Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Car Troubles - The Inexorable Slog"

After a false start following my recent DMV excursion, where I went to an utomotive service center close to my house, hoping to get an enabling leg-up on fulfilling my “Brakes and Lamps” certification requirement, and the automotive service center attendant lied about being an authorized “Brakes and Lamps” professional – he wasn’t – lied about my smog certificate being invalid – it wasn’t – and lied about the nearest authorized “Brakes and Lamps” being downtown, twenty miles away – it wasn’t – hitting the admirable “Trifecta” of “I really hate this guy”, I went home, sensing that completing the demanding DMV prerequisites for my “Registration” certificate were not going to be easy.

(Reminder:  Registering a “Salvage” car – a car the insurance company has “totaled out” after an accident – is considerably more onerous than for a regular car.  Secondary Reminder:  They hit me!) 

The next day, bright and afternoony – I do this writing in the morning – after completing the pages of forms I’d been sent home with, I decided to mitigate the situation by availing myself of modern technology, researching the nearest “Authorized ‘Brakes and Lamps’ centers in Santa Monica” on the internet. 

It turns out, contrary to what I had been mistold the evening before, there were plenty of them.  I wrote down some names, hoping to ace the authorized “Brakes and Lamps” certification hurdle and then hop over to the DMV with my completed documents, and “Spit-Spot!” as they say in England, I’d be finished, driving merrily on my way.

I drive into the automotive service center I’d selected, I get out of my car, walk over to the attendant and I say,

“I need an authorized ‘Brakes and Lamps’ certification.”

He says,

“We don’t do that.”

Did I mention it said on the internet they did?”

Fortunately, the man refers me to a reachable automotive service center that can actually help me.  I get back in my car and I immediately drive over there.  And indeed, the appropriately named Joy Automotive is exactly what I am looking for.  They can definitely help me.

Unfortunately, not right away.

There is an hour’s work ahead of me, and the “Brakes and Lamps” test will take another hour to complete.  My available options are three in number:  I can make an appointment for another day.  I can leave and come back an hour later, but since Joy Automotive is, without an appointment, a “First come, first serve” operation, I might then have to wait even longer.  Or I can stay there for two hours and get it done.  

I decide on “Option Number 3”.   I notice a cemetery across the street from Joy Automotive.  I immediately envy its inhabitants.

No paperwork.

Flash forward – if you can characterize a yawning expenditure of time a “Flash” – the Joy Automotive mechanic comes over to where I am waiting and says, “I want to show you something.”

Have you ever known “I want to show you something” to ever be good news?

It wasn’t.

With my car elevated on a hoist, the mechanic reveals that, although I had passed “Brakes” with flying colors, behind the left front turning signal under the fender, there is no wiring and no socket, making my left front turning signal functionally inoperative, which meant I had ignominiously flunked “Lamps.”

Apparently, when the dealership Body Shop put my car back together after the accident, through accidental oversight, breathtaking incompetence or deliberate neglect, they had left me with a “Potemkin” turning signal – all “show” in the front, and behind it, there was nothing.

Tic Tac Toe

Back to the Lexus dealership to get the forgotten underpinning for my turning signal, back to Joy Automotive to show it was fixed, procuring official “Brakes and Lamps” certification, then over to the DMV – a three-step process sucking more time out of the precious remainder of my life.

Unfortunately, “Tic” would take longer than expected. 

By now, it was Friday afternoon and the Lexus Body Shop was closed for the weekend.  Accepting a courtesy “Loaner Car” (having now received a replacement “Proof of Insurance” certificate), I leave my car at the dealership, promised that the repair work will be taken care of first thing Monday morning.

I call the dealership Monday afternoon.

“What’s goin’ on over there?”

“Let me check, and I’ll get back to you.” 

The guy never got back to me.

I call Tuesday afternoon,

“Why is this taking so long?”

“Well, we lost the car…”

“You lost the car?”

“It’s okay.  We found it.  Your work will be completed by four.”

I drive to the dealership at four, and my car is ready.  I drive to Joy Automotive, and I flash them my left front turning signal, receiving my authorized “Brakes and Lamps” certification.  I drive over to the DMV, where, I line up to get a number, “B-153”, so I can sit on a chair and wait for “B – 153” to be called.  When “B -153” is finally called, I am dispatched to “Window Number 10” where I utter a hopefully, sympathy-earning “How’re ya doin’?”  A woman with a distinctive Rosanne Barr whine processes my paperwork, and then issues me a “Registration” certificate, along with, to my surprise, a new set of license plates.

