Mother - Fabrice Le Nezet

wampeter and cecil

Dealer Review - Smart Center of Portland

Avoid salesman Mark Tower—everyone else is fantastic.

The best measure of a business is how they handle mistakes and problems.

Recap:  I ordered and placed a $1,000 down payment on a 2014 Smart Cabriolet on the 4th day of February 2014.  My salesman, Mark Tower, told me it would be delivered between late-April and mid-May, which was fine by me...who needs a convertible in Portland until May?

New bit:  In April, Mark told me "Wampy" (nickname explained here) would be arriving in the port of LA on 16 May.  I thanked him for his update and explained that I did not want, during dealer prep, to have a license plate holder screwed into the front plastic of my car because I intended to install a special mounting bracket.  He assured me his service department would, "never install a front plate bracket without a customer request".

Memorial day came and went.  No car.  I'm impatient; so I asked for an update and Mark responded with (and I should note, he—like almost everyone under the age of 50—only communicates by phone text) "it's a 2015 and they aren't releasing them yet.  I'll let you know when they ship it north.  If you're not satisfied you'll get a full refund".

Angry at being treated this way (and did my 2014 become a 2015?) I complained to the General Manager who immediately rectified the situation by giving me a free Smart Cabriolet loaner until my car arrived. 

Please note:  I used the past tense form of 'arrive' in that last sentence because I only needed to drive their free loaner for six weeks; I picked up Wampeter on 10 July.  I paid dealer invoice—$20,500—not the MSRP of $21,950.  And, as you have already sussed, a front plate bracket had been installed, which they are going to fix (in a week or so) by swapping the front body panel from another new car in inventory.

Mercedes Benz of Portland/Smart Center of Portland, has many professional, wonderful, fantastic people.  I worked with, and recommend working with, Andrew Plummer (GM), Dale Acelar, Crystal Barber, Ben Tait, and Mylee Burns.  I recommend you avoid Mark Tower.

same old me no longer able to abide the same old me who once abode

          It's not you, it's me (George didn't coin the phrase, but I give him credit anyway). 

          For the last ten months I've struggled finding a comfortable workplace.  A place where I fit.  Six different locations.  Three different employers.  It's not them.  It's me.

          I stopped delivering newspapers last September because 700 days without a day off = insane.

          So I went to work as a driver for a temp agency (BBSI).  They scheduled me, over the next four months, to drive for three different companies:  Brasher's Auto Auction, Manheim Auto Auction, and Enterprise Car Rental Agency.

          After a few weeks, I had the scheduler stop sending me to Brasher's because it was poorly managed, extremely unsafe, and people yelled.  All the time.  At everyone.  For any reason.  Bunch of old grouches who hated their jobs, co-workers, and employees.  When I feel particularly self-deprecating, I think I should have felt right at home.

          Manheim was the exact opposite of Brasher's; clean, safe, organized, and professional.  But every effort to get scheduled more than one day a week met with failure.  From my vantage point it looked like I was too young to be selected as a full-time driver at Manheim.  I might fit in there in ten years (or as soon as all my hair turns grey).

          I drove the most for Enterprise.  Part-time.  The hours changed every week.  And I quickly became intolerant of the vast majority of my co-workers with whom I was trapped in an 11-passenger van for almost every shift.  Impolite smokers.  Strong perfume wearers.  Incessant talkers.  Constant smartphone sharers.  Adult children with broken internal thermostats (cranking the van's heater).  And every one of them proudly a master of the obvious; "It's snowing!"  "Traffic is terrible!"  "It sure is getting late!"

          Once I obtained a full time job cleaning cars for Alamo and National Car Rental Agencies, I quit driving for BBSI.  With all the vacuums and car washes and traffic noises, I thought I might be able to work an entire shift and, maybe, I would never smell or talk or listen to a co-worker ever again.  But after a few months I discoverd the company itself—EAN Holdings—was so corrupt and managers so terrible that I couldn't tolerate working for them and resigned (detailed here).

