Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On being the victim of circumstance and the after-hours HVAC market

Note: This column appears in the 8/19 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/20 issue of the Peoria Times

I am a reasonable fellow. I am neither, I don’t think, cheap or lavish, falling somewhere in between Costanza and Trump. Like most people I prefer to know the price of something before I purchase it. Occasionally however, there are those transactions in life where the urgency of the matter dissuades price from becoming an issue and, as a result, price becomes an issue. I do not like these occasions.

First let me say that there are others more well versed than I in making any transaction a casual one, and these people I have come to know, mostly, as Italian. An example I have used before is going to a fine Italian restaurant with my father-in-law –- one where you won’t see a price on the menu –- and watching the dynamic work between him and the waiter. Without words, my father-in-law says, “I am willing to pay for a good meal, but you better not screw me over,” and the waiter acknowledges, without words, “Indeed, I will not.”

On occasion I have attempted this on my own while out with my wife. “I’ll have the fish special, sir…market price!” Then I spend the rest of the meal on edge, wondering how drastically the fish market has fluctuated, only to eventually discover that my tilapia is $75.

But these situations are self-imposed and avoidable. It’s the unavoidable situations that irk me, as you are at the mercy of the other party. For example…

Last week our air conditioner conked out right as we were putting our daughter to bed. When you live in Arizona, in August, having the A/C go out, from an urgency standpoint, is the equivalent of having to go to the emergency room. Should you research other emergency rooms first? Can you wait until tomorrow? Maybe. If you are a masochist. As a result, you don’t think about price.

Well, you do. I do. But not out loud. I called the company listed on our thermostat because they installed the unit, which was under warranty, and they sent someone out within the hour.

Granted, I was willfully ignorant throughout the process. Price wasn’t mentioned over the phone or upon the technician’s arrival, and I didn’t ask. Mostly because I didn’t want to know, plus even if I did know, I figured, what am I going to do? In formulating the potential cost in my head I even factored in their inevitable explanation as to why, in fact, our unit was not under warranty.

Turned out the part that needed fixing was under warranty. Great! So, it would only cost…$330. Market price.

Because we called “after hours” –- we called at 6pm -- we incurred an additional cost for both the service call and the labor. (I always enjoyed those being two separate costs by the way – as if the technician will come to our house and instead of fixing our A/C, we’ll watch a baseball game together.) I am now arguing the cost with the company, a process by which I inevitably come across as cheap and stupid. Fun times. But I am willing to sacrifice my dignity for a greater good, and fight those who take advantage of unfortunate circumstances and the willfully ignorant!

I will lose, of course. I am a reasonable fellow.

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