“Where are the ooooold license plates?” the Rosanna “sound-alike” inquires.

“They’re on the car.”

“You are supposed to bring them innnnnnnn.”

“They are on.  The car.”

It has been a week since this torturous ordeal began.  I am entirely out of politeness.

Seeing sparks flying out of my eyeballs, Ms. Rosannne “sound-alike” judiciously relents. 

“Make sure you destroyyyyy them.”

“I shall explode them with dynamite.” 

I did not actually say that, fearing arrest for destroying government property, even property struck from the Department of Motor Vehicle records because they are the plates of a car that seemingly no longer exists.  (I was required to also surrender my “Pink Slip.”  When someone later asked me who now owns the car, I assertively said, “Nobody.”)

Then, finally…

It was over.

If this were a kid, during a moment of weakness – my life a pointillist painting of moments of weakness – I’d have inevitably said,

“You have no idea the things I do for you.”

But it was a car.

I slipped my “Registration” certificate into my glove compartment, and I quietly drove home. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Car Troubles - The Continuing Adventure"

My 2017 “Proof of Insurance” certificate and my 2017 “Registration” certificate had inexplicably both disappeared at the same time.  Or maybe they didn’t.  I discovered them missing at the same time, which I guess is not exactly the same thing.  Though who knows, they may have run off together to “Certificate Vegas”, staying cooped up in a glove compartment leaving them itching for a scandalous “Documents Spree.”  

Whatever.  They were gone and they needed to be replaced.  Replacing my “Proof of Insurance” certificate was a thirty-second phone call to Farmers, “Bum ba-dum-bum bum bum bum.”   Replacing the “Registration” certificate was another matter entirely.  That required a warily anticipated visit to the DMV.  (After which some people are never entirely the same.)

I delivered my ’92 Lexus to the dealership for a “tune-up” on a Wednesday.  Thursday afternoon, I am informed it was ready.  A Lexus employee who confides that he’d had two recent, serious heart attacks picks me up at the house, conveying me back to the dealership.  Happily, we arrive successfully at our destination.
Let us now return to this Kafka-if-he-ever-had-car-troubles ordeal.

Driving my car off the dealership lot, I headed straight for the Santa Monica branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles, to procure a replacement “Registration” certificate.  No appointment.  Just diving in.  As usual when facing “The Unknown”, the salient lyrics to High Noon echo encouragingly in my head:

“I do not know what fate awaits me.
I only know I must be brave…”

My daughter Anna had recently performed onstage for the first time in her life, serving as drummer and lead singer for a George Harrison “Tribute Band” she had assembled with three other musicians.  As I walked into the DMV building trying to “draft” on her gutsy experience, my bolstering mantra:

“Be like Anna.”

And now I was inside.

This is no nightmarish DMV horror story.  The DMV I’d selected had won a “Four Star” (out of five) rating on Yelp, garnering  “The Best DMV in Santa Monica” accolade.  Not cheap shot intended, but it was way better than the post office. 

My treatment at the hands of the DMV personnel was unilaterally friendly (by the more forgiving “bureaucratic politeness” standards), understanding and efficient.  It wasn’t their fault I felt like cowering nine year-old non-swimmer Earlo at Camp Ogama, lined up on the dock, a hulking swim instructor pacing threateningly in the background, anticipating the non-negotiable “Get in the water!”

It is the loss of personal control that reflexively rumbles my intestines.  Though, in this case, is this not serious overreacting?  I am essentially there for some vehicular bookkeeping.  Why then do I fear the impending proximity of “Mug Shots”, fingerprinting and “spends a night in ‘The Box’?”  (See:  Cool Hand Luke.)  Loss of control, mixed with irrational feelings of guilt.  Have I mentioned visiting five therapists?

Reaching the front of the preliminary “Get-a-number-so-you-can-sit-on-a-chair-and-wait-for-that-number-to-be-called” line, I stand before the desk of an affable “DMV Greeter”, breaking the ice with a conspiratorial,

“I think I’m losing my mind.  It’s like my ‘Registration’ certificate, I don’t know, flew the coop, and I am going to need a…”

She cuts me off, handing me a single, printed sheet of paper.