          Two weeks later I began working at Avis Budget Group.  Same job.  Same pay.  But (just like Brasher's and Manheim) ABG is a much cleaner, safer, and professional company to work for than EAN.  I was much happier.  My schedule was consistent.  My managers polite, understanding, and even complimentary at times.

          So why is it me?

          Why am I, once again, dissatisfied with my work environment?

          Within my first couple weeks at ABG three different co-workers drove into the back of the car I was driving through a car wash.  It must be me.  I must be driving too slow.  Once is a coincidence.  Twice is bad luck.  Three times in ten days?  Clearly, that's my fault.

          My third week I was sitting in the break room with a male and a female co-worker (neither of whom I knew other than to exchange greetings).  They were talking—each from a different country and speaking their own accented English—so, at first, I was unable to understand any of their conversation.  Their accents were so heavy I didn't think they were speaking English.  But (just like the way Antonio learns English in the 13th Warrior) I soon began to understand some of their words and then almost all of them.
          He was, and had been for several minutes, sexually harassing her.  Brazenly.  Openly.  Willfully.  He degraded her and her family and laughed about it when she protested.  He talked about her and interrogated her using the vilest words.
          I wish I could say I immediately jumped to her rescue and forced him to stop his ugly tirade against her and all women.  I didn't.  I was shocked and I thought, 'The words coming out of his mouth can't actually be what I think I'm hearing; I must be missing the context of their conversation; they must be best-friends and this is just banter...dark, ugly, jokes; I just don't get the funny because I missed the beginning of the conversation...which must be a running joke because she keeps saying "How many days have I told you to stop saying these things to me?"
          I questioned her later.  Learned he had been sexually harassing her for months.  Learned she refused to report him.  So I reported him.  I wish I could say he was fired.  He wasn't.  She was eight months pregnant and so she left on early maternity leave.

          Last week, I attempted to provide guidance to another co-worker regarding a policy, which we'd all been instructed to comply with a few days earlier.  In hindsight, I was not very politic (in fact, I was as blunt as silence can be).  He was preparing to work on a vehicle "out of order" and I took it and put it back.  He protested.  So, I pointed at the car which the manager wanted next and said, "that's next".
          He verbally exploded.  His posture was aggressive and, at one point, I was certain he was going to punch me.  He slammed car doors and kicked trash cans instead.  The gist of his yelling was, "you are not my boss, you can't tell me what to do."
          So I reported him to HR.  Verbal abuse, creating an uncomfortable work environment, refusing to comply with company directives, blah blah.

          It's me.  I can't work with people anymore.  And it's not because people at work are any different than they ever were because "people" have always been this way.  "People" fall into two categories: slammers and closers (detailed here) and the vast majority have been, and will always be, slammers.
          The reason I now-know it's me is: I now realize I was once a reasonably-tolerant closer who kept his mouth shut, professed a live-and-let-live mentality, and grinned and bore it.
          Now, I can't.  Now, I say something.  Now, I speak up.  Now, I make corrections where I think corrections are warranted . . . even though I should shut up and keep my feckin' opinion t' me-self.


Symmetrifractal - Mike Swale

Late Spring Cleaning of Brain Detritus

          Costumes.  People who dig themselves a nice comfortable rut and then walk that rut for the remainder of their days.  Committing crimes, and by crimes I mean things the perpetrator—rather than society—believes to be wrong.  Which leads to a tipping point and voila, "I'm a criminal; this is my costume".

          I knew a guy who claimed he had PTSD (which he called 'battle fatigue') which he said he "got" when serving as an apprentice seaman aboard a ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Once, he detailed the traumatic hours his vessel took and returned fire, his fall down a gangway ladder and his feelings of extreme stress caused by an inability to see what was going on since he was below decks the entire time performing duties, listening to the barrage.

          From earlier conversations, I knew he had been drafted into the Navy in 1967, at nineteen, and I was also aware—but chose to never mention—that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (whether real or fabricated, it matters not) was in 1964.

