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Getting Out of Dodge

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Country musician John Prine asked a question in his song “Angel from Montgomery” that might resonate with some of you:

“How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?”

If you’re a perfectionist and maybe a little compulsive, if you care too much about too many things—many of which you have no control over—and you just happen to own an automotive repair shop, I may have the answer to that question. If you read Prine’s line and it feels a little too familiar, don’t despair. It’s easy to shut down. Easier than most people think.

When you are incapable of leaving the shop mentally, if not physically, and your mind is always taking Turn 4 at just under 200 mph, saying nothing is often times better than saying the wrong thing. When that happens more evenings than not, it may be time to start thinking about getting the hell out of Dodge for a while.

How can you be sure? How will you know?

It’s easier than you think, because there are always signs pointing to the need for a break—signs apparent to just about everyone but you and signs that are all too often all too easy to ignore.

For example:

You know it’s time to get out of Dodge when you can’t remember the last time you took an “actual vacation” that wasn’t somehow work related or industry involved.

You know it’s time to get out of Dodge when your manager keeps asking how long it’s been since the last time you “took off,” tells you he can’t remember the last time you were gone for more than a couple of days, or shakes his head and mumbles that you just plain look like hell.

It may be time to get out of Dodge when your office manager or bookkeeper keeps dropping subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle hints) that they’ve “got this covered,” that you’ve taught them what they need to know in order to keep the boat afloat while you’re gone and it’s time for you to let them try.

You know it’s time to get out of Dodge when your techs keep asking you when you’re really going to get the hell away because they need the time off—time away from you.

It’s a good bet you may have waited too long when your vendors start asking the same questions and your customers don’t miss an opportunity to let you know how tired you look to the point you keep sneaking into the bathroom just to see if you really do look that bad.

I knew it was finally time to think about getting away after a particularly grueling couple of months, to the point that after one of those long, introspective silences at the dinner table after work a few weeks ago, I actually told my wife it was time, that I really did need to get away.

Her response surprised me: “Really?”

I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to get me out of the shop. And yet, all I got was, “Really?”

That was all the response I thought I was going to get until I came home from work the next night and found our next vacation laid out on the dining room table (that’s another way you can be pretty sure it’s time).

I’m writing this in the air on our way home after two weeks away. I took my “office” with me: my computer, a Wi-Fi hotspot, the software to work remotely, et al. I “checked in” every night for the first few nights only to find everything had been handled as well or better than if I’d been there.

Work came in, work went out. Monthly statements arrived and bills were paid. And, we received more than a couple of really incredible five-star reviews!

After a few nights, I found myself going online less often and for shorter periods of time. At first, I tried to convince myself it was because of the three-hour time difference. We had traveled to the East Coast and that meant waiting until 9:30 p.m. to log in after close of business.

But, that wasn’t the reason at all. The main reason I found myself dialing in at night less often was there was less and less for me to do. Apparently, everyone was doing exactly what they had been trained to do and seemed to be doing it exceptionally well.

As I focused less on what was going on at the shop in my absence I found myself more and more able to immerse myself in our vacation: where we were, what we were doing, the incredible beauty and fascinating history.

I started to relax—at least, that’s what I think I was feeling! It was hard to tell because I hadn’t felt it in a very long time.

Then, suddenly, I found myself ready to come home, ready to ride back into Dodge, guns blazing and ready to go back to work. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to, because I was looking forward to it.

I left everyone with the same three simple guidelines I try so hard to follow when I’m there:

Fix the car.

Get paid, for what you know and for what you did.

Protect the shop.

I left them with the same simple instructions I always leave them with, an admonishment to exercise good judgment at all times, recognizing the need to always put the client and their needs first.

From everything I saw while I was gone, everyone did their best and that’s more than good enough for me. There is one more thing—I’m thinking Dodge City hasn’t looked or felt this good for a very long time.


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com. For an archive of his columns go to ratchetandwrench.com/schneider.

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