Chris Perry Column: I Got My Pelt

Chris Perry •

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Bob Day inside the Don Allen inspection station.

I bagged the elephant.

It wasn’t easy.

On a few occasions, I thought I had an open shot only to be wedged out and forced to circle back around again.

Since I could not invest an entire day into this safari, I dipped into my bag of tricks and tried everything from diversionary tactics to pick and rolls to pre-dawn raids knowing my best chance would be a hit-or-miss attempt. However, even that came with risks as I sensed Trooper Bates was prowling the area looking to turn scofflaws into prey.

With each passing day, the stress increased. For a target that measures roughly 3” x 4”, it is amazing how much attention it commands. But once that trophy was mounted on my windshield, I proudly drove around the rotary a dozen times so everyone could see my new yellow inspection sticker.

To be honest with you, once in line, it wasn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, parked safely off Polpis Road and securely in line, I felt like I was part of an exclusive club. Granted, I assume it’s not the same as joining the Nantucket Golf Club just around the corner, but for those potential candidates who were unceremoniously bounced back onto the road, I suggest you come back tomorrow and try to tee it up again.

Even though it was only 6 a.m., I wasn’t alone so I decided to meet some of my fellow club members.

There was Louise Souza who is coming up on her 89th birthday in August. She scored a fine spot four vehicles ahead of me and politely admitted, “I’ve been trying for two months…”

I had Wallace from Pineda Builders three spots up. He’d been camping out since 9 p.m. last night.

Boyan Tsenkov from Val’s Taxi was an early bird. He was chowing down some breakfast and said, “I’ve been here since 5:20 a.m. and I got lucky today.”

Traveling in from San Fransico, Kristi Cassidy and Heather Schneider were personal assistants in charge of handling their boss’ blue Bronco. Knowing kindness is key, they came bearing gifts with chocolate covered pretzels from Aunt Leah’s Fudge for the techs as they patiently waited in the middle of the pack.

The only person missing was stand-in-line Steve.

As I wandered from car to car and had a chance to think about this uniquely Nantucket quandary, I realized it’s the system that is flawed, not the process.

Was it frustrating? Yes.

Is it Don Allen’s fault? No.

Is there a better way? Probably.

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Erik Evens at the Don Allen inspection line.

It wasn’t long after I pulled into the line that Don Allen's brand manager Erik Evens showed up. Immediately, he started double-checking to make sure the cones were in place and that no one was parking on the neighbor’s property before turning his attention to those in line. He worked the queue like a smooth politician up for re-election, and for a guy who has been refereeing this inspection conundrum for longer than he cared to admit, he seemed to be in a particularly good mood.

“We got this… everyone is going to be happy today,” he confidently announced to those in line.

Ultimately, I was happy because I got my sticker. But as I mentioned to Erik while sitting in line, it’s hard to imagine that everyone will be satisfied today.

He agreed.

“In high season, we process between 50 to 70 vehicles a day. Honestly, we were on top of things until one of our employees was injured. That was unfortunate. With Kip and Arron handling the lot, if it wasn’t for our two lead inspectors - Nick Conforti and Dwayne Dugan - we’d be in deep sh*t. They are passionate about their work and are the unsung heroes in a thankless job,” said Evens.

“Work with us,” he added.

“At least three or four people will be sent home today because they forgot their registrations. One or two think this service is free and a few will have minor issues with their wipers, horn or directional signal that could be easily rectified at home. Before waiting in line and getting rejected, check the basics so we do not have to send you home frustrated,” Evens said.

With the morning gauntlet pretty well set up by 7 a.m., Eric was hoping to ditch his traffic cop role and head to his office.

“I have another job to do. In addition to trying to keep the peace, we are in the process of a major renovation next door. It’s all about customer service and making this an amazing place to work”.

That sounds all well and good but Erik’s recent hire might be one of his best yet.

“I had just returned from Florida and was cruising down the aisles at Stop & Shop when Erik passed by. He pitched the idea of me coming over to Don Allen to help, and the next thing I know, I am working in the inspection station,” said Bob Day.

Day, one of Nantucket’s most cheerful characters, taught shop classes and a pre-engineering course during a highly successful 34-year run at the Nantucket high school. Sounding like so many others who have become our neighbors and part of Nantucket’s local fabric over the years, Bob came to the island roughly 40 years ago with the idea he’d “give Nantucket a try for one year.”

Bob Day is still here.

“I started teaching in ’83 and I set up all the shop classes at the high school,” reminisced Day.

Ironically, Gisli Hughes was helping out in the next bay over and quickly chimed in.

“I remember ‘Mr. Day’ back then because I was a graduating senior in 1983. I was in his auto class and we worked on his ’64 Chevy Impala,” Hughes said.

Today, if Bob Day is not working with the high school golf team at Miacomet, he’s pinch hitting on Polpis Road.

“It’s great. I love cars and at some point all my friends have to come in and get a sticker. Don’t worry, no one can sneak through or get special treatment because Big Brother is watching you,” Day said.

That led me back to Erik with two questions because everyone wants to know: Why can’t the inspection process go faster and why aren’t there more inspection stations on island?

“There’s no shortcuts,” said the brand manager.

“Every inspection station in the State of Massachusetts has cameras videotaping every inspection. In the event there is an accident or a situation down the road, each inspection is documented. It might not seem important to the vehicle owner but it is important to us and to the State of Massachusetts that each car is properly inspected and that takes time especially commercial vehicles which take about twice as long,” said Evens.

As far as more inspection stations on the island goes, Evens wasn’t ready to dive too deeply into that subject. However, after a long pause, he offered, “The business model for a station that exclusively does inspections simply does not work financially. If it did, others on the island would jump in. Since Don Allen sells new cars, we are required by the state to offer the inspection service. The time it takes, manpower, and logistics that are required are easy to satisfy on the mainland but certainly not here on Nantucket.”

It’s a unique problem for Nantucket. There aren’t many options. For example, taking the Steamship car ferry over to Hyannis solely for an inspection sticker does not make financial sense. Plus, there’s one more thing to consider. The Steamship has been so unreliable lately that you might never see your car again.

Nevertheless, I want to wish everyone good luck on their inevitable trek to secure an inspection sticker. As we inch closer to the end of the month when demand picks up, it will only get more chaotic.

Frankly, I’m just glad it’s over. I got my pelt, and if I see Bates, I might even slow down so he can check it out.

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