A CENTURION TALE
Back on ’03, when I was twenty-three years old, I bought my first adult car. It was a 1999 Honda Civic VP. It had 52,000 miles on it, and was dark green. I bought it for $8,250, USD.
Before it, I had a 1993 (?) Chevy Lumina that I let turn to shit. It was kind of a combination closet / trash can / suitcase. It got me from point a to point b, had the slogan: Bob Dylan Wails duck taped across the front of it, and had tons of different tapes and cd’s inside. It resembled a boys dorm room, or the male half of a rest area.
I landscaped while I owned it, and would come home most days dirty and sweaty. I’d take my shirt off, throw it in the back, open a diet coke – I bought one for fifty cents every day after work – and drive home. The drive home was freedom. From 5-something until bed time, the day was mine.
My body was tight, used all day, and took the fifteen minute drive home as a resting point.
My dad and grandpa both thought this Lumina wouldn’t make it to Florida, where I had to be in three weeks to begin my career as a teacher. I, perhaps ignorant, figured I’d go for it anyway; but when my grandpa offered me an interest free loan for a better car, I couldn’t pass it up and began the search. Which lead me to the Civic.
I sold the Civic recently, or, rather, gave it away to this guy name Joe; I also gave him $1,000, USD for a 1995 Buick Century Special.
The Honda didn’t have a name, until about 2006 or 07, atypical of my cars. The Buick had a name – Albie – the second she was mine. The Lumina’s namesake: The Jack of Hearts, was also an easy one. As was The Baby Blue, my first car (and possibly, also my first love) – a 1989 Dodge Grand Caravan that was named after its color. The Civic, though, for those first five years of our relationship, didn’t have a name. It finally got a name after breaking down a few times and me repairing it. We got to this point where we needed one another. There was no getting rid of her. I’d sunk too much time and too much money into her, and we’d been together far too long for me to leave her. Plus, we were in it for the kids. So I called her My Second Wife.
My Second Wife was kind, dependable, if not a bit weathered, when it was her time to go. Her time came when she failed the emissions test in January. Chicago requires cars of a certain age to pass an emissions test in order to renew plates for another year. The process for this, not surprisingly, sucks. You bring your car in for a test, it passes if you don’t have your check engine light on. My light was on, so I failed.
This left me needing to do something by the end of the month. My dumbass wanted to do this alone, which brought on the council of Frank. Frank was an unwelcome, unwanted member of the Girls Varsity Bowling Team. He was always around. He likes bowling, which somehow fits, because he’s the kind of guy that probably gets bowled over quite a bit; as in: he’s kind of a loser. He’s one of those guys that you meet at a certain age, and can’t quite picture what they were like at any other age. The type that seems to have no past and may have possibly mostly skated through life, without making much of a mark.
On command, Frank could recite his statistics from his various bowling leagues over the past fourteen years. This includes the two 300’s he got, and the vow he made to bury the jacket one can claim with such a feat, with his deceased father.
Frank’s a good bowler, claims to be a mechanic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew quite a bit about cars. I saw him wearing a towing jacket once, and had no problem imagining him taking someone’s car without giving much of a fuck.
Being around cars might have been a good fit for him, but being in charge of a girl’s bowling team wasn’t. Women have emotions. They liked to be talked to a certain way, which didn’t include “large breastedness” as a physical description.
Frank mentioned that he worked on cars, that he may be able to get me a deal, so I gave him my number. He called me a day or so later, saying that he had two cars in mind that may be worth my while. I went and looked. It was the first time I saw Albie, and it was love at first sight. I think I rode a car like this to Courter Tree Farms back in the day, and was looking forward to driving this bad boy.
I met Joe, Frank’s buddy, and was told that, provided I throw in my Honda, the Buick was mine for a grand. This was the same as the repairs wouldda cost to get my car road worthy. Seemed good.
So I took it.
What should have been an immediate red flag was that as I was handing over the cash, Joe told me he’d ordered a part that should be in in a few days and I could bring the Buick by his shop and he’d fix it anytime.
Three months passed.
I phoned him several times, and received several excuses. I knew, via excuse, that he’d been to Minnesota and Michigan, but not to his shop in Chicago. Meanwhile, my Buick’s engine had been skipping and sputtering.
The first week I had the car, Chicago had its worst blizzard in decades, and I couldn’t take it to Joe. Then the dodging started. I was calling him three times for every call I’d get back. When he would call back, he’d tell me to call him back at a certain time. So I would, but he wouldn’t pick up. It was one excuse after another. After a few weeks of this, I finally left him a message saying that the car was a lemon, and I would gladly sell the thing back to him for the $1,000 I’d bought it for; he could even keep the Honda. He gladly take the offer, he said, if he could afford it. The problem was, he couldn’t. He was two months behind on rent. He was taking care of his mom. He had to go to Detroit to keep his GM certificate current, which somehow landed him in Minneapolis, MN. He proceeded to tell me the troubles he was having with the Honda, implying that I’d screwed him. He may or may not have put about $3000 into it. The transmission may or may not have gone out. I kindly interrupted him to remind him that he paid nothing for the car, and therefore couldn’t, as he was implying, have been screwed over.
During the course of the conversation, it became obvious that he wasn’t going to fix the car. He probably never intended to all along. I didn’t complain. I had, after all, bought the thing. I wasn’t expecting perfection from a twenty year old car. But I was expecting something that drove. He remained emphatic about how great a car it was. How great of a deal I got. I made the decision, on the phone, to sell it. Since it’s such a great car, I’ll give you first offer, I told him. He didn’t take the offer, and I was stuck with the thing for a while. It spent about a month on the street in front of my apartment before a junk dealer paid me $300 for it. When the guy came to pick it up, he called his boss to make sure, saying, “You’re getting screwed on this”. Apparently, this was the theme for Albie.
It’s been a little while since I’ve had to worry about that car, or other cars in general. I bought something that’s reliable and handles well, which is more than I can say about Joe or Frank. I imagine that Joe’s still in his shop, hustling and making excuses, feeding off the desperate. I bet Frank still stalks the alley, hauling people’s cars and inserting himself into situations. But instead of any of those things, the thing that remains with me about Albie and her birth and death is what should have been the second, and much bigger, red flag. When someone tells you they work on cars for a living and do so in their garage, make sure that garage isn’t attached to their house.