Car Wars: The Phantom Mazda

We slowly sat down at the round table for a Summit Meeting with the Opposition.

I kept my sunglasses on. No use letting them see the whites of my eyes. Hubby was perspiring freely, but his turban hid it well.

“Just start with your name,” I whispered to him.

The car dealership manager leaned back in his leather armchair. He held a pen which he clicked over and over, like a ticking time bomb. Only the tightness around his eyes showed the tension that his large smile was attempting to dissipate.

We had been slowly wearing down our target over the last couple of weeks.

We settled on this car quickly and then once in a while we’d go over and ask to test drive it.

Then we’d slowly circle the car, attempting to find defects. Sometimes we’d open every single door and inspect hinges. We used a penny to check the tire treads. We sat in all the seats then asked if there were more. Then we made phone calls at non-business hours on his private cell phone (hey, he gave it to us) and asked more questions. We made low offers that he laughed at.

And then countered the next day.

You can’t just go in and buy a car. You have to feint and then retreat. There’s reconnaissance patrols and shock tactics.  And when all else fails, you pull a ‘Panama’. Don’t ask.

You don’t smell victory until the salesman is willing to lower his price enough to get rid of you.

“Will you be financing or paying cash?”

The manager had a few tactics of his own to maneuver with.

He sent someone out to bring our car to the front.

Forty minutes passed, and as we signed the last of the treaties, the someone returned, nervously wringing his hands and bowing frequently to the manager, the buyers, and the doors.

“What is it Z?” asked the manager.

“Oh sir, I am so sorry, I am so embarrassed,” the minion began, “but we cannot seem to locate the vehicle. We searched all of the neighboring car lots. It’s vanished sir!”

Everyone in the room paused for a beat. And then all of the negotiations were reopened.

The manager stood up. “It’s not possible!”

Hubby stood up. “What in the world is this nonsense?!”

Manager: “Sir, could I interest you in this car over here? It’s a better car, and it’s red. Same price!”

Hubby: “Absolutely not! We were very clear in opening arguments that red is unacceptable!”

Manager: “Yes sir, yes sir. However, we have scouts searching all corners of the globe as we speak. You must have patience!”

Hubby: “What kind of people sell you something and then it just vanishes into thin air? It wasn’t even the perfect car. We wanted one with a roof rack! We drove all this way and now we are entirely deceived!”

The minion hovered in the doorway, well out of the manager’s reach. “Sirs,” he said, “the car has been found! One of our other managers decided to drive it home for the weekend and will not be returning it tonight.”

Then he fled the scene.

The manager was pacing. Hubby stood with fists on the desktop. I sat watching with steely calm.

“There!” the manager cried, “The vehicle is located. I’ll tell you what! We shall bring it in, detail it for you, install a roof rack, and deliver it to your home.  I would not dream of asking you to drive here twice for our mistake! If you do not accept the vehicle upon delivery, I will personally shred all documentation, and you are under no obligation whatsoever!”

Foreboding sat thick in the room, an acrid haze. I could see both parties were mentally circling, looking for the loopholes, the treachery, the possibility of an ambush in the parking lot.

Finally, Hubby agreed to the terms offered. We drove home in silence and waited for zero hour to arrive.

It was a tight call whether we would achieve triumph or forfeit all attempts at diplomacy.

Either way, someone somewhere was going to lose his hookah….

Car Wars

As those of you who read “Death of a Champion” know, our recently deceased suburban lived a long and full life with our family. We were there at its conception and birth (the only car we’ve ever purchased brand spanking new) and we were there to mourn its death.

A few appropriate words were spoken at the time by the children:

“Dude, did you get all our Legos out of the back seat?”

As the tow truck carried it off to the giant wrecking yard in the sky, there was only one thought on my mind.

We were now on the inescapable, undeniable, terrifying journey into…car shopping.

You know us well enough to see that this was not a good thing.

Making decisions in our family is like the Middle East peace talks. Everyone knows it’s a good idea. Everyone shows up to the bargaining table with perfectly sincere faces and a handshake.

But you are dealing with crazy people. So don’t hold your breath.

Our family wields opinions like small firearms. And nobody ducks.

I decided to launch a pre-emptive strike and fired off the first round.

“I want a Vespa,” I declared, “a green one.”

Everyone was silent for a minute contemplating my idea.

“We can put sidecars on it if you need a ride to school.”

This was met with a great deal of eye rolling and muttering in foreign languages to each other.

“Okay, fine,” I relented, seeing that my giant SUV to tiny moped was a pretty extreme rebound, “how about we get a Mini Cooper or a VW Bug? A Jeep?”

