The wheels on the bus

(For Jenna Snow.)

Brother returned to Retirement Acres one afternoon, tired from a day of slogging tires. It was his job, see: to sell reproduction tires for vintage cars. Chez Auto was easily one of his best customers.

“Do we have anything to drink here?” he asked. I looked up from my book, my finger on the line so 426 wouldn’t lose his place.

“Are you aware there’s a ninja cat on your back?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. He thinks he’s winning.”

“You look like you’ve been ambushed.”

“It’s been a week. Is Dad still keeping the “coffee” in the cabinet with the big pots?”

We shared a Coke and whatever was in the stock pot while he poured out his week.

It hadn’t started so bad.

“Retirement Tires, to whom am I speaking today?”

“Brian,” the man said. “I have a customer number.”

“Perfect! Let me just…I see we’re having a system malfunction.”

“You’re not,” the man sighed.

“You’re Brian Setzer? Like, actual Brian Setzer? The band leader?”

“Yeah dude. Thanks for asking!”

“Do you have the wrong number?”

“I have a ’56 Chevy. Can you help me out?”

The next day, Brother was obligated to bring a car from Chez Auto on which to mount a new set of tires a company had sent as a sample.

“Whaddya think, kid?” the Owner asked, admiring the handiwork of his garage crew.

“I think it’s never looked better,” Brother answered.

“Me too. All right. Load it on the truck, Andrew!”

“Wait–truck? What? Where are you taking my car? Uh…sir.”

“Indy, son. We’ll bring it back after the race.”

But it was more than a month until the annual running of the Indy 500.

“Yeah, we’ll need you to go there two weeks in advance to start selling the tires. Pack a bag.”

Which was how he found out he was going on an extended business trip. Calling home to tell Dad he had inadvertently sent a car to another state for the better part of a month was a conversation that did not go well. And also why he was here, cleaning the ninja cats out of their forward base. He reeked of Bactine and despair.

“How did we get from the Stray Car Strut to you drinking Dad’s stash?” I asked.

“There’s this customer,” he said slowly, choosing his words carefully. “He’s…he’s that guy. Has an ’81 Pontiac that he insists is an antique. I’ve shipped him six sets of tires so far this month.”

“That seems excessive, but also like it might get you a bonus.”

“I snapped today,” he admitted, shaking a ninja cat from the seat. “Because he just called one time too many to complain about our shipping group. I mean, I know they spend a lot of time inhaling packing material fumes, but they’re good guys. They work hard. I just couldn’t believe they’d sent him five wrong sets of tires.”

He sipped from his drink, which was rapidly eating through the cup anyway, staring off into the sun.

“You ordered a set of 20″ wheels with mounted tires,” Brother said, pulling up the order. “That’s what you’ve ordered every time. And yet you keep returning them.”

“Y’all ain’t sent the right ones yet!” The man explained. Loudly. “I don’t see how you stay in business! Ever one of them sets you sent me is too big!”

They went through this five times before my brother paused, struck by an awful possibility.

“Are you measuring the total product?” my brother asked, hitting the button on the speaker. This customer had passed through the sales group like…well, like something noxious and unpleasant. Let’s just leave it at that. Everyone gathered around, for nobody had ever wanted to deal with the Burt Reynolds wannabe more than once.

“This tire,” he shouted, “and this wheel are too big! Ain’t no Firebird ever had a 35″ wheel and tire! Imma look like an idiot!”

“Are you…are you measuring around the outside of the whole assembly? Like, the perimeter of the tire?”

The two salesmen on either side of him exchanged a look.

“Pay up,” the one on the left demanded. “Twenty.”

“Well ever how else would you measure it, dumbass?” The customer demanded.

“Hold please,” my brother said, mashing the mute button with a ferociousness usually reserved for faulty ATMs. “Do we tell him? Or do we just keep sending him new tires every week?”

“He’s never going to believe us,” the sales force agreed. “But Big Lou from Shipping offered to go out there himself if this guy called again complaining they’d shipped the wrong tires.”

Which is how four sales people spent an afternoon explaining the ins and outs of tire sizes to an incensed customer who needed 17″s at best.

“I think I’m going to retire,” my brother said.

“Even the ninja cats think that was lame,” I said. They hate bad puns.

“Next time,” he said. “Next time, we box up two ninja cats and send them too. And that will take care of that problem.”

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