A Problem in Shepparton

takata

Diary of a Retiree: Day 294

An interesting day not so long ago, a problematic day, a day spent in Shepparton. In response to a letter from Subaru Australia, urgently urging replacement of our Subaru Forrester’s high risk air bag, I booked the car in for this to be done. A service and attention to a couple of other issues were due as well. I was advised all could be taken care of if they had the car for the day. I got up at 6am to have the car there around 8am.

To follow, 8+ hours in Shepparton without a car looked like a bit of a challenge. I planned to walk most of the day: to the river for half a day of birdwatching, back to town for lunch, to the gallery, around the CBD, to the museum, to the library and back to Subaru on the outskirts of town.

On arrival at Subaru Shepparton, the first item on my list went awry. I was told that in fact, they didn’t have any replacement air bags. Yes, really! I guess it all seems quite simple to them. I just take a day out to go there again when it suits them. My needs, as the customer, appeared to be largely irrelevant to the process. I expressed my disappointment. I stated that if I been told this when I booked in I would not have come until there were replacement air bags available.

I have since had an apology from Shepparton Subaru. It was explained to me that Subaru Australia and the dealerships are out of synch on this process. I was reassured the Forrester’s air bag had previously been replaced with a like model that would not have time to dangerously deteriorate before they contacted me to say they had a permanent replacement. Despite this reassurance, I am still finding the sequence of events hard to understand. I am also unclear how I could be told the air bag replacement could be done in the first place if they did not actually have any in stock.

I find this sort of attitude toward customers increasingly prevalent. It seems to be becoming the status quo for corporate customer (non) service delivery. Customers are expected to pay for the pleasure of servicing the vendor with their business. The transaction then occurs at the convenience of the vendor. Or, even worse, customers are expected to complete unpaid work for the vendor before the vendor will consider doing business with them at all. For example, not so long ago I had to do all the work to prove to Telstra that it was possible for them to provide an internet connection.

There wasn’t any point in going home. Some work could be done. I left the car. I headed toward the river. It took nearly an hour from the Subaru dealer’s address. It was not exactly a pleasant walk. The dominant features of Shepparton’s entry roadside built environments are the garish, tilt up concrete facades of every ubiquitous franchise found on every arterial approach to every modest and bigger metropolis and suburb in the country. The worst form of urban homogeneity. Also, there was serious noise. The traffic in Shepparton is surprisingly heavy. Between the many traffic lights, trucks alternately growled down the gears toward braking or puffed clouds of diesel fumes into the air as they pushed their way back up to speed. Cars ducked and weaved amongst them. This happened all the way, smack through the centre of town!

As I approached the CBD, many places of business were empty. The tell tales of long term dormancy were myriad. Dust sat heavily on the floors inside. Last autumn’s leaves remained piled into corners and sparsely littered wide empty spaces once filled with display cases, goods for sale and cashier desks. Piles of unopened letters and bills clogged letterboxes or doorway slots and layered themselves untidily on the floors immediately inside each entrance. Shabby, yellowing reminders of an inability to pay, and most likely, an inability to extract payment by such routine means. Grimy windows contrasted with a series of vividly desperate “For Lease” signs stuck to the glass. A few stores even looked like the owners just had enough, went past coping, upped and walked out one day, never to return. Their left-over stock mouldering in grubby backgrounds, awaiting rediscovery by the next occupants. Ancient artefacts of a dim, dark past. That is of course, if there are any next occupants.

I speculated and I felt a touch of sadness for the travails of failed small businesses. The early optimism, the sobering doubts, the dawning of harsh realities, the stress, the final decision to quit, the diversity of costs. I wondered, “Where they are now?” I walked on.

I had water, food, camera in hand, time to kill ….. and the anticipatory hope of discovery. A natural bush environment, rich in river red gums, acacias and native grasses. A majestic river, sliding along lazily between deep, foliage rich embankments. A beautifully clear mid-winter day of warm sunlight and blue skies. A great day for walking.

What did I find? Well, not much really. There were the usual suspects, the wood ducks, the galahs, the wattle birds and a few wrens, but the river wasn’t exactly teeming with the birdlife I expected. In fact, the opposite was true. As I wandered back into town after some 4 hours of walking, I asked myself, “There was food, there was water, there was a seemingly healthy natural environment but, where were all the birds?”

This worried me. It reminded me of the same disturbing feeling I had in Europe a few years ago. I was excited about the prospect of seeing new species, but I didn’t know the bird population there had begun to collapse. We saw precious few birds. The idea that this may be happening here is terrifying. However, more and more, tarmac, buildings,  broad acre mega farms (monoculture deserts) and use of food chain destroying pesticides are more the norm than not here these days as well. It would be naïve to think we will escape similar consequences.

As for the other activities for the day, well, I had myself some passable vegetarian fried rice for lunch. The gallery was quite interesting, but I found myself surprised by how small it was. Consequently, it didn’t take too long travel through. There were some expressive works of felted text and symbolic messages by Raquel Ormella in the featured exhibition “I hope you get this”. I did Raquel, artistic, challenging and interesting.

Some of the aboriginal pieces took my fancy as well. There was one of particular interest depicting the Murray as a joyful hunting and play ground and then the future impacts as the water sport loving crowd crashed the party.

I walked the commercial districts, but was unable to unearth many redeeming features. What looked like the original CBD is now economically dominated by the usual monster supermarket / Kmart (or was it Target?) flatland complex down the road. Surrounding a large flatland central car park, these brazen intruders are well beyond consolidating a commercial beachhead. It felt more like an internal island state!

I walked the residential surrounds. Sure, there were some nice looking historic, come stately homes. However, somewhere back in time the Shepparton municipal guardians made the same mistake so many of their kind have, they let the developers have their say and their way. Consequently, neighbourhood character of a sort that might be appreciated during the pleasure of a long exploratory walk in a country town, was not to be found.

I took a restful break for a half hour or so in the well trafficked library, reading from the well-stocked magazine rack, before heading back to where it all started – the peripherally located Shepparton Subaru. To avoid the noise of the main roads, I mapped a route of minor roads. It was quieter, but otherwise seriously uninspiring. I found myself amongst a mix of untidy or plain houses with bland gardens that gave way to untidy light industry. The people occupying these spaces appeared to think glycophopsphate was the best gardening invention of all time. Already parched landscapes had been further denuded of growth both inside fences and along “nature strips”. You could clearly see the withered remnants of plants and residualspray dyes along the way. This sad observation did not improve my impression of the place at all!

This was my day in Shepparton. The day I didn’t get an air bag replacement