Waiting for Service

By Lindsey Townsend

Why is it that people who work in the home services industry--cable television installers, washer and dryer repairmen, carpet cleaners, and the like--continue to get away with showing up for an appointment whenever the heck they feel like it, totally inconveniencing the rest of us poor schmucks and ignoring the fact that we are trying desperately to plan our inconsequential little lives, too?

And before I get any furious letters from representatives of this fine industry vehemently denying this essential truth and insisting that their businesses run on schedule, let me say I do realize that there are service people out there who do what they say they’ll do and show up when they say they will. Research indicates there are three such people in the United States. If you’re one of them, congratulations. Skip this column and move directly on to the horoscopes.

I called my neighbor the other day to see if she wanted to catch a movie. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m being held captive in my house waiting for the air conditioner repairman to show up. He said he’d be here at 9.” It was 12:15. “I have to go now in case he calls. We don’t have call waiting, and I don’t want to miss him,” she said.

Maybe these guys just enjoy being in total control of your world for a day. Maybe they’re driving around the suburbs chuckling insanely to themselves, knowing that until they show up, life stops at your house. You’re afraid to go to the bathroom, take a shower, or run out for milk. Thinking about getting your oil changed, shopping for lamps, or going to Target this weekend? Forget about it, until they decide they’re ready to see you. It’s the ultimate power trip.

Hey, here’s an idea. Try this little experiment. The next time your boss schedules a 9:00 meeting, just blow it off. He doesn’t really mean 9:00, does he? Just stroll in around oh, 2:30 or 3:00. And don’t bother to call, of course. See how well that goes over in the real world.

It’s clear that these people are lacking two essential career skills: time management and communication. It seems to me that after six months or so of doing a job you ought to have a pretty good idea of how long a particular appointment will take. And if you get behind schedule, well, what about that fabulous invention called the telephone? You can’t drive down I-35 without getting cut off in the merge lane by some idiot gabbing on his cell phone, but apparently the home services people are unaware that telephones are widely available to the public. Hey, here’s a radical idea. How about calling BEFORE you’re late to say that you’re behind schedule, instead of three hours after you’re supposed to show up?

This week the satellite installer promised me he’d be at my house Friday afternoon-anytime after 2:00. (I really pinned him down.) I arranged my entire day to be home at that time. At 5:00 he called to say gee, it didn’t look like he was going to make my house after all that day, but he could come out first thing-9:00-on Saturday. I should be grateful. He was one of the good ones. He called at 10:00 on Saturday to say he’d be there in 30 minutes. As I write this, it’s 11:09…no sign of him yet.

I wonder what it’s like to be married to one of these guys. Do they say they’ll be home for dinner at 6:30 and then just wander in a couple of days later? Do they tell their 10-year-old they’ll pick him up at 4:00 for the soccer game and then leave him waiting forlornly with his soccer ball in the hallway, running to the window every time a car drives by? Do they tell their friends they’ll see them at 8:00 for the party and then show up at 2:00 a.m. when the keg is tapped out?

Here’s another idea. Maybe the next time the tile installer shows up at 4:00 instead of 1:00, you should say, “Hey, good to see you. Listen, I was just about to run out to the store. Can you wait here a few minutes? I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I sincerely hope none of these people have a mid-life crisis and decide to become airplane pilots or bus drivers. Maybe that’s what’s behind all of our transportation problems, after all. The next time your plane is sitting at D/FW with a two-hour delay that turns into six hours, find out if any of the airport management used to be furniture deliverers, plumbers, tile installers or dishwasher repairman. If they did, you’d better pick up a copy of War and Peace and find a comfy chair. You’re going to be there awhile.