Last Saturday on NPR, Scott Simon
reported a great and famous racehorse had been sold to a Japanese interest,
then slaughtered and resold as pet food. That inglorious end, he went on to
say, has been the fate of millions of horses worldwide—from champion,
to family pet, to wild mustang poached off public lands. Simon was making
some sort of point, or maybe just wanted to buzzkill the Run for the Roses
scheduled for later that day. But sad as it is, what do you do? If the animal
wasn’t important enough to his masters—for whom he had made a
prettier penny than I’m ever likely to see—to memorialize, why
should I give it another thought? Frankly, I was surprised to hear he had
hung on for so long.
You know what other creature is still around? That freaky Oliver creature,
who habitually walked upright, smoked cigars, made passes at human ladies,
and was rumored to be the unholy offspring of human and chimp. Oliver is very
elderly these days. He’s blind and crippled and living in a preserve
run by a soft voiced guy who wears short shorts and flowing t-shirts, and
who feeds the ape chunks of fruit mouth to mouth. Not the worst way to go,
I suppose. Heck, I should be so lucky if I happen to become as infirmed. But
if I’d heard Oliver died and was ground into dog chow I’d probably
manage to carry on.
But when my mechanic began a conversation about my car with the words, “Just
how attached to it are you, anyway?” I began to reckon on some serious
Car problems played a significant part of The Cobra’s Nose in the early
days. Many an edition was begun whilst waiting for a repair estimate or for
a tow. Over time, the problems kept cropping up, but whatever small appeal
they had dwindled. The last big operation on it was a brake job, notable for
the creepiness of the guys who looked at it first and the costliness of the
establishment that got the job. Oh, and the colossal dickitude of the flunky
who ferried me to and from the shop to work. I’ve a fairly high tolerance
for disrespect, but when the guy started mocking my hand gestures and vocabulary
I shut down. And due to his patronizing behavior I will never again patronize
That’s why a different shop had custody of my car for what I thought
would be a major tune-up to get me through emissions testing. I’d failed
once, and let the clock run out on the repair extension. Alas, I got a patch
and part one of the car’s eulogy instead. Did I know the head was about
to crack?! With a copy of Auto Trader (Foreign) and Saturday’s Arizona
Republic, I began my search for another car.
And soon became discouraged because I simply do not have the cash on hand
to pick up a sporty little something made within the current century. So I
went to my perpetual Plan B—start making calls to Mom and Lauren and
other reliable advisors and ask them questions relative to my situation that
would lead them to offer to solve the problem themselves (preferably by buying
me something). This almost never works. Still, they did give me some valuable
guidelines in car shopping, which commenced as soon as Partick—another
font of wisdom and locked checkbook—and Sophia—a font of remarkable
patience—returned from some business at the Tae Kwon Do studio.
Our first stop was in Mesa to see a ’96 Toyota Tercel. It was a stick
shift with four speeds, which I noticed on the freeway when I couldn’t
persuade it to go into overdrive and came perilously close to choosing reverse
as a default. So, no.
We then went to a small auto lot on Van Buren, a street in Phoenix with a
notorious reputation for matters only tangentially related to cars, to see
a fetching Passeo. There was also a nice looking Nissan, reminiscent of the
one my Mom used to drive. “We’d also like to look at that one,”
we said to the proprietor. “Nah, not that one—too many problems.”
We took the Passeo for a spin around the neighborhood, and noted a disturbing
rattling. When we questioned the proprietor about the noise, he said, “motor
mounts” and said that just for us he would have his mechanic do the
repairwith no addition to the sticker price. I told him I had a worthless
Tercel I was looking to unload, and he said bring it on by maybe we could
make a deal.
At this point, Partick and Sophia bailed due to a previously arranged
social engagement, and I returned on my own (making leading phone calls
all the way that resulted in tons of advice). The proprietor drove my
car for a few blocks and declared that the mechanics from earlier in the
day might well be fools or crooks because the Tercel did not seem to be
in a desperate condition. Maybe his mechanic could fix it up and I wouldn’t
have to mess with the Passeo at all.
Now this puzzled me. I wasn’t going to buy the Passeo without independent
verification of it’s roadworthiness (all of my advisors were firm on
this), but I had resigned myself to buying something from someone. But heck,
if I could slide with a major tune-up (the proprietor’s suggestion)
I could always buy something later. We arranged for me to bring the Tercel
in on Monday for his mechanic to inspect, and the Passeo would go to an independent
mechanic for the same. In the end, Peggy very kindly assisted in the latter
half of the operation with a mechanic with whom she had a fruitful history.
Sunday, I spent wandering around the house wringing my hands.
Monday went as outlined above, with two significant rulings from mechanics.
The first was from the proprietor, who added more problems to my car’s
rather impressive list of fatal and just mightily irritating flaws. He seemed
a little hurt that I would take advantage and try to palm such a hunk of junk
(did I know it had a tendency to overheat?!) off on him, but he was an honorable
person and would give me a few hundred in trade. The second was from Peggy,
whose mechanic had found a mysterious leakage of motor oil in the Passeo.
I don’t pretend to know much about cars, but “mysterious leakage
of motor oil” is a deal killer. As far as I was concerned, the search
for a different car was about to start afresh, but Peggy’s mechanic
said bring the Tercel because maybe I could slide by with a major tune-up.
I wasn’t optimistic about this plan, but the mechanic, Tim Smart by
the way, said he would include the evaluation of the Tercel in with that of
the Passeo. What the heck? I took the Tercel in the next day and awaited the
Tim when he called seemed a little dismayed that I would demand he perform
a miracle on such a hopeless wreck. Did I know one of the cylinders was wet?!
Well, no, but since virtually everything else was defective it wasn’t
much of a surprise.
Long story…well, short is no longer an option, but to conclude, Tim
also sells cars and after some fierce negotiations on my part (“What
would you advise Peggy in this situation?”) and hard-nosed parries on
his (“Aw, geez…”), I bought a ’91 Chevy Cavalier that
has four whole buttons for the radio, cold a/c, and a name that doesn’t
irritate my spell check. It’s an automatic, so I had to find another
spot for the cobra’s head gearshift Amy gave me for my 25th (prove otherwise)
birthday, and to accommodate a few other cobra themed gifts she, Partick and
Peggy were nice enough to bestow.
Now, what more could I want in a Cobra Car?
by Sharon C. McGovern
From Volume 41
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