Parts talk banter

For a little forum humor, here’s some back and forth banter at the parts counter last weekend. I was trying to purchase:

  • 10 inch length of 1/8 inch OD copper tubing
  • 2 foot length of 1/8 inch ID plastic tubing

Visit #1: Hardware store

Me: Do you have either of these items?
Clerk: No.
Me: Are you sure, you didn’t look.
Clerk: Ok, let me look. Oh, you are right, we do have the 1/8 inch copper.
Me: Are you sure you don’t have the 1/8 " plastic?
Clerk: No, we don’t have that.
Me: I don’t need any special material, just flexible, hollow tubing 1/8 inch ID. Think about what you’ve seen around the store. It might be something you carry which is tubing, but which you don’t call tubing.
Clerk: No, we having no tubing other than this.

Me: Looks around the store, find some 1/8 " plastic tubing in 5 minutes, in the form of window screen spline, which I show to clerk.
Clerk: Ok, we do have that. But that isn’t tubing. But it is hollow.
Me: Remember, I told you it might not be called tubing.
Clerk: Yes.
Me: Sigh

At checkout counter

Me: Ok, I have 10 inches of 1/8 " copper tubing and 2 feet of 1/8 inch spline
Clerk: Which is which?
Me: Well, the one that looks bright and shiny and copper looking, that’s the copper tubing.
Clerk: And what is this other one again?
Me: Spline
Clerk: Spleen?
Me: No, window screen spline.
Clerk: Phones up the plumbing department for the skew # for the copper.
Clerk (over phone): I need a skew for 10 inch copper tubing
Me: No. It is 1/8 inch copper tubing. (Now really, does it look like 10 inch diameter tubing?)
Clerk: Oh, it is 1/8 inch, not 10 inch. Yeah, copper tubing.
Clerk: Ok, that is 97 cents per foot. Charges up 97 cents.
Me: I only got 10 inches.
Clerk: Ok, I’ll adjust for that. 10 inches did you say?
Me: Yes, 10 inches
Clerk, Ok, enters a factor of 0.1 to indicate 10 inches, " that’s 10 cents."
Me: sigh …just charge me for a foot …decide it isn’t worth it to try to buy the spline, pay up the 97 cents and leave

I Go across street to chain auto parts store, have to wait a few minutes while customer buys a few misc items including some vacuum hose

Me: I need some 1/8 " ID plastic tubing
Clerk: We don’t have any.
Me: The customer just in front of me bought some plastic tubing about that size.
Clerk: Oh, that isn’t plastic, that’s rubber tubing
Me: Ok, that will work
Clerk: Ok, what size do you want.
Me: What’s the smallest size you have
Clerk: I think it is 1/2 inch
Me: I noticed the customer in front of me bought some much smaller than that, his was maybe 3/16 inch, no more than 1/4 inch.
Clerk: Ok, I’ll go the back and check what he bought.
Clerk: He bought 7 6/16 " tubing
Me: ??? ignoring the 6/16 fraction claimed …" 7 inch diameter tubing is what he bought?"
Clerk: That’s what it says.
Me: Do you really think that was 7 inch diameter tubing?
Clerk: Yes, that’s what it says on the skew label.
Me: Ok …sigh … leaves …

Because similar experiences I do not even bother to ask for anything… I rather get there 5 minutes earlier and look for myself…

I’ve been through that scenario a few times myself. It’s also why I have to be scraping rock bottom before I will ask anyone for help.

The “spleen” part really got me chuckling. I wonder if the guy even knows what a spleen is?
The next person in asking for window screen spline will probably get corrected and told they need “window spleen” instead. :smiley:

Sadly some clerks really have no idea what you’re talking about but if you can show an example, like what the guy in front of you bought they get it. My brother found some aquarium tubing the right size for the windshield washer on his old Jetta, one of the many improvised fixes that really didn’t cost much but did the job.

I have to admit that I’ve had much better luck than that. Occasionally I’ll come across a young fella that has no idea what I’m talking about or what he/she is doing, but generally I have no problem. Of course I admittedly DO look for someone with some gray hair to ask!

Perhaps the worst incident recently was a young girl at Dollar Tree. I bought four sheets of poster board priced at 2-for-$1.00. So she rang one sheet up eight times. I pointed out her error, so she deleted the entries… and scanned one sheet six times. I calmly asked her to delete the entire purchase, let the waiting customer behind me process out, and then I showed her how to tally the purchase correctly. I noticed that her boss was standing off to the side, watching. The young lady no longer works there. My guess is that this was not the first time she’d made similar mistakes. I blame our sorry excuse for an educational system.

I occasionally have a problem of this sort at auto parts stores too, but admittedly not often. Most parts identification systems now seem to be driven by either VIN numbers (at dealers) supported by exploded view drawings or directly by exploded view drawings. It seems to create less opportunity for these types of errors. Of course for my own car I’ll generally bring in the manufacturer part number or at least the exploded view drawing anyway.

