It was a hot August day when that dirty grey 1995 GMC Jimmy came barreling into the repair shop. It had mixed match paint, dents and scratches all over it. That thing was loud, had cracks in the windshield, covered in rust holes, was missing both of the side-view mirrors and reeked of cigarettes. The customer brought it in for an oil change; the technicians finished working on the car pretty quick and just needed someone to drive it out.
Guess who that someone was.
I was still extremely new and had no business being in that death trap. I didn’t have a driver’s license, almost failed driver’s ed in high school, and only drove a couple times at that point. When I heard someone say, “someone drive the car out of the shop,” I thought that someone was anyone. I don’t know why I thought driving it out was a good idea, but I did just that. I jumped in and the seat was pushed all the way back (I didn’t notice that at the time). I remember my feet barely touching the pedals, but I didn’t think much of it. I’m five foot three, everything is always out of reach. I turned the key and my body jumped when the car started rumbling. The radio couldn't even drown out how loud the car was.
I waited for Rob, the new shop manager, to start guiding me out. The “guide out” was someone that made sure you were clear to leave and used their hands to motion you forward out of the garage. Rob started motioning his hands, giving me the signal to go, so I threw that monster in drive and the next thing I knew I was driving out of the garage without giving it any gas. I leaned forward to reach the brake pedal, I pushed down to where I thought was far enough, but the car didn’t stop.
There’s two details to keep in mind. One being that this shop was on a pretty decent sized hill. The driveway went down for a bit then there was grass separating the pavement and the busy road. The second thing to keep in mind, If I’m not calm, I’m in a complete state of hysterical panic. I’m either at 0 or 100, there is no in between. So when I pushed on the brake pedal and the car didn’t stop - BOOM - sheer panic. All common sense left my body and I became a human safety hazard.
Rob looked confused as the car started passing him, he quickly grabbed the back driver door handle and jogged alongside the car. He started yelling, “STOP THE CAR!”
I started freaking out and swung open my door screaming, “IT WON’T STOP! IT WON’T STOP!”
The car started going faster, Rob started running closer to me, I grabbed his shirt and jumped out. (Why? I have no clue). The car reached the end of the shop’s driveway and drove in the grass. Rob jumped in the driver's seat right when the Jimmy ran over our “now hiring” sign. The sign was on a tall metal pole that was stuck in the grass and it made a loud clunk when the Jimmy ran over it. The SUV was rolling towards the street when it came to a dead halt. The front tires were hanging for dear life on the edge of the curb, inches away from hitting moving cars.
People driving by were pointing, hollering, honking, laughing, you name it. I ran over to Rob, he was out of breath and shocked too. He told me to go inside and tell the advisor that there’s an issue with the customer’s brakes and he’s going to drive it back in the shop to look at it.
I remember him saying this, but that’s not what I did.
Instead, I frantically ran into the lounge where the advisor and customer were, screaming, “The brakes! The brakes!” pointing to Rob outside. What’s messed up, the customer didn’t even notice anything happened until I came in like I was on fire. The advisor saw everything. He watched everything from the window, but was able to distract the customer from looking outside, until it was time for me to come in and ruin that as well.
We watched Rob drive the car out of the grass, onto the street, then back around in the shop. He drove back into the garage, guided by someone other than me, coming to a perfect stop while shaking his head at me.
Rob jumped out of the car and the customer came at him furiously, screaming, “WHAT’S GOING ON? WHAT DID YOU DO?”
Rob tried to talk, saying, “There’s something wrong with your brakes, your brake pedal goes all the way to the floor. That’s not safe-”
“I DROVE IT HERE JUST FINE! THERE WASN’T ANYTHING WRONG UNTIL YOU DROVE MY CAR! HOW CAN YOU TELL ME THAT THE BRAKES ARE BAD AFTER I DROVE IT HERE JUST FINE!!!”
“I understand, trust me, let me just check everything underneath to make sure everything is okay....”
“NO! DON’T TOUCH MY CAR. YOU ALMOST CAUSED A CAR ACCIDENT! SOMEONE COULD HAVE DIED!” the customer was screaming his head off. Right when Rob was going to reply, some other tech decided it was necessary for him to speak.
“It wasn’t even Rob’s fault, it was hers. She was the one driving it, he’s the one that stopped your car,” The tech said. I could feel my face burning and my eyes felt like they were about to burst in sad apologies.
The customer was about to say something to me, but Rob cut him off, “Please, sir, let me just check to make sure there isn’t any damage underneath the car and you’ll be on your way. We will give you a refund-”
“YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I’M GETTING A REFUND!” he screamed at Rob as he punched open the waiting room door. He literally punched the door. He was enraged, but you couldn’t blame him. I almost crashed his car, even though it was a piece of shit, it was still his car. The customer started pacing back and forth in the lounge. Rob told the advisor to give the guy a refund, then he went straight underneath the car to check if the hiring sign I ran over did any damage.
