Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from road trip

            I want to start this article by apologizing for the delay.  I usually publish on Mondays.  This week however did not work out as I hoped.  The reason for the delay did inspire me to write this current article, so it may not be a complete misfortune that my ability to keep my schedule was impeded.

Government services:

            My family and I, just completed our move from Charleston, South Carolina, to Omaha.  The trip and other aspects of the moving experience was an eventful one and it is precisely this that caused the delay.  The departure went alright.  The moving company did its job professionally.  Shortly after we set out on the road ourselves however, we were quickly struck with misfortune.  Our car, a Kia, broke down, just as we were about to cross from South Carolina into Georgia, leaving me, my wife and our seventeen month old son stranded.  This happened near the town of Anderson, SC, at around seven PM.  We called emergency repeatedly, hopping that they can pick us up and drive us to the nearest hotel.  It was a very long wait, which was made even longer by the fact that we had our son with us.  At one point, as I saw that a police car was present on the other side of the highway, helping out another stranded individual for over an hour. I became desperate and I started running towards the overpass, so I could cross and let the officer know that we are also in need of assistance.  There was no way to cross to the opposite side of the highway, because some genius decided to build a three meter tall concrete separation, which I have absolutely no idea why it was necessary.  When I finally reached the overpass, I saw the police car drive away.  They managed to fix the stranded car.  I ran back to my family.  At this point it was already dark, and my son was way past his bedtime, and becoming increasingly tired due to exhaustion and the heat.  After three hours of waiting, a state trooper did finally arrive and gave us a ride to the nearest hotel. 

            The evening that the car broke down provided me with the first lesson of the trip.  Government services are not always adequate to meet one’s needs.  This is very important for us to realize, because we in the western world are just on the brink of major government cutbacks, which will affect every aspect of our relationship with government.  I was upset that they were so delayed in responding to my family’s needs, despite the fact that we made it clear that we had a little child with us.  Perhaps a decade from now, a young family might have to be prepared to fend for themselves in a similar situation, because many other emergency calls will take precedent given government’s diminished capabilities.  I think that given the current economic and to some extent the political trends, I should consider myself lucky that I received help, even if it came with much delay.  If this will happen a decade from now to someone else, I am no longer certain that they will still benefit from the same services that we received.

The Kia dealership:

            The police officer who picked us up told me that the town of Anderson has a Kia dealership, so he suggested I make arrangements to have it towed there so they can help me out.  I took the officer’s advice, so after we settled in the hotel and put my son to sleep, I went to deal with the car.  I got a tow truck (the one we called when the car broke down never showed up), and I arranged to have it taken to the dealership.

            Now, many of you may be thinking after reading about the failure of government services to provide prompt service that a shrinking government may not be such a bad thing, because many of the things they do can be replaced by private enterprise services. Which as we are constantly told, are more efficient, due to competition and the need to satisfy the customers, in order to gain their appreciation and loyalty.  If my experience with this particular Kia dealership is anything to go by, I have to say that, as bad as the reaction of government seemed in the preceding example, this one actually makes them look good.

            I started calling the dealership at eight in the morning to let them know about the need to have the car looked at.  I told them the situation we were in, and begged them to try their best to get us back on the road as soon as possible.  The gentleman I talked to from the service department assured me that they are very busy on that Friday morning, but they will do their best look at it, and they will get back to me, in order to let me know what is wrong with the car (my guess is that it was either the fuel pump, or the ignition).

            I waited and hoped to hear from them that morning, but there was no call back.  I called again, and again, and again and pleaded with them, but they kept on telling me that there was nothing they could do, because they were extremely busy.  Half the time when I called no one picked up, so the answering machine did so instead, the recording reminding me every time that I must have this solved as soon as possible, because they were closed for the weekends. 

