® A Day in the Life: The Oddest Place I Ever Worked For

I've worked for some pretty interesting places in my 42+ years in the industry. Good places and bad places. Scary places. Dealerships. Independents. Metric and Harley-Davidson. Training schools. OEM headquarters. As mechanic, service manager, parts person. And also as training instructor and training content developer. I'm an old fart, you know.

A great many years ago right after my now-grown daughter was born I found myself out of the college classroom and back in the trenches. Thus for a very brief period I wrenched for a shop that just, well, was so bad it is hard to describe it. The fact is, it amazes me still, after all this time. The shop owner was a kid. He and his parents ran the place as well as owning the tiny trailer court adjacent. Pretty interesting arrangment. Some of the techs actually lived in the trailers. Also on the property was a motorcycle salvage yard, which amounted to a major source of parts. The young man's 50-something "ma" and "pa" sort of drifted around the shop in a doddering sort of way, fiddling with something here, moving something there, but never noticeably producing any work that anyone could observe. She was alright, actually sweet and rather harmless. But the old man was a scowling character. Ma and Pa Kettle. Helmets and stuff were sold up front. An all-metal building, the place was a sweatbox in the summer.

This shop had only two kinds of customers: those on very low incomes, and those who were new to powersports, and quite often a customer was both. A great many were older retirees. The young owner and manager of this shop had one outstanding fault: he was clueless about how to run a shop. He didn't believe in the need for gaskets, o-rings, seals, screws, and cotter pins. Literally would not accept the need for them. The idea of estimates seemed never to occur to him. Or adequate shop lighting, ordering parts, or customer relations. And how he hated dealers! So much that he couldn't bring himself to buy from them needed OEM repair parts, which in powersports is impossible to do completely without. And judging from conversations with him, though an accomplished racer he had no technical background in the powersports industry. And very little more did his "shop foreman," a really odd fellow who quite obviously had personal hygiene issues and if that didn't take your breath away his manner surely would. He was supremely full of himself and was never to be questioned. Some truly gnarly work came out of this place, let me tell you!

One day I was working on a model of bike that as a dealer tech some years before I had had quite a lot of experience on. The machine suffered from a problem that was well known to Honda dealers and I was able to inform the customer about what he was up against after only a very short investigation. The shop owner however would not believe my diagnosis. He was incredulous. "How can you know that?," he insisted. Well, as a tech I paid attention, worked hard and learned all the time, I told him. Actually, anyone who knew anything about this model knew of the issue. He somehow never became convinced, even after the job was finished, and I just got tired of trying to communicate with him. I've had bosses like that since, too. More than a couple.

Despite all of this, working at this hell-hole was actually good training. I learned things I might never have encountered otherwise. My vistas were broadened. Where else would I have been confronted with so many Yamaha Viragos? One or two shadetree tricks learned at this shop I later legitimized through research and carefully selective application. And intimate knowledge of the dark and depressing evils of aftermarket gaskets forever became mine. So in spite of the extreme frustration most of the mechanics endured there, I'm glad I had the experience. Some good definitely can come from bad. But what a place -- I still shudder!

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