Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Breakdown Part 2: " Holy _____________!"

When last we left our heroine, she was parked off Exit 45, southbound on I-5 waiting for the AAA tow truck to come and save her from a steamy Friday afternoon traffic jam in which her brakes unexpectedly seized up, leaving her stranded.

Do NOT ask me where the calm that entered my body came from as I said goodbye and thank you to the Department of Transportation angels who pulled me out of traffic. Triple A told me since I was on the freeway, I would be a "priority" tow and I shouldn't have to wait more than an hour. Maybe I should give credit to the anti-depressants, but I prefer to pat myself on the back for figuring, hey, there's not a Goddamned thing I can do right now, so I might as pull out a book or my cell phone, sit back, and wait. There are a couple of ways I can get through the next hour: frazzled/pissed or relaxed/philosophical. I need no more drama in my life, so I chose the latter.

I started to feel a little sorry for myself when an hour had passed and I had seen a dozen tow trucks pass me by (that really hurt). Called Triple A back to light a fire under their asses and a twenty minutes later, I got some help.

The driver was named Don and he had tattoos all over everywhere, including his shaved head. He was very polite and got my car up on the big metal shelf behind the cab. As we headed home (the auto shop was long closed by then), Don and I got to talking. First cool thing: he loves his job. NO LIE! You hardly ever hear that from service people, let alone a guy who's on call 50 hours a week in addition to his regular work schedule. Second cool thing: he has 6 kids and loves them all. Third cool thing: Don could drive that truck through the center of a Top Pot Doughnut and not displace one sprinkle and we made it home in 20 minutes.

On the way, he told me about his passion for taking pictures of the wreckage he encounters. "I don't like the bloody stuff, " he said. "I usually wait until all the people have been cleared out." The night before, he was called out of bed at 2 a.m. to assist in removing a Mazda Miata that a drunk driver had driven up over the cement median. "I didn't even know you could do that, " he said. I suggested he find a way to display his pictures, start a web site or something. He said he had been thinking about it. Don's probably too busy to put it together, but I would LOVE to see his photos. As for his personal taste, Don prefers to browse He warned me there is "some pretty gross stuff there." He dropped off my car as carefully as you might unpack a glass unicorn and I wished him a good weekend. He's gotta get a web site.

I managed to stay distracted for the next two days and got the car towed to the auto shop first thing Monday morning. And you know what that meant? I got to take the bus to work! I LOVE to take the bus and if it weren't for my job requirements, I would have a monthly pass and know every route. Eventually I could become one of those goofy passengers who knows all the drivers and all the stops and gives advice to the neophyte riders.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received the call of doom. My service agent Glenn (to avoid hysterical ranting aimed at whoever picks up the phone, the dealer assigns you a personal agent with their own direct number) explained that somehow a petroleum-based substance got into my brake lines and reached a boiling point in the stop-and-go-traffic, causing my brakes to seize up. I tried to focus on how interesting it was that brake fluid doesn't usually reach a boiling point, but my mind kept screaming: AAAAAGH! WHO DID THIS? HOW MUCH WILL IT COST? GET TO THE POINT! When I explained to Glenn that his dealership might be responsible for this problem, he responded, "Well, you know, in situations like this, everyone wants to figure who's responsible…" That's right, Glenn, 'cuz it wasn't ME! The current estimate to replace all the rubber stuff in my brake parts (apparently, petroleum products and rubber are natural enemies in cars) would be $3000 and they were still looking. I clenched my fist and tried to figure out how long I could rent a car and take the bus for three grand.

The next day I went by the dealership to get a final estimate from Glenn and he greeted me with a Snapple bottle half full of dark brown liquid with a thin layer of light brown gunk on top. He seemed giddy to be showing me the very same liquid that caused all my problems. I thought it might belong on I got even more squeamish as he showed me lovely, easy-to-read schematic drawings of the parts to be replaced. Like this was going to lessen the nausea. Then, Glenn landed the final punch: they would have to replace a $1200 ABS component that they hoped wasn't contaminated, but it was, bringing the total to $4200. I literally said, "OK, I have to go now, because I have no idea what I am going to do," turned on my heel and left the dealership. I was totally speechless, thoughtless, aghast.

THE LAST USED CAR I PURCHASED COST $4000 AND I DROVE IT FOR 7 YEARS WITH NO MAJOR REPAIRS! How the fuck could I rationalize $4200 worth of repairs for this car (except that I still have 36 months left to pay on the new car loan). AAAAAAACH! This was my worst car nightmare.

So, I did what any self-respecting capitalist would do. I figured I would get the money somehow, authorized the repairs, and tried to disappear. When I woke up from my denial, I called a money guy for some advice and then I called my insurance company. Frankly, it just felt better to start some wheels rolling, whether they would lead somewhere or not. Turns out I had plenty of money in my 401K for a loan and I found a very helpful insurance adjuster who was going to do some investigating. HOT DAMN! I think I might have handled this situation. Just like a grown up! What do you know?

I've learned several things from this: 1) I really wish I could ride the bus to work 2) Budget Rental Cars have good deals for Costco and AAA members (be sure to mention BOTH discounts) 3) It's great to meet people who really like their jobs 4) Don needs a web site and 5) Sometimes things work out OK. I heard an interview with a WWII vet last week who said the war made the rest of his life so much easier because nothing would ever be as bad as that. I hate to compare my car disaster to WWII, but being stranded in the middle of the interstate during rush our traffic makes an outlandish repair bill seem a lot less horrible. A lot less.


At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Lizzie said...

Dear uniongirl,

What the hell are you doing up after midnight? I'm sure your days, on or off the bus, would go more smoothly if you just got some sleep. Look how well Gary handles stress. He's in bed at 10 every night and he only screams at his workers 5 or 6 times a day. What is a blog. I can't even get my pics out of my camera and you've got a whole new vocabulary. I love you best,


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