            Finally, we decided that we cannot afford to be stranded there for the weekend, or perhaps even worse, depending on whether they would have the necessary spare part in order to address whatever problem the car had.  We started looking for alternatives.  I called a few other shops to see whether they could take it in quickly, but most seemed more interested in going for lunch.  We then decided that we have to consider abandoning the car.  We called around, and found a rental car, and we decided to get it, and continue on our trip.  We arrived in the new car at two in the afternoon, and sure enough, the car was still waiting to be looked at after six hours.  We got all our things from our car, and packed them into the rented one, and then I went to talk with them.  The garage doors were wide open, and I could only see one car on a ramp.  There was dead silence in there, so not exactly what one might expect to see given the description I received on the phone of their busy repair schedule.  I went into the service department’s office area, where I found two employees talking and laughing (they were the loudest thing happening in the garage area, aside from the cheesy music).  When I told them who I was, they repeated their claim that they were just so darn busy, but they will do their best to look at my car as soon as possible in order to find out what is wrong with it, all the while grinning into my face.  At that point, I told them not to bother, because we made arrangements to have the car picked up by a charity.  I also told them that Kia lost me as a customer for life, at which point they arrogantly told me that it is my choice to make.

            So, as bad as the government’s response was to my situation, the response of private enterprise was definitely worse and more costly to me financially.  Not only did I have to abandon my car, but there is also the cost of the rental car, which is still what I am using currently, while I’m looking to buy another vehicle, which is an absolute necessity in order to get around in a typical North American town.  At the very least, it was not a very expensive car, because it was already eleven years old, and as I said it was a Kia, which is a good example of what I described in a previous article entitled “Disposable Cars”, which I wrote a few months back.  In the case of Kia, my conclusion is that not only did I own a very disposable car, since at eleven years old, it already had many issues, and the body of the car was rusted and falling off in large chunks, but their service just shortened the life of their product by maybe another two years.

            Now, if some may be tempted to reason that the Kia dealership incident may have been an example of an atypical occurrence when it comes to private enterprise, don’t be so quick to dismiss it.  The internet provider we made arrangements with to show up to our house, failed to show up on Monday.  We called them on Tuesday, and they pretended that we made a mistake, and we are in fact only scheduled to have them come out to the house on Wednesday.


            It has been trendy lately to criticize government, and dismiss the importance of many services they provide.  The argument that private enterprise can provide superior services at a more reasonable price has become the favorite slogan of those who wish to shrink government.  I have to say that from the experience I just had, private enterprise can easily outcompete government in how low the quality of a service can go.  The difference is that it is not so easy to hold a private company responsible.  We cannot vote them out, even though many may claim that consumer power can actually be more effective than the right to vote (I believe both are loosing their relevance).

            On moments like this, I cannot help but feel I am re-living a chapter of my life, I would much rather not have to go though again.  I was just a child when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, but certain memories are still very clear.  Among the things I remember very clearly was the way that people who worked in positions having to deal with the public, such as law enforcement officers, or store salespeople tended to be extremely rude, and careless.  After the collapse, one of the many lessons that capitalists felt they had to teach people there was about the importance of polite, courteous and helpful attitudes when dealing with a customer.  After the past week’s events, I am left wondering whether this society still remembers why it is important to our well-being to provide respectful, courteous and helpful input to a potential customer or solicitor of government services.  The effects of this cultural decay may not be felt instantly.  When we will reach a point when there will be no more trust, competence and order in our social behavior and professional interactions, and this will become the expected norm, we will join all other societies on this planet that lack these cultural and official institutions that make our economy stand above theirs, which is what provides us with the standard of living we have become accustomed to.


  1. You have discussed a very substantial matter here, Mr. Ban. I won’t aggravate any emotions already established either toward the government, or the private enterprises, by leaving a point of view which I choose to be left inexplicitly stated here. Rather, I would like to state my opinion regarding the customer service that the car manufacturer delivered to you. To say the service you received was unacceptable is the kindest way to describe it. I know it somehow struck them when you told them that they lost you as their customer for life. You learned your lesson; they had theirs.

    Isabella Pospisil

    1. Thanks for the comment. I wish I could believe that they were "struck" by my statement, but I don't believe it had that effect at all. The employees I dealt with, were completely unmoved from beggining to the end. If I were to tell someone in higher management at Kia, that their customer service at one of the dealerships has caused them to loose a customer permanently, not to mention the side effects of the word of mouth effect, they might care. The employees at that particular Kia dealership in Anderson, SC do not feel in any way disadvantaged in this case, so why would they care? Perhaps If I would have raised a bigger stink about it.
      As for my emotions; no worries, I am OK! Our car is going to be auctioned off by a charity we contacted in regards to the matter, so someone less fortunate will hopefully gain a small benefit out of the ordeal.