I felt horrible and sick, I thought I was going to throw up. All the employees were staring, laughing, and whispering in disgust.This reminded me of the time I had a really bad haircut and at recess a bunch of kids circled around making fun of me. Except this was way worse and the embarrassment was way deeper. I wanted to hide in a hole. After a few minutes, Rob came back from underneath the car, still shaking his head at me. He had a more calm expression and a small smirk on his face though. The customer was watching us like a hawk through the lounge windows, as soon as he saw Rob he came running out.
“WELL WHAT’S WRONG? WHAT DID YOU GUYS FUCK UP ON MY CAR?”
“There isn’t any new damage if that’s what you’re asking, like I said, you need to get the brakes fixed-”
“WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? THERE IS NEW DAMAGE! MY CAR WAS FINE UNTIL YOU FUCKING PEOPLE STARTED MESSING WITH IT. YOU KNOW WHAT SMART ASS? DRIVE MY CAR OUT- NO!!! I’LL DRIVE IT OUT. I’LL DRIVE MY OWN CAR OUT OF HERE, MOVE!!!!!”
Rob put his hands up, said, “Okay” and the customer basically ran him over to jump in the front seat. He didn’t let us guide him out. He just floored it out of the garage, but stopped perfectly before turning into traffic.
After I watched him leave, I ran outside to the side of the building. I sat on the ground with my back against the wall and threw my head down in my arms. I felt horrible and started crying. I just sat there, wallowing in how much I hate myself and how I can’t do anything right. I felt dumb, useless, and at that point I decided that I was going to quit.
I looked up, Rob was standing over me. “No,” I muttered.
“Why would you drive that car out?”
“Why would you guide me out?” I shouted back
“I thought you were someone else, I didn’t realize it was you until it was too late,” Rob explained.
“I heard someone say ‘someone drive the car out,’ I thought that meant me too, I’m sorry I don’t know,” I hid my face in my arms again. I’ve never felt so embarrassed and stupid.
“None of this was your fault,”
“Yes it is! You got the car to stop! He got it to stop! Why couldn’t I stop it?!”
“You needed to push the brake pedal all the way to the floor to stop it. Which isn’t right, that really is a problem with the brakes. Your tiny ass was going to have a hard time to begin with. AND the seat was pushed all the way back. You needed to adjust the seat, test the brake pedal…..don’t panic…..ya know, basic driving common sense ...anyone with a license would know,”
I looked up and he was chuckling to himself.
“Ha. Ha.” I muttered, burying my face back in my arms.
“Come onnnnn, it’s not that bad-”
“You just became the manager! And week one I damn near caused a car accident -”
“Yes. Yes, you did,” he interrupted calmly, “I’ve never been in a situation like that before. Now I have. I know better. There were things I could have done differently-”
“Like what you said to him?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you said, ‘there isn’t any new damage,’”
“Nah I don’t regret that,” He laughed more, I couldn’t help but let out a small giggle.
“But yeah, like watching what I say, sure. I’ll know better next time and you’ll know better next time too”
“Next time?” You’re letting me drive a car out again?”
“Not this week you’re not. I can’t chase down two cars in the same week, you’re cleaning windows and vacuuming for the rest of the week,” he started laughing harder. I couldn’t help but really laugh too. He was really good at making you feel better. I wanted to stay upset, I wanted to punish myself, I didn’t want to mess up again. I didn’t want to mess up his job, I felt like I was going to ruin everything.
“I think I should quit,” I finally told him.
“You’re really going to give me a bad customer experience and leave me short staffed my first week? Nah, I don’t think so, get up. We’re going back inside- you’re not going anywhere.”
I didn’t get up. I sat completely still.
“Get. Up.” He sounded stern and demanding now. I’ll be honest I got scared and got up. I never met anyone who can go from laughing to scary in a second.
I followed him inside, he never yelled at me. He never yelled at me when I messed up other times too, he taught me to not feel bad. He taught me to see the humor in things and learn from it, not wallow in misery. He taught me to learn from what happens. Never dwell. Whatever happens, happens. Move on. Rob never got mad at me about the actual problems, but more about how I reacted.
So. I stayed. I never quit.
Rob taught me everything. I eventually started doing oil changes, light repairs, tune ups, transmission flushes, etc. I was running circles around everyone. He made me an advisor once I knew what I was talking about. Over time, Rob needed a new assistant manager and over all of the guys, he picked me. Together, we ran the hell out of that shop. One year, we won third place in sales. It was only third place, but that shop never won anything ever and it was against a lot of shops. We were proud. He told our district managers he couldn’t do it without me. He couldn’t run his repair shop without a tiny girl.
Pretty soon, Rob and I were in charge of two shops. We went back and forth managing everything from customers, cars, employees, you name it. We were there from seven in the morning to seven at night covered in oil, sweat, dirt, snow, water, coolant, transmission fluid, everything. He trained me to run the shop by myself, it got to the point where I almost had my own shop. It was hard work, we bitched a lot, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I loved it. Having Rob as a boss was the best; and as the years went on, he became my best friend.