Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Final Conflict

What my car does to me
Sarah and I left to pick up my from Conrad's just before 9 A.M. this morning (Wednesday), stopping first at her bank so she could float me a loan, and then at my own bank so I could deposit the money.

Once the check was written and accepted and the keys back in my hands, it was immediately back to the E-check station for me in order to get this shit over with once and for all. Upon my arrival, I was pleased to see no one in line and was waved right into the garage. I was just about to step out of the car and head to the waiting area when one of the kid employees yells the name of the guy taking care of my paperwork while pointing straight at the front of my car, where wisps of smoke were emanating from beneath the hood. My stomach immediately dropped about 20 floors. Jesus Christ, NOW what?

Incredulous, I popped the hood. Sure enough, more smoke was looming up from exactly the same place as before, only this time in much smaller amounts. For a stunned second or two, I was ready to charge back over to Conrad's with a tire iron in hand until I realized that what I was seeing had to be leftover steering fluid that had sprayed around from last week and now freshly reheated on the pipes and engine casing. The E-check guy taking care of me (the same one who had been there Friday when this thing was really smoking) agreed. Phew. False alarm.

I went inside the waiting area (which looks and feels like you are walking into an air conditioned trailer standing in the middle of a warehouse) to await the test results, confident that this was about to end at long last. However, the slowly-dissipating bad karma of the last week wasn't quite through with me yet: a couple of moments later, I was told that the car cannot be tested because it was overheating.

I just about flew into pieces right on the spot, but managed to not raise my voice at the manager as I explained that the car may run a little hot for their tastes, perhaps, but it does not overheat. I didn't mention that the car had been idling in ninety degree early morning heat without their movable fan running on it for about ten minutes while we sorted the smoke situation and paperwork out ... that might have made me sound a bit snarky. Anyway, it's not a problem, really. Scout's honor. Can we just test the fucker, please?

Request denied.

I looked quickly down at the floor, about to splutter a "JESUS CHRIST, MAN," and took a breath. I then switched tactics and started in on my intended fall back gambit: the repair waiver. I laid out the story y'all read the other day (in abbreviated form) to no effect at all. See, while I did indeed spend an amazing amount of money that I do not have on car repairs, only about $100 of that money was actually for emissions-related repairs (nevermind that the entire reason the last thousand and a half dollars was spent so that these clowns would look at my car in the first fucking place), and therefore I was well short of the $300 threshold to try this stunt without an E-check.

"Look," I said, keeping my voice steady with great effort, "the exhaust system on that car is new. The cleaning job done on the engine last week was done in order to get me to pass this test, which I flunked by a few hundredths of a percentage point on the nitrogen count. I have had two places tell me in the last week that there is nothing wrong with the emissions system on this car at all. And now you are telling me that, in order to get all of this over with, I now have to go out and spend a couple hundred more dollars to have someone fix something that isn't broken in the first place?"

"Well ... yeah, that is one way of doing it."

Well, damn, what the hell can I say to that?

"Look, how about I just park it for a while and cool it down so we can do this again?"

"That's fine, but if it overhea-..."

I wasn't really listening to the rest as I walked away and drove the car to the side of the testing facility. It seemed futile to attempt a "cool down" in the rapidly-warming blast furnace of a day we were already having, but I was up against the wall now. I let about forty minutes tick on by before I started the car up again and drove back around the building where I was faced with four or five vehicles lined up in front of me. I took a place in line, waited for a few minutes, and quickly calculated that by the time I reached the garage I would likely be "overheating" again. This wasn't going to work.

I then drove home, seriously wondering how in the hell I was going to scrape up a couple hundred more dollars to buy myself out of this unending nightmare. Once I was at my desk, I stewed for a bit, cooling off in the AC, asked Moe if had any ideas (he did not, but instead flipped out for a while in Sarah's chair), and tried to dig up a receipt for the exhaust system repairs I had done back in the spring as a possible way to meet the repair waiver total.

Sarah called a few minutes later and suggested I take the car to a different E-check facility. This entailed heading out to the other side of Lake County: an idea I wasn't very hip to for a handful of reasons, but I told her I'd consider the suggestion. I then called the 1-800 number shown on the E-check brochure to speak with one of their Customer Service people about what was acceptable for a repair waiver claim. There was nothing but bad news on that front: all repair jobs submitted for a waiver had to be done within a 60 day period before the E-check test. God damn it.

I talked with the rep for a few minutes about this complete pinch that I was in, and while going over some options, the CS rep mentioned "release forms" while talking about testing a car that was prone to overheating. Hey, I was never offered that option! When I told the CS rep that this I never even told of this possibility by the facility manager, the CS rep suggested (as Sarah had), that I try a different location to have the car tested instead. OK, then, what did I have to lose?

Back onto the freeway I went, this time for a lengthy cruise to the other side of Painesville (i.e., the borderline between civilization and BumbleFuck). Once there, I parked at a convenience store near the E-check facility in a doomed attempt to cool the now rather-hot engine down a bit. By now it was positively blazing out, and after a few minutes of sitting around in the heat, I realized there wasn't going to be an awful lot I could do unless I felt like sitting there for another couple of hours. Since that was not an option, I started the engine again and noted that the TEMP gauge was holding steady at about 3/4 of the way up.

Well, this has to be Good Enough for now. Let's do it.

A couple of minutes later, I pulled into the Painesville Township E-check station which, while looking identical to the Willoughby location from the outside, was populated by a cast of people straight out of Hooterville. I asked for a release form when I handed over my paperwork and explained why. The manager was called over, and I explained my situation once again. He looked doubtful, saying basically "well, if the car is overheating, then we can't test it, and that is that."

I gave the manager my very best sales pitch. "Listen, this car is NOT OVERHEATING. I just drove out here from Willowick, so it looks kinda hot but I am telling you and signing this form saying that it's GOING TO BE FINE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE PLEASE TEST IT." (These weren't my exact words, but instead the thrust of my pitch).

"Alright, son ... but if that needle starts to crawl up, I have to stop the test."

Fine. I give up. "Do what you have to do, then."

I stepped out of the car and into the waiting area, watching anxiously as the workers moved it into place on those roller thingies and started their test program up.

That E-check was over FAST, really fast. Far more so than in Willoughby, where it seemed to drag on for a couple of minutes of 3000 RPM torture. This time, it was all over in less than a minute ... and what do you know? It passed!

An enormous weight just vanished from my shoulders in a dizzy rush. I could have kissed them all. Maybe even some tongue too.

So, I figure I'm only in debt up to my eyeballs until sometime around Halloween. That's no picnic, but I've been there and done that. However, I am also mobile, legal, and absolutely giddy with relief. The worst two weeks of this whole fucking year are now an archived memory, nothing more. Praise Dog.

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