This past Monday I had plans to do as much as I could in one of my garden plots but the day had plans of its own! I had dropped Maggie off at school and was heading to Kent to meet a Facebook friend at Kona Kai’s coffee shop but just before I got there, the van’s engine light started to flash off and on. Soon after, it was rattling so I continued to a parking spot just outside of the coffee shop and popped the hood so that I could check the oil. It was a little low but I dreaded that oil wasn’t the problem. Not more than 2 weeks ago, I had just taken the van in to have it checked out because the engine light had come on but it wasn’t flashing. The mechanic had cleaned up some oil he had found splashed on a spark plug and replaced it. After he worked on the van that day, the engine light went off but I was advised that if that light came back on, I would need to take it to a dealership to have it checked again as it could mean a more serious problem was on the way.
After my meeting at Kona Kai’s, I decided to head towards Auburn to the Hinshaw’s Honda dealership even though I had no money to even do a diagnostic but I knew I had to get the van off the road because it was too risky to keep driving around with a flashing engine light. I parked outside the dealership’s building and just sat there wondering what and where Maggie and I were going to go if we lost our only shelter and transportation. Unless I had the money to fix the van, it would have to be parked somewhere until I did and there was no guarantee of how long it would take to earn enough money to pay for expensive repairs let alone get enough donations to help pay for everything! On top of that, the dread of getting a ticket for parking too long in the wrong place or getting the van towed was starting to kick in. While I was in the middle of thinking about all this, I saw this brother walk by with a sheet of paper in his hands but he stopped in his tracks and looked over at me. I had the door open so he asked if I needed help. I said “Oh, I’m just here to see about getting a diagnostic on what’s wrong with this van but am stressed about being stranded.” He said his name is Jeremy but if it looked as though I were to be stranded, to come find him inside the dealership and he would help me out. I nodded and Jeremy went his merry way back inside the building.
Well, doing what I do, I got on Twitter and Facebook and started talking about the van’s flashing engine light and my anxiety over what would happen next because in all honesty, I had no idea! I was planning in my head the steps I would have to take to find a safe place to be that night should worse come to worse. In about an hour and a half, enough donations had come in to pay for a diagnostic so I drove the car up to the dealership’s intake doors and walked in. I told the folks at the front desk what I suspected was happening from the last time I had to bring the van in to a mechanic and they quoted me a lower diagnostic fee than the first time I had come in. I gave them the keys to van then went and sat in a quiet corner of the lobby at a small desk that was conveniently located near an outlet so I used it to charge my phone. After an hour then 2 hours went by, I could feel a migraine coming on and I knew if they hadn’t come out after 30 minutes, something was really wrong and it was gonna be expensive to fix. I hadn’t eaten that day but I had no appetite and I was getting nauseous. That’s when Jeremy walked past me but this time he turned and sat in the chair in front of me. I knew I looked pretty haggard and that’s probably why he asked what was going on with the van.
Up until he asked that, I was holding it together but I started to cry as I talked telling him that the van was my only transportation and shelter and if we lost that, I had no idea where we were going to go or do. I had absolutely no money to fix anything! Jeremy smiled then gently asked me how many kids I had and if I was the owner of the van. I said I own the van outright and I don’t owe anything on it because it was donated to me. Jeremy kept telling me not to worry and that he was one of the managers there but he would do everything he could to help me. He had something to do but he would be right back. I just sat there staring at the wall going over and over in my head about what I had to do if it turns out nothing could be done. True to his word, Jeremy came back and asked a few questions about the van then told me he was going into the shop to see if the mechanics in there had a verdict. He then looked from side to side to see if any of his co-workers were nearby (which they weren’t) then said in a low tone, “Sis, listen, don’t worry, ok? I will help you. See, I knew there must’ve been a reason I kept getting this feeling to ask you how you were and I’m glad I did. I know what it’s like, when I lost my job a few years ago and was in school, I had to live out of my car so please, don’t worry. I promise I will do what I can to help you out. If I can get you into a new car with no money out of your pocket, would that be something you’d be interested in?” Well yeah! I didn’t have any other options! “Ok”, said Jeremy, “let me see what they say is going on with your van.”
