An Afternoon at the "Free Windshield Repair"
by Debra Levy
Saturday afternoon of a long Fourth of July weekend means only one thing
in Northern Virginia-traffic, and lots of it. As I crept in one of those
you-could-walk-there-faster-than-this crawls toward the main intersection
in town, the radio announcer happily passed along the stats: a humidity
level in the 70s, making the 90-degree temperature feel like 106. It was
a hot sticky mess out and the traffic made it worse.
eyes came to rest on the empty building at the center of the crossroads.
For years it had been a cycle of restaurants and vacancies: fast food
restaurant, then vacant, then another fast food restaurant, then vacant.
It its last incarnation it had been a bar-b-que place complete with an
8 foot-tall pig in front. But they had moved on months ago, and now the
place was vacant again.
But not the parking lot; it was full of action. There were a number of
vans pulled in front of the empty, downtrodden store. One big sign said
"CRABS" and was selling them by the bushel (not an uncommon
sight in Virginia) and another was selling something that appeared to
be furniture. It was the third one that caught my eye. A 10 x 10 white
tent was set up facing right out into traffic with a big banner spread
across it that read: "FREE WINDSHIELD REPAIR."
We've been reading (and writing) a lot about the tent merchants in the
windshield repair business. I decided to stop and see for myself how business
was being done. As I approached the tent, I saw a large man sitting in
a lawn chair, back to the main road, and two young girls-maybe 10 and
12-playing. The tent had a table that was covered with snacks and a cooler.
"Hi," I said, "I saw your sign and stopped because I have
a cracked windshield in the family. It's a very, very tiny crack. I noticed
you say free repair. You do it for free?"
"Yes, ma'am we do," he said. "As long as you have insurance
we do it for free-any insurance at all will do, because we bill them and
"So I don't pay for anything?" I asked. "That's right,"
"Great, I have State Farm and I'll
" I tried to continue.
"Oh, hold on, hold on," he said. "State Farm is the insurance
company we can't do that way. Starting June 1, they stopped paying for
repair. Who's your agent?" he asked. I told him. "Well you call
your agent and tell him how upset you are about this. It's ridiculous.
Every other insurance company will pay."
At no time during our discussion did the man get out of his chair. Nor
did he ask to see the rock chip I had described, yet my car was only forty
feet away. When the wind picked up the tent would blow. Each time, he
would yell at his girls to hold it down so it didn't blow away.
"How come State Farm won't?" I asked.
"I am not sure what their problem is, they are just trying to save
money I guess. But it's hurting their customers. I can do it for $55 otherwise"
"Well, if the problem is not you, then it's guys like you,"
I wanted to snap back. "There are tons of people, groups, organizations
that have worked years and years to increase the professionalism of this
industry, to do so ethically and with safety in mind. And here you sit
in front of an abandoned building with trash all around leaving thousands
of people to think that windshield repair is free, when it's not, and
that, by the way, you can get it done while crabs steam over there."
I wanted to say all this, but I didn't. I was trying to think of how to
phrase it when he must have picked up on my strange look.
"I had something really strange happen today," he said softly.
"A bottle of resin exploded on my face. It's probably still red,"
he added wiping his face with a cloth.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, I cleaned my eyes out good. But I never had that happen
before, it just exploded," he said.
"Maybe it's the heat," I offered, but by then, of course, I
knew I would say nothing else. Because the reality of it was that this
guy was sitting with his daughters in 100+ degree heat breathing little
air through traffic fumes on Saturday afternoon of the long July fourth
weekend, trying to make a living with resin stuck to his face. I just
felt sad for him.
And I feel sad for our industry. We've got a lot of work to do.