24 March

Todd, My Car Friend, Is Where The Country Meets The Corporation

by Jon Katz

Given a chance, I’ve always taken my cars to small mechanics for service; I feel safer knowing the mechanic and having the mechanic know me.

The car dealerships always seemed too big for me, and I can’t just drive in if there is a problem.

One of the things I’ve learned about adjusting to the new technological,  corporate, and often impersonal realities of our world is that it’s essential to search and listen for one person who is able and willing to make a personal connection and cut through the walls of corporate speak and procedures.

I don’t mind change, but I also strongly prefer talking to humans, not apps, software, or phone chains.

The corporations say they care, but we all know this to be a big fat lie in most instances.

And since corporations have now assumed almost irreversible power and influence over politics, the economy, Congress, and our personal lives, this is the dilemma we all face and shapes our lives in many ways.

When I think about the gun slaughter in the country and the insane prices of medicines,  I realize more and more how powerful these companies have become. They distract us with tirades and grievance ranting about critical race theory and Dr. Seuss and “woke” teachers – little of which has any real bearing on our lives – and they keep getting bigger, fatter, and more powerful.

Us people have less and less say about how our world is governed; our political leaders are for sale.

The process of buying a car illustrates this pretty clearly. It is no longer possible to buy or pay for a new one without going to a big corporation.

Corporations are, by nature, distancing and impersonal; they are just too big in most cases to provide genuine customer service, although they all pretend to care deeply about their customers. But they don’t. They live and die by their bottom lines.

Corporations can’t care about people and prices; their investors would tear them to pieces, their CEO’s thrown into the river. Amazon is a global example of a corporation that has mastered the idea and reality of excellent customer service without ever speaking to one. That is the cold future.

Steve Jobs was a stunning exception to this trend – he did care about people and made a ton of money doing it. But he is unique in our modern corporate history.

There is always someone inside a big corporation who cares, and the challenge of modern technology and corporatism is to find them and hang on. I understand when a big corporation tells me they care about me, that they are just pretending. Just try to talk to one when you run into trouble.

I believe I have found a person who cares and is a model for how this gap between people and behemoth companies can sometimes be bridged.

I have found one in a service manager named Todd, to whom I have happily attached myself and who takes excellent care of me and my car. It isn’t just about the oil changes; it’s about what I wish for and how I use the car.

I don’t know much about Todd, and his personal life is not my business.

But he is my car partner, my adviser, and my guide. He has taken the trouble to know what I want and need and has ensured I am getting both. I appreciate having someone I know and trust to talk to about my car.

I see this is possible, even in a large corporate enterprise. My relationship with the dealer is very personal in the old-fashioned country way. It is Todd.

Several years ago, my ideas about how to service my car changed when I met Todd. He is the service manager of the Toyota dealer (Coggins) in Bennington. Coggins is a big dealership that sells several different cars along a large mall-like strip outside Bennington, Vt.

It feels corporate to me; I guess because it is.

For most of my life, this is a place I might have gone to buy a car but never to service it. Now,  I always service my car there and will as long as Todd is there.

I bought my car – a Toyota Rav 4 –  at the onset of the pandemic when sales were plummeting, and I thought I might get a good deal. Most of the dealerships I called were closed and didn’t answer my calls. This one was open.

I was right; I got an excellent deal.

I decided to lease the car rather than purchase it, with an option to buy it at the selling price. I’d never hired a car either, and I got a hybrid, which is also a perfect move as the gas prices keep soaring. It gets 51 miles to the gallon.

I was obliged to take it to the dealer for the first year. I wasn’t happy about this at first.

But I met Todd, who took considerable time with me, explained the car and how it worked and gave me his phone number. I him Todd immediately; he had a sense of humor and understood the limitations of my mechanical skills. He was always available on the phone.

He was never impatient, abrupt, or in a hurry.

I loved the car, and it was Todd suggested buying it if I wanted to keep it for a while. I do; it’s the perfect care for me.

This was another excellent idea.

I bought the car for a great deal less than hybrid SUVs were selling for, and at just the right time, when cards were beginning to shoot up again in price. If I liked it, he said, buy it and save on mileage fees.

Todd suggested I explore a new insurance program that covered high costs beyond standard service for the car’s life. I pay a monthly fee, and as the vehicle gets older and needs work, I’m protected from the skyrocketing costs of the car’s significant elements.

I love this car and would love to drive it until I drop it. That is a possibility now. Without Todd,  I wouldn’t have thought about the insurance program or even known about it.

When I panicked on the road trying to figure out some of the controls, I could call Todd, and he calmly and patiently talked me through the problem.

When the car mysteriously started locking itself, he told me to bring it right in, and they adjusted the software that was causing the problem.

I like talking to Todd; he is excited and open. And funny, he even likes my jokes.

I always leave smiling,  but more importantly, I see him as someone who bridges the gap between the personal connections of the country and the cold and off-putting effects of corporatism.

I don’t see myself going to the dealer; I see myself going to Todd. I’m not into writing puff pieces for businesses or corporations, but I think there is significance in my relationship with Todd and some good ideas for the future.

In return, I never take out my frustrations on him, and make sure to write a glowing review every time his company tells me they care about me and want to know what I am thinking.

What I am thinking, I tell them, is that Todd is outstanding in his work, and I don’t even think of going somewhere else. I hope this benefits him in some way.

My lesson is that it doesn’t matter where I buy something or how large the company is.

What matters is that a human is willing to see me as a fellow human being and ready to guide me through the expensive and essential process of buying and maintaining the right car for me.

I want to widen this new process of finding a human being in these companies that I can connect to personally and who does care about me, or who at least has learned to fake. I think that is a path to survive in the Corporate Nation.

Todd, I believe, is the genuine artic. Hope for community and connection n. I’m picking up my care in an hour or o. He was happy to let me take his picture.

2 Comments

  1. I love reading your books, I wish I had known about them earlier in my life.( At least I haven’t missed out) Along with the animals, and their relationships, you write about the practical necessities of living in the country. A car, the right one, and the right person to buy it from, I’d love to meet Todd. Thankyou

  2. You are exactly right Jon. My service advisor at a Toyota dealership in Dallas has taken care of my MR2 since I bought it in December 2002 and Shelly has always taken care of it. She is the best! The car runs perfectly, is a joy to drive and looks brand new, even with 204,000 miles. There probably aren’t a lot of Todd’s and Shelly’s out there but I’m sure glad we found them.

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