          I'll refer to this storyteller by name from here-on because Billy doesn't "go on the web or do any of that smarty phone stuff" and even if his girlfriend reads this to him he could brook no argument with me, because it's all the truth.  Or at least these are facts as he believed he understood them and as he related them to others.  Which is the same.  Except it isn't, is it?

          Bill—now a 66-year old hippy—may have real memories of, and honestly think he was present at, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.  It doesn't matter that he wasn't; his brain thinks he was.  The same brain that doesn't think he's a hippy anymore.  He admits he was, "kind-of a wild child and maybe 'the hippy label' could have applied in the 70's."  But that was, "in his youth" and, "not who he was anymore".

          The reason I say Billy is, was, and-forever-will-be a hippy is because he wears the costume.  His black shoulder-blade length hair is never out of a braided pony tail.  A bandanna of some kind is worn as well at times.  He dies his thick beard black to match his hair, and every day—without exception (summer or winter)—these are the clothes he wears:  black leather biker's boots, black Carhartt pants, and a black leather vest with small lapel pins which signify his Vietnam service, support of POW/MIA, etc.  He not-only looks like Tommy Chong but his vocal pace and tone sounds almost the same as the character from the movies (a peppering of far-out's, his dude's are long and filled with too many U's just like his way too-many man's are heavy on the A's).

          The only stories Billy seems to enjoy recounting are those that involve drugs.  After a few weeks, one gets weary of yet another version of:  when he almost got busted; when he had taken too much; or when he did something stupid because he didn't want to get busted or had taken too much.

          On more than a couple of occasions, I witnessed strangers approach Billy in restaurants or on the street and ask if they could buy drugs.  He always politely informed them he "wasn't carrying" (had nothing to sell).  Because of the numerous prescription drugs he had to take, now, Billy only smoked an occasional joint.  None-the-less his costume still acted like a placard (Get Your Illegal Substances Here!).  He refused to take the sign off even though he was no longer in-business because, although it looked like a costume to others; to him, it was a uniform.  He had worn it his entire adult life, it was the foundation for all his memories, and he hadn't chosen retirement...his doctor explained the facts to him and he chose life.

          Billy had been arrested a few times: loitering, vagrancy, possession, public intoxication, failure to appear, etc; and—each time—he had spent a few days, weeks, or months in jail.

          I asked what he thought about living the type of life that always carried with it a potential for incarceration.

          He replied, "It was no different than gettin' drafted.  I was sent to war; no choice.  I did what my country asked; I served.  When the cops rousted me, or I got busted for somethin', it wasn't no different.  The Navy and the Man: even though they both made me go and do, places and things I didn't plan-on or wanna-do, they both still gave me three-hots-and-a-cot, free medical and dental care, and there was always someone to talk to until my time was up."

          I asked why Billy had never been dissuaded by the illegality.

          He said, "The law is wrong, man.  There's nothin' wrong with takin' drugs.  What anyone on this planet wants to put in their bodies is their business.  Drugs are illegal because the government needs to keep the military-corporate-industrial-police state funded.  It's OK if you take prescriptions from your doctor; it's not OK if you grow your own.  No taxes.  Less jobs for the masses.  The day they make every drug legal is the day that tens of millions of police, lawyers, jail guards, border guards, pharmacists, doctors, and prescription drug manufacturers go on unemployment."     

          Billy may be retarded (that was the medical term his VA psychiatrist used: minor retardation) but it was self-induced.  Decades of illegal drugs had killed more brain cells than he could spare.  But he was still savvy enough to put some cogent thoughts together once in a while.  And that was entertaining to witness.

          Since it is not in my nature to drive a point home at the expense of common decency, I didn't ask Billy to enlighten me as to how he thought his body's organs had gotten into their current state of imminent failure.  It may have been one way to refute his "nothin-wrong-with-drugs" claim.  But, I suspect, he would have blamed his terrible health on agent orange or paraquat or MK-ULTRA and never on the misdeeds he inflicted on his own body, which was all "his business" until it was time to die.  Then he went to the VA.  The government now keeps him alive with taxpayer dollars.

other articles with death-panel candidates:

A free "stand in" loaner from the dealership

I have mixed emotions.  Sorry and perturbed (to have been dealt this hand); combined with a bit of consternation (at feeling forced to—once again—gripe and complain like an ornery ass-hat) and pleased as a swine wallowing in his own ordure (at my current vehicular status).  I eliminated names to protect the guilty and the innocent.

