As I write this posting, I am sitting in the waiting room of my local Toyota dealership. Milton, my 2007 Matrix, is receiving his scheduled 5,000 mile maintenance service today. It hasn’t actually been 5000 miles since his last visit, but when the red reminder light goes on I faithfully bring him in anyhow.
My knowledge of car repair is based on dashboard lights only. If there’s a pinging or rattling going on, I wouldn’t know because “Supper’s Ready” is most likely blaring from my speakers loud enough to drown out the engine noise. When it comes to driving, I have always placed the highest priority on the radio first and foremost. The air-conditioning is next in line, of course.
I don’t know an alternator from a starter, nor a fuel pump vs. a crankshaft. I sort of get what brake pads are because I had a ten-speed bike once. But usually when the names of auto parts are mentioned, my eyes glaze over, and I nod with the fatigued expression of a poet prodigy sitting in algebra class.
I take my car to the dealer for service because I choose to believe that they understand my vehicle better than a neighborhood garage would. When I pull into their service entrance and am greeted by their “service advisors,” I don’t have to say anything other than “the light came on.” There’s none of that fake bluster of a man who understands his car. I am not that man, nor have I ever been. I just greet these guys as if they’re all former college acquaintances.
After a few cordial exchanges and handing over my keys, I go happily on my way to the relative comfort of the service area waiting room. All I hope for in there is free coffee and complimentary WiFi. Oh, and if I’m lucky they’ll have a celebrity talk show, soap opera, or a retro network playing rather than the now-compulsory and omnipresent Fox News. I always end up sitting in close proximity to someone who becomes a little too animated when Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s persona is in range. I liked it better when I ignored her on “The View” instead of “Fox and Friends.”
Of course, at some point I always brace myself for the appearance of my pal the service advisor coming back to pay me a visit. His earlier conviviality is now portrayed by a sincere look of concern for my well-being. Milton is now at 98,000 miles and it’s pretty much a sure thing that our visits will not be limited to a standard oil change and tire rotation only. Things break over time. Last year prior to our cross-country trip from Oregon, both the water pump and the battery were replaced. Today I’ve learned it is a drive belt. The advisor tells me in a hushed tone that it’s time to swap it out for a new one. The cost will be approximately $170. I look at him squarely in the eye and with a steely confidence say, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Honestly, he could have said it was $300 and I would have still paid it. I just refuse to play that macho car repair charade. As I prepare myself for a couple of hours in the waiting room, I am holding my laptop securely under one arm along with a classic Roger Kahn hardcover on the Brooklyn Dodgers. I’m not fooling anyone in the service department. With a better haircut and a cool-looking sports coat, I might fare okay with the barista up the road. But certainly not here.
Back in my younger days, though, I would fake my part of that interaction. I would have furrowed my brow and made a fool of myself by asking about a completely different part of the car in a pathetic display of trying to show that I knew something, anything about car repair (“Yes, but what about the exhaust manifold?”). Then, with the service advisor maintaining a straight face while answering my question, I would give him the exact same answer I gave today — “Okay, let’s do it.”
Growing up, I was always impressed by my dad’s abilities at car repair shops. At this point I’m sure he’s most likely spinning in his ashes each time I return to a dealership for car maintenance, believing, perhaps correctly, that they over-charge.
Dad had a knack for sniffing out an obscure repair shop that was four towns away and three different expressways from our home, usually after eavesdropping on someone who mentioned it on a Sears store escalator. If you were a perfect stranger you almost always had more credibility than a family member or friend. Sure enough he would find the place, and I would watch in amazement as he interacted with the mechanics. He always seemed to understand exactly what they were saying in spite of the fact that he himself wasn’t a gear head. Afterwards, I would listen to him when he told everyone about this great new mechanic he discovered. Until that is when the car broke down eight weeks later, as it seemed to do like clockwork. But the man had swagger in a repair shop, I’ll give him that much.
I had previously considered buying a new car this year. Instead we’ve decided to keep Milton. My rigid adherence over the years to Toyota’s maintenance schedule has provided us with a car that thankfully has not given me any trouble. Although Gorgeous and I salivate on a regular basis at vehicles that are bigger, more comfortable, and sportier, it now seems to make more sense to keep this one until it’s finally ready to sputter someday into a used car lot to its final resting place. Fidelity to something so loyal has merit.
Instead of a swagger, I will soon cooly sidle up to the cashier and pay for my repair bill. I’m now a proud owner of a new drive belt, Baby. As good ‘ol Chuck sang, “Now you can’t catch me; ‘Cause if you get too close, you know I’m gone like a cool breeze.”