My six foot tall and only growing taller sons were having none of it.

“Mom, we want a monster truck!” they countered, “What if we got dropped off at school in one of those?!”

Obviously they thought everything with wheels was an option, including anything made by Tonka.

“I know!” they crowed, “let’s get a limo!”

I spent a moment relishing the thought of having a plate glass barrier between myself and the passengers that not even sound would break. But a mom has her duties and I scratched their idea with the safety card.

“The only car you’ll be allowed to ride in without a seat-belt is a hearse.”

Which was also a valid idea because we used to have elderly neighbors whose granddaughter worked in Hollywood as a horror film make-up artist. She drove an old hearse as part of her shtick. It always gave me a double-take when she parked it out front.

My fearless hubby stepped forward. He wasn’t sure what kind of car we wanted yet, but he knew it wasn’t going to be red. Or black. Or yellow. Or green. He tossed out some targets.

I shot down Hummers (overcompensating much?), Prius (batteries sold separately), Camrys (yawn), Cubes (just drive a mail truck already), Volvo (a roll cage with wheels), Lexus (been there, done that), Beemers (so cliché), and what’s the difference between a sport wagon and a station wagon? Ick.

I spurned anything resembling a van (too soccer mom).

I shunned everything resembling an SUV (gas guzzlers).

And while a gi-normous Caddy reminded me of my days in the hood, there’s no possible way you could pimp that ride to entice me into buying one.

Not even in Mary Kay pink.

I was reloading when a daughter said, “Hey, get a Mustang!”

All the kids jumped on that bandwagon. Muscle cars are a big hit when we travel the roads, and I’m always asked to pull up alongside one so they can properly respect the lucky drivers.

Camaro. Cobra.

What about a Mazarati? A Lamborghini!

Well don’t stop there, you little fantasy-land mouseketeers!

How about we get a Ferrari and call it a day?

The bottom line is that we need a taxi for the next six years that will take the abuse it deserves for not being a Lotus Elise. It needs to be economical, safe, sturdy, and dependable.

Translation=boring in the extreme.

Stay tuned as we head into the wilderness in search of transportation.

We’re armed and dangerous.

And no one is interested in negotiating.

Go big or go home….

To Canada in a Tin Can

Put four people into one car for a week, and you tell me whether anyone will be snatched bald at some point between miles 800 and 850.

The first day is all pedal-to-the-metal so you can get as far away from home as possible. You can tell by your kid’s breath what the current snack is and his kneecap keeps drifting into your back through the seat, but you don’t care because you have places to go.

Half way through day two, you realize that no teens have been looking out of windows at all. They are sitting in virtual reality with a full arcade at their fingertips and earbuds that have not transmitted a single one of your, “Hey kids! Look! More cows!”

They are happy.

Your job is to find cows and snacks.

Your job here is to adult, and you are not allowed to substitute an alternate reality for your current one.

So you maintain a certain amount of presentness in the form of, “Slow down dear, I present to you: The Speed Limit: 70mph” and awareness in the form of, “I am aware that you can drive just fine, thank you, but I’m not comfortable with all of us landing in the Gorge of the River Hades today”.

On day three it dawns on you that Hubby’s insistence on packing the car each morning, sweet as it was on day one, is actually a sneaky bid for world domination.

There is only one way to pack a car: his way.

If you attempt to load your little carry-on in the wrong order and it lands between his gigantic hanging clothes bags and his shoe bag, you will be court-martialed and the entire car gutted so he can begin at the beginning.

I’ve got my smartphone, my passport, my turns-into-everything scarf.

It’s a jacket, an umbrella, a blanket, a hat, a pillow, a skirt, a knapsack, a neck warmer and also a baby sling if I happen across a wee abandoned orphan near the duty-free.

It says, “This woman packs three things for a two week vacation.”

This time, I went wild and added some moose repellant.

Hubby packs everything he owns.

“You just never know,” screams his luggage between tightly clinched zippers.

The man enjoys his options.

You sit on the curb with a steaming cup of bad hotel coffee in a paper cup and chug it while he plays Jenga with the baggage.

Day four: I am the only driver allowed. Hubby can take his map and his smarter-than-I-am phone and his every-five-minute traffic updates and stare silently out the window looking for unicorns.

Fidget, fidget, fidget.

Sometime in the middle of day five, I see Hubby’s hand reaching slowly towards the A/C button.

With eyes steady on the road and in a Chuck Norris voice meant for a room full of eighth graders I say,

“Touch that, and I will chop off your hand and slap you with it.”

When we finally arrived at the Canadian border, I may have been a little sassy with the passport lady.

Honestly.

