October 29, 2012
I stepped way outside my comfort zone last week, electing to go into an auto parts store to purchase wiper blades for my car instead of adding one more thing to my husband’s to-do list. I’m about as comfortable in a place like that as he is in my hair salon, but really, how hard could it be?
Armed with all the advice I’ve heard over the years about how places like that will rip women off if we show any signs of ignorance (and my own personal experience), I waltzed right into the store like I owned the place. I was immediately overwhelmed by the nauseating mixed aromas of tire rubber, oil, air-fresheners-on-a-string and after shave. My self-confidence went right out the window.
I was greeted right away by a fresh-faced young man offering his help and undying attention for as long as it took to help me with whatever I needed. “Good afternoon; how may I help you?” he offered kindly. “Well,” I answered, “I need wiper blades for my Nissan.” I knew better than to say “windshield wiper blades.” That would make me sound like a novice in this arena. Last time I said that, the guy sold me the whole contraption: wiper arms, blades, the whole nine yards. Well over $200 worth of uh-oh and a messy return spearheaded by my husband, a well-known motor-head in these parts.
“Sure, ma’am. What kind of Nissan?”
Stumped, the young man tried another tack. He went outside to look at my car, then came back in and expertly pulled a 40-pound book off the shelf to look up exactly which wiper blades I’d need. It’s unbelievable to me that there are that many sizes and shapes of wiper blades, but there are. Junior deftly thumbed right to the page he needed, ran his finger down the line of tiny print until he came to what he was looking for, pulled the blades from among thousands of others off of a floor-to-ceiling shelf, and handed them to me with an efficient smile.
I thanked him for his trouble and went to pay for my blades, when he offered to put them on my car for me. Right away, my guard was up. “Installation” usually translates to “quadruple what the item costs,” but he saw my hesitation and said that the service was free, so off we went to install the blades.
Another gentleman in the store, a customer, offered to help, so we all went outside for the big ceremony. Apparently the other customer was in the store for a similar purchase and wanted to be sure he installed his blades the proper way. I’ve since been told it’s guy code to never let another guy help you install anything, ever, unless there’s beer and pizza involved. Watching, however, is OK I guess.
I noticed a marked shift in the conversation when the two men started gabbing about cars, totally unaware that I was still standing there. They compared engine sizes, wheel bases, tire sizes and hauling capacity, one-upping each other as the conversation progressed. I half expected them to whip out their car keys and compare the sizes and weights of those, too. There was a definite competition going on right before my very eyes. I’m not sure who won; it may have been a draw for all I know.
While it was an educational experience, I don’t think I’ll be going back to the auto parts store again anytime soon. I was reminded that day of the significance of the expression “she’s a fish out of water.” I’ll stick to the stuff I know.
Carole Townsend is also a Gwinnett Daily Post staff correspondent and author of two books: “Southern Fried White Trash” and her newest, “Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear” (released October 15). She is also a regular guest on FOX News Radio station WYXC 1270 AM on Wednesdays during the Live Drive at 5. Townsend has been quoted on msnbc.com, in the LA Times, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, been featured on FOX 5 Television News and CNN, and is often a guest on television and radio shows nationwide. She currently travels throughout the southeast, meeting readers at book signings and speaking publicly at various events.