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Category: Carma

LeBarely’s LeLast Day

Driving he LeBarely for the Last TimeYesterday marks the end of nearly ten years of a friendship with my car, my fire-engine-red, convertible Chrysler LeBarely.

If you have followed my history with cars in general, but especially the LeBaron—subsequently dubbed the LeBarely by my then wife — you know it’s been fun to own this car, but of late it has turned into a loathe/hate relationship.

Two years ago, at about this time of year, I received my DMV Registration renewal notice bearing the dreaded Smog Test Required notice. I had my doubts as to whether it would pass, since two years earlier the gentleman at the Smog Check facility gave me a raised eyebrow Passed certificate, muttering a prophetic “…barely.”

From there it was a downhill story leading to the eventual parking of my ’91 LeBaron out on the street awaiting the necessary cash to fix it up and sell it out of state, or… I dunno… somethin’…

Part of what led to my eventual parking of the LeBarely was the CAP program California has, which — after throwing a minimum of $450 at mechanics to attempt to desuade your vehicle from being a gross polluter — eventually waives your responsibility to be smog compliant for the remainder of the registration period during which time you must either fix it at any cost to make it compliant or terminate driving it at the end of the registration period. [CAP Application Form – PDF]

I opted to park it, and drive instead a cheaper-to-insure ’83 Mercedes Benz we had lying around. And then we began mulling over what to do with the LeBarely. I was advised by the friendly gal over at the Referee Scheduling Center that I may not sell the car within California without it passing smog. I asked “What if I want to sell it to someone who knows it cannot pass smog, but who wants to fix it.” I was advised that that was unwise because they may come back and sue me for selling them an unregisterable car.

“But what if they agree to buy it unregisterable in writing?”

“I cannot advise you on what to do with your car, sir.”

“Well, what if I sell it to someone who lives in another state who doesn’t have environmental laws protecting the Ethiopian Mildew Moth, or whatever, from slightly polluted air?”

“I do not know the environmental laws from other states, sir.”

“Is there any law prohibiting me from selling it on eBay to someone out of state telling them they must take it out of the state?”

“How much do you expect to get for it on eBay, sir?” she enquired, sounding both fascinated and condescending at the same moment.

“I dunno. $300? $600… whatever the market will determine. I don’t care. I can’t drive it, and I can’t afford to fix it. It’s of no use to me.”

“Why don’t you wait a month or two until you get your next Registration Renewal Notice, and then apply for the Vehicle Retirement Program? If you’re accepted—and it sounds like you will be — they’ll pay you $1000 for your car.”

“A thous….?!” I choked. I could maybe get $1500 for it with a new ragtop and a smog-passable engine. No way could I get $1000 for it in its current condition any other way.

Long story short. I applied, was accepted, and…

I Sold My Car to Arnold Schwarzenegger

In preparation for yesterday’s drive to the Approved Vehicle Retirement Facility in Chula Vista—the only one in San Diego County— I charged the battery overnight on Monday, because

  1. the battery was so dead the LED on my stereo’s fake security system wouldn’t even light (and I think those things glow if you merely rub a balloon on your head).

I then disconnected the charger once it indicated the battery was fully charged, and turned the key.

Nothing.

Nothing, except that everything else except the engine–lights, radio, horn, interior thingies—everything worked.

Battery must not have enough cranking popwer. Even with jumper cables I coudn’t even get a click out of it.

I called Marland, the mobile mechanic here in Carlsbad that got my LeBarely back together after I “totaled it” who confirmed that it probably didn’t have enough juice.

So I took the battery to Wal-mart from whence it came in September 2001 and they gave me a $15 pro-rated credit toward a new one. $28.80 was my final price for new juice.

Drove home, plopped it in the LeBarely, turned the key.

Nothing.

Called Marland. He came over. “Oh, that’s gotta be the starter. I’ll see if I can rebuild it.” he removed the started, popped it open and told me “The brushes are toast.” They were. I saw them. They were worn down to the nubs and were no longer making any contact with the starter motor.

Bought a new starter: $104.99. Paid Marland $60. Un-needed new battery: $28.80. That’ll just have to be the cost of doing business with Arnold, I thought.

This next section contains links to individual pictures from Lebarely’s last day.