Maybe we resembled crazy-eyed terrorists by then, but we had fully discharged our explosives somewhere over Oregon.

“Go ahead and search the car, sister,” I thought, “but heaven help you if you don’t repack it correctly.”

Homing in on our destination, the kids popped briefly into reality.

“Um, what does that speed limit sign mean, Mom? What’s 100 km/h?”

“I have no idea and I don’t care. I’m making it up.”

Which is fair. They make money up here that could be any amount. Any at all.

“You’ll go to jail.”

This I know to be false. Cops in Canada ride horses.

They’d never catch me.

I am all done adulting.

Time to wrap up in a scarf, drink tea, and melt into my own alternate reality.

And believe you me, there are no cars there.

 

Angels in the Backseat

Once upon a New Year’s Eve, we got it together on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning and headed across town to church.

You reckon that God is over there waiting for you and you’ll hear some lovely thoughts on scripture and practice loving your neighbor and teach the kids a thing or two about how Jesus loves them so.

And your suburban is in the shop (again) but that’s okay because another member is driving two of your kiddos and you’ve got the other three in the Lexus with you, so you make a cup of tea to go and debate just briefly whether to hassle the carseat into it because the kid is five already and it’s only across town.

So you don’t bother.

Hubby’s driven the exact same route a million times.

So when we entered the intersection and got hit by another car incoming at 3 o’clock and spun and got struck again and then spun into another car who was just minding it’s own business waiting for the light to turn and we all landed smack in the middle of Oz, it made no sense.

None.

Hubby immediately jumped out of the car.

“What happened?” I heard him asking, “I don’t understand…what was that?”

His first thought – and all of the alternatives were just as awful – was that somehow he had run a red light. That someway he had just made a terrible mistake. But he had seen a green light.

Hadn’t he?

It never occurred to anyone that – hey – he had just jumped out of a totaled car.

And walked around trying to understand stuff.

I vividly remember sitting in my seat, wondering the same thing.

I was surrounded by deflated air bags; tea was all over the place.

There was a breath of complete silence.

And then my little one started to cry.

“Kids!” I shrieked, “Kids! Are you okay? Somebody talk to me!”

“Yeah mom,” said my eldest. He was sitting directly behind me. “I think so.”

I heard glass shifting in sharp little ice cube sounds. I heard the car door open behind me. I heard my daughter in the far left seat groan very quietly. My baby was still crying.

I must’ve lost it just a little.

Over and over, I screamed at the kids to tell me they were okay until my eldest opened my car door.

He got right up in my face.

He made eye contact until I was quiet.

“Mom,” he said, “we’re okay. We’re all three out of the car and standing here. I’ve got the kid, he’s just scared. Look, he stopped crying.”

And that’s when it occurred to me that I couldn’t move.

My brain told my head to turn and look out of the car, but my head didn’t want to.

Weird.

That was it, weird.

And I just didn’t care because my babies were standing in the middle of the road and promised that they weren’t hurt and they were okay and everyone was going to wait for the emergency vehicles and stay together and take care of each other until everything was okay again.

That’s what I needed to do. Fix stuff. Make it okay pronto.

I sat there and called my mother.

I know.

I told her where we were and could she come and collect us and that we were all okay but obviously without a vehicle.

Oh, and I couldn’t really move yet but it was all the same to me to sit there in the comfortable car and wait for her. I was fine. I called her, didn’t I, to tell her so. I must be.

I sat in the car, hearing voices that seemed jumbled and far away and looking at nothing much in particular, feeling tired and thankful and completely sure that we were all fine.

Which makes no sense.

But I didn’t need it to.

I just knew.

I was very surprised when a strange man popped his head into my personal space.

“Hi there,” said Mr Handsome.

“Hi.” Mental eye roll. Surely I could’ve come back with anything more clever.

“How are you feeling?”

“You know,” I said, “I’m fine, thank you. I just felt like I didn’t want to stand up yet. I’ll get out now, if you need me to.”

“Have you moved at all since the crash?”

I didn’t like his insinuation.

“No, but I was just pulling myself together. Look, I can turn my head, it just hurts to do it, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

I had barely shifted my chin to the right when he and the entire firefighting crew around him exclaimed, “STOP! No! Don’t move!”

Well. I didn’t know I was so popular.

I gave Mr Handsome the stink eye.

“I can wiggle my fingers and my toes. I can move my arms and make phone calls. I’m fine!”

“Look,” he said very calmly, “we don’t know if you have a hairline fracture anywhere in your spine. If you turn anything at all…you could pop it.”

And that’s when I went a little to jelly.

