Thoughts while sitting at the Honda dealership, waiting for the Element.

When I wax euphoric about the new generation of small cameras I have one little wince somewhere in my brain that wonders, "Why didn't they set the market on fire 40 years ago?"
I'm sure I'll be blind-sided by some glitchy "gotcha." 

Taking your car in for routine maintenance puts you in touch with the rest of humanity.  At least the part of humanity that can own cars and get them repaired.  And it brings me out of my little compound in west Austin to mix and mingle with the other fine citizens in the waiting "lounge."  Most are well over 40 years old and are doing exactly what I'm doing.....reading stuff on their laptops and iPads or typing stuff on same.  Several very plump women get intermittent cellphone calls and their ring tones are annoyingly cloying.  They talk in sing-songy voices to whoever has called and make little to no effort to moderate the volume of their voices.  I am now listening to an older woman talk about her upcoming surgery and radiation therapy.  In the next breath she's explaining that she's having her oil changed.  But I think she means the oil in her car.

In one corner of the waiting area the dealership has mercifully glassed in a play area for small children.  I can only guess that it's a lab for infectious diseases.  Inside the play zone today are four children under the age of four and they are currently having a contest to see who can scream the loudest while slamming plastic toys against one of the glass walls.  One mother has abdicated all responsibility and is staring, empty and resigned, at the screen of her smartphone as if it will provide the equivalent of a Star Trek transporter and deliver her from the maelstrom.  The other mother rocks back and forth and occasionally tries to intercede in whatever "Animal Farm" contest of hierarchical ranking the savage children have devised.  People outside the glass shake their heads and look back at their screens.  I keep writing.

Once in a while a "service advisor" named Craig or Chip or Steve or Armando comes up and calls out a name.  Then it becomes a "luck lottery" for the designated customer.  Will it be the "all clear", your car is ready?  Or will it be the dreaded pronouncement, usually delivered bent over to show the documentation to the seated customer, "....we found a few things that you really need to take care of...."?

The room goes quiet for a few minutes and all you can hear is the tapping of keyboards and the labored breathing of the larger customers.  The silence is broken by the person from the dealership who asks, "Does anyone need a shuttle ride this morning?"  And then all hell breaks loose as the four, three year olds resume a chaotic, tag team, death match in the almost-but-not-quite soundproof child and parent detention zone.

When I arrived today my young service writer noticed the camera hanging over my shoulder (really? would you go anywhere without your camera?) and asked me what I do for a living.  In retrospect I might have said that I spend most my time ensconced in very quiet neighborhood, with my wife and studious son, far away from the sturm und drang of fluxing humanity, but I admitted to being a "photographer."  He asked if I had a website. (Really, do I look that old?) I showed him some work.  We talked about my camera. He seemed pleasant.  Maybe he won't find the dreaded "few things you need to take care of..."

I write this with a sense of re-engaged wonder.  I spend far too much time sitting in my office on my little plot of land.  It's only 600 square feet of white space but it's comfortable and when I look out the window from my desk all I can see is trees and lantana and, occasionally deer.  Tulip (my dog) keeps track of the perimeter, between naps at my feet.  The only time I interface with people (other than swimmers and family)  is when I willingly seek out friends or when I make appointments and venture out from my hide to talk to people about work and projects.  I go to the same coffee shops because I've found the ones where the customers are the most civilized (unusually silent) and the employees most civil.  I have been accused by my assistants of never wanting to leave my zip code.  But that's not true.  I like to get out.  But there's something about mixing with a general cross section of society that makes me uneasy.  Almost as if I've dodged some sort of bullet (or more likely a barrage) and I should be thankful.  Instead I'm always looking for the next contingent of snipers.

But I share the same feelings for the idea of having a conventional job.  To be constrained to be in the same place for x hours every day and to have to interface with people chosen at random by someone else seems to be an odd trade for the non-secured promise of security.  I am probably an anomaly.  Most people probably enjoy getting out there and mixing it up.  Why then do they look so joyous when the service advisor calls their name and they shuffle off toward the payment counter, anxious to gain the isolating freedom of their cars?

Yesterday I got a package in the mail from someone I never met.  I'd exchanged two e-mails but never so much as talked on the phone.  The package contained three proprietary circuit boards.  A terse note about angles and technical parameters was enclosed.  I photographed them.  I retouched them and then uploaded huge files to their FTP server.  This morning my invoice was settled with a Paypal deposit.

