The Adventures of Airstream Mikie

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dixie Dancy saved my life!

It all started when I was at the Airstream dealer, the only Airstream dealer in Southern California, looking to learn more about the different models. It was really just a scouting mission, to see them in real life instead of the brochure and website.

The first one I looked at was the Sport 17 model, and the special price was marked in big numbers on the front pano window. However, since I am the son of a car dealer, I am quite familiar with the ways of some dealers, and a healthy dose of skepticism can save a person some real nasty mistakes. So I asked to see the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) which is a document that by federal law must be shown. In the car trade the document is known as the Monroney sticker because it was Senator Monroney who sponsored the bill which mandated the disclosure of such prices in a standard format. All that aside, many people are not aware of the federal law, or the MSRP, or the window (Monroney) sticker, and if they see a big number written on the window, they just assume that's the price. Not me, I know better. And I've seen those special prices on the window that are actually HIGHER than the MSRP, but you wouldn't know that without checking the MSRP.

(click the photo to see the detail)

So far, so good. The dealer shows me the Monroney sticker price document, and my first reaction is that this thing is Bogus! Totally bogus. The first thing I notice is that the name Airstream is nowhere on the document! How can that be? Is this an Airstream or not? It shows that it's a Sport 17, but not an Airstream? Weird. Very suspicious. I look around the lot, and there are plenty of Airstreams. Very well stocked. I figure they just MUST be an Airstream dealer because of the research on the internet I've been doing, and all paths point to this place being the only authorized dealer in SoCal.

So I call their bluff. I mention the obvious missing name of Airstream on the document, and ask the sales rep, Jerry Handley, very directly if he is sure that this is the official MSRP document, and he assures me, very earnestly that it is in fact the proper document. I am not convinced.

While we are discussing the missing manufacturer name (not even a logo!) I take a closer look and... what the heck is that: the word "gray" is spelled GREAY! And the word "height" is spelled "HIEIGHT" and to add insult to injury, on the line right below that, the same word "height" is spelled HGITH. What the heck is this about? Don't these people use computers? How can such things get through a spell-checker? Or, was this thing typed by hand, on a bad day when the computers were down, and it was the last day of the month, and they needed to ship a few units in order to get their bonuses, and the lights were off so they couldn't see what they were typing, and they ran out of the official forms with the company name and logo? Sure, I can buy that scenario. Stuff happens! A once in a lifetime comedy of errors and I'm standing there looking at the evidence. I'm thinking that maybe I have an instant collector's item here that's going to be worth a few bucks in another hundred years or so. Yeah, right, says my car dealer's son's skeptical brain. This thing was typed locally, and poorly, to bogus up the numbers so they could make a few extra bucks from any rube who is naive enough to believe it.

But my mother always brought me up to be nice, so I didn't say all that to Jerry Handley, who may really not have known that the boss was cranking out bogus MSRPs in the dead of night. Jerry, by the way, was really very helpful, patient, and informative... the ideal sort of person you would want to help you on an exploratory mission. Certainly not the kind of guy you would expect to be in on a con.

The mystery was not solved that day, and I went home to consider my anticipated purchase of the Sport 17, and to do some more research on the price. And I'll be darned... the numbers seemed legit, so what the heck was the reason for the very strange Monroney sticker?

I let that question go for later, put a down payment on the Airstream the next day, spent a few more days buying a tow vehicle, and then went back to do the deal and take delivery and tow it home and start learning all about the magical mysteries of Airstreaming.

Until this morning, when I finally ran out of plausible scenarios that could produce such a document from a company with a reputation for quality. My curiosity finally got the best of me and put me over the edge of caution and fear and launched me into one of modern life's most dreaded experiences: Calling a big business customer service department.

Let me explain... I've been in the business world, computers to be specific, for the last 45 years, and I know that dealing with customer service people can be some of the most challenging events in a person's life. I dread calling customer service departments at ANY company, even the best are bad. Now when you also consider the fact that I will soon be 67 years old, and I do not suffer fools lightly, I treat all customer service interactions as potentially life-threatening (to me). I avoid these situations like the plague. But as I mentioned, curiosity got the best of me.