“Fill this out and return it when you’re finished.”

I fill out the form.  I return it – without having to get back in line, if you don’t count the considerably shorter “returning-the-completed-form-you-filled-out” line.)  I receive a number.  The humanizing “B-174.”

I find an unoccupied molded plastic chair, and I wait.  Recently called numbers are posted on a large LED screen, accompanied by an upbeat, female automated announcement.  As “B-174” inexorably approaches, I feel an elevating anxiety.  Searching for a distraction, I notice the nearby eye chart applicants are required to read when applying for their Driver’s License.  I am aware there are letters printed on that eye chart.  But I have no idea what they are.  Suffice it to say that did nothing to reduce my anxiety level.

“Miss Disembodied Congeniality” finally announces “B… 174.”  As instructed, I dutifully repair to “Window Number Three”, offering a hopefully sympathy-earning, “How’re ya doin’?”, and we’re off.

Oh, boy, are we off.

Quickly discovering that my ’92 Lexus is a “Salvage” – meaning it’s been in an accident and has been declared a contractual “total loss” by the insurance company who then snitchily report that information to the DMV – Ms. “Window Number Three” gives me the lowdown concerning the “salvage-related” hoops I will be required to jump through before receiving my “Registration” certificate. 

– Smog Check.  (I has presciently brought along the still valid “Smog Check” certificate.) 

– Surrender the car’s “Pink Slip.” (I had presciently brought along the “Pink Slip.”  My intended goal was not to have to come back.  Silly me.) 

 Submit my car for a “VIN” (Vehicle Identification Number” – I just looked that up) test.

– Fill out the pages of forms I am presented. 

– And procure official “Brakes and Lamps” test certification. 

– Plus, shell out two hundred and twenty-six dollars for the privilege.

That’s all there was to it.

Escaping the suddenly asphyxiating DMV premises, I return to my car, driving it behind the DMV building, as directed, for “Hoop One” of a continuing series, the ominous VIN inspection test.  (“Ominous” because I have no idea what it is.)

“Pop the hood” barks a brutish middle-aged man I am sure had been drummed out of the constabulary for using “Excessive Force.”  (Parenthetical Question:  Why do all menacing authority figures seem to have prominent boils in the middle of their foreheads?  It's like a prerequisite for belligerency.)

My own personal VIN test was figuring out how to “pop the hood”, because “Bruno” was most certainly not going to help me.  Against, all odds and expectations, I did it.  Not on the first try, but I did it.

Scanning selected areas of my car with a miniature flashlight, as I pessimistically awaited “the worst”, the man who, if not a former disgraced police officer was at least a retired, menacing “Shop” teacher, could find no fault with my vehicle. 

I had passed the VIN inspection test.  With still no idea what that actually was.

My enervating DMV experience was now concluded.  I had substantial paperwork to complete, and a “Brakes and Lamps” test to officially pass.  Despite, my commendable prescience concerning required documents, however, I would unfortunately, still have to come back. 

A compensatory upside?

I found a dime in the DMV parking lot.

More to come.  Although I am starting to feel like Lenny Bruce reading his obscenity trial transcripts in front of nightclub audiences who were there to see comedy. Hey, I have to vent somewhere.  And nobody else will listen to me.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Car Troubles - The Epic Adventure"

This is an odyssey.  And almost equally as long as the original. 

It’s not a tragedy.  There were no debilitating injuries or unfortunate losses of life.  But it was still, metaphorically at least, agony.  And it took forever to slog through it.  I am actually not even finished with it yet

(Have you ever wondered who made these previously unknown but suddenly indispensible things up?  “It is what it is.”  “Let’s ‘unpack’ this situation.”  Or starting a sentence with “So…” 

What exactly happens in these cases – somebody says something nobody needed before but find they are now unable to live without and it flies infectiously around the planet?  Do they make money coming up with these things? – Somebody says it, and they get a residual?  Nah.  How could they monitor that? – “Someone just said, ‘It is what it is’ in Australia.”  “That’s a long way to travel for a dollar.”  I suppose there’s the innate satisfaction of hearing it wherever they go and thinking quietly to themselves, “That was me.  Am I envious of them?  Yesiree, Bob!  And I wonder where that came from?)  

A little backstory… 

(By the way, don’t expect this to end in one blog post.  It took me forever to trudge through this ridiculousness and I am not suffering alone.  Now where was I?  Oh yeah.)