No driving.  No parking.  No meetings.  What a wonderful way to do business.  And it reinforces the idea that we evolved to spend hours alone, tracking and hunting our food.  We spent tens of millions of preparatory years to run for hours after our prey and then to drag it home to share with a select few.  Even in sales meetings today I hear the phrase, "You only get to eat what you kill."  But it's a false admonition because what they really mean is, "Show up and plow and we'll share a tiny bit of the harvest with you...."

So, I got off light today.  I knew I needed to have the fluids and filters replaced and I knew that I needed to have a leaky strut replaced but I feared the words, "brakes" and "transmission."  When the service writer knelt next to the table where I was writing (and eating up their kolaches and swilling their coffee) he looked serious.  He told me the only thing they'd found was that my wiper blades all needed to be replaced.  Another fusillade of bullets dodged.  Now back to the isolating freedom of my car.  Who were all those people?


kirk tuck said...

I'll save you the time and trouble, "That Kirk Tuck is an elitist pig."

Jim A. said...

Your description of what I euphemistically refer to as "free range parenting" had me practically rolling on the floor laughing. Thanks for that. I too have a job that allows me a great deal of freedom and fear the day I may have to go back to working in the "real world". It's good to know that not everyone is stuck in a cube somewhere silently toiling away for their share of the harvest. Keep up the great blogging. I was saddened but understanding when you tried to bail out a while back, I'm glad you're back.

Ernest Theisen said...

What a wonderful, funny read. I felt like I was sitting right by you while waiting for our cars. I am so glad I found this site, thanks to Mike at TOP.

Unknown said...

I have always thought airports take this concept to the extreme. At risk of also sounding elitist, I am consistently amazed by what I see in the security lines and waiting lounges. At least it makes me realize I spend most of my time in a thin slice of predominantly self-curated reality.

I need to get out more.

John said...

Amusing. :)

Myself, if I am not off and running around the city snapping photos and being 45 minutes late for a 15 minute oil change, I take to chatting up the less busy mechanics. Could have something to do with my subdued automotive affinity, though. ;)

Jeff N said...


Love this post and as a long time, quiet reader I'm glad you're back.

I've made the "non-secured" trade of x number of hours constrained in the same place. Not happy that's where my time goes…I'd rather be writing poetry or taking photographs (in that order, and I"m good at both) so I live vicariously through columns like this.

Your insight on evolving to spend hours alone, tracking prey and sharing with a few is profound, refreshing and inspiring. I've read 80% of the [american] population are extroverts. And how often are "new media" justified by claiming to fit our evolution into social creatures. Somehow "we are tribal" gets translated into a requirement to plug in. Tribes are family sized, yet now we speak of them in terms of 500 million "users".

Sigh. Isolated freedom. Somewhere there's a poem in there. Maybe even a photo.

Thank you.

typingtalker said...

Two trips to the Honda dealer ago (Element), I looked at the new cars I wasn't going to buy, figured out how to work the Starbucks coffee maker and sat down with my book to ignore the local, eternally sappy local TV news readers. Just as the coffee cooled to drinking temp, the service writer came in with my bill. All done. No cavities.

12 minutes.

Last time it was 1200 bucks. I left -- a loser in a loaner.

Peter F. said...

That was a very fun read. And I lust for the camera you pictured at the top. Not sure about the segway, but I guess it doesn't really make any difference. Or, was that the camera you had over your shoulder?

I'm feeling lucky when it comes to car service. My son is a mechanic at our local Toyota dealership.... With the record breaking snow we got here in Mass. over the weekend, I'll be going in for snowtires this week. Bet you don't have to do that. LOL.

Patrick Dodds said...

Nice one Kirk - kid obs made me smile!
("Sturm" I think though, not "strum":)

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, I've spent time in that same waiting room over on West Koenig Lane, and I can certainly relate to your story - but I haven't yet experienced the kids in the playroom. (It's usually deadly quiet - I can't even hear the dang TV news...).

Anyway, here I sit in my same old office. Just got out of a meeting with some nice guys that I personally didn't choose to spend my days with. Wishing I was outside on this gorgeous fall afternoon walking around with my camera. Thanks for reminding me about that.... :-)

Markus Spring said...

