When I called to schedule a dryer repairman, the girl who answered the phone told me that the charge for a diagnostic call would be $69 plus tax. If I decided to proceed with the repairs, that fee would be waived in favor of actual repair costs.
Two repairmen showed up at the appointed hour, both friendly guys, and the one who seemed to be in charge took a look at my dryer and said, "This is one of the best dryers ever made." I thought so, too. It had worked beautifully for sixteen years. Then he turned the dryer on, listened for about ten seconds, and said, "This is not gonna be good news: it's the motor." I wasn't too surprised. The same day the dryer had started overheating and cutting itself off, it had also begun making a screeching noise, the distinct sound of metal on metal.
The repairman continued, "I can pull this out and take it apart if you want me to, but I already know it's the motor. Replacing the motor will cost about $400, not counting any other bad parts we might find when we're in there. We'd be glad to have your business, but I don't know if it makes sense to repair it, especially right now while all the holiday sales are on."
I agreed with him. "That's what I've been trying to decide," I said. "Now that I know what it would cost to repair it, it makes more sense to buy a new one."
"Look," he said, "I'm gonna give you a break. I'm only gonna charge you $29 for this call."
"I appreciate that," I told him, "but the girl already told me what the charge would be, and I chose to take that gamble."
He said, "Well, I have the authority to make decisions about charges, and I'm gonna charge you $29." He then spent another fifteen or twenty minutes talking to Kim and me about which brands of dryers hold up the best, which ones to avoid, what features add value and which gadgets people don't actually use all that much. By that time Kim was on the internet looking at sale prices on dryers. He walked over to stand by her shoulder and point out the best of the bunch on her screen at that time.
By the time the two men left, wishing us a merry Christmas, I felt much better equipped to make a good purchasing decision than I'd felt before their arrival. Kim and I both got online, narrowed our searches to the "good" brands, and compared notes on our findings. Within an hour after the repairmen left, we'd placed an order for a new dryer with features similar to the one I was replacing. Between a holiday sale and a "cyber discount," I got it for 39 percent off, and it was delivered the next morning.
So, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Sometimes he doesn't have a big, snowy beard, and sometimes he wears a mechanic's uniform and drives a white repair van, but if he comes to your house, you'll know it's him.