually it could have had a dead battery, my memory is a little hazy on this point. I know Dustin picked up a scooter with no battery in it, I'm just not sure if it was this particular one. Makes for a better story though.)

Dustin immediately called the customer and informed him of the problem. A couple of hours passed, and the guy sneaked up to the store with a battery, put it in his scooter, and took off without paying the pick-up fee.

Dustin called him repeatedly and left messages politely reminding him that he had forgotten to pay the fee. The kid never answered his phone. Then one day, after being threatened with legal action, he called right back and apologized. He claimed he had been out of town or something. He said his scooter still had a problem and that he needed to bring it back in. He would pay the $25 fee when he brought the scooter back for repair.

So just to recap: Guy hires us to pick up scooter and do repair. We pick it up and do a preliminary diagnosis. Guy buys part somewhere else, sneaks over, gets his scooter, and robs us of our fee. Got it? Good.

When he brings the scooter back in, we immediately write up a ticket on it with the $25 dollar fee being the first item on the repair order. It's a matter of principle. The customer complains of the scooter not starting, headlights and horn not working either. We make sure he knows that we are at least two to three weeks backlogged in our service dept. and that he will have to be patient.

Almost two weeks to the day later, he calls me on the phone. He's upset. Wants to know what's taking so long. Asks me if I've ever considered hiring another mechanic. I am very appreciative that he is willing to counsel me on how to run a scooter shop. I tell him that I will personally take a look at his scooter that very day, so that I can at least tell him what may be wrong with it.

Immediately after the phone call, I dropped whatever else I was doing and brought his scooter into the shop. It started right up. The headlight switch was turned off. I turned it on and they worked. High and low beams both worked fine. The horn honked like a champ.

Brief recap: Customer complains that scooter won't start, headlights don't work, horn doesn't work. Customer is unwilling to wait for repair. Customer is belligerent on phone and insists that we speed things up. I make an exception for him and move him to the front of the line. Scooter starts, headlights work, horn works. And remember, this is the same kid that tried to steal from me.

I'm perplexed. Everything seems to be fine with the scooter. I leave it in the shop, and several times over the next couple of days I test the scooter to see if any of the problems surface. Finally on the third day, the horn doesn't work. Simple. I adjust the voice coil on the back of the horn and it's back in action. The adjustment takes about five minutes, but a big body panel has to be removed in order to get to the horn, so in all I spend about 45 minutes to an hour on the job (including the time I spent testing it.) I write up a bill for half an hour of labor in addition to the original pick up fee, and the customer pays and picks up his scooter.

The story should have ended here, but it didn't. The next day the customer called me to complain that his scooter wouldn't start and that we didn't fix it right. I explained to him that I had tested it and it had started fine several times over a few days, so I hadn't done anything with the starter and charging system. He complained that I had charged him money for the repair, so I explained that what he was charged for was the horn repair and the pick-up fee he had tried to steal from me. I explained that I had found no problem with the starter, and that the headlight switch was just off, so I hadn't charged him anything for those because there was no apparent repair needed. He complained that the scooter had been in the shop for a long time and that it wasn't fair. I explained that what wasn't fair was that I had put his scooter ahead of lots of other people in order to take care of it. He told me that I had an attitude problem. I told him that I didn't have an attitude problem, but that I did have a problem with people who tried to steal from me. He said he didn't pay the pick-up fee the first time around because he didn't feel that we had done anything to deserve it. I was appalled and so I restated in the form of a question, "You don't think that sending two employees out of the store for a half-hour to go to your house, pick up your scooter in a truck, bring it back and identify a problem was worth anything? I told him that if he desired, he could bring the scooter back in, wait at least three weeks until I could get to it, and pay a minimum hour of labor for me to diagnose the charging and starting system more thoroughly. (This is what I would regularly have charged anybody.) He said he was going to report me to the Better Business Bureau. "Go ahead," I said, "they won't do a damn thing."

The moral of the story: That guy sucks.

The second guy was even more awesome. The first time he came into the store, I wasn't there. I was at home with my kids. I got a call from the store because this customer was there and wanted a quote on a scooter to take to his bank and get a loan. My fabulous employee Flocahontas wanted to double-check the price of the scooter. She said, "I'm quoting him $3500, is that ok?" I asked if it was the orange one or the black one and she said it was the orange on he wanted. So I told her to knock off 200 bucks because the orange one, though new, was a 2006 model.