Thanks, Kirk. Now I know that I am not alone with that kind of feelings. (Note to myself: It seems one can be a successful photographer without jumping to make friends with every stranger, it seems. Reassuring...)

obakesan said...

a conversation yesterday with a co-worker identified at least one reason why it didn't take off.

Cameras are in the "consumer market" seldom about image quality and predominately about the image or style you create having it.

The person in question felt better about lugging around a huge elderly Nikon DSLR, not because it made better images, not because it was providing better operational functionality; but because it looked like the right stuff and she felt better using it.

She liked the heft, she liked the "professional look" and felt good using it.

If it happens to take good images as a side issue that's handy too

john r said...

Kirk, Kirk, Kirk.....
Your not 'elitist'

Hey, you walked right into that one.

Re; Failure of the Pen F to takeover the world. Well the story I've come across was that Kodak and others did not support half frame processing including slides until too late. If that true it's too bad. Since 1972 I've always had VF Pens and shortly after bought a couple of used Pen F's. Still have and use a Pen F and 20, 38, and 100mm lenses. Also have a 50~90 but it is a little big to haul around with the kit.

G. said...

Great story, perfect for a lunchbreak read. I ticked all three reaction boxes today.

I realised a long time ago that the security of employees is non-secured, so I became a freelancer. But since I mostly work on large projects for large companies for long periods of time, I still have a very employee-like working life (with a personal desk/phone/workstation at the client's offices). Except that I get to ask for a bigger chunk of the harvest because of my non-secured freelancer status. And when I want a day off, I don't need to ask or beg, just to "let them know" - and nobody's counting my days off.

Best of both worlds really - never regretted my jump into the big void of employment insecurity :-)

Bold Photography said...

Funny how you've misspelled "Ferrari"

Low Budget Dave said...

When I go to such places, I often make a point to bring my son with me. He helps remind eveyone in the room how lucky they are. Some feel fortunate to have dodged that particular bullet; I feel lucky that I did not.

Sometimes I take the trouble to explain his behavior, but most times I just sit back and enjoy.

I took up photography as part of my quest to take a good picture of him. I still have not succeeded, but I am coming closer.

It is a rough world out there, and I try to explain to him that he will come away bruised and confused, but it will be worth the trouble.

Sam said...

I wanted to hear about the Pen F!

dd-b said...

I could easily be wrong, but I think that the tradeoffs of half-frame cameras (and pocket instamatic and disk cameras) were just too drastic in image quality, at the time.

And if that's right, then they have a much better shot this time around. Yes, a micro four-thirds won't match a Nikon D3x -- but almost nobody, even among professionals, needs the quality from a Nikon D3x. They blow 35mm film completely away (unless you care mostly about resolution and are using only the best lenses and shooting from a tripod and so forth and so on).

There was actually one time in the history of photography when quality won out over cost. Starting in the early 1980s, with the Canon Sureshot, the compact auto-focus 35mm cameras suddenly swooped in and blew the Pocket Instamatics and such out of the market. The earlier rangefinder 35mm cameras (Olympus 35RC, Canonet 17, that sort of thing) had not done so, they never caught on with the really casual shooter, probably because film loading wasn't automatic and you had to focus. But the AF ones with power wind and auto film load took over the snapshot market, even though they cost money. They only reason I can imagine for that is that people actually noticed how much better the pictures were.

Govis said...

If you're not under warranty, for most car repair issues it's better to find a good independent shop to do business with. The dealers do have some of the complicated electronic equipment that the indies don't have, but for standard maintenance and upkeep a skilled independent is often better than the dealership, where quality of care can vary greatly.

kirk tuck said...

I really like my Honda Dealer. They're fast, efficient and their prices are right on par with the independents. Their waiting room, kolaches, starbuck coffee, wi-fi and penned in kids area are all SO much better than anything offered by independents and they do most of my services in one or two hours if I make an appointment. The independents and other brands usually keep the car for a day and you have to go and come back and then your car is usually just becoming available at rush hour......there's another hour of your life lost.....

No, Govis. I disagree. Do it my way and you'll have more fun.

Robert Roaldi said...

This was such a pleasure to read.