I got up early yesterday morning and realized I would not be able to see out the windshield through the dirt it accumulated from dust and rain in the last few months [Picture]. so I decided to give it one last, loving bath. [Picture]. Now, I am not a car lover, by any stretch, but there was something in me that wouldn’t let me drive it to the car morgue dirty.

At around noon, my friend George came over to follow me to the facility so I could have a ride back—nice to have friends like that.

I decided that since it was such a nice day, I may as well put the top down for one last time [Picture] and enjoy the one thing I bought a convertible for—riding with the wind in my hair. [Picture]

The tank was on “E” so I stopped at the local gas station and put $5-even into the tank. I figured at 20 miles to the gallon, I could make it 46.6 miles to the Pick-Your-Part [Map] on less than two gallons—after all, I would be making a one-way trip to an obscure spot 5 miles from the USA/Mexico Border.

With 161,850 miles on it [Picture], and me about to pull the plug on it—it felt weird. But I buckled up, pulled out of the gas station and started on my last ride with the LeBarely. [Picture].

When I got there, I realized I was in a typical neighborhood of auto-wreckers. I was directed to the back lot. George was not allowed on the premisis.

I was directed to park “next to that blue car” and hand over my letter from the Bureau of Automotive Repair—the one that states clearly that I have been selected to participate in the Revivable Junk Automobile Retirement Program.. I thought the term revivable junk was a little odd, yet hopeful. It gave me visions of some inner-city highschoolers being delivered a smooth-running, nice looking red convertible. They could learn a trade and become a valuable asset to the community as they learned—from the taxpayer-funded learning center—how to re-bore the cylinders, add new rings to the pistons and make this car a non-polluting babe magnet once again.

My previous ex-wife was told by her girlfriend Carla, when the two of them saw my red convertible for the first time, that I had bought either a babe magnet or a mid-life crisis car — like I’m going to be interested in a gal who says “Oooooooo! Nice red car!”

We were divorced six months later. She may have been right on the mid-life crisis part.

A gal from the iron-barred office came out and grabbed the letter and walked over to my car and started writing on the windows with a big white wax crayon. It was theirs now. [Picture]

I asked her “Where does the car go from here?”

“We crush them.”

“But this one has a brand new starter. A brand new battery. I bought them yesterday! And two months ago I put on a brand new power steering pump and a new water pump, all new belts and radiator hoses. It runs great. Why not give it to a school or something where they can—”

“These cars belong to California now. Since we started doing their program over a year ago, they have instructed us to crush every car they buy. We cannot take any parts off, nor sell it to anyone. This will be crushed tomorrow.”

After filling out a survey, they gave me a check for $1000 [Picture] and I turned and walked away.

One last glance at the LeBarely [Picture] and I got into George’s car and we rode home.

Your tax dollars at work.

S.S. Darrow Goes Postal

Last night I hopped in the S.S. Darrow (my 1977 Olds Regency that really is my father’s Oldsmobile) to make a bank deposit and drop a package off with the late workers at the back entrance of the Carlsbad Post Office.

When I pulled in and slowed, the engine stopped of its own accord, making me think deep, analytical thoughts such as, “uh-oh.” After I dropped off the package in the proper bin I went back to start my car. by the way, in postal parlance, thick envelopes and small parcels go with “chunk mail”—you learn these things when you hang with an all-mail crew.

Long story short: even with a full tank of gas, it will not start.

I pushed it backwards out of the Postal back lot and onto the street, then pushed it forward to the nearest legal curbside. Even with my [over] 225lb mass working with me, pushing a ’77 Olds requires some serious traction, a good heart, at least two sturdy legs, and the ability to plod forward on asphalt tilting at an angle that, with your arms and legs fully extended, has your face about 18” from the ground.

I got the car pushed to the side, and sat on the front seat long enough to catch my breath which really, took only… okay I am still there, actually… and after getting up to lock the door and walk home, I heard from across the street, “Do you need any gas?”

I called back across the street as loudly as I could, ” . . . . . . !”

You see, I have a bad case of laryngitis—I blew out my voice the last class on the last day of Life Drawing—and so that’s about how it came out. The older gentleman, standing in the front yard of his tiny home, cupped his hand to his ear and called out, “I can’t hear you! I’m hard of hearing!”

I cupped my hands around my mouth, megaphone style, to shout out to him that it wasn’t his problem, it was mine, since I have laryngitis, but it came out ” . . . . . . !” again.