The following Monday, the guy came into the store and explained that he was on the way to the bank to get a loan for the scooter and just wanted to ask a couple of questions. I don't recall all of the details, because I talk to a lot of people about a lot of scooters, but he seemed really concerned about the scooters top speed. He wanted to know if it would go 70. I said that I had never gone 70 on one, but that others had told me they could go that fast, and that I had gone 65 on one and I weigh 285lbs.

He got the loan and bought the scooter.

One or two days later, he called and said that the scooter handled great, it had a great ride, but that it wasn't as fast as advertised. I said that he would need to give it some time to break in, and it would be faster. This is an immutable law of machines. They need to break-in. There is extra friction in all of the moving parts of an engine until it has seen some use. (My wife and I used to have a Toyota Corolla, and that wonderful car which I highly recommend, saw a significant power increase at about 110,000 miles.) Stuff has to break-in. Period.

Well the customer insisted that something was wrong with the scooter, so I told him to bring it in and we would look it over. Dustin took it for a ride and assured both the customer and myself that the scooter was perfectly fine. The customer had some particular concerns about the rev pattern of the engine and I explained to him that unlike a geared transmission in which RPM's are directly related to speed in a given gear, a CVT transmission, by nature, will allow the engine to rev differently according to load, throttle position, and speed. He looked at me like I was speaking Punjabi, but he left the store somewhat contentedly.

A few days passed and the customer returned to the store. He spoke calmly but his upper lip was twitching. Among other absurd things he said he wasn't going to pay off a $4000 dollar loan on a vehicle that was just going to sit in his garage. I asked why it was going to sit in his garage and he said it was because the scooter wouldn't go 70. I said that that was a stupid reason not to use a vehicle that functioned perfectly and that if he would give it time to break in I was sure he would be pleased with it.

He insisted that it should go full speed without breaking in, and that every other vehicle he had ever owned would go full speed right out of the box. I said that that was ridiculous and that any mechanic at any shop would agree that break-in is a necessary process.

(I think at this point I will just copy and paste the customers BBB complaint, as well as my response to it. It's long though, so go to the kitchen and get a snack, get comfy, and read on.)

Here is the customer's complaint, unabridged:

I recently purchased a new scooter from the Scooter Lounge in Orem (June 13th 2007). I was not able to take the scooter for a test ride because the dealer told me that they didnt want to spend the money for dealer licence plate. I had to base my decision to buy the scooter on the brochure and what Dave the manager told me about it. I was told that the scooter could go at least 70mph and the brochure also says that it will as well. My speedometer has never made it over 62mph. I told Dave this and he says its because I have not broken it in yet. I was 100% sure that the speedometer was inaccurate so I checked it against a GPS unit and it displayed a speed of 50mph when the speedometer showed 60mph. I told Dave this as well and he says that he can file a warranty claim on the speedometer. He also says that he believes that Im not telling the truth about the scooter only being able to go 50-52mph. I told him that the GPS was checked against my cars speedometer and the speed on the GPS always matched my cars speedometer. I asked him to please refund my money since I consider the scooter to be a lemon and falsely advertised that it does something that it doesnt do. He became angry with me over the issue while I spoke calmly to him and then he told me that I can take it up with the manufacture because its there problem and that I paid for it and that its now mine and he wont do anything for me about it. He then asked me to leave his dealership and not to come back. I now have a scooter that my bank holds a lean on and the bank says I should get a refund for the scooter. Even if the scooter had its speedometer repaired to indicate the proper speed then it would show that I am going almost 20mph under the speed I was told it could go. I first started talking to him about the problems on June 15th 2007. I want a full refund for the scooter and the interest that it has accruded on the loan. My bank feels I should be refunded to get my loan paid back.

Here is my response to the above hogwash. (Only the customers name has been changed):

It seems that the nature of Mr. Numbnuts' complaint is that the vehicle he purchased doesn't meet his expectations regarding speed.

He contends that he was led to expect more performance from the machine than what it delivers. He further contends that because of this, the vehicle he purchased is a lemon and he is entitled to a refund.

This argument is false on both counts. He was not led to believe that the vehicle would perform any differently than it does, and the vehicle does not suffer from any defect that would make it fall under the purview of the Utah lemon law.

