Learning Their Places the Hard Way

Teenagers are a funny bunch, and freshman are always the most comical. Over my lifetime, I’ve been one and have watched many classes of them during 30 years as a teacher. They arrive at high school “wet behind the ears” but act as if they are seasoned veterans. It doesn’t take long before those new high school students learn the truth.
Always in a new class are at least a couple of goofballs. They draw attention to themselves by trying to be funny. Any laughter that their antics or comments generate comes as snickers about how moronic those goofballs are acting. Still, these attention seekers believe that even negative reinforcement is better than none at all.
Other new-to-high school males or females try to survive by acting tough. They strut and smirk and sneer. Little do they know that persons tougher than they are also walk the halls of the school. I vividly recall a freshman in my class all those years ago who brought his mean act and tough attitude to school. He displayed them one day in the smoking pit that was located in a corner next to the gym and in front of the shop class windows. He smarted off one to many times. With lightning quickness, a senior put a halt to the freshman’s cockiness as he punched him squarely in the eye. The impact sound like two cinder blocks slamming together. The younger boy’s face became a grotesque combination of swelling and blood. He retrieved his bent glasses and struggled to put them on his bruised face. From that time on, he exhibited a bit more humility in the smoke hole and didn’t try to tangle with seniors who were much bigger and stronger than he was.
Only a handful of freshmen boys dare to approach female upperclassmen. Doing so is considered an affront to the girl, something that senior boys are about to let happen without consequences. The older males step up to become the girl’s champions and meet head-on the offending party. A group of senior boys swoop down on the freshman and escort him to some terrible fate. Sometimes it might entail the pushing of a penny with the nose down a long hallway. I’ve also heard of incidents where the ninth grader received a “swirly.” That’s when seniors hold him upside down, dunk his head in a toilet, and flush. At the old Karns High School, especially egregious act lead to the boy being escorted to the banks of the creek. There he experienced the “Beaver Creek Plunge.” The seniors grabbed his arms and legs, began swinging him, and on the count of “3” let him go so that he splashed into the water. That dunking into the creek cooled the passionate heart and underscored to the underclassmen the limits he faced.
I was in yet another group. Like too many freshmen, I traded in studying habits that I’d developed in elementary school for a life of laziness that ignored classwork. Grades tumbled quickly, and I scrambled to come up with a good explanation on grade day. Too many other activities demanded my attention, and they were much more entertaining than studying algebra or science. Soon enough, reckoning day arrived, and a summer spent in school to erase failing grades replaced the freedom that loafers like me craved so much.

By the time midyear arrived, most freshman settled into the high school experience. They learned the unwritten rules of conduct in the large social setting and consequences for violating them. Freshmen began feeling comfortable in their own skins and with their own groups. They knew that in just a few months the harassment by upperclassmen would cease as a new class of “fresh meat” arrived for a new school year.  In the blink of an eye, they became the seniors who enforce those rules by which first year students must abide. It’s all part of new students learning their places high school during those tough teenage years. 


I’ve become a millennial! It happened without my knowing what was happening. My reason for saying this is that I’m changing part time jobs again. After almost a year at Toyota of Knoxville, my body is aching from the walking on concrete all day long. If I could survive that one thing, no change would be necessary. My time at the place has certainly showed me that the service department employees work hard to please.
Nothing is any better than getting reacquainted with a best friend. Billy Hayes is the Director of
Service at Toyota of Knoxville, and as I’ve discussed many times before, we coached our sons in baseball for years and developed a strong friendship through it. The best part of my job there was
spending time with him as we laughed, fussed, and sometimes cussed.
I knew Billy was a good body shop business man. What I witnessed firsthand is that he simply has exceptional skills that make him one of the strongest business leaders around. He works to keep employees happy. He is a member of management, but Billy is never afraid to jump in to help porters, service advisers, or body shop technicians. On more than one occasion, he’s rolled up his white shirt sleeves and fixed a vehicle problem.
I also learned that the folks who work in the service center are some of the hardest working individuals in any business. Service advisers spend much of their time writing up orders and answering customers’ questions and complaints. Oil techs and mechanics work tirelessly to provide services that please customers and to diagnose and fix problems with vehicles. The mechanics attend classes to earn certification in multiple areas. A car owner can feel a bit more at ease that his or her car is under the care of someone who has the experience and skills to solve problems.
I worked as a porter, a fancy name for a car mover. My buddies and I began work around 7 a.m. and worked long hours. The job doesn’t sound that difficult, does it? You’re right…to a degree. However, porters move cars to different areas of the property for work, then they move them to the car wash, and then they bring them out for waiting customers. By the end of the day, a porter who works hard can walk as much as twelve miles without ever leaving the Toyota lot.
Another surprise concerned customers. Many are kind folks who are patient with the staff and find ways to occupy themselves as services are being completed. An astonishing number of customers arrive at the center in a bad mood, and that negative attitude grows while they wait. I’ve watched too many people verbally attack employees over prolonged waiting time, even though the vast majority of complainers didn’t have appointments. Some irate individuals accuse workers of stealing possessions in their cars and maintain those accusatory tones even after video proof contradicts their statements.
Dealerships are driven by surveys. Called CSI’s (customer service index), these surveys are sent to folks who have visited the dealership for service. The kicker with these tools is that they aren’t fair at all. If a person finishes his visit at the center, thinks he’s received average service, and gives a score in the 70’s or 80’s, he has unwittingly assigned a failing score. Anything below a 90 is a terrible grade, and most of the time, an acceptable CSI score to management in the company is 100. Try to remember that the next time you grade a dealership’s service department.
I know that mistakes happen when car services are provided. That comes when humans are working. However, a customer who loses his temper is making a bad situation worse. A better approach would be to talk with the service department manager and to come to some kind of understanding. Maybe a better solution would be for the customer to go to a different dealer.

All in all, I’ve gained a healthy respect for the folks who take care of cars. They work hard and try to provide excellent service. From now on, I’ll be much more patient and understanding of what is going on at the places where I shop. As for the workers in the Toyota of Knoxville service center, I salute them and the work they do and say thanks for your kindness to me. I’ll miss you guys.