Smart Center Portland General Manager,

          I ordered a 2014 smart cabriolet in February.  At the time, I was informed it would be built in April and delivered in late May.  As the months passed, I was informed of the status of my vehicle, its VIN number, when it would arrive in the port of LA, and when it was expected to get to Portland.

          On 23 May I received a quick note relating that since it was a 2015 model year that it was uncertain when it would be released and that I would be kept updated.

          I wrote back expressing my huge concern; I was expecting my 2014's soon arrival and was now worried it might not be the model I wanted.

          This was your salesman's reply:

"The only difference between the 2014 and 2015 Smart is a digit in the VIN.  If its not the car I promised then you will have your deposit refunded no questions asked.  I will let you know when Smart trucks the car North to us."

          No acknowledgement that I ordered the current model year—not next year's—and no explanation. 

          Is this how all customer's are treated?  If I had ordered an expensive Mercedes and the next model year arrived instead, would I have been provided full explanations or would I also just be encouraged to request a refund?

          I want to understand this mix-up.  Is it only mine or an entire shipment?  Does this happen routinely when new model years come out or is it the first?  Was the mistake made when the order was submitted or on the factory's end?  What is your best educated guess on arrival?

          I don't intend to wait until September.  I ordered a convertible in February so that I could enjoy the top down this summer. 

          I do not want to have any more dealings with that salesman; he should focus his derisive 140 character messages on young tweeters and not on people who've already bought a car or three in the past.


Veach Glines

Mr. Glines,

          I apologize for my salesman's seemingly emotionless, flippant, curt and non-helpful email message.

          I have reviewed the order and determined that indeed your order was originally processed as a model year 2014 but was switched by the factory due to the changeover from one model year to the next.  I am working with the smart brand people, now, to see when we might be able to get the vehicle from the port.  I will let you know as soon as I hear from them.

          Until I can get a definitive answer, I would like to offer you a Smart convertible to drive.  Although it will not be the car you ordered, I am hoping that it would be a satisfactory short term solution.

          Per your request, I removed the salesman from your file and added a new salesman.  I have cc’d him on this message and will make sure he connects with you right away to update you and make arrangements for alternate transportation. 

Thank you,

General Manager

Yesterday I met with the General Manager who gave me a 2013 smart cabriolet to use until my 2014 2015 arrives or they locate one in stock somewhere.  Thank you smart center of Portland.

see my hopes way up there? teetering?

          Today, I was informed that my vehicle is being held in the port of LA/customs because it's a 2015 model.  According to the salesman (who I'm beginning to despise rather than just think about the same way I do all people who sell for a living: with disdain) since the 2015 models are not authorized to be delivered yet, it will not be trucked north for an undetermined amount of time.

          I ordered a 2014.  I've been told the 2015 is the same as the 2014 and that the only difference between them is a digit in the VIN number.  I'm still... what's the word? ...pissy.  That fits.  Color me pissy and skeptical (because sales guy is an idiot).

5 reasons why you should avoid Enterprise, National, Alamo Car Rental

          I resigned from ERAC / EAN Holdings (the parent company of Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental agencies) after ten weeks working as a service agent at their Portland, Oregon, airport (PDX) locations.

          Are you looking for work?  I advise you to seek employment elsewhere.  Many of these reasons are systemic or intrinsic to EAN Holdings policy and are not limited to the PDX area.

