Just to document the incredible experience of customer service in Puerto Rico, I present this nugget for your pleasure. There will be and have been many more, I assure you.
Place: Western Auto on Avenida los Frailes
I walked to the service counter and took a number. There was not one employee at the six or so available stations. My place in the queue according to the little number displayed beneath "Now Serving" was eight. I had sixteen. Okay, I’ll just hang here with the other patrons as they smile and compliment me on my adorable children.
Olaia and Jaimito entertained themselves looking at seat and steering wheel covers. "Daddy," Jaimito began, "How can such a big seat fit in such a small box?"
"Jaimito, that’s just a cover for a seat. It’s folded up. It’s like a pillowcase. You take it out and use it to cover your old seat. It’s for when your seat is old and beat up and you want to make it look nicer."
"Oh," he replied. "Daddy, I like this one." And he pointed to a blue flaming skull on a black background.
"Oh, very scary, Jaimito. I don’t think Mommy would like it though. It’s too scary."
"I like it." He smiled.
"Daddy," interjected Olaia, "I think Papa Jim would like this old fashioned looking cover for his steering wheel." She pointed to a wood grained Model-T looking cover that was indeed old-fashioned. It’s funny that she associates Papa Jim with old-fashioned. It’s so cute that she picks up on his tastes, and I thought to myself, he would definitely like that steering wheel cover.
"It’s all cool, Olaia," I said. "We could do a mini Pimp My Ride."
"Really?" Her eyes got big.
"Yeah, we could do a pretend Pimp My Ride… but it would be cool if MTV came and pimped out our old car for us, huh? Lights, TV’s new paint, etc."
"Yeah, but it would cost a lot of money, right?"
"No, MTV does it all for free."
"Really? Well, how would be get the car to them?"
"I think they would come here… but I don’t think they would come to Puerto Rico. Too bad, huh? We’ll just have to settle for our do-it-yourself little mini Pimp My Ride."
"You’re funny, Daddy."
I turned to the service counter. Fifteen minutes had passed and there was still no one there. The clients were looking around anxiously. I peered into the rows of parts behind the counter and spied four employees huddled around a hidden counter, performing some sort of witchcraft that had nothing to do with, from what I could tell, anything. "Ahem, are you attending to clients at this counter?" I queried
"Yes, yes of course." They answered like sheep just realizing that a wolf had entered the pasture.
"Um, well, I’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes and there’s nobody here and the little number has not advanced past eight since I got here."
"The guy on that counter must be with a client."
"The clients are here," I answered, "Waiting. Wondering."
"Well, we don’t work that counter." And they turned back to their important work – all four of them.
I spoke up again. "Look, aren’t you going to do ANYTHING?"
I guess I had piqued their annoyance meter and they would be forced to deal with me. One of them got on the intercom and called his compatriot back to his station. Two minutes later, he appeared and began to call out numbers. From where he came or what he was doing, I have no idea – or why there was only one of him. I also have no idea what the other ten or so employees were doing. They buzzed in and around not making one smidgen of eye contact with anyone. They seemed to hope to ignore those of us who came with money to – get this – purchase something.
"I need to change the filter on my transmission." I finally declared once we had arrived at the number sixteen.
He took out a service order slip and speaking to himself, wrote 1 (one) air filter change.
"Um, I said transmission filter – a filter for the the transmission."
"Oh sorry. Just a second," he said and scurried off.
Two minutes had passed and back he came. I anticipated his news, quickly fantasizing the following scenarios: It will be done in a hour. It will be done in an hour and only cost $25, or we’ll have that taken care of in just a jiffy for our most valued customer. Why am I your most valued customer? Correct answer: because you are a customer.
"We don’t do transmissions anymore," he deadpanned.