He shook his head as he looked at the ground, taking a few steps forward so he could get close enough to help me understand that he could not hear me. I decided to walk over to him.

Eventually, I was close enough to him (about 15″ as I leaned in) to tell him what my vocal issue was, and he laughed and said “Oh well, I wouldn’t be able to hear you anyway.” Then he went on, gesturing to his side yard. “I have a lawnmower over here with a little gas in it, if you need some to get to a station.”

A smile broke across my face, as I explained that I had just filled up yesterday, so there must be something else wrong with my car.

I’m telling you, the grace that appears around Christmastime warmed a poorly-lit little spot on this dark section of Madison Street in Carlsbad.

I know. I was there and I felt it.

I thanked the man, and extended my hand to shake his and tell him he was a good man. But since it came out something like ” . . . . . !” he cut me off mid-sentence with, “Well, Merry Christmas, anyway.”

I walked home somewhat cheered.

The Lebaron? you ask.

Nothing has changed since I last wrote about my LeBaron.

Unless you count Relative Humidity.

Three days ago I was thinking of taking a picture of my dusty, dew-stained-and-dried, LeBaron, still leaning on one elbow, as it were, in the driveway, just to show how a car can look in a mere few weeks if you do absolutely nothing with it. It’s no wonder the police can tell when a car has been abandoned. This one looks abandoned in my driveway.

But a rain-storm hit this week, severing San Diego County’s record streak of drought days. It arrived in buckets around 4:00am, rinsing my car absolutely clean. The afternoon prior was such a beautiful, clear and sunny day that my 12-year-old daughter asked me to take a walk outside with her. As we left the front door, we walked by my LeBaron driveway sunshield and I commented to her that “I still need to jimmy that convertible top closed before the rainy season hits.” Since the day I worked on it a month or so ago, I had never really closed the roof all the way, locking it in place. A gap of about 2″ runs horizontally along the windshield top.

Well, since Saturday, the interior of my LeBaron, especially the front upholstery, has sponged up, I’m guessing, 30 or so gallons of rainwater, and is, in my estimation, worse off for it. I have attempted closing the roof, but for some unknown reason, probably the torque of the car up on a jack stand, I cannot budge it closed.

Yet it rains.

And there is news of a really serious rain storm coming down from Alaska. We don’t need rain from Alaska, we need oil.

A few more days of this incessant rain, and I can toss in a couple of Koi and have myself an upscale driveway pond.

On a floor jack.

LeBroken LeBaron

The LeBaron still sits in the driveway.

Mostly.

Some of it sits in the garage in a 5 gallon bucket awaiting another season (read: more income with which to hire a mobile mechanic).

The passenger front is on a jack-stand, which I used to get the car high enough to squeeze my fat head under the greasy car-bottom so I could finally get at that bolt that wouldn’t budge. I then jacked up the engine from below, using a hydraulic floor jack to offer support so that I could remove the passenger side motor mount.

The inability to reverse my LeBaron’s great undoing, puts me and this soulless beast in a difficult position: I cannot use the floor-jack to remove the jack-stand and lower the car, because the floor-jack is currently encumbered in its motor-supporting obligations.

I now have a car which, from behind, looks as though I parked only the passenger front side onto a boulder. And out the front, protruding four feet, is the hydraulic jack “pump handle.” I sleeved it with a red-white-and-blue, fabric folding-chair carrying case so that the mailman doesn’t trip over it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember reading that postal workers do not trip over anything draped in these three colors.

Net visual effect: We are White Trash in Carlsbad.

So, until another time, that’s where the LeBaron sits.

Today I am flying to San Jose for the week to visit my mom and dad who live in nearby Sunnyvale. Yesterday I got news that my dad’s cancer has spread to some of the bones in his lower back. He says it’s inconclusive as to whether the pain he was experiencing last week—which inspired him to use a walker to get around the house—is from the cancer, but since this week is the only week I have in the next three months that is not splintered with schedule interruptions, the likes of which involve four courses to be taught at the Art Institute of California – San Diego, I figure I’ll go visit anyway.

He’s not dying this week. He confirmed that to me. But with the ineluctability of death surrounding us all, anyway, I feel an urgency to visit nonetheless.

Besides, I love my mom and dad.

Pile-up

Yesterday I totaled my fire-engine-red 1991 Chrysler Lebaron Convertible.

I’m a little shaken up today still, but I’m fine. Thanks for your concern. Just a few bloody scratches and grease marks to show.

