Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Chevy

Nobody ever called me a genius. My car stalled as I was exiting I-40 yesterday afternoon. Then it started right up to get me home. Then it started up … twice … in the parking lot of the apartment complex where I live. So, thought I, it should be no problem getting to work tomorrow.

This morning, the car—the 2000 Chevy Malibu my dad left me when he died in 2001—started fine. It got me from 40 to I-540, the stretch of highway that gets me to my workplace. But it didn’t quite make it to school. It puttered out at about mile 2 of 540. It started again, and I pulled off at the next exit, and it stalled again. I got out, walked to the nearest road and saw nothing but trees in either direction. I got back to my car, and it started up fine again. I got back on I-540, heading west, back towards my home. It didn’t make it 500 feet. So I got out and walked towards Aviation Parkway, passing every dirty hairbrush, Styrofoam cup, and squashed possum along the way. The roar of traffic was personally daunting—like taking a stroll on a runway during takeoff, a perpetual takeoff that never lifted and disappeared into the blue heavens. I walked for about two miles and arrived at a daycare center for children, just opening, where the nice lady there let me use her phone to call AAA and then about seven or eight voice mail boxes at work.

The tow truck was waiting for me when I got back. The driver had been waiting 30 minutes when I showed, but he stayed, he said, because he didn’t want to have to just drive back later. Nice guy, been working for the company for 30 years now. I asked for a tow to the Durham Chevy dealership—a place I’d been to twice before over the years and never managed to escape for under $1,000—both times having to return because what was broken was not fixed—and (on the more expensive trip) never getting the loony computerized electronics system right (warning signals spring to life for no apparent reason, and the power windows sometimes work, sometimes don’t).

Why go back? I had no idea what was wrong with the car and knew no other place to go. At the dealership, the guy said it would cost $100 just to look under the hood. I kid you not. The shuttle driver who took me home—71 years old and he looks maybe 51, everybody tells him, and I told him too— complained about global warming (“nobody knows nothing”) and the Masons (“I see what they’re doing … sneaky”), and I heartily agreed to both assertions, pretending in my head that we were talking about the dealership.

So all day long I’ve been home, and received two phone calls from the dealership—both of them to say that their mechanics have not been able to “duplicate the problem” … one of the great lines of modern business, along with “your call is important to us.” The guy says they’ve driven the car thirty miles—twice!—hot and cold, and it runs exactly as it’s supposed to.

So it looks like the dealership is the real genius. One hundred bucks to tell me my car is just fine—even the test drives I have to take on faith (for all I know the car hasn’t budged). Hoping it won’t cost another $100, I asked them to hold on to the car overnight and try again … one more time … tomorrow.

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