I get too attached. I’m not the exact opposite of a savvy consumer who does their research and makes an informed decision, but I’m maybe 45 degrees off. Poor Dave, when he recommended getting multiple bids for each bit of the kitchen job. All three HVAC guys? I loved them–-the super-nice one, the initially gruff one, and the one with the sketchy brother.
And the painters? Zen painter was absolutely my top choice, until I met cheap painter, who was clearly the way to go. I couldn’t imagine not hiring him until musician painter brought his dog and could start on Monday.
I won’t tell you about the floor sanders or the drywallers or the lovely tile ladies in two states or the many countertop people I’ve felt fully committed to, each in succession. I do try to stay neutral. I do want to save money and get value for the dollar. But every time I choose one product or service over another, I feel like I’m breaking an unspoken pact. All my detailed discussions with the unchosen contenders, all their good ideas, all the things I half-learned about their families, their lives, their dogs and assumed I’d learn the rest of when they came back to do the job, where do they go? I know that coming out and doing quotes is part of the job and I don’t owe them any more than my careful consideration. But still, I’m 45 degrees off.
For the stair runner, I was going to handle it differently. I’d worked with Company A when we lived in the condo and they were super nice, super affordable, super super. So instead of getting all tangled up with multiple quotes, I’d just use them and be done with it. I’d already been warned that stair runners are expensive, so as a savvy consumer I’d look at a range of samples and get an idea beforehand of the cost.
But something weird happened. I called and talked to a very nice person with whom I ended up having an extremely cordial email relationship, but all the while we kept misunderstanding each other. I heard myself asking for a rough estimate of how much a stair runner might cost, “13 treads, three winders, and two small landings,” I added helpfully. But what she heard was, “Please open a new account with some outrageously expensive stair runner provider so that you can bring me only four samples from their line and no others. And please don’t bore me with an estimate.”
I assumed the guy coming out was a sales rep who would bring lots of samples, like they did when we lived in the condo. The guy who came was not a sales rep, he was a stair runner installation master. He was so genuine and patient, he must have spent a half hour just measuring. He taught us all about how stair runners are measured, cut, and sewn together by hand. There for was no reason for him not to leave two of the four long-awaited samples, just so we could make sure we wanted the red over the eggplant. Even Dave got to meet him, and said the guy was clearly an artist.
I was prepared for a high quote, and when it came in I tried to convince Dave it was about what I’d expected. It was double that. But I couldn’t bear the thought of calling someone else in, because what if they gave a lower quote and then I had to call the first place and say No, thanks? Against my will, but also not wanting to spend six thousand dollars, I yelped around and found Company B. Over the phone, I demanded a ballpark estimate on 13 treads, three winders, and two landings, and found out it was half the first quote. Crap. Alright, come on out, but don’t try to make friends. I’m done connecting with salespeople or masters or anyone I may end up not hiring.
So out came Company B, with a million samples. To everything he showed us I barked, “What do you have that’s cheaper?” When he tried to explain his company philosophy or offer useful tidbits about carpet installation, I interrupted, “What do you have in a green?” and “Is that hundred percent wool?” There’s no way I wanted to learn anything about this guy other than how many samples he could fit in his truck.
Then he showed us one we both fell in love with, and gave us a price that was only a little more than I’d originally planned on. Deal.
What about Company A’s samples?
I’ll email my friend and break up cordially. Or not cordially. It doesn’t matter. I’m done with relationships, remember?
So we’ve got the installation set up and the guy’s about to leave, and I’m congratulating myself on my recalibrated consumer savvy, when my guard goes down and we end up talking about real stuff, and the guy tells us a story so good there’s no way I couldn’t hire him even if I hadn’t already hired him.
Ten or 15 years ago, he went to quote a job. “And you now how it goes, we got to talking, and I find out the guy’s a songwriter. ‘Yeah?’ I tell him, ‘I got some song lyrics for ya.’” For some reason, for the past few weeks, some lines of poetry had been rolling around in his head. “Which is weird ’cause I’m not a writer or anything. But they just kept running through my head.” He recited them for us, and said he’d recited them to the musician, who wrote them down. Then he moved on to his next quote and forgot about it.
Nine years later, he heard his lines again, on the radio, in a popular song. The timing was uncanny, because he was having a tough year, and the song seemed to sum it up or make sense of it or something. I wasn’t sure because I didn’t recognize the song, but anyway, it was significant.
He told his girlfriend, whom he hadn’t known back then, all about it, and they decided to go see the songwriter who was coming to town for a concert. “I told her we didn’t need to get good seats, because once he heard from me he’d probably be sending backstage passes,” he said. “I found his email address online and told him who I was. I said I didn’t want anything from him or anything. I gave him those lines and they were his. But I was kinda blown away, hearing them. I thought it would be great to meet up and just hear about his process. How the lines turned into a song.”
“Did he write you back?”
“It was a form letter email, and it said he couldn’t respond to individual messages.”
“Yeah. I just couldn’t believe it. He seemed like such a nice guy.”
“I’m sure he never even saw the message,” I said.
“Yeah, I bet the address goes right to his manager or an assistant or something. If he was that nice, he wouldn’t have been able to read that and not respond.”
When he left, I held myself back from hugging him, but it wasn’t easy. Then I emailed the very nice woman at Company A. She emailed back with utmost cordiality. Someone is going to come by and pick up the red and the eggplant samples. I hate that they’re wasting another trip, but she said not to worry about it. I love her.
If I’m not here I need to leave them on the porch wrapped in a plastic bag. I’m pretty sure that whether I’m here or not I won’t answer the door. I don’t want to end up with two stair runners when I only have one flight of stairs.