I let strapping young men strap me into a hard stretcher. I forgave them for lying me smack in the middle of the street in broad daylight with a crowd of onlookers who will remain forever anonymous, as my neck was in the cone of shame.

It was a bit much though, (paramedics take note here) that I was on an incline with my head lower.

I had a head rush, but I was glad I was wearing my nice skirt and top.

Someone else was put into the ambulance with me, and the paramedic asked me questions all the way to the hospital.

But not the other guy.

The other guy had broken ribs and a collapsed lung. But I didn’t find that out until much later.

By the time I was laid out in the ER, and my X-rays were being scrutinized, Hubby was sitting next to me again.

He told me my parents had arrived on the scene and collected the children and taken them on to church where they were surrounded for the day with instant multitudinous family.

A police officer stepped into our cubicle.

He explained that the other car had blatantly run a red light. The driver and his passenger were heading home after an all-night party. They had just stopped at a drive through for breakfast and the driver had glanced down at his wrapped McMuffin and never even saw the intersection coming.

He struck our front right car panel at full speed, crumpling it just to the edge of my door.

When we both spun, he struck the back right car panel, crumpling it just to the edge of the back door.

When we spun into the other car, we smashed out the left rear of our car.

The three kids in the back seat were leaned forward when the rear window shattered and threw parts from the other car into the seat at them, showering them in glass.

Not a scratch on them.

The officer mentioned that this was a perfect lawsuit. They had all the evidence in their report available. This negligent driver had totaled a family car, minors were involved, and here was the mom laid out in hospital.

He gave us paperwork and respectfully backed out.

Hubby and I just looked at each other as a doctor walked in.

“No fractures,” he said. “Just a full-body whiplash. Take your time starting to move. I’ll prescribe some pain killers.”

Sometimes you have “church” in the most unlikely places.

It dawns on you that God wasn’t waiting around somewhere for you to show up.

He was sitting right here with you the whole time.

With His arms around you.

Every scripture involving the concept of thanksgiving, grace, and mercy popped into my head.

And I thought they were all beyond true.

I felt nothing but sympathy and sadness for the people in the car that had hit us. They were hurt, and we weren’t. We had a loving family with multitudinous arms lifting us up.

I didn’t know what kind of family these strangers were going home to.

What would their own mothers say, running to see them in the hospital?

Were they afraid? How many ways had this morning changed their lives, maybe forever? Were they going to spend months worrying, waiting for us to hunt them down?

Because we didn’t.

When God hands you the lives of your children, you don’t ask for a single thing more.

I believe my kids learned a thing or two that day about how much Jesus loved them so, without anyone saying a thing.

Later, at home, I put on – very slowly – the sparkly top I had bought for New Year’s Eve.

I answered the constantly ringing phone to reassure everyone that, yes, our open house New Year’s party was still on. Please come.

For once, I didn’t do dishes or join the Xbox dance-off or hula hoop contest.

I just sat up very straight and soaked in the love that permeated our home.

And tried to thank the angels who had been sitting on the kids in the backseat.

The Amazing Race

I’m on the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Between home and there, we have to cross Nevada and Utah.
The plan is to drive to Richfield, Utah on day one and the rest of the way on day two.
There are three other families driving this route at the same time, spread out along the way so as not to advertise each other’s driving techniques.
Some of us *ahem* drive a wee bit zippier than others.
I don’t name names in this blog, but one rhymes with “chubby”.
Our wimpy car could’ve gone even zippier, except Hubby had everything and the kitchen sink packed into the back of it. The man likes his options.
We are all connected by a running group text, in case of emergencies.
Such as, someone in our car needs a slushy pronto and has anyone seen a Dairy Queen up ahead?

The first car headed east had a solid two hour lead.
Halfway through Nevada, their air conditioning broke.
It was over 100 degrees and climbing.
Their plan was to get to a dealership somewhere in Utah, where the next two cars coming along would catch up and offer assistance.
They ran their car heater in case it would help the engine, and landed, dripping wet and in borderline heat stroke, in St George Utah.

We pulled into the dealership parking lot just as they were informed that the air conditioning wasn’t going to be fixed. Not today anyway.

As the third car joined us, and folks generally milled around in the volcanic heat, I noticed Hubby looking at the front of our own car.
Like a man who just found a hair in his soup.
Like a man who just discovered his kids’ secret booger collection.
Both of our front tires had gone bald. The tread gone, the cables showing.
No explanation other than: we need two new tires immediately.
“Jolie? What do you have for me?”
Within five minutes, I had discovered via Smarty Phone that the nearest Costco was at the next exit up the freeway, their tire department (“Mike”) had tires in stock for us, and could install them in the next half hour.