Jeremy disappeared for a few minutes and while he was gone, I went into the women’s restroom to splash my face and let out a few sobs. Once I felt like I had regained my composure I went back to where I was sitting and sat down to wait some more. Jeremy finally came back and said it was going to be a bit longer as the mechanics were trying to figure out what was wrong with the Odyssey’s electrical system and a coil on the 6th cylinder but the bad news is that replacing those coils were expensive but they did go ahead and wash the van for me. This was definitely not the news I wanted to hear but had a feeling something big was going out on the van even though it only had 48,000 miles on it. Jeremy then said, “Come on and hang out with me for awhile, I want to show you something.” I followed Jeremy out into the lot where some new cars were and he let me drive around in one of them. Personally, I think he was just trying to lift my spirits to distract me from having a panic attack and it worked! I wasn’t expecting to get a brand new car in exchange for the van but I needed something and I needed it fast!
When we got back to the office, Jeremy asked if I needed anything or wanted a refreshment from the coffee stand. I told him I had had enough caffeine but I did grab a couple of cookies mumbling that I hadn’t eaten yet that day. While Jeremy went to his office, I sat back down to recharge my phone and after another hour had went by, the service desk guy I gave my keys to came over and told me what they thought was going on with the van. Jeremy overheard the conversation then sat down in the same seat as before. “Ok sis, we gotta get you into a better vehicle so that you don’t have to worry about paying money that you don’t have on expensive repairs and I don’t like the idea of you and your kids being stranded on the side of a road somewhere for days at a time. Let me get some more info on your van and I’ll be right back.”
I called my teen to get her little sister from school as I wasn’t going to make it to pick her up on time. Jeremy came back with a handful of car keys and motioned for me to follow him out a different door of the building to walk across the street. He showed me a Kia and a Scion and talked to me about the cars but my attention kept going to the Scion with only 23,000 miles on it that came with a warranty. I told him I’d be interested in trading for that one because the tires were brand spanking new, it was a 2010 that looked like it had just come off the assembly line! We went back into the front office only this time I sat in the other lobby and waited. Jeremy introduced me to Ron Heath and said they would be buying me something to eat while they got the Scion’s paperwork ready and filled with gas. Ron brought me some food from Taco Time and Jeremy gave me some fruit they had in their break room.
Ron sat with me for a little while and even helped move my stuff that was in the van over to the Scion. Dang it! Just occurred to me I should’ve gotten a picture of Ron! Anyway, both Ron and Jeremy were excellent at customer service in my opinion and through the whole process, they never talked down to me in fact they were more supportive than anything else. If I could give them an award, I would! While I was sitting in the lobby, I had a chance to watch all the other staffers there and not once did I see any of them act less than professional and that tells a customer a lot! I’ve been in customer service for over 20 years and I have never seen such dedicated staff at a dealership in my life!
Now to some, dealerships are just shark tanks waiting to tank advantage of anybody who walks through the front doors and granted, there are some out there that do that but……I have to weigh my options because out here, there isn’t much wiggle room when you’re homeless. I could either keep the van and risk breaking down somewhere really inconvenient and fret about repairs I simply do not have the money to pay for or I can trade straight across for a newer car with better gas mileage and longevity. For me and my situation, trading a 2009 Honda Odyssey for a 2010 Toyota Scion was not just a better choice but a matter of meeting immediate survival needs. If I hadn’t of made the trade, I never would’ve made it to the caregiving job scheduled that night and the next day which was an opportunity to earn badly needed money!
Even as I’m writing this, I keep wondering what would’ve happened to us if Jeremy hadn’t stopped to see how I was doing. I keep wondering if me and Maggie would be sleeping on the bus right now. Jeremy and Ron went above and beyond their job descriptions and I hope the powers that be recognize the gems they have in these two guys. I do!
Thank you Jeremy, Ron and Hinshaw’s Honda of Auburn, Washington!