Smoky New Car


Well, I got a new (used) car last weekend.  I'd forgotten what the East Coast puts you through to get a car.  In California, when you set foot on the lot of an auto dealer, you drive away in a different car.  In fact, one of the most powerful things you can do in CA when negotiating for a car is to leave the lot (even if it's just for lunch).  Best yet is to leave, but make sure they have your number.  Then they call later in the week and are really ready to deal...

In the East, though, buying a car is a multi-day operation.  The dirty work was done on Sat., in a pouring rain, when the dealership was very quiet.  I knew what I wanted, and test drove it--used car, 31000 miles, 3 years old, 40% less than the new cars next to it.  I traded in my old 2-door, 113,000 miles on it (which isn't that much in CA, but in the East, that feels like a lot more!  Distances are shorter, and the winter is harsh).

The car was about what I expected, so on to the dealing part.  I used to dread this, but 15 years in Silicon Valley and getting to know a few sales people changed my attitude about dealing--now I rather enjoy it.  I left Diana at home (essential, in my experience!) and we started talking.  I knew in a case like this the most leverage is with the trade.  The dealer whined on for a while about how difficult it is to sell used cars in MA because of their harsh lemon law.  And then offered me about half what the car was worth in trade.  I countered by telling him it was a CA car that had never seen a salty road.  And the horse trading was on.  In a relatively short time (as these things go) I had talked them down by $1000, and was reasonably satisfied.  I considered selling my car privately, and decided it was too much hassle.  We then moved to financing, which is another area where they can sweeten the deal if you press.

Roadblock!  The finance lady wasn't there--she was off at a wedding.  I put down a deposit, subject to financing, and made an appointment for the next day.

Sunday I came in, and, after waiting a half hour for my "appointment", was shown in to the finance lady's lair.  (I always take along some books and food when car shopping.  It can take hours, and it throws them off if I'm not squirming when I'm waiting...).  This was strange in several ways.  Every time I've bought a car in the last 20 years the finance was arranged by a fat pasty woman, sixty-ish, wearing a lot of rings.  I figured they were some relative of the owner, put out to pasture.  Except they were all alike enough to be related to each other, too.  This was my experience roughly ten times on both coasts.  But last week was different.  The finance lady appeared to be in her 30's, stylishly dressed, and quite thin.  And in-your-face Jewish.  Diamond crusted star of David necklace.  Pictures around the office of her and/or family at Temple, etc.  Rather more than I wanted to know about her.  But she was competent, gave me a deal on an extended warranty (which I don't usually get, but it was a good deal, and without it the car had no warranty).  So I ended writing a check, and then found out that I would have to come back the next day.  Because the motor vehicle office wasn't open on Sun.

Well let me tell you, in CA the dealers would never let something like that stop them!  They must have a better lobby than the dealers in MA do, because the CA dealers handle all the registration stuff directly and mail it into the state.  You get your license plates a month or so later.  No problem.  So I made an appointment to come in on Mon. to get the car.

On Mon., frantic calls from the dealer.  Call your insurance company.  Turns out the insurance company needs to fax stuff to the dealer, the dealer needs to fax stuff to the insurance company, and then a "runner" needs to go to the Motor Vehicle office.  But it finally got done.  Whew.  And I drove off in the car.  "Make sure you get it inspected within 7 days!" they said.

When I got in the car, the strong smell of cigarette smoke blasted me.  I had been relieved that I didn't smell anything on Sat., in the rain.  But they had clearly prepped the car with a powerful deodorizer.  Either that or they had emptied a few ashtrays into the seat cushions.  First stop was to the store to get a spray can.  Now the car smells like deodorant, which actually is better.  My last car had been owned by a smoker, too, and it took about 10,000 miles for the smell to dissipate.  Damn!  They overcharged me.

This car is a bit bigger than my last one.  Eson and Yson had outgrown the backseat.  But I realized that I'd had that car for five years.  And I missed it (even the bad parts).  It was a terrible snow car, though, and needed tires and brakes and all sorts of other work.  But it was a constant point in the midst of great changes in my life, and I didn't realize how unsettling it would feel to be without it.  I'm adjusting, but slowly.  And the smoke doesn't help...

Primitive cultures often name everything around them--rocks, trees, etc.--and see them as having a spirit life within them.  The heroes of the middle ages would name their swords.  Just about the only inanimate objects we name in this culture are our cars.  Actually, I've never named my own car, but many of my friends have.  But even though I haven't named my cars, I do find myself talking to them, especially as they age.  "C'mon, you can do it.  Don't let a little snowdrift bother you..."  It's a kind of emotional bond, much stronger than I realized.

So much life has gone by between updates.  A trip to Washington DC to see my brothers, and watch my son perform in a concert.  Preparing and delivering a talk in church about my studies in Hawaii.  Exceptionally difficult and busy weeks at work, leading to a variety of successful outcomes.  Diana attending a conference in Atlanta for a week, and surviving with the kids here.  Discussions with an architect about a small addition onto our home.  And glorious indescribable fall colors, blasting my brain at unexpected moments while driving around the area.  And a funny, growing feeling that I finally realize is--I'm feeling at home, here. 

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2002 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.