Boom.

Which is how the other cars took the lead in this Amazing Race while we ended up browsing a Utah Costco. A fascinating experience in what a Costco can do when called upon by Brigham Young to provide for multiple wives, each of whom require a phenomenal kitchen at exceptional prices.

The following is actual footage from my cell phone text with the car that had gone ahead of us.
It began by asking if anyone needed anything from Costco while I was there.
I was eyeing up the wine selection while thinking of our hotel room still tantalizingly out of reach.
I didn’t get any takers.

So this Costco is totally geared up for big family homes.
Domestics alone – kitchen gadgets! – is killing me.
I want it all and have no room in the car for a single spatula.
I blame Hubby. If he hadn’t’ve packed the kitchen sink I could be buying a new one right now. Besides, I don’t fit in.
Surrounded by good Mormon mamas and I’m dressed like a wicked city woman.
Well. I got the skirt right.

Cover those shoulders Jolie! People will be scandalized.
Are you taking photos?

Hey! This isn’t Walmart.

Hahaha! That’s what they thought until you arrived.

You’re a very bad friend. Why do I talk to you?!

I don’t know.

So I took some pictures for her.
The first one is to prove that yes, I could have bought a kitchen sink.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

The other one is proof that, in addition to a huge selection of furniture that was being jumped on by a multitude of identical children supervised by pregnant women wearing skirts and tennis shoes, this Costco offers thirteen different vacuums.

20150627_170839
Thirteen.
Just of vacuums.

I fled St George Utah before my overwhelming nesting instincts kicked into gear.
I could feel my hair growing past my waist and a sympathy pregnancy coming on.
We caught up to our peeps in Richfield and they had the courtesy to not “U Turn” us.

The Amazing Race continued the next day, our Utah Roadblock now in the distant past.

Customized

I’ve gotten into a bad habit or two. It happens.

My first-thing-in-the-morning habit involves having a large mug of tea and a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. This one is a good habit. I get healthy and happy right off the bat.

The problem lies in the fact that I prefer sleeping until 8am but must be dashing out of the house by 7:45am to take youngest child to school, and I’ve sadly gotten lax about prioritizing these numbers.

Okay fine, I’ve gotten lax about every last thing to do with youngest child…when other moms followed their prodigy around the kindergarten classroom with a videocamera, I pulled up to the curb, tossed him out with a snack and said, “Good luck with that, kid!”

However, in a vague effort to be a good mom, I try to synchronize his arrival with that of his peers.

Most mornings, I can get dressed and in the car on time.

But I am holding a full mug of tea (travel cups are for sissies) and my co-pilot is holding my bowl of oatmeal while I navigate turns and hills at top speed.

If I take a drink at every red light (and there are plenty because the Red Light Gargoyles know that I might be running on time, and we can’t have that) then I have an empty mug that I can put down, take my oatmeal from youngest child, and let him out at the curb. With his snack.

Now I have a cold bowl of mush, but because I’m not here to waste food or time, I eat it methodically at all the red lights back towards home.

The kids have all seen me do this.

They are horrified.

I’ve tried to convince them it’s delicious. Why, it’s the same as eating warm(ish) oatmeal cookies soft from the oven and dipped in milk.

But they see me carve a lump of oatmeal out of the bowl and they’re not buying it.

So I want to know.

Why can’t they customize a car with a few obvious comforts?

Cars are already equipped with hair dryers. You can blast your damp locks with the heater vents as you zoom down the highway.

You can apply makeup on the way to a date using the rearview mirror. A handy sleeve of pockets attaches to the sunshade and holds your brushes and creams.

How hard could it be to install a toaster vent just above the CD portal?

PopTarts are a basic food group and so portable, it’s a natural next step, engineer guys.

Cigarette lighters are a waste in California, but with just a small modification, they would be a great curling iron at a red light.

Of course, I realize that holding anything besides the steering wheel is a terrible idea.

Naturally, I am only thinking of my passengers’ comfort.

But nobody like a grumpy driver.

So why don’t we install something like a Camelback around the top of my seat with a hands-free sipper handy for my drink?

I mean, think about this, mechanically minded people.

You drive through Starbucks and pump your headrest full of iced cinnamon dolce latte.

It’s 2015, Year of the Hover Craft.

Yeah, I don’t see that one yet.

So I’m willing to settle.

The Smart Car

I have a smart-aleck car.

It’s bad enough I have a smart phone that tries to out-think me. Which it occasionally does.

But my ridiculous car just made a fool out of me. How do you take revenge on an inanimate object?

You all heard the stories last year about our old faithful Suburban finally dying and our trial by fire of car shopping.

