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Posts Tagged ‘patrolmen’s benevolent association’

At a party last Friday night, I overheard a group of women talking about the costs of getting their hair done professionally. Just a cut can cost as much as $75; a cut and coloring runs into the hundreds. (I had little to add to this conversation; I typically pay about $14 for my haircuts.)

One woman mentioned that a friend of hers is a hair stylist and gives her a great discount—saving her about 25% after tip—which drew oohs and aahs from the other women. We got to talking about other professions we wish our friends and family worked in that would save us a lot of time, money, and frustration. Aside from hair stylists, here are some others we came up with. (Note: I didn’t include actors or rock stars or professional athletes. That’s a little greedy—it’s like using one of your three genie wishes to ask for a million more wishes.)

Police Officer. Fortunately, my only run-ins with the cops have come when I’ve been pulled over. I always used to carry the PBA card—that’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association—my uncle had given me (he’s now retired NYPD), and typically other policemen were willing to give the professional courtesy of letting me off with a warning…but not always. Once, in college, I was pulled over for speeding down a residential street in Beacon, New York. When the officer handed me the ticket for “52 in a 30,” he grinned and said, “Your uncle will know what to do with this.”

Bartenders and Servers. In my experience, if a food or drink server invites you to stop by their bar or restaurant while they’re working, you’re going to get hooked up. I’m content to score a couple of free rounds of drinks and maybe one or two extra appetizers with dinner. I always tip generously in these situations, and I don’t just show up if I’m not 100% positive they’re working that night. (Nothing’s worse than trying to get free drinks by dropping a bartender’s name on her night off.)

Doctors and Lawyers. Contrary to the plot of My Cousin Vinny, it’s not likely that your inexperienced lawyer cousin knows just enough about the legal system to hilariously help you beat a bogus murder wrap. Also: Don’t ask your corporate lawyer friend to help you fight a parking ticket, and don’t ask your friend’s dad who’s a neurosurgeon to look at your rash. If you’re lucky, they’ll recommend someone they know personally who can help you (and it probably won’t be free).

Accountant. My uncle has been doing my taxes for years and he’s great about it. I send him my paperwork as soon as I get it so he can file it when he has some time between actual paying customers. Just remember: you’re putting a lot of trust in this person to file your taxes correctly and on time, and you have to be comfortable with the fact that they’ll know how much money you make.

Plumber, Electrician, or Contractor. For a generation of renters like myself—my super does everything but change light bulbs—it can be a tough transition when we start to become homeowners. Knowing a Mr. Fix-It makes a huge difference, especially if they have lots of experience. In exchange for the free or discounted services, always offer him a cold drink (water’s good; beer’s better).

Media Professional. Basically this covers anyone who’s got access to really good free stuff: tickets to concerts and sporting events, dinners at the best restaurants in town, product samples, plus any good celebrity stories.

Computer Guy. My friend Gil knows his stuff; he used to work the computer counter at Best Buy in the days before Geek Squad stepped in. With his help—including several virus exorcisms—my Dell PC lasted nine years. Of course there’s no warranty when a buddy helps you out, so if you don’t trust him to open up your computer, poke and prod with a screwdriver, and still be able to put it back together, don’t ask him for free help. (For the record, Gil was handsomely rewarded with a $5 or under shopping spree at 7-Eleven.)

Mechanic. On Seinfeld, George once quipped about mechanics: “Of course their tryin’ to screw ya. No one knows what they’re talkin’ about! It’s like, Oh, seems you need a new Johnson rod. Oh! Yeah! Johnson rod! Well, get me one of those!” (Dane Cook has a similar riff.) Few situations make me feel more helpless than explaining my car trouble to a mechanic, knowing I have to trust him to fix it without ripping me off. (It’s like looking at a Magic Eye picture with someone who sees the spaceship and you don’t.) A friendly mechanic will probably still make you pay for parts, but should give you a break on labor costs.

Try not to overstep the bounds of a personal relationship just to get a discount. And when cashing in on a favor, make sure you’re not too many degrees separated from the favor-doer. Below is a cautionary aside—which is becoming a theme of this blog—about a time when I needed a car repair and a family member “knew a guy” who was supposed to help me out:

During college I dinged up the right fender on my ’86 LeBaron on a guard rail. My uncle (different uncle, not the cop) told me he knew a guy who could fix the damage at a fraction of what it would cost at a body shop. I agreed to drive into Coney Island to meet The Guy at the address my uncle provided. When I arrived, there was no body shop or garage or even a house. It was just a random street with an elementary school taking up most of the block.

The Guy showed up late and immediately quoted me $100 more than the price my uncle gave me. I found a pay phone and explained the situation to my uncle. He called The Guy’s cell, screamed at him for a few minutes, after which The Guy agreed to the original price. (I later found out that conversation ended with my uncle saying, “LOSE MY NUMBER!”) With both our cars pulled over to the side of the street, he installed the used fender I’d bought at a junk yard, leaving the old fender sitting on the sidewalk outside of the school.

When it came time to pay, I didn’t have much cash—the situation seemed sketchy from the start, so I figured I wouldn’t carry hundreds of dollars on me just in case The Guy had other ideas. His 15-year-old son escorted me to the nearest ATM. (Despite the awkwardness of the situation, we made decent small talk.) When I returned and paid The Guy, he looked me in the eye, his son watching, and said, “You know, I do accept tips.” I was still fuming from his earlier bait-and-switch and didn’t want to involve my uncle again. I made the executive decision not to tip him. I walked quickly to my LeBaron, started it, and drove off.

I wasn’t able to chronicle my negative experience with The Guy on Yelp, but if I had, it might have gone something like: “One star. Prices higher than advertised. Questionable business practices. Does accept tips.”

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