Way back when, I went to the car parts counter and asked for 85W140 oil. The parts counter guy said he had never heard of such a thing, but asked what was it for? I said differential. He said, oh, you mean gear lube - and then returned with a can marked 85W140 oil, and also the words gear lube.

As per the OP, you have to be prepared to describe what you are looking for. Sometimes tubing is labeled by its usage - such as fuel line, but larger diameters of the same tubing might be called heater hose.

I went to Arizona recently to help a friend finish his new auto shop. Put in the electrical, air, plumbing and interior walls, and get all his gear put away in it’s place.

We’d work all day, then go for dinner and then supplies for the next day. So the stores were pretty quiet by the time we got there at 8pm.

We went to a Lowe’s store for some supplies and found the most lazy clerk on earth. We needed the wall plug, box and cover for the 220 volt welder. We asked the man working that area, and all he did was say it’s in aisle XX and pointed. Neither of us being familiar with the store…I asked if he could show us. He walked over with a sigh and grabbed the box, handed it to me roughly and started to walk away. I asked if he could find the plug and cover for us too. With another sigh he finally found all we needed. I could tell on my buddy’s face that he had the same opinion of the clerk so I gave him a wink and asked the clerk. "I know you have things to do, but we are really not familiar with your store. Could you just help us with one other item. We need 15- 6X2s 12 feet long."
Even though by now my sciatica was killing me and my feet were already numb…I followed him everywhere as he tried to find where they kept the 6X2s. Finally after passing the 2X6s for about the third time I said…“I’ve never had this problem in a store , but these 2X6s will have to do”.
He never even caught on!!!

These people are everywhere. Either they missed out on the education front, the evolution ladder, or they just do not use a little common sense. I’m like TSM and look for a little gray hair, even though that’s not a guarantee.

Arizona was beautiful and I didn’t get stabbed, struck or stung by anything. Except for the air nailer that gave me a 16 penny hang nail. Just a flesh wound, but I thought my buddy was going to pass out when I grabbed it with a pliers and pulled it out.


“Me: Spline
Clerk: Spleen?”

Just be glad that he is working in a hardware store, and not in the field of healthcare.


I am either lucky or just shop the right places. I hardly ever have much trouble getting help finding what I need. I did need help finding some oddball item and the clerk near me was stocking so I asked if he could point me in the right direction, he did and also used his store phone to tell someone I was on my way to his department.

What’s that old saying about a person in the workplace rising to their level of incompetence?
I think it was an explanation for bad managers.
Some start out at that level.

The Peter Principle.

I actually have pretty good luck at the local Ace. Most of the guys on the floor are very very helpful but I usually know what I want and where it is. Once in a while a high school girl will try to help though and has no idea what a bearing or something is. Even after I find it and show it to her she had that deer in the headlights look. But they are a whiz on the phone or computer.

The smaller places, particularly ones that have been around awhile tend to know what you need even if you can’t describe it very well. The hardware store in Rainier Oregon where my aunt lived could put the Home Depot across the river to shame as far as product knowledge even if the Home Depot did have 10x the products on hand.

I actually had really good luck with the “independent” (most of the stock and floorplan is strongly remeniscent of an Ace Hardware, but they went indy few years ago). I needed an odd key cut for a door latch that must be 70 y.o. Lowe’s and H-D didn’t have it; this place did.

I’d go there a LOT more if they kept more “worker-friendly” hours.

Actually, I’m fairly impressed with some of the floor help at Lowe’s; especially when John is working, he knows hardware backwards and forwards and can often tell me WHAT I need, even if all I know is what the “widget” is supposed to do! OTOH, I’ve been in a “grand opening” Lowe’s where the worker looked at me blankly when I asked, “do you have this in Metric?”

It all goes back to training and company policy. My last trip to a nearby Walmart for a printer cartridge for my wife’s slightly older HP printer model went like this:

I search the display and could not find the cartridge. I asked one of the clerks and she pointed at the printer display, saying: “The cartridges are there”. I said I knew that and had just came from there, and I’d like to know if you stock it or have it on your computer. The terminal was just around the corner. She refused to find out if Walmart had it on their list. This person was a locally born English speaker. Shopping at Walmart is seldom pleasurable.

I ended up at Staples, a 10 minute trip by car, where they had it prominently displayed.

cust ; ‘‘I need some heater hose for my truck.’‘
Me ; ‘‘We have that on a roll…how long do you need it ?’’ ( holding out my hands about three feet apart )
cust ; …thinking…scratching his chin…thinking how long does he need it…
’‘oh…ALL WINTER !’’

I think, in some shops, Peter quit and left Dick in charge. Problem is, no one there knows Dick.

…and in the shop next door, the boss can’t decide whether to lay Mary or Jack off…

I’m sorry, the Devil made me say that.


Jack used to work for me and when he was off for a day I was careful to note it on my computer calendar that Jack was out that day. Everybody had access to my calendar so got to be a little careful.

It’s the store owners fault! They cut employee costs to the bone. They offer bottom of the barrel wages and zero training.