Front Brakes Shakedown

Small Justices

Our regular mechanic said my front brakes were down to 30%.

“How long can I drive on them?”

“Depends on how many miles. Most people can go a month, maybe more.”

“Take it to one of those places that specialize in brakes,” said my husband. “It’ll be less expensive.

Or so you’d think.

I pulled into the parking area early one morning and spied an eager male face through the glass door.

“I need my front brakes replaced.”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ll give you a diagnostic inspection. You can wait right there while we do it.”


Twenty minutes later, my cars hung in midair, hood up, stripped of all its tires. It looked so pitiful. I felt as if it were saying, “How could you subject me to such indignity? What did I ever do to you?” The eager man pointed out all that ailed my poor car. Interesting, since two weeks prior our mechanic reported the car to be in good health, except for the front brakes.

“I just want the front brakes replaced.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll just get you an estimate.”

More waiting.

The eager man summons me to a computer screen boasting a staggering array of jargon. “You’ll get A done and then Q and then we’ll M and finish up with Z.” He pointed to a number on the far side of $700—$763, if my memory serves.

I stared at the total, which far exceeded the amount we’d spent on the back brakes. “I’ll need to make a phone call.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I stepped outside and phoned my husband. “What!?!” was his response to the estimate. “No. Tell them to put it back together. We’ll go somewhere else.”
Back inside. “Just put the car back together. We’ll take it elsewhere.”

Raised eyebrows. A mouth opens and closes. Finally, “Now we can just do those pads, if you like.”

Ah. Now.

“No, thank you. I’m more comfortable taking it elsewhere.”

“Okay, ma’am.”

He exits to the garage. Tells the Faginesk character who’d earlier claimed my key: “Just put it back together. She don’t want it done.”

I imagined heads shaking sagely, maybe an eye roll or two. More waiting. Very uncomfortable waiting. At last Fagin presents me with my key and, smiling, tells me he tried to put my seat back where I’d had it (We do what we can for you diminutive females, his tone implied. I’m 5’7”.)

“Thank you,” I manage. As I head out the door, the eager man shouts, “You have a nice day now, ma’am.”

Later my husband says, predictably and accurately, “It’s because you’re a woman.”

I’d entered the brakes shop sporting two breasts (of average size and discretely covered) and was seen as a cash cow to be milked. I hate the injustice of it, of knowing that had my husband entered, tall of stature and deep of voice, he’d have received the service he requested. I hate being dependent his testosterone to maintain a safely drivable vehicle. I hate being eyed either appreciatively or speculatively. I hate feeling inadequate, foolish, and less than. I hate it because it’s unjust. Because mechanics should do their job for each client, not look for ways to fleece ones they perceive to be the hapless lambs of the flock.

So—four stars to our usual mechanic and four rotten tomatoes to Eager and Fagin. In the future do your job. Listen to your clients. Treat each person as you’d like to be treated by a professional in another field. If you arrive at the hospital needing an appendectomy, would you like the medical staff to sell you on a tummy tuck, upper and lower GI series, and a colon irrigation as well?

Didn’t think so.


In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. ~Albert Einstein


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