Like any accident, it could have been prevented if all parties involved had been at their full wits. And you know how they say most accidents happen within 25 miles of home? They couldn’t have been more correct. This happened in my own driveway, in broad daylight.

And you know how they say everything goes into slow motion when it’s happening? Oh my gosh! Right again! This accident took over eight hours.

Friday evening my car dumped out all its radiator fluid at the intersection of State Hwy 56 and Black Mountain Road as I went to pick up my daughter for the weekend. I refilled the radiator and cooling system twice on the way home just to limp there.

After consulting with a local garage in Carlsbad as to the cost of replacing the water pump, I decided to do it myself.

“The water pump isn’t that expensive,” said the guy at the counter at Carlsbad Auto Repair. “Labor will really getcha though. $440 total, plus tax.”

Yikes.

I went next door to Carlsbad Auto Supply… a store that has my devotion for life thanks to the expert help and free advice they always give me. I bought a new water pump for $40.

“I think that’s the car you have to support the engine on, though, since you have to take the motor mount off …” the guy offered as I walked out the door with my new water pump. That was the first caution sign I ignored. I should have pulled over and asked for directions at that point, but I am a man and am therefore genetically predisposed to plummeting ahead with full confidence… in the dark …with no headlights.

From this moment on, it’s best to describe my accident as a seemingly endless succession of careening, skidding, sliding, bumping and bouncing, over-correcting, banged knuckles and grease up to and into my armpits.

And a lot of deer-in-the-headlights staring.

But in slow motion, it goes something like this: remove the various pulleys that keep the serpentine belt in place; remove the tensioner assembly; loosen the alternator; remove the cooling fan assembly that attaches to the radiator so there is room to remove the air conditioner compressor, and then remove the bracket that holds the air conditioner compressor to the engine block so that you can then remove the mounting plate that holds the various pulleys and assemblies you just removed. Loosen the Power Steering pump on the back of the engine so that the power steering pulley will move enough that you can finish removing the mounting plate which has long “legs” that run through 3 plastic housings over the timing belt “chain” which sits directly in front of the water pump.

Remove the passenger-side motor mount after jacking up the engine with a floor-jack, so that you can get the rest of the parts off, and since the darned thing is very seriously in the way.

Now, notice that the water pump has a bracket on top of it—for some stupid reason—that attaches it to the top of the rear intake manifold, which now requires removal of the entire intake manifold, front and rear, and then the thermostat, since one of the bracket screws will not clear the thermostat housing.

This is a good time to walk to the auto parts store and purchase a new set of gaskets for the intake manifold which you weren’t originally expecting to replace, of course. Good thing they are used to seeing Caucasians with black arms and hands. While there, purchase 15mm, 16mm and 18mm sockets, and get an open-ended wrench in each of those sizes since your average tool kit only comes with 13mm, 14mm, 17mm and 19mm, and Lebarons don’t have any nuts or bolts in those sizes! Walk back home again, and keep struggling with the parts, frozen bolts and a thick mixture of grease and degreaser, WD-40, radiator fluid and rusty water in which to lay your bare back and the hair on the back of your head as you struggle with one stubborn bolt between the firewall and the engine block holding the power steering pump solidly in place.

Decide you must purchase a pneumatic impact wrench to power off this one bolt, so go scrub and shower for upwards of a half an hour to make yourself clean enough to drive your wife’s car to Pep Boys, which, as it happens, closes its doors early that night for floor-polishing, so you then drive to Kragen Auto Parts which has their one last customer standing at the register as you jiggle the locked doors from the outside. Watch in exhausted disappointment as the courteous cashier alerts you to the store’s closed status by using the Universal Hand Signal for “we’re closed”: He shakes his head while drawing his index finger like a knife across his throat.

If only he knew what a great idea I thought that was.

Next, go to Wal-mart. They have an automotive department.

It’s next to toys, between fitness and crafts. Buy the only impact ratchet they sell. Marvel that it only costs $28.94 (that little yellow masked Zorro-like character must have flown by recently).

Take it home and try it on the stubborn bolt.

Nothing.

Now, in total fatigue, stand with your newly regrimed hands on your already soiled hips and assess the situation: You have a car whose motor will fall out if you lower the floor jack that supports it. You have pulleys, belts, housings, a distributor (did I mention removing the distributor?), mounting plates, an intake manifold in various pieces, and, I dunno: 150 screws and bolt of various sizes all over the place like a robot yard sale, and you haven’t even been able to remove the one defective part that was your goal to replace.