          Maybe you are considering renting a vehicle and would like to be more informed.  Here are five reasons why you should never rent from Enterprise, Alamo, or National car rental agencies:

          1.  Safety is never first.  If a vehicle has a 'low tire pressure' indicator light on the dash the policy is to fill the low tire(s) and rent.  Service agents never inspect low tires for damage unless a nail is so large it's impossible to miss or a leak so fast the tire won't hold air.  Service agents never refill the windshield washer fluid until the reservoir is empty and either a customer or indicator light informs someone.
          Normal preventative maintenance (oil change, rotate tires, etc) is done when the manual recommends except when a large demand for vehicles occurs (every holiday, busy weekends, etc) then side-lined vehicles are rented without being maintained.
          Service equipment (gas pumps, vacuums, car washes, etc) are in a constant state of disrepair.  For example:  the automatic shut-off valve on the gas-hose nozzles don't always function.  I got my clothes soaked with gasoline once (and they don't issue sufficient uniforms nor provide laundry service).  I witnessed at least one "accidental" overflow every week and learned from a co-worker that small spills (less than 10 gallons) which everyone had caused/witnessed were inconsequential compared to his largest.  He claimed that once he set a gas nozzle to fill a car, went to lunch, and returned after 30 minutes to at least 100 gallons of gasoline "accidentally" spilled into the environment, storm drain, his work space.  (And no, neither OSHA nor the EPA were informed as the law requires.  EAN does not abide by any law that would slow work or cost them money.)

          2.  EAN Holdings unlawfully discriminates against employees with disabilities.  Under the Americans with Disabilites Act, it is the right of every disabled employee to inform their employer of their disability and request they make reasonable accommodations; the employer is legally required to make the accommodation if it does not impose an undue hardship on them.
          I'm a person with Aspergers (now called Autism Spectrum Disorder) and felt very stressed by some of EAN Holdings scheduling policies.  Not only how they handled ten-minute breaks and lunches, but how I (everyone) was, at times, scheduled to work until closing (either midnight or 1 a.m.) and then scheduled a morning shift the next day.  Employees rarely work the same shift.  In a normal five day work-week I was scheduled to begin at four different times.
          I informed the head manager as well as both supervisors of my disability and requested they make some scheduling accommodations to reduce my stress.  From that day on I was scorned, put off, talked down to, and treated disdainfully by every manager and supervisor.  For many weeks, whenever I would mention the unaddressed request to my chain-of-command, they told me they were "still looking in to it."  This refusal to accommodate my request was—ultimately—the final straw which caused me to resign.

          3.  Enterprise doesn't care about their employees, only about increasing company profit.  When I began working hourly for National/Alamo in January, both were union companies.  I and all of my co-workers (some of whom serviced cars for their entire adult lives) were 40 hour-a-week full time employees eligible for 1.5x overtime pay, holiday pay, vacation pay, med/dental benefits, 401K, life insurance, etc.
          However, Enterprise's hourly employees aren't unionized and—consequently—are all part time.  They each are scheduled to work less than 32 hours a week and are eligible for no benefits except those mandated by law.  All Enterprise hourly employees are youth who live at home/go to school, adults working a second job, or seniors augmenting their pensions/social security.
          Although the exact same cars are driven in-to and out-of our respective service islands (every day I cleaned cars rented by Enterprise and their service agents cleaned cars rented by National and Alamo) we never worked together at the same service islands, and did not share break rooms, supplies, or equipment. 
          In early March, the contract between the Teamsters Union and EAN Holdings expired.  National and Alamo hourly/union employees have been working without a contract since then.  Negotiations are now considered "stalled."  EAN Holdings wants to eliminate the union and make all National and Alamo hourly employees part-time with no benefits like their Enterprise hourly employees.  Obviously, the union wants to increase the benefits for their members without going on strike.  They are at an impasse.  Before I resigned the shop steward informed me, "it doesn't look good for the union."
          This was the penultimate reason for my resignation.  I wanted to be the first rat off the sinking ship.  I enjoy working outside, listening to music all day while I clean cars.  I quickly got hired to do the exact same job (in the exact same union) at a competing car rental company.

