What’s the difference between living in Seattle and in South Carolina? Here’s one…


Business in Seattle

I’m still getting used to life in South Carolina. Oftentimes I think I’m in another country where we all sprechen Anglais. To wit, and I still shake my head when I see it: here’s what happens when you phone a maintenance man in Seattle;

  1. Seattle_plumbersBy maintenance man, I mean a human being. Really? You think that only a man can fix a sink? Put your 1940 stereotypes away. It’s a new century.
  2. When you call, you are given a day and time when a representative will stop by. To look at the job and to work-up a bid. No work will ensure before the paperwork is completed and agreed to.
  3. On the agreed-to day, and probably while they are en route, the rep will phone to confirm that you are home and expecting them. You likely have already received a call from their office that morning to confirm that the rep is coming and to double check on the hour. If at any time you don’t or can’t pick up the phone then your appointment will be dropped. Learn your lesson here. You may think that you’ve hired a company and that the customer is always right. Miss a phone call and you’ll learn that they don’t see things quite like you do.
  4. Once at your house, the rep will make sure that you are home and then look over the job. In many cases, and if it’s simple enough, they give you a written bid on the spot. It’s possible that you’ll need a law degree to read this piece of paper. No work has been done yet. But rest assured that every minute spent on your potential job so far is accounted for.
  5. You’ll receive a phone call the next day from the office wondering if you have questions about the bid. If not, then you can set up an appointment. This can be from a week to several months out. It’s possible that a down payment will be asked for.
  6. On the scheduled start of work day, you’ll receive an office call and a call from the crew that they are on the way.
  7. When the crew arrives, they make sure that you are home.
  8. They do the work, hopefully without you watching. People aren’t supposed to intrude on other people. And these are experts.
  9. When done, they go over the fine points with you, hopefully with the work order in hand. “We did this, this, and this. And if you’ll get on your knees, you can see that we did this, too. And the paint will probably be wet until tonight. Don’t touch it until the morning.”
  10. Immediate payment is expected. Any card will work.
  11. The crew cleans up, leaves, and you check it out again.
  12. You get a call in the morning to see if everything was finished correctly and per the bid. If yes, then everyone is happy. If you’re not sure then this is your opportunity to squawk. They will listen and probably make good per your conversation

I’ve seen this more times than I can remember. And it’s the milieu that every craftsperson has to work within. If they don’t, then they’re probably a low-down huckster, likely out to steal the rims off your Tesla, and probably from the South.

Business in the South

I’ve lived in South Carolina now for six years and laugh every time we hire someone to do something for us. It always follows the same pattern:

  1. By maintenance man or craftsman, I mean a man ninety-nine times out of a hundred. A woman can certainly repair a sink but why should she when there’s a man around? What’s wrong with you?
  2. You are given a day when they can stop by. And maybe a time but both the day and time are fluid. And by fluid, I mean ‘sometime before next Christmas.’
  3. The crew shows up whenever they can make it. Maybe on the day, maybe during the same week, and maybe during the month. Who knows? They’ll be there when they are there. Why are you being so pushy?
  4. You see men swarming in your backyard. They seem to be working on the pool that you called about six-weeks ago. You yell out to them to see if they’re from the pool company. They are. Yes, they noticed that the gate was locked. No big deal. They jumped the fence.
  5. They finish up without input from you. You’ll have a bit of clean-up to do but everything seems to work.
  6. In another four weeks, you get a bill.

Two Experiences

As you can see, in Seattle there are twelve steps to completion. In the South, there are only six. This is a very likely reason that the cost in the South is half of that in Seattle.

My wife and I have lived thorough this scenario twice and we’ve come to expect it. The first time was with an actual pool company. We called to have some work done and they said, over the phone, “Okay, got you on the list.”

Never to be duped, I asked, “How long should it take?”

“About half a day.”

“No. How long will it take to get to us on the list?”

She was a little nonplused. “I’m not really sure. I guess as long as it takes Joe to get the other jobs done.” She was clearly confused by my question and probably put the phone down and said something about damned Yankees.

I few weeks later, my wife noticed a guy working on he pool. In the backyard. Behind the locked gate.

“Are you Joe?” she shouted from behind the back door.

“Yup. Didn’t want to bother you so I just jumped the fence to get back here.

And that was that. The guy lives and breathes swimming pools. In short order, ours was fixed and up and running and Joe was gone. Now my wife has made friends with him since he loves playing with our Sheepadoodle and, to my wife, this is akin to doting on our children. Anytime that we make a call to the pool store he’ll come by and usually take care of the problem on the spot. And pet the dog. And leave without telling. It’s not big deal. We’ll get a bill when the office get around to it.

Just today I had a guy come by to fix our garage door. Great guy. I called him last week and he arrived then without notice on the same day. We decided on the right path forward and he said that he would have a crew here to next day. This is five days ago. I phoned him today and he explained that he thought he had the parts that were needed but had to order them. Being from Seattle, I thought, why didn’t you phone me to tell be that? But now, on the phone, he said that he would be over right away and see what they could do without parts.

I was working in my office and heard the next door dog barking and knew just what had happened. I went outside to find four guys disassembling my garage door. By the time I got there, they had figured out the problem and fixed it. The guy that I called took me aside. “Dennis? I’ve got your parts on order. We can come back and install them when they get here but you know what? I wouldn’t. It works fine. We just made some adjustments and oiled this up a bit and now everything works like butter. Tell you what…” He’s got a big grin. “Let’s leave this as it is. I’ll fix it with new parts if you want but I wouldn’t. I’ll keep the parts coming in and if you have any more trouble with the door, you call me. Whadya think?”

“Sounds great to me,” I said.

“And I’ll send you a bill for eighty-five bucks. Fair?”

Fair? I saw four guys in the garage. And parts spread all over. And two fancy service trucks. How can you make money at eighty-five buck for doing this?

“Fair enough,” I said.

I told my wife about it; she’s more of a Satellite than it am. “You know what?” she said. “In the South you just believe that it’s going to get done. And we probably go to church with his daughter.”


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