Did I mention I am not a mechanic? Did I mention I don’t have a manual? Did I mention I don’t have all tools necessary to complete a job such as the one I undertook?

My choice now is to put it back together enough to tow to the auto repair garage with a 5-gallon bucket of parts and bolts and say “Here. Good luck.”

And I just don’t think I will do that. Isn’t there some charitable organization that will take my car running or not?

Gimme a Brake

I am happy to report that today I got busy with the S.S. Darrow again—the first time since before the Salt Lake City trip—and, with the help of my lovely assistant, Teresa, was able to re-bleed the brake lines and my car now stops properly once again.

I called Carlsbad Auto Supply (map to) and, as previously, received exceptionally helpful, friendly service. These guys have my auto parts business for life. Besides being walking distance from my house—which is very important for a guy with my knowledge of car repair—they have provided good old, hometown service that beats anyone else, in my opinion.

When I explained that I bled the rear lines and still couldn’t stop my car, it was politely suggested to me that I start at the wheel closest to the master cylinder (driver/front) and bleed it, then start all over again at the back right, then back left, then front right, and finally front left again. It took me and my lovely brake-pedal-pumping assistant about one hour to do the job, and it is actually done!

Whew!

Sidebar: When we got home from SLC last week, I needed to move my car back from the garage door to open it. I knew the brakes were iffy, so I pumped them a few times (to the floor) and started the engine. The parking brake was still engaged, and I put the shift in reverse, and nearly high-idled out of the driveway onto the street.

Scared the mechanic out of me!

I was stomping on everything except the gas pedal to stop that ship. If I’d had an anchor it would be stuck in the driveway still.

I finally jammed the parking brake all the way to the floor and turned off the engine, coming to rest with the tail end of the car at the street. I went inside and had a beer, trying not to even think about ever walking near that car again!

Never give up!

How I Spent My Saturday

I love learning new things.

It’s especially fun if I learn them quickly.

Such was not the case this day. I have been concerned for my own safety since I discovered that my current replacement vehicle—an 8-cylinder Olds Regency 98 that my parents gave me two weeks ago when I visited them—only stops when you pump the brakes several times. That essentially creates the condition of owning two undrivable cars on my property.

I visited a mechanic yesterday morning, pumping my brakes all the way there—to the casual observer making my car look like I was driving with some riveting Hip Hop cranking inside, though no one could hear it. I told the mechanic the symptoms… that I could push the pedal to the floor unless I pumped them, and that I had added brake fluid, and that it still wouldn’t stop right, though it was fine two days ago.

He diagnosed it as the self-adjusting screws on the rear drums being stuck. “Has the car been sitting for a while undriven?” I told him my parents had used it seldom in the last two years, ad that largely it sat unused. He figured yes, the self-adjusters were stuck. He could clean everything for me for $60, but not until Monday (but I’ll be out of town).

“What if it’s not the self-adjusters?” I asked. He replied, that then it could be one of the brake cylinders. Maybe the seal has gone bad, inside.

“Oh,” I said with a dear-in-the-headlights look in my eyes.

“I can replace the cylinders for $150, max.”

I decided to give it a try myself, since he couldn’t help me anyway. I began jacking up the car with my wife and her friend Karen sitting in the sunshine in the front yard having coffee. (The two of them, I found out over dinner, have christened the Olds “The S.S. Darrow”) I have no idea what other things they were muttering as I kept my mechanic visage tuned.

Now, you have to understand: rear brake disassembly—and more importantly “reassembly”—are procedures the knowledge of which I share with that of building a nuclear power plant, only, my belief prior to attempting either would be that the latter is somewhat easier.

Not so, as it turns out.

After having disassembled and reassembled both rear brake drums three times each—including several mis-steps requiring disassembly again, I can now do a rear brake drum assembly, including cleaning the parts, start to finish in 25 minutes, by memory.

Between one of the several procedures, I had to ask my wife to help me “bleed the brake lines”—a procedure for which I found a detailed description using Google. I then determined that the left rear cylinder was defective, so she drove me to Pep Boys to buy a new one ($12.99) which I came home and installed and reassembled both rear systems in 45 minutes. “Look at me! I’m a mechanic!

