Last year, while having dinner on Main Street in Nyack prior to the start of a critique group session, I ended up with a $50 ticket because my New York State inspection sticker was one day past its expiration date. At the time, it was $50 I could ill afford to light a match to.
So this year, when my 85-year-old father -- of all people -- noticed that one of the bulbs of my front headlight array was out, I zoomed into the shop at the crack of dawn on my first free Saturday -- ten days before inspection sticker shock -- to get both taken care of.
"No problem," the guy says. "Forty minutes."
"In that case, I'll just go on over to Starbucks and wait."
Sits outside on Starbuck's back terrace sipping a venti iced coffee, savoring an asiago bagel and devouring Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice, Book 3 in the Psy-Changeling series, on my Sony Pocket Reader.
This is the life, I think. Coffee, bagel, fabulous summer morning, great read. Pistons pink. All systems go.
"Ready?" I say.
"Well..." he says.
This'll be good, I think.
"You need a front light bulb," he says.
"And windshield wipers."
"And an air filter."
"And I need you to come in so I can show you something."
Ding-ding-ding! Alarm! Alarm! Danger, Will Robinson!
"Um, just tell me, since I won't know what you're showing me anyway."
"Well, you've got an oil leak and we need to replace your (names oil gizmo of some sort)."
"And that costs...?"
(But wait! He's not done yet!)
"And your front struts (whatever they are) should have been replaced at 50,000 miles and you need rear struts (whatever they are)...and (something or other, perhaps struts, because my mind has already blanked out at this point, while, on another level, it is also considering that struts is an excellent verb choice) is cracked" and a bunch of double-talking gobbledygook then ensues, at which point dollar signs begin to flicker past like the per gallon price on the gas pump.
"And the bottom line is..."
"$795 plus labor."
"Did you do these things already?" (Shrieks. Starbuck's denizens out on the terrace with me crush their newspapers in shock, knock over their lattes. Babies in strollers cry and wail.) I just came in for a light bulb!"
"No, it'll take three hours. Come in so we can show you."
"No, don't show me. Don't touch my car. I'm coming in."
Tosses suddenly very, very bitter dregs of venti iced coffee in trash. Hoofs it to gas station. Upon arrival, Mr. Mechanic Man insists on showing me. Displaying, actually. Exhibits A. B. C. Etc. More gobbledygook. This time while standing under my car, squinting up at a jungle of sooty metal. Frowning.
Yeah.Sure.Whatever. "Can you just put the light bulb in? Thank you."
More gobbledygook about the state inspection. Whoa. This guy does not take "NO!!!!!!" for an answer.
"How much will the light bulb be, please?"
Hands over credit card, takes car, drives two blocks to next station. (Both stations have worked on my car before, I should note. I'm in their computer. I buy gas from them. They recognize me.)
"I need a state inspection, please."
"Sure. One hour."
"Great. I'm just going to walk up the hill to CVS." (Picks up prescription, sits on bench in teensy parklet outside and continues reading Nalini Singh's Caressed by Ice. Still entranced with story. Wonderfulness of summer morning wanes, now two hours later, enrapture not so much. Trudges down hill back to gas station. Car sits outside. Done. Less than an hour. New NYS sticker affixed to windshield. )
"We replaced the left rear parking light."
(Shuts eyes. Of the litany of busted things reeled off by gas station No. 1, a rear parking light was not on the list.) "How much?"
(Plus $37 for inspection, $.76 for "hazardous materials" that I decide not to inquire about and $.79 tax. But still. Grand total: $48.50.)
Beats $795 plus labor any day of the week.
On the other hand, am I now driving around in a newly-inspected, stickered, well-lit bucket of bolts that is about to become totally unhinged at 65 mph?
And you thought second opinions were just for surgeons wanting to rip your guts out!
Kind of like writing and critiques.