In Fear of The Hammer of Thor

So I picked up the phone and called the Airstream company, division of Thor Industries, which owns several makes of RVs. "Thor"? Really? Viking God of Thunder and excellent customer service? No Way, right?

I was greeted nicely by a pleasant voice who asked me how they could help. Of course, being the skeptic, and having dealt with more than one person whose job it is to "help" customers, I was expecting to be transferred several times to the wrong people, and then having my call dropped, and calling back several more times, more transfers, leaving messages, etc, etc, etc... BUT NO! I said I had an MSRP document that seemed strange, but then figured that she probably didn't know what an MSRP is, so I asked her, and I'll be darned if she didn't come right out with "sure, it's the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price"!

Oh, I've got a real, live, thinking human being here! She sounds like she knows what she's talking about AND she seems to care. What are the odds of that?

She asks me for the last 5 digits of the serial number, on the upper right of the document, and almost instantly she retrieves it from her computer. I continue with my story, and mention that the name Airstream is nowhere on the document, and I'll be darned, after a brief look-see on her part, she agrees with me, and also agrees that it is strange, but hadn't noticed that before. She does say that there is a faint graphic showing a guy pulling an Airstream with a bicycle, but that doesn't show on my copy, which was scanned and emailed to me by the dealer. And I don't remember seeing it on the document that was shown to me by the dealer, but maybe that was a copy, and some copiers don't pick up light blue, so we move on to the typos. I directed her to the first one, told her how many lines up from the bottom of the right column, and before I could be more specific, she spots it herself and says "the word gray is wrong". This girl is sharp, seriously on the ball. So I direct her to look two lines down and Bingo! Again she spots the extra letter "I" in the word "HIEIGHT". I am really impressed now, so I wasn't so surprised when she spotted the other error on the following line too.

This person is truly a ray of sunshine in the cold, dark world of customer service. She is extremely polite, and helpful, and very much on my side with all this. She verifies all the prices on the document, and our paperwork is in agreement, perfectly. So that's the end of the mystery to me, but she goes on to assure me that she will take these things up with the top guy in the sales department right away, and be sure these things are handled, and because of her tone, and her on-the-ball awareness, intelligence, and courtesy, I actually believe her! You can't get better than that.

One in a Million?

So we hang up and I'm feeling like I just had one of those one in a million customer service experiences. And then I call back and just had to know her name because I'm going to let the president of Airstream know he's got one very, very good person working there.

Dixie is her name. Dixie Dancy. What a fun name! ("and I'm not a dancer" she says with a fun spirit in her voice)

If there are any Airstream competitors out there who need to upgrade their customer service department, you should call Dixie and pay her a lot of money. But if your name is Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream, I suggest you call Dixie into your office and give her a big fat raise and tell her what a great job she is doing as an ambassador of goodwill for Airstream, and give her every promotion she can handle, and I'm thinking that's big.

Thanks, Dixie, and all the best to you!

ps: Bob Wheeler, President of Airstream... they have things called spell-checking software nowadays, usually free. All you need to do is use it. And, putting the name Airstream on the MSRP would be nice! Probably wouldn't cost 20 cents in ink over the next hundred years to make that addition.

So, how did Dixie Dancy save my life? Well, the story continues...

After hanging up the phone, I was feeling pretty good. My faith in human nature was refreshed for the first time in a long time. Some people (in addition to me) really are excellent. And today I had the good fortune to meet up with one of them. I had my faith restored in human decency, even some humans in the vehicle business. Wow!'

Customer Service Call-From-Hell

So, while riding this euphoria, I decided to go visit my Airstream, sitting lonely in storage, and fiddle around with it to prepare it for a day trip this weekend. I went downstairs to the garage, hopped in my daily driver (2006 Corvette convertible) and poked at the start button. Click. Nothing. WTF? I just gave it a good ride yesterday, what's the problem? Poke the start button again. Click. Nothing. Damn. Can't be the battery, the lights are on strong. Instruments look weird when the power comes on, strange messages, engine light is on. I'm thinking the computer is FUBAR. Bugger All. I go to open the door, to get out to call the dealer on the cell phone....