We ended up with a small car suitable as a taxi, with enough warranty that the taxi won’t suddenly go out of service.

Only a couple of months in, the unthinkable happened.

It was a dark and stormy night.

My son and I were driving down the freeway, wipers going furiously, when a red light suddenly appeared in the dash panel.

Accompanied by a loud frantically dinging alarm.

Naturally, I calmly and slowly veered across several lanes onto the nearest exit ramp and reminded my son that screaming was not going to help the situation.

“Mom,” he said, “that was you.”

So.

We parked beneath a street light to assess the damages. The red light was a circle around an exclamation point.

That was it.

The car was trying to tell me something. Important.

What? What is it car?!

My son decided to do the intelligent thing and reached into the glovebox for the manual.

What to look up? Alarms? Red light? Circular memo?

We finally narrowed the chapters down to discover that this particular alert indicated a serious issue with the brake system. We were advised to stop immediately and call a tow truck to take the car to the nearest dealership.

Proceeding was sure to lead to certain doom. The manual writers could simply not take the blame if we were foolish enough to proceed.

So you’re telling me that a new car with a fat warranty has decided to suddenly lose it’s brakes?

As I’m not James Bond, I decided that no one (probably) had a contract out on me, and that (possibly) the brakes had just gotten a lot of rain water up inside of them and (maybe) we were going to make it the last two miles home because (darn it) it’s late and I’m tired and we’re just going to address this tomorrow when (very likely) this will all go away by itself.

It’s happened before.

I put on my “I’m smarter than a car manual” face and we crept home and snuck into the garage, leaving it in solitary for the night.

The next morning, Hubby drove everyone to school while I made phone calls. We bought the car in Riverside. But I needed to service it in San Diego. Once I had the proper person on the line, I explained my situation and secured an appointment right away.

They were very concerned. So sorry that a car could have escaped a dealership anywhere with faulty brakes. Understanding that, yes, of course the warranty will apply unless, of course, they discover that perhaps it won’t. I had to make a two hour appointment so they could fully investigate the situation. Please, ma’am, if you really must drive it over here, do be extremely careful.

And I was.

I drove gingerly up into the service bay of the dealership and parked it.

An eager to please service man walked up with his clipboard and pen and wrote down all the pertinent information, including everything from the Riverside people and so forth.

I explained again what had happened. I may have been a little peevish. After all, we’d had quite a little scare. And I had trusted the car salesman in Riverside. I really couldn’t believe that after all our trouble, we ended up with a lemon.

The service man listened carefully, a concerned frowny crease in his forehead and an empathetic look that clearly said, “Well WE would never have done that ma’am. You’ve come to the right place. We’ll just get to the bottom of this, shall we?”

And then he asked me to turn on the engine so he could take a look and a listen.

Immediately the warning light came on. The alarm pinged shrilly across the parking lot.

He stared hard at the whole business and then calmly asked me to turn it back off.

I could see many emotions crossing his face but he obviously hadn’t yet decided which one to go with.

So he said, “Well. The good news is…it’s not your brakes.”

“But,” I said bewildered, “it says right here that it is!” I pulled the manual out of the glovebox and rapidly found the page. “Look! Here’s the symbol and the instructions.”

“If I could ask you to turn to the next page?” he asked.

On the next page was another row of symbols, none of which had I ever seen on my car’s dash.

One was almost identical to the alert from last night. Only there was a tiny gap in the circle at the top. That was it.

“Your tire pressure is low,” stated Mr Helpful.

We stared at each other for a full 30 seconds before I lost it and started laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I gasped, “why in the world would my car fall to pieces because the tire pressure is a little low? It’s ridiculous.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but if you drive with low tire pressure over time, the tires will wear unevenly and that would be dangerous later.”

I just stared at him.

“Well,” he said, “Why don’t I just take it around the back and fill the tires for you?”

“Yeah.”

My two hour appointment was over in ten minutes.

It was nice to meet him, but I really would prefer not having a reason to see him again for a long time.

If my car has a meltdown over low tire pressure, I just don’t want to know what it does when something important happens.

If I’m driving down the road and the transmission falls out, I don’t care if the car goes into auto-pilot and tries to eject me from the driver’s seat.

I’m going to buckle down and tell the car to man up and keep going.

Big whiner.

The Backseat Driver

Well, it’s finally happened.

I’ve heard of the odd but true situation where dog owners and their dogs begin to look like each other. Watch the opening scenes of “101 Dalmatians” to see my research.

I know about the weird syndrome that occurs when a couple has been together so many years that she will sneeze and he will blow his nose.

