Monday, March 17, 2008

car inspection


A few weeks ago I realized I'd better get the car inspected before the month was out. This is one of those minor chores that belongs in the category of things I tend to procrastinate about for no particular reason. I'm lucky, the car is still in good shape, so there's nothing to fear and no reason to put it off. Spend thirty minutes or so in a garage waiting room that smells of grease and tires? Not enticing, but there are much worse ways to spend time.

One of the hardships of moving to a new town, especially if you have lived in one place for some time, is the loss of the familiar: shops, a plumber, doctors, shortcuts, etc. Over time, you learn who you can count on. In a new place, it's almost as if you don't speak the local language, let alone know who you can trust.

But the car needed to be inspected and time was running out.

It was one of those ugly mid-February days; bleak, rainy, and colder feeling than the thermometer admitted to. My mood pretty much matched the weather. We'd moved since last year's inspection, so I found myself pulling in to a garage I'd never been to--one of the least inviting-looking garages in town as it happened. Aging cinder block in need of fresh paint; it hardly looked open for business. But it had a sign indicating it was an official inspection station, and there were lights on inside, so I took a chance.

I left the car in the inspection bay, in the hands of a slow-moving, 40-something guy, and made my way to the door leading into the main part of the building. This was a cavernous room half-filled with ancient vehicles and heated by an exposed, wood-burning furnace. I was met in the doorway by the octogenarian owner of the place (I'll call him C.) and spent the next half hour talking with him. I listened, mostly.

I know very little about antique cars but think a lot of them had a style, a sort of classiness you don't see much anymore. Is this the "old codger syndrome" setting in? Or perhaps I just have romantic associations based on old movies.

In any case, my admiration and a couple of questions were all C. needed to get him talking.
Among his treasures was what he said was a Model B truck and a two-door sedan of some kind (a Packard, I think? from 1931), neither of which was in very good shape. C. told me he used to drive the sedan and that it could hit 75 mph--ye gods!

C. told me about growing up in the area, about how it cost five cents to ride the bus to the nearest town with a movie theater, but that they usually walked to save the nickel. A movie ticket cost nine cents. He also told me he had earned and saved $8000 before he finished high school, selling tobacco he grew on a few acres of the family farm.
He wasn't saving it for anything particular, it was just what you did with money back then, he said. He talked about the old days, about raising a family, about how the area has changed since his boyhood.

But the best of his stories was this one: Senior year of high school, right after the end of W.W. II, his civics teacher set out to teach the class how the stock market works. She asked each student to study the stock market pages in the local paper, choose a stock to pretend to invest in, then watch what came of it. C. chose one of the big farm machinery manufacturers (International Harvester, I think he said) and watched his "investment" grow like crazy.

Thinking it over, he decided to make an actual investment and used half his savings to purchase some shares. Within a short time he was doing so well his mother asked him to invest some of her savings, too. They both made a bundle.

C. told this story with much amusement; after all these years still surprised by his "good luck," as he put it. When I suggested it wasn't luck but a smart investment, he demurred with a shrug, "No, I never was college material."

Meanwhile, C. continued to raise a little tobacco and opened a car-repair business in an out-building on the farm. By the time he was 20, he had enough money put aside that when he noticed a local garage for sale (the very one we were standing in) , he said he walked right in and asked the owner how much he wanted for it. The man named his price and teased C., "What would you be doing with that kind of money, anyway?" C. returned an hour later with a bag full of cash which he emptied out onto a workbench and asked the owner to count. He'd brought the entire asking price, in cash. But for all that, C.'s mother still had to co-sign the bill of sale since he wasn't yet 21.

There was more, about how he does most of the shopping and cooking now because his wife doesn't get around as well as she used to, about cooking his favorite cabbage soup, about how everyone in his large, extended family is still on speaking terms, which he says he's noticed isn't the case with a lot of families.

But then his son interrupted us, the fellow who had been inspecting my car, and told me I was "Good to go."

And so I went, out into the same dismal-looking February day, but feeling as if I'd been far away somewhere for a little stretch of time. If the garage is still open when my inspection sticker needs replacing next February, I'll be back.



4 comments:

Language said...

Nice post and picture!

motor-vehicles said...

Car inspection is never a pleasant thing. But it's necessary, tough.

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