Stalled on the Fourth of July
Today was my first July 4 as an American citizen but I didn't have much time or inclination to be patriotic.
On Friday I made the mistake of trying out the accelerator on my American-made car and it completely lost power. As I meandered at 20 mph into a strip mall thinking it was just my luck to break down next to the worst Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood, I had plenty of time to reflect on what a heap of crap my car was and to allow myself to dream about Japanese cars or German cars, Korean cars even. And I'm talking North Korean. By now my disenchantment with American cars was complete. Had the former East Germany been within handy reach I would have kicked my way in screaming: "Give me a Trabant."
At least I was clever enough to break down within sight of the only AAA repair center for 20 miles, although I'm not sure if repair is the right word.
The next day some guy called Eric cheerfully informed me the timing belt had shattered which annoyed me no end as I had it replaced 20,000 miles ago.
Apparently the timing belts shatter all the time on this make of Chevrolet, Eric said.
"On the Chevrolet Bollocks," I thought about saying.
On yes, enthused Eric. You only have to look at these cars in the wrong way and bang - there goes another timing belt. Still cheerful he informed me it would cost me about $200 for him to take off a cover to establish whether I would need to pay another $500 for a new timing belt or about $3,000 if all the cylinders were all bent and twisted.
I'll get the call tomorrow. Being an eternal optimist my money's on bent and twisted.
I found myself annoyed that Detroit at the dawn of the 21st century is still not up to the task of manufacturing a car with a timing belt that doesn't shatter. This may have been complicated by the fact this car was actually made for Chevrolet in Korea, so I didn't even have the chance to have the compensatory thought: "It may be a heap of crap but at least it helped keep an American worker in a job."
I'm not sure if my car is a metaphor for modern day America but I find it a bit ironic that the nation that first mass produced the car now has a reputation for making vehicles that break down ever time you cough. Don't even get me started on our Ford that's already had a transmission meltdown that cost half of its value to repair.
So I didn't get to see much of July 4, not just because I was driving round parking lots staring wistfully at Japanese cars and driving off before a salesman came sprinting out to ambush me, but because we're in the process of moving house and taking bits of junk over in a halfhearted way and hanging out in furniture stores.
The furniture store experience can be extremely time consuming because my wife usually has a list of about 200 items to buy and I insist on one and we spend the next 24 hours beating out a compromise. Salesfolk don't realize this. Salesfolk like Chris with his Perry Como dress sense and big old chummy southern twang. It's amazing how the world's most placid salesman can be transformed into Jame Gumb, the psychotic killer in The Silence of the Lambs, in the space of two short hours.
Still Chris kept coming back for more. The chairs and the coffee table. And throw in the love seat - whoever came up with that expression? Sounds like something from a 70s porno movie. A different coffee table. Chris kept going away and coming back to tell us how he'd got us a special reduction on the furniture, how he'd give us a couple of feet of fabric free - and presenting us with a final bill that was far higher than anyone anticipated. Then he went back to get an even better deal that turned out to come to the same grand and unfathomable total.
More prevarication took place. Chris had to drag over a coffee table from across the store to see how it looked next to the chair. Hopefully that popping noise wasn't his back going out. Then we opted for a different design, then I lost all interest and said we should leave altogether before a compromise was ironed out which involved a sofa and the rather unpleasantly termed 'love seat' but no coffee tables whatsoever. Thus I had spent two hours beating the argument back to my starting point although if it was down to me we wouldn't even buy new furniture because we have a couple of old grease stained deck chairs.
By the time we stumbled out of that place the moon was up and we kept tripping over clumps of Chris' hair that he'd spent the afternoon pulling out.
Later it occurred to me that the new furniture probably wouldn't fit in the door anyhow and the area that we were moving to was starting to look run down and there were some ominous sounds.
"Listen. Gun shots. We've moved to the ghetto," I said.
But it turned out to be firecrackers. Apparently it was the Fourth of July.