          4.  Everyone is either a thief or is extremely ethically challenged.  If you rent a vehicle from Enterprise, Alamo, or National and—in your rush to catch a plane—accidentally leave one of your cherished personal belongings in the trunk, under a seat, or in the glove assured it wasn't lost for long.  An employee found it and wears/uses/sold it.  There is an unenforced policy outlining how to turn-in found items.  When a lost item is found, it is supposed to be turned in to a manager and the company holds it for a few months before it is donated.  I turned-in items when I found them (almost every day), even after I discovered some of the items I had previously found had been thrown into the trash (maybe a manager called and the owners of those shoes or that jacket told him to discard them).  I witnessed so many lost items taken home by drivers, service agents, and even managers that I could not recount them all.  Some of the more noteworthy I watched people take home were:  suitcases, a sleeping bag, sporting equipment, jewelry, and watches.  Every day there would be more than one pair of sunglasses or prescription glasses found.  Umbrellas usually got thrown away immediately because locals of the Northwest don't use umbrellas, only tourists do.  The pile of cigarette lighter-to-USB chargers was so large (because most employees had stolen their fill) it had to be thrown away on a monthly basis or it would fill the found-this-but-have-no-use-for-it shelf (where I put a laptop printer six weeks before I resigned.  It probably still resides there.)

          5.  Lies, dishonesty, and 'fudging numbers' is encouraged, condoned, and incentivized.   Every supervisor lies to every subordinate (usually to encourage unsafe acts or to speed production at the expense of quality).  Every employee lies to his supervisor (usually to cover damage/mistakes, poor performance, or anything which could reduce the employee's bonus).  Every sales "rental" agent is dishonest to every customer (because their bonus is tied to selling upgrades or insurance).  Every manager fudges his numbers to his superiors (because his bonus is linked to renting every available vehicle and only keeping reserved vehicles on the lot).
          I was lied to by my manager when he hired me and every time I spoke with him after that day.  I only learned the truth about how my bonus was computed after I resigned and spoke with HR.
          I felt compelled to be dishonest to a manager because he required me to multitask in order to comply with the required number of vehicles needed (worst case: one car every 6 minutes during a three-hour period).  So I let a gasoline nozzle go unsupervised while I vacuumed only to discover one overflowing when I eventually smelled fumes.  I know that I caused over ten gallons to spill on that occasion (based on how much the nozzle could dispense and how many minutes I worked without remembering to check).  When I informed my manager of the spill, his first words were, "It wasn't too bad, right?  Probably only a couple gallons?  And you cleaned it up with the spill response kit?"  I gave him the answers he wanted to hear.  My third "yes" was mostly true.  I tried to clean it all up.  Except for the large amount that floated on a nearby stagnant puddle, which drained into a nearby green space and storm drain.  Absorbing several gallons of gas floating on 300 gallons of ditch-puddle water is impossible to accomplish with three carbon pillows and a few dozen carbon pads.
           I assisted several times in fudging management's numbers by moving cars where I was told to move them.  They were ready to rent, serviced and "clean" (no EAN cars are ever really clean after they have more than 3,000 miles or so—that's not possible in less than 6 minutes).  I moved them into storage/maintenance lots so they could tell their supervisors that their lots were empty.
          I witnessed rental agents lie to customers every day.  The local favorite is, "You really should get the additional insurance because if you're in an accident, say, and weren't nearby, so had to get it towed to a shop in a small town; without the additional coverage, the entire time the car is being repaired you'd be liable for the daily rental, which could be weeks!  You don't want to be liable for weeks of rental while it's being repaired do you?"  A lie that many, many, people fall for.

          Not every car rented by Enterprise, Alamo, or National is unsafe and dirty—any more than every EAN employee is a liar, a thief, and/or discriminates against people with disabilities and behaves immorally or unethically.

          Why should you apply to work for a company like this?

          Why would you do any business with a company like this?

          I personally know of at least two rental car companies who don't permit any of these behaviors and which will terminate an employee who steals, lies, allows or performs unsafe acts, discriminates, or behaves in an unethical manner.  Take your business or job application to a company with good business practices.  If you think I must be just a disgruntled employee and choose to not follow my advice...don't say I didn't try to warn you.