But when I suddenly discovered one day that Hubby and I were holding a synchronized swimming performance in the car, I almost drove onto the sidewalk.

I am usually the family driver. You’ll see why in a moment.

Naturally, I look both ways before entering an intersection.

In tandem, so does Hubby; in the same sequence at the same speed.

“A car’s coming,” he’ll point out helpfully.

“Watch the bike,” he’ll mention, just in case.

We put our seat belts on, flip the sun visors down, and put on sunglasses simultaneously.

And the two-driver car pulls out onto the road.

“You want to be in the far left lane through this stretch of road,” he begins, “it moves faster at this time of day.”

Hubby is a backseat everything.

He drives me crazy even when we aren’t in the car.

His mind is a constant whirl of analytical hypothesis.

He will not hike with you and be admiring the wildflowers. He will be summing up the degrees of the slope we’re walking. He isn’t getting the groceries. He is comparison shopping between name brands and store brands and calculating the cost per ounce.

If you present him with a question, he will not give you an answer. He will ask you twenty questions in order to fully understand your original question before he takes a week to plot out a trajectory for his conclusions.

What if he worked for the Pope?

“Uh, Pontiff? I know you’re The Man and all, but you want to rethink that latest statement. Maybe for a decade or so.”

“Excuse me Mr. President? You absolutely do not want to push that button. We need to think through all of the ramifications and extrapolate probable results of this action over the next 50 years. Yes, I know Russia already pushed their button, but we just can’t be so hasty.”

“Little Timmy, are you sure you need the bathroom? How long ago did you use it? What have you been drinking since then? How much? The nearest bathrooms are ten, twenty, and fifty miles down the road. How long do you think you could hold it?”

When I drive, I am getting from Point A to Point B.

When Hubby drives, he has entered a video game.

He is constantly re-calculating the location of every other car on the road, their speeds, and the attitudes of the drivers.

God forbid anyone makes eye contact. It’s seen as a direct challenge and the game is on.

He is loudly backseat driving for them as well, although they don’t often know it.

If no one presents a driving game for Hubby, we are treated to a running commentary similar to tuning into an AM radio station. “News and weather together” every fifteen minutes.

“Boy, looks like it’s gonna be a hot day today. Look. The car already shows it’s 89 degrees out. I wonder if it will cool off closer to the coast? But I think we’ll get a santa ana before the end of the week. It’s just gonna get really hot. I’m guessing high 90s.”

On the up side, we always see the cops before they see us.

On the down low…we should probably just get swim caps and goggles if we want to pull this show off right.

Mine come with ear plugs.

Car Campaigns Part 2

We slowly sat down at the round table for a Summit Meeting with the Opposition. I kept my shades on. No use letting them see the whites of my eyes. Hubby was perspiring freely, but his turban hid it well.

“Just start with your name,” I whispered to him.

The car dealership manager leaned back in his leather armchair. He held a pen which he clicked over and over, like a ticking time bomb. Only the tightness around his eyes showed the tension that his large smile was attempting to dissipate.

We had been slowly wearing down our target over the last couple of weeks.

We settled on this car quickly and then once in a while we’d go over and ask to test drive it. Then we’d slowly circle the car, attempting to find defects. Sometimes we’d open every single door and inspect hinges. We used a penny to check the tire treads. We sat in all the seats then asked if there were more. Then we made phone calls at non-business hours on his private cell phone (hey, he gave it to us) and asked more questions. We made low offers that he laughed at.

And then countered the next day.

You can’t just go in and buy a car. You have to feint and then retreat. There’s reconnaissance patrols and shock tactics.  And when all else fails, you pull a ‘Panama’. Don’t ask.

You don’t smell victory until the salesman is willing to lower his price enough to get rid of you.

“Will you be financing or paying cash?”

The manager had a few tactics of his own to maneuver with.

He sent someone out to bring our car to the front.  Forty minutes passed, and as we signed the last of the treaties, the someone returned, nervously wringing his hands and bowing frequently to the manager, the buyers, and the doors.

“What is it Z?” asked the manager.

“Oh sir, I am so sorry, I am so embarrassed,” the minion began, “but we cannot seem to locate the vehicle. We searched all of the neighboring car lots. It’s vanished sir!”

Everyone in the room paused for a beat. And then all of the negotiations were reopened.

The manager stood up. “It’s not possible!”

Hubby stood up. “What in the world is this nonsense?!”

Manager: “Sir, could I interest you in this car over here? It’s a better car, and it’s red. Same price!”

Hubby: “Absolutely not! We were very clear in opening arguments that red is unacceptable!”

Manager: “Yes sir, yes sir. However, we have scouts searching all corners of the globe as we speak. You must have patience!”