The door doesn't open! I AM LOCKED IN MY CAR! The other door doesn't open. OK, just breathe easy, there's got to be a way out of this. But how? I call the dealer on my cell. Push one for sales, two for service, three for parts, four for... No selection to push for LOCKED IN MY CAR and getting freaked out about it, so I hit zero and try to explain to the operator and she says she never heard of anyone getting locked inside a car before, and transfers me to an "advisor" who never answers the phone and I get a voicemail, which could take days to get a reply, and by then I'll be dead of an apoplectic fit, if not hunger. So I call back and tell her this is an emergency (what if it was 3AM and the dealer was closed?) and please don't transfer me, but sure enough she does, but this time I get an advisor who tells me to rip up the carpet behind the seat I'm sitting in (Corvette, right? There is NO room to even change your mind in there, let alone do the gymnastics to pull up the carpet behind the seat to find a lever to open the door). In any case, I manage to pull up the carpet... no lever! He asks if there is anyone else around who can help? Yes, several, and aren't they enjoying this little freak show! Give them my key so they can open the trunk and in there is another lever to open... but wait, he says, another "advisor" has told him about a lever (invisible in the dark) inside the car, next to my seat that will open the door, and I find it and I'm FREE AT LAST! I breathe the fresh air of Freedom and thank God I'm alive and I don't have to talk with these people any more.

But, of course, I now have to deal with getting the car towed to the dealer, and that took two different people from Triple A to come out and look and poke things and test and tell me it's the battery, but then of course it's not, and how are we gonna get this car out of the garage, and so on and so on until finally it's on the flat-bed truck and down the road

and I'm back in my easy chair thanking my lucky stars I haven't gone purple and insane with rage at the mediocrity of all Mankind, until I remember Dixie Dancy who just one hour before had put me in such a good mood that if it were not for her I would surely have popped a brain artery, or my whole heart would have exploded, and I would be dead as possum on Highway 101.

Thank you Dixie Dancy, you saved my life!

So I'm sitting here in my easy chair enjoying a pint of the good stuff, with a shot of Bushmills Irish whiskey cradled in an Airstream shot glass, and itself dropped into the good stuff. Some people call it an Irish Car Bomb, but in my youth we called it a boilermaker. Call it what you will, it's good to be alive, sometimes!

(click the photo to see the detail)


  1. I'm amused, amazed, and anxious (for you) - all at the same time. I hope your Airstream adventure doesn't go any further off track. Great story and Good luck!

  2. So what was wrong with the 'vette? Did you ever find out. I'm sorry but I couldn't help chuckling at your locked-in story. I can't believe they got it out of your garage! Do you have any photos of that?!???

    Outstanding guinness photo btw!

  3. Great story Michael. Harkens back to the tales from when you were barn storming.

  4. Wow...I think you should call up Dixie and ask her out on a date! BTW, I should've known you were a Bushmills man, all favorite guys are!XX Susie

  5. Hi, what a story, but don't Corvettes have "ON-STAR"? And instead of calling General Motors, wouldn't it be easier and better to call 911?

  6. Great story. OnStar doesn't work when you're in the garage. The roof blocks the satellite.

  7. Samm...

    The 'vette problem was in fact a bad battery, or to be precise a bad cell in the battery, and that's just totally bogus because that battery is only a couple months old, sold to me by Triple A!!! They got some 'splainin' to do, eh Lucy?

    Soooo glad you like the Guinness photo. I think it's one of my best shots yet. I worked hard to get the light just right on the Airstream shot glass, using a flashlight in my left hand, camera in right (NOT the iPhone camera, as you can probably tell). This year is the 250th anniversary of Guinness in Dublin. Wish I were there for a pint right now!

  8. Anon... I didn't call 911 because I didn't think it was that much of an emergency. And, can you imagine the Fire Department guys coming out with the "Jaws of Life" and try to cut the door off? What a mess. I figured the local Chevy dealer would be able to solve it easy. Turns out they weren't that sharp!