Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2003   by Jim Anderson, Editor

Nothing but Distractions

I dropped into an independent shop last week, as I often do whenever I can and noticed a phenomenon unlike any I'd seen in this industry, and certainly as Editor of SSGM. The bays were abuzz, but not ...


I dropped into an independent shop last week, as I often do whenever I can and noticed a phenomenon unlike any I’d seen in this industry, and certainly as Editor of SSGM. The bays were abuzz, but not with the usual talk of tech, business, sports, and Subject Number One. It was war. I fact, the waiting area TV set was tuned to the ongoing coverage of the Iraqi war, and techs joined the service advisor (and customers) in staring at the blue tube for what seemed like hours, attempting to decipher the meaning of events halfway around the world. Meanwhile, a mystery pneumonia had hospitals closing and over a thousand people reportedly in self-imposed quarantine waiting for symptoms.

Media types have dubbed this the “CNN Effect”, as people hover around the set instead of living out their lives normally. Personally I’m tired of it all. There’s nothing remotely entertaining about people dying, whether it’s in the Iraqi desert or in a Toronto hospital bed, but there’s a magnetic pull to the often-compelling images coming from TV and the Internet. Get over it. The real issue, to me at least, is still the economy, and regardless of whether you feel Canada should be in Iraq or not, we aren’t. If people stay glued to their TV sets instead of working, shopping and getting their cars maintained and repaired, we’ll generate the recession that many experts are predicting in the aftermath of Iraq. Many independents are down slightly, but here in Toronto, it’s Chinese restaurants that are taking a beating. It’s so bad that one city councilor has announced that responsible Torontonians should go out for Chinese food to support the industry. Too bad he didn’t advocate a transmission flush or an alignment, too.

What’s really changed since this time a month or two ago? Fuel prices are a little higher, but gasoline is still the cheapest thing that I put into my car. My “In” box is still like Everest, and there is still no acceptable low fat substitute for sirloin steak. For every patient seriously ill with SARS, many more get well, often without any treatment at all. Yet some T.O. subway riders have been spotted wearing surgical masks. Want to guarantee a slow 1st half, 2003? Try to sell service to customers concerned that they’ll contract a deadly virus by shaking your hand. This isn’t panic or hysteria, but with the amount of hype surrounding both issues, there’s a chance, maybe small, but a chance nevertheless, that it could get there. I sincerely hope that this viewpoint is obsolete by the time you read this, but if Iraq and SARS are still all over the headlines, please ignore them, at least during the day. Want to minimize your risk of death? Quit smoking, and look both ways before you cross the street. We need to live our lives without needless panic, or else it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s enough horror under the hood in most Canadian bays without adding media hype to the mix.


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