Hubby: “What kind of people sell you something and then it just vanishes into thin air? It wasn’t even the perfect car. We wanted one with a roof rack! We drove all this way and now we are entirely deceived!”

The minion returned but stayed well out of the manager’s reach. “Sirs,” he said, “the car has been found. One of our other managers decided to drive it home for the weekend and will not be returning it tonight.”

Then he fled the scene.

The manager was pacing. Hubby stood with fists on the desktop. I sat watching with steely calm.

“There!” the manager cried, “The vehicle is located. I’ll tell you what! We shall bring it in, detail it for you, install a roof rack, and deliver it to your home.  I would not dream of asking you to drive here twice for our mistake! If you do not accept the vehicle delivery, I will personally shred all documentation, and you are under no obligation whatsoever!”

Foreboding sat thick in the room like haze. I could see both parties were mentally circling, looking for the loopholes, the treachery, the possibility of an ambush in the parking lot.

Finally, Hubby agreed to the terms offered. We drove home in silence and waited for zero hour to arrive.

It was a tight call whether we would achieve triumph or forfeit all attempts at diplomacy.

Either way, someone somewhere was going to lose his job…or his head.

Car Campaigns Part 1

As those of you who read “Death of a Champion” know, our recently deceased suburban lived a long and full life with our family. We were there at its conception and birth (the only car we’ve ever purchased brand spanking new) and we were there to mourn its death.

A few appropriate words were spoken by the children.

“Dude, did you get all our Legos out of the back seat?”

As the tow truck carried it away to the giant wrecking yard in the sky, there was only one thought on my mind. We were now on the inescapable undeniable terrifying journey into…car shopping.

You know us well enough to see that this was not a good thing. Making decisions in our family is like the Middle East peace talks. Everyone knows it’s a good idea. Everyone shows up to the bargaining table with perfectly sincere faces and a handshake.

But you are dealing with crazy people. So don’t hold your breath.

Our family wields opinions like small firearms. And nobody ducks.

I decided to launch a pre-emptive strike and fired off the first round.

“I want a Vespa,” I declared, “a green one.”

Everyone was silent for a minute contemplating my idea.

“We can put sidecars on it if you need a ride to school.”

This was met with a great deal of eye rolling and muttering in foreign languages to each other.

“Okay, fine,” I relented, seeing that my giant SUV to tiny moped was a pretty extreme rebound, “how about we get a Mini Cooper or a VW Bug? A Jeep?”

My six foot tall and only growing taller sons were having none of it.

“Mom, we want a monster truck!” they countered, “What if we got dropped off at school in one of those?!”

Obviously they thought everything with wheels was an option, including anything made by Tonka.

“I know!” they crowed, “let’s get a limo!”

I spent a moment relishing the thought of having a plate glass barrier between myself and the passengers that not even sound would break. But a mom has her duties and I scratched their idea with the safety card.

“The only car you’ll be allowed to ride in without a seat-belt is a hearse.”

Which was also a valid idea because we used to have elderly neighbors whose granddaughter worked in Hollywood as a horror film make-up artist. She drove an old hearse as part of her shtick. It always gave me a double-take when she parked it out front.

My fearless hubby stepped forward. He wasn’t sure what kind of car we wanted yet, but he knew it wasn’t going to be red. Or black. Or yellow. Or green. He tossed out some targets.

I shot down Hummers (overcompensating much), Prius (batteries sold separately), Camrys (yawn), Cubes (just drive a mail truck already), Volvo (a roll cage with wheels), Lexus (been there, done that), Beemers (so cliché), and what’s the difference between a sport wagon and a station wagon? Ick.

I spurned anything resembling a van (too soccer mom).

I shunned everything resembling an SUV (gas guzzlers).

And while a gi-normous Caddy reminded me of my days in the hood, there’s no possible way you could pimp that ride to entice me into buying one.

Not even in Mary Kay pink.

I was reloading when a daughter said, “Hey, get a Mustang!”

All the kids jumped on that bandwagon. Muscle cars are a big hit when we travel the roads, and I’m always asked to pull up alongside one so they can properly respect the lucky drivers. Camaro. Cobra.

What about a Mazarati? And Lamborghini!

Well don’t stop there, you little fantasy-land mouseketeers! How about we get a Ferrari and call it a day?

The bottom line is that we need a taxi for the next six years that will take the abuse it deserves for not being a Lotus Elise. It needs to be economical, safe, sturdy, and dependable. Translation=boring in the extreme.

Stay tuned as we head into the wilderness in search of transportation.

We’re armed and dangerous.

And no one is interested in negotiating.