My conversations, blogs, and–so dreadful–even my dreams have veered toward the vehicular now for a greater part of the month. With so much valuable thought time and sheer mental space devoted to automobiles, one would hope that I would be developing a genuine appreciation for the complex machinery that we all rely on to ferry us about. Or perhaps one might expect me to arrive at a transcendental insight: “We do not ride the Subarus; they ride upon us.” At the very least you should anticipate the acquisition of a broader knowledge about different makes and models; their various strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons.
Out of all this car related madness, I have learned precisely two things: both of them pertain to shopping, of all things, more than automobiles. (What can I say? I live to fulfill gender stereotypes. Don’t believe me? I’ll cry.)
I have learned that 1) the prices of things do not necessarily exist in direct proportion to a thing’s value and are, therefore, never truly fixed and that 2) what you pay for is what you get and if it isn’t, you have every right to pitch a fit. It is the last of these revelations that concerns me most today.
Consider this scenario, which shall be relayed after the pattern of Bunyan’s timeless allegory, for your enjoyment :
The Consumer’s Distress
Innocent Consumer’s horse, Dependable, is struck by a stray bullet one night as he was munching oats outside the Innocent Consumer’s barn. Sadly, the damage that Dependable suffers is so great that Innocent Consumer is obligated to finish him off. Inebriated Ingrate, who fired the shot in a drunken brawl, grudgingly pays Consumer the current market price of Dependable by means of restitution. Now, Dependable was getting on in years, but to Consumer he was worth his weight in gold.To Ingrate’s insurance company, however, his cash value was relatively low.
So Consumer had no choice but to buy another horse as quickly as he could with the money he was given: summer was coming on and without a horse, he would not able to harvest his corn in time. The only available horses in town were Flashy, Guzzler, and Lemon. Now, Flashy was a great looking horse. He had all the bells and whistles of a winner: the shiny coat, the flowing mane, the sprightly trot. His owner said that he could even go from the stable to a full gallop in five seconds! Consumer was eager to have a fine horse like Flashy on his farm, but when he tried to make a deal with his owner, Usurer, the man tried to manipulate Consumer into signing over a quarter of his crops for ten years in payment. Unwilling to enter into indentured servitude for the sake of a good looking horse, Consumer went on to another stable, owned by Conglomerate.
There, he took a horse named Guzzler out for a test ride. Guzzler was a strong horse and certainly capable of performing the demanding labor of the farm. As Consumer rode about town, though, he noticed Guzzler behaving a little oddly: every time they came to a public trough or a patch of grass, Guzzler would immediately stop in his tracks and start gulping down everything in sight. Consumer tugged the reins and kicked his sides, but to no avail. After a long, slow ride back to the stable, Consumer asked Guzzler’s owner “Do you feed this horse? He stopped at every patch of grass on the road!” Conglomerate replied, “Oh Guzzler eats about six square meals a day, with snacks in between.” Consumer was shocked: “But I’d have to grow another field of oats just for feeding him!” Conglomerate tried to convince Consumer that the extra field would be worth it in the end, for Guzzler’s hard work would make up for it. But Consumer could not commit to tilling the extra field, and he suspected that Guzzler’s work ethic might wane with time, so he went to visit the last stable.
Oily owned the largest stable in town and he was constantly training old horses for new ones. The only horse he had that wasn’t as expensive as Flashy or as ravenous as Guzzler was a mild, medium-sized mare named Lemon. Lemon was a popular breed and she rode easily and well. Oily didn’t know where she came from or who used to own her, but he promised Consumer that she was top notch. Having no other available options and with the corn ripening at home, Consumer paid half of her asking price and promised Oily the rest when the harvest came in.
Consumer took Lemon straight to the fields, where she performed very well for a while. But soon, Lemon developed a slight limp. Then she began to cough. Soon, she was moving so stiffly and hacking so piteously that Consumer, alarmed, took her to see Deceptive, the veterinarian.
Deceptive charged Consumer an enormous fee for diagnosing the nature of Lemon’s illness. After a brief examination, Deceptive declared that Lemon was suffering from seasonal allergies and prescribed an expensive treatment. Consumer was concerned about the price of the treatment—it cost nearly half of what he had paid for Lemon in the first place! But Deceptive assured him that after a full dose of allergy medicine, Lemon would be a new horse. He insisted that all she needed was a round of medicine to achieve a full recovery. Comforted by Deceptive’s assurances, Innocent Consumer shelled out the cash for the treatment and went home.
When he returned the next day, Lemon was looking a little better. Her cough was nearly gone and she moved with only a slight limp. After a few days of rest, he put her back to work in the fields. By the end of only one day’s labor, though, her cough had grown harsher, her limp more pronounced. After an entire week of working at the farm, Lemon was in worse condition than she had been before the treatment!
Frustrated and disappointed, Consumer strode over to Deceptive’s office and demanded an explanation for his horse’s poor health. Deceptive merely raised his eyebrows and said “hmm…that’s odd.” “It’s not odd, it’s criminal! I paid a lot of money for that treatment and it was all a scam!,” cried Consumer. “Bring the horse in and I’ll examine her again—for FREE this time,” said Deceptive in his most assuaging voice. With a sick horse on his hands and time wasting away, Consumer didn’t know what else to do, so he brought Lemon back to the crooked vet.
This time, Deceptive made a more thorough examination. “Aha!” he cried, seeming most pleased with himself, “Your Lemon isn’t just allergic to pollen, she’s allergic to sheep too! I have another medicine for that and I’ll give it to her at no cost to you.” Skeptical about these so-called allergy symptoms, but hopeful that this new discovery would solve the problem, Consumer grudgingly consented to this second treatment and took his horse home that evening.
But in the morning, Lemon was no better. The following day, her symptoms were so bad that Consumer began to fear for her life! Enraged, he stormed back to Deceptive’s office and tried to explain as calmly as possible that his treatments had failed and he wanted his money back. Deceptive refused to entertain the notion of a refund, but agreed to examine the horse once more. When he returned, he said “Well, she’s still got the limp, but she’s not coughing any more now.” A glance out the window told Consumer that Deceptive had slapped a piece of tape over Lemon’s mouth, effectively smothering the cough.
“I don’t believe in your whole ‘seasonal allergies’ theory, Deceptive,” said Consumer. “In fact, I don’t believe you know what the problem is at all.”
“Well, on my original examination I suspected that she had an advanced case of cancer.”
“What?! Why didn’t you say anything? I would have shot her on the spot and saved you all this trouble and me all this expense!”
“Well, it might have been seasonal allergies. I wasn’t entirely sure.”
“But you were WRONG. Everyone makes mistakes, I understand that–but I’m not going to pay for your mistake. I demand a refund of your fees!”
“Well, now, that’s impossible. But what I CAN do is get you an appointment with another veterinarian who specializes in cancer just to make sure that she DOES have it.”
At this point in their conversation, Oily walks in.
“Oh there you are, Consumer! I was just wondering if you had gotten your harvest in yet? It’s time to finish paying for that fine horse I sold you.”
* * *
Imagine you are Innocent Consumer in this scenario: How would YOU respond?