My car is eighteen years old. I don’t know what that is in “People Years.” But it’s got to be more, because you don’t see any ninety year-old cars driving around the city. I’d say for sure that if my car ever took the bus, somebody would definitely get up and offer it their seat. It could probably ride for a quarter.
I don’t know about where you live, but in California, there’s “Smog Check”, though it hasn’t seemed to have done a lot of good. “Smog Check” is like “Jury Duty” for cars. You open the envelope and it’s like, “Awwww….”
They won’t renew your license without a “Smog Check” certificate. Especially if it’s an old car. Old cars are on “Wanted” posters. They’re considered major polluters. I think my car’s okay. I mean, I’ve never walked behind it, but I don’t think there’s anything toxic coming out of it.
I’ve noticed as I get older, every health complaint feels extremely serious. Maybe because, for me recently, one was. Though more recently, I thought I was going deaf and it turned out it was only a heavy earwax build-up. So sometimes, you’re wrong. The problem with these things is, you only have to be right once.
That’s always the concern, for people who enjoy torturing themselves. You take an old car in for a “Smog Check”, you don’t know if it’s going home. I imagine it’s the same when you take an old dog to the vet.
“His tongue looks funny.”
“That’s the least of his worries.”
So I drive my car to the nearby “Smog Check” outlet, pretending we’re just going for coffee. I pull in, and I hear a pathetic moan. Accompanying a deep sense of betrayal.
A car mechanic comes out. He looks like Tarantino. Only instead of partying with movie stars, he does “Smog Checks” for a living. I hand him my paperwork. He asks, “How old, your car?”
“It’s a ’92.”
He doesn’t respond. But I can perceive a slight tightening in his jaw. “It’s a lousy job,” I imagine him thinking. “And there’s no ‘extra’ for delivering bad news.”
I walk over to a molded plastic chair off to the side, which serves as the Waiting Room for the cars’ loved one. I sit down and wait. I have brought a book.
The mechanic drives my car into the garage and onto some tracks. I open the book, but I’m too distracted. Realistically, I understand it’s a standard “Smog Check”, but you've heard the stories. It happens all the time. You go in for one thing, and they find something else.
The test begins. Trying desperately to read, I catch sight of the mechanic inserting some hooked metal contraption up my car’s tailpipe. I’m having a colonoscopy tomorrow. I easily identify.
The mechanic hits the gas pedal, and the wheels start rotating, first slowly, then, as fast as they can go. He’s pushing the car to the limit. I am reminded of my recent “Treadmill Test.”
I want to shout, “Hey, go easy! It’s an old car.” But I can’t. The mechanic seems hot-blooded. There could be retributions.
Numbers flash crazily on a computer screen. What did they mean? I had no idea. I remember the numbers on my computer screen in “Intensive Care.” I didn’t know what those numbers meant either. But I knew they were important.
He extracts the device from the exhaust pipe. I hear a sigh of relief, I don’t know if it’s from me or the car. The mechanic then twists off the gas cap and slides a hose into the tank. Did they always do that, or is this something unusual? I want to ask. But I don’t want to know.
The wait is endless. Is it bad if it’s this long? Why isn’t it over? What’s going on?
I was sure this was it. I could see it clearly. The mechanic wipes his hands on an oil-stained cloth, turns to me helplessly and says, “The car is finished.” Soon, I’d be saying goodbye. I would have to be strong.
Then, after what felt like hours, but was really fifteen minutes, I received the word.
I nod, casually, as if that’s exactly what I expected.
“What was that ‘gas tank’ thing?”
“Cars older than ’96. You have to do it. But it’s okay. It’s a good car.”
I paid the mechanic, and drove away.
I had a lump in my throat.
It’s an old car.
You never know.