ROAD TEST RESULTS

It doesn’t work any better than when I started 5 hours earlier. Maybe I need to bleed the front lines, too.

That’ll be next weekend. I don’t need the car this week, anyway.

Then it’s on to that nuclear power plant I’ve always wanted.

55 Years Today!

I don’t know how some people can look into the future and just know how long something’s going to last.

When I bought my ’91 Chrysler LeBaron (Teresa calls it the LeBarely), I was hoping it would last forever. What was I thinking? It didn’t even make it to its 13th birthday. (It was probably that lead-foot that burned off the first four years of its life before I bought it)

My mom claims that the day Bob Darrow won the Spelling Bee at school, in a tense head-to-head spelling deathmatch between two 12-year-olds with everything on the line, slamming her into a defeated, miserable second place to his magnificent Grand Champion, he took first place in the Bee—and in her heart. She wrote in her diary that night “I’m going to marry Bob Darrow.”

Revenge? Don’t be so cynical. It was his reward.

She made a choice that day—set a goal, really—and married him when they were of age, March 19, 1949.

Fifty five years later, they are still married, and they are happier and more in love than two humans deserve to be. I visited their home two weeks ago, and spent many tearful hours talking over old times, asking my dad about his working life, old bosses, responsibilities, and his sense of life—all that stuff that was going on while I was too young to care but always old enough to consume.

We talked openly together about his Prostate Cancer and what that’s done to their lives. My mom’s handling it with the same calm approach she’s handled everything I have ever witnessed that’s come across her path. In a way, she’s in the driver’s seat, slamming the brakes to avoid disaster and instinctively putting her rigid, protective arm across the front-seat passenger to keep him from going through the windshield.

If I were my dad, I wouldn’t want anyone else driving.

Like anyone else I have talked to, asking them how the hell they made it, married to the same person for so long, they never talk of having avoided the big disasters that befall so many broken marriages—they endured them. My parents are living examples that love is not something you feel, it’s something you do, and that in the doing, the feeling lives, and it becomes the realest thing you can feel.

They have each other, and have the knowledge that they always have. Until death do they part.

I guess, by all accounts, Prostate Cancer isn’t all that bad. It’s not the death sentence other cancers are. As my dad says, everything eventually has a 100% mortality rate.

They focus on life. And realize, maybe like never before, though they have always acknowledged it—everyday is a gift from God.

And so today, I lift a virtual glass of champagne to my father and my mother

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Darrow

and simply toast: To Life!

Won’t you take a moment to e-mail them a toast?

A New Twist in “English As a Second Language”

I called the State of California Smog Check Referee Scheduling Center today (why? read “Air Time” from Jan 6, 2004) and heard a chilling sign of the times: “To continue in English, Press 2.”

The default language on the computerized menu system is now Spanish.

English is truly the second language, now.

(ref: 800.622.7733)

Air Time

I don’t know who to blame for this one, but I am looking for candidates.

And I might just run them down.

The State of California wants me to stop driving my car. Not because I drive badly—I have no tickets on my record and enjoy very low insurance rates. Not because I’m getting old–I’m not even 50 (yet). No it’s because a machine that they made me hook it up to told them my car is a Gross Polluter.

My registration was due payable in September 2003. My reminder notice said that I had to take my ’91 LeBaron Convertible, with 157,000+ miles on it to a Test Only Facility. Not just a garage with a Smog Check symbol posted, but a Test Only garage. These are as plentiful as English-speaking, living dentists who will honor the Smilesaver 600 Plan (wink, wink).

The Test Only garages have no incentive to discount since they are spaced every four counties apart. I’m looking at sixty bucks out the door—if it passes. Being the punctual person am, I went to the nearest Test Only Facility—luckily only a mile from me—on August 31st. I’m figuring, one day to make an appointment, the next day to get it “smogged” as we call the testing procedure here in California (or ColliePhoneEya, as our Governor says it). Anyway, the “mechanic-slash-proprietor” of this establishment isn’t in the garage when I get there promptly 2 days before my registration is due. Another guy at the station sees me staring blankly into the dark garage—which incidentally smells heavily of excessive hydrocarbons, the parts per million at which I wouldn’t even want to begin to speculate—and empathetically (or was it just pathetically) calls out, ‘He’s in the trailer!” and points over my shoulder to the area beside this gas station here they usually stack bald tires and Pepsi crates. However, at this location, this was where the mechanic-slash-proprietor lived: in a detached trailer, roughly the size of a Rubbermade broom closet.