First, the vehicle he purchased was not falsely advertised or misrepresented. He claims that I said things to him about the vehicle that I did not say. (This is the part that is the most frustrating to me on a personal level. The customer is, in effect, calling me a liar, which I resent.) It would be futile to rebut his claims point-by-point, because it would be a "he said, she said" argument. But let me give two examples of how his argument is flawed:

First: Mr. Numbnuts claims he was not allowed to test drive on the road because we told him we "didnt want to spend the money for dealer licence plate." (sic) I assume he made this claim to cast aspersions on our sales strategy, as if to indicate that we knew the scooter was slower than we claimed, and therefore made some excuse to prevent him from driving it on the street. I personally resent that implication. The fact that because of liability issues we don't allow anyone to test drive on the street (and neither do most of our competitors for that matter) is not important to Mr. Numbnuts, he would rather paint a picture more compatible with his strategy of bullying an honest business into caving to his unreasonable demands.

Example 2: Mr. Numbnuts claims he "was told that the scooter could go at least 70mph and the brochure also says that it will as well." Again, this is false. There is a difference between being told that the "top speed" is 70mph, and being told that the vehicle can go "at least" 70mph. At no time, verbally or otherwise, were assurances made that the vehicle could go "at least" 70mph. The vehicle he purchased is capable, when properly broken in and under the right conditions, of reaching speeds up to 70mph. One of my employees took the time to ride Mr. Numbnuts' scooter, and then to ride a brand new one for the sake of comparison, and he reached the same speed on both, 68mph. He reached this speed on the freeway, where he kept up with the flow of traffic. Yet still Mr. Numbnuts refuses to be satisfied. He now insists that the speedometer is inaccurate and that my employee is dishonest.

When Mr. Numbnuts first complained that the vehicle was not as fast as he expected, I assured him that it would develop more power after being properly broken in. He objected to this assertion. But I ask you, If Mr. Numbnuts won't take my word for it, or give any credence to the manufacturers recommendations regarding proper break-in, what is the basis of his complaint? He has been told the facts, but refuses to accept them. The only way I can explain his persistent reality denial is that he is experiencing a bad case of buyers remorse.

In an effort to resolve the problem I offered to file a warranty claim and look into the possibility that the speedometer could be inaccurate. If there were something wrong with the vehicle mechanically, we would gladly fix it under warranty. But this is not good enough for Mr. Numbnuts. He demands a refund. Yet the vehicle he purchased performs exactly as it should. There is no mechanical defect to speak of. The vehicle does not meet the criteria to be classified as a "lemon." And the vehicle was never advertised to do anything that it doesn't do.

The bottom line here is that Mr. Numbnuts will not get a refund because there is no basis for giving him one. He may as well complain to me that the scooter doesn't fly and demand a refund on that basis. There is no merit to his complaint.

We have a record of good customer service and honest business practices. After nearly five years in business and after selling hundreds of vehicles, including many of the model Mr. Numbnuts owns, we have not had a single complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau. There have occasionally been problems. This is normal for any business. And when there have been problems we have always given the customer the benefit of the doubt and done our best to make them happy. We treat people by the golden rule, and people buy from us because we have an excellent reputation. The products we sell are among the finest in the industry, and we stand behind them.

This is why Mr. Numbnuts' complaint is so bewildering. He clearly doesn't want to be satisfied. A repair to the speedometer isn't good enough. Breaking the engine in so that it develops full power (something all manufacturers require) is not good enough. Nothing short of a full refund will satisfy this customer and I think I have adequately laid out my reasons not to give him any sort of refund.

I was somewhat relieved to find out that Mr. Numbnuts has a reputation for being unreasonable. It happens that a good friend of mine is well-acquainted with this customers unreasonable demands at another retail establishment. This may not change the fact that a complaint has been filed against my business, but it does provide me with a context in which to place this transaction.

No further communication on this matter will be necessary.
Thank you for your kind attention.

David Hurtado
The Scooter Lounge Inc.

So now I bet you all are dying to know what the customer had to say about this. I haven't heard back from him yet, but rest assured, no amount of coercion is going to make me refund him a penny. Last time I saw him he was peeling out of the stores parking lot in his rice-rod Mazda. Later that same day, three of his former roommates came to the store to show me their bullet bikes. One of them used to be my neighbor and they're good guys, even if they do ride bullet bikes. I was still irritated about Numbnuts so I told them the story. They said that Numbnuts had taken his car back to the dealership no less than 30 times for nitpicky complaints. They said that after an oil change Numbnuts claimed the dealer had left a mark on the headliner (the cloth upholstery on the inside of the roof) and made them replace it. After that, he complained they had scuffed the glovebox and made them replace that too. (I wonder if he'll make them replace his tires for wearing out prematurely.) After hearing that, I can see that I got off easy. Numbnuts is is the kind of person you can never satisfy.

While we were standing in front of the store by their bullet bikes conversing, Mr. Numbnuts rode by on the "lemon." I wish I could have had a radar gun on me.