A little backstory…

I had returned to the Lexus dealership for the first time since one of their reckless employees had crashed into my car.

You may remember that story.  I had driven to the dealership to get a part I had ordered for my 1992 Lexus SC 400 – a passenger-side door handle – installed, the original passenger door handle having snapped off in my hand due to advancing decrepitude, and when I rolled up to the carport, one of the dealership’s “car jockey’s” returning another customer’s car to its owner, slammed into my Lexus SC 400 so hard, I could barely force the jammed driver’s-side door open to wedge myself out.

Long story short – and I shall inform you how long in the second half of this sentence – it took more than three-and-a-half months – between wrangling with the dealership’s insurance company and the repair effort itself – for my car to be once again fit and sufficiently roadworthy. 

Because it was twenty-five years old and now worth less than it would cost to rehabilitate it, the insurance company elected to “total out” my car, offering me a reasonable “buy-out”, and asking a reasonable sum if I wanted to buy my car back, which, having a soft spot for my quarter-century-old vehicle, I did.

After a calendarial season and then some, my car was finally fully repaired and ready to go.  But, due to insurance rigmarole, it was now officially designated a “Salvage Car.”  I was not clear on what entirely that meant, though I knew I would not be able to sell it.  I did not care about that.  I planned to drive that car to the end, either the Lexus’s or my own.  At any rate, the car I had bought during the Clinton Administration was now back in my possession.  And, although violently assaulted, it looked better than Clinton.

Now I am back for a servicing.  With ancillary hopes of replacing a radio/CD player that had recently given up the ghost.  The car’s CD’s are stored in a console in the trunk.  Since the in-car machinery was disabled, I would now apparently have to climb in there to listen to them.  That was a joke.  There was no music available anywhere.  The trunk was simply a darker place not to hear any.

Oscar – the second Oscar Lexus “Service Consultant” I had been assisted by in twenty-five years, sandwiching an intervening Angel – wrote me up, discussing the specific nature of the upcoming servicing.  (The search for a replacement radio/CD player would be an ongoing project, with no assurance that a Nakamichi or “Plan B” Nakamichi “knock-off” could be successfully tracked down.)

When I inquired if there was an available “Loaner Car” I could drive while my car’s maintenance work was being completed, I was informed that there was.  I was instructed that in order to receive a Lexus “Loaner Car”, I would have to produce a Driver’s License, a credit card and a current “Proof of Insurance” certificate.

And that, belatedly, is where our saga begins.

When I returned to my car to retrieve my current “Proof of Insurance” certificate, I discovered that my glove compartment was replete with crumpled “Proof of Insurance” certificates dating back to 2008.  But I found no “Proof of Insurance” certificate for 2017. 

Upon further investigation, I also discovered crumpled “Registration Certificates” dating back to 2006.   But I found no “Registration Certificate” for 2017.

Well.  That was interesting.

Let’s put this in context.  I am a seventy-two year old gentleman.  It is more than possible I could have lost or misplaced my 2017 “Proof of Insurance” certificate.  But is it conceivable I could have lost or misplaced my 2017 “Registration Certificate” at exactly the same time?

How old would you have to be to do that?  A hundred and eighty?

I wracked my brain… no, there was no “wracking my brain.”  At the age I have reached, I have to (occasionally - remember I said "occasionally") finger the bristles of my toothbrush to find out whether I have already brushed my teeth.  If they’re still wet, I did.

Perplexed and annoyed by these essential missing documents, I knew one thing was indisputably certain.  Without the appropriate certification,

There would be no Lexus “Loaner Car” in my immediate future.

Fortunately, we lived close to the dealership and Dr. M was available.  After awaiting the Lexus “Courtesy Shuttle” for a period of time that would strain the credulity of the word “Courtesy”, I called Dr. M, who quickly drove to the dealership and chauffeured me home. 

Now that’s courtesy.

Once home, I called my insurance company’s office I and asked for a replacement for my 2017 “Proof of Insurance” certificate.  That part was easy. 

Procuring a replacement for my 2017 “Registration Certificate”, however, would necessitate a perilous visit to the Santa Monica DMV.

Having fun yet?  I wasn’t.

And guys and gals,

I am just scratching the surface.

Tomorrow:  I don’t even want to think about that now.