Dear Mechanics, Please Listen to Your Female Customers

It was a clear and sunny morning, and I was racing to get to my car service appointment on time. New Jersey is constantly under construction, it seems, and this would be no exception. Pop music blaring, I realized I was in the wrong lane too late — I ended up crossing a river before making a U-turn into stop-and-go bridge traffic and arriving at my appointment a little late and a lot flustered.

But as I parked my beloved Subaru — Blarfencar the Second (Blarfy2 for short) — I took a deep breath and set forth on the task at hand. I knew what I needed, and I knew I didn’t need an upsell. I also knew this was an expensive service — the 60,000 miles tune up is serious business. I politely insisted they install the wiper blades I had picked up at Costco. Yes, I could install them myself, but ever since my high school boyfriend incorrectly installed a set for me and I ended up driving on the Florida Turnpike in a torrential downpour, with my wipers pointing quite unhelpfully at the car next to me, arms screeching on the windshield, I like to leave such things to professionals.

Also, I asked, can they please check the gear shift? It doesn’t always park completely, which locks my keys in the ignition. It’s scary and dangerous. I talked to the service representative, handed over my keys, and promised to return to pick up my car once it was ready.

I raced to my next meeting, and got stuck on a train that just decided it couldn’t even, grinding to an unhelpful stop far from my destination. When the service rep called, I was drowning my transportation frustrations of the day in a pity-party mushroom burger and a milkshake.

The service guy told me there were a few other things to be fixed in the car, and I consented. This was unsurprising for a city girl like Blarfy.

Then he said, “But don’t worry, your gear shift is fine.”

“No, it’s not.” I insisted. “It sticks.”

He told me my key was old, and that was probably the problem.

My Subaru is 6 years old. People buy Subarus BECAUSE they last forever, they’re safe, and they’re reliable. My key is not old. Even the battery-powered clicker still clicks like I just bought the car last week, even from a block away.

“OK, I hear what you’re saying, but it’s not my key,” I said through a mouthful of mushroom. I paused, and swallowed. “I have to jiggle the gear shift into park and if I don’t do it just so, the keys stick in the ignition.”

I nearly added the Yiddish that was said to me as a child, “Due hairst?” — do you HEAR me?!

“Do you want me to check again?” he asked, not unkindly.

I sighed, took a sip of my milkshake, and said, “Yes, please. It’s broken. I’m not making this up.”

A few hours later, he called again, saying he really couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I repeated my description yet again: I had figured out if I jiggled the gear shift just so, I could get the key to release. But still, I knew something was broken.

(I chose not to tell him that this issue oft occurs when I have to pee, just as I park my car, which is an always situation for someone who loves a good Diet Coke between stops on longer drives. I didn’t tell him because, after all, this is business, and my bladder isn’t his business, although apparently it’s now yours.)

He asked me if I pushed my keys into the lock to release it.

So now, we have the second time that I’m being told I don’t know how to turn off my car properly.

I’ve been driving for decades.

I’ve been driving this car for so many years I’ve fully paid her off.

But sure, I don’t know how to take the keys out of the ignition.

I patiently explained again, “No, there’s something wrong with the gear shift. I know how to operate my car.”

He asked me if he should check again. I couldn’t believe he was even asking. Clearly, yes. He said he’d call me back.

I was reminded of when I taught waterskiing for my camp, with a rental boat. I told our boat guy that the transmission was dying on the boat, and he said it was running just fine. I spent about six hours a day with the boat, five days a week, I argued. He told me I was telling tales.

You know what happened next, don’t you? The transmission stalled out when we were in the lake, 15 minutes from the dock. A storm rolled in. I nearly had to jump into the water and swim the boat over to some random dock to get my campers and co-staff to safety from the storm. The next day, the boat was taken out of rotation for repairs.

As the workday wound to a close, I got a phone call from another person at the shop — one whom I hadn’t talked to yet.

“Hi, Ms. Berman, I’m the service manager here. We figured out what was wrong with your gear shift.”

I perked up.

“So we went back to check, and you were right, there was a tiny piece that was supposed to be in the gear shift that wasn’t there.”

As he spoke, the vindication lit up my face, pressed against the phone.

“So I was right!” I exclaimed ungracefully.

“Yes, so there’s a small plastic piece that was missing. We even put it in to check. It’s a $1 piece!” He seemed proud.

“So I was right this whole time? How did you figure it out?”

“Well when my associate told me you wanted us to check a third time…”

(At this point, I feel like I’m getting him and everyone in Subaru service to convert to my very narrow denomination of Judaism where I am always right.)

“…I helped him check to see what we were missing. And the piece wasn’t broken, it was just gone. So we got the piece and checked to see if it fit, and it did.” I could hear how pleased he was with himself.

“And I was right! See! I told you so!” I crowed. I finally had been heard.

We worked out when I would pick up my beloved car, as it was too late in the day for me to get back to their location.

And then I hung up the phone. And instead of feeling just vindication, I got mad. Why did I get mad? My beloved Subaru people told me twice today that I was wrong — that the gear shift problem on my car was:

1. An old key

2. I don’t know how to remove my key from my own damn car.

Did this happen because I’m a woman? Because I’m a “nice jeans” workplace dresser and I don’t wear suits? Because I look young? Because I keep a rubber ducky on my dashboard? Because I don’t know the words for the things that make cars (and boats) run but I know what I’m talking about?

I’m not sure, but I do know this:

I was right. And when someone tells you something isn’t working, you should partner with them to make sure that it works. You should listen — and you should hear.

If you don’t, one of you just might end up peeing your pants.

Header image by Sean McSorley on giphy.

Sara Beth Berman

Sara Beth Berman (she/her/hers) is a writer, educator, consultant, and advocate. Some of Sara Beth's great loves include her family, Brooklyn, good NY pizza (and honestly, bad NY pizza), summer camp, podcasts, music, books, gender equity, salary transparency, Jewish cultural literacy education, and golf carts.

Read More