I hesitantly knocked on the door of this silver, over-inflated aluminum can, and was immediately greeted on the welcome mat as Jerry Lewis in Charles Nelson Reilly glasses steps all the way from the back room to the outside door mat in one step.

“You here for a smog?” he grumped, lifting his chin and then scrunching up his nose so he could see me through the lower half of his bifocals. Taking this and a few other sensory cues to indicate that I was standing too close, I stepped back and thrust forth my DMV paperwork.

“It says here, sir—”

“I’m booked for the next five days,” he said, turning his head away and showing me his stop-sign palm.

“But I need to get my car smogged by the day after tomorrow…”

“Go to the DMV and get an extension,” he counseled. My registration would be overdue by the time I got through the line at the DMV if I started yesterday, I thought.

But to the DMV I went. Directly from the Test Only Facility.

I got an extension to the end of September, and within two weeks I came back and got Jerry Lewis to test my car, which failed, so I applied for another extension, since I didn’t have any money to pay for the Test Only Facility Smog test, much less the repairs. Somehow it isn’t comforting to hear “You only failed by a little bit.”

“By the way,” he asks, “how old is your cat?”

I frowned, rotating my head slightly on an imaginary nose-axel.

“Your catalytic converter.”

“Oh… I dunno… five years?”

“Yeah, they’re good for about three. It’s about $300 to replace one, and there’s about a 70% chance that’ll fix your problem.”

“Oh,” I gurgled, feeling like I might well up right in front of a whiskery man who has a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves torn off at the shoulder, and no particular definition to his arms. “Is there any bad news?”

“No, it gets better. California’s Consumer Affairs wants to help you with your problem. Regardless of income, they will pay for your car to be fixed —all you have to pay is the first $100, and they cover the rest. Here’s an application.” That’s where the second extension came in handy. It took a while to get “approved.”

At the end of November, I squeezed in an appointment to the even more rare CAP Repair Service—which, as it turns out is licensed and authorized by the state to take my hundred dollars regardless of how gullible I might happen to look at the moment of my appointment. I had to drive 8 miles for this service. At the end of the day, I returned and this authorized CAP mugger told me my car was ineligible for the CAP program. “It’s burning oil, and the CAP program only covers emissions system repairs. I just got off the phone with the State a few minutes ago. They won’t do it.”

“What about my hundred dollars?”

“It’s not yours anymore. And I get an additional $32 from the state for the inspection.”

“Well, what do I do now?”

“Well, there’s an 80% chance that if you replace the cat, it’ll pass smog, but you’ll ruin the cat in a month, if it’s burning oil.”

Seeing this as the cheapest of my options, I got another extension through December and had the cat replaced at Warner’s Muffler Shop in Oceanside, where oddly, I was met by the nicest, friendliest, most patient and explaining people I have ever met at an auto repair facility. I wish I had more muffler work to do, just so I could go back there. This was a busy shop, but an incredibly nice young fellow named Brett had plenty of time for me, and got my old cat off and a new cat welded on in 20 minutes.

I took it back the next day to Jerry Lewis, and long story short, it almost passed closer this time.

So I came home and called the state to find out what to do.

I got a helpful $6/hour state worker practicing English as a Second Language to ‘splain to me that I could make an appointment with a—I am not making this up—Referee to see if I can get a waiver, if I qualify.

“What does it take to qualify?”

“You have to have failed smog, been declined by the CAP program, and spent up to $450 on emissions repairs by a Licensed Emissions Facility.”

“Well, then, I qualify!”

“How much have you spent?”

“Over $500…”

“Not including testing. Just in repairs.”

“Oh. $186.63 for the new cat,” I said smuggly, using my new jargon ever so knowingly. “And another $100 on the CAP progra—”

“Repairs only. You have to spend up to $450 in repairs from a Licensed Emissio—”

“Yeah, I get it. So what if I’m broke and can’t afford to have already spent the $525 that I already spent which has done nothing to improve my car or Air Quality, which therefore leaves me unable to comprehend spending up to $450 more on a Licensed Emissions Facility to take their stab at it and report to me that it burns oil? What do I do then? Huh? Huh?”

“Well, sir, I am not authorized to tell you what to do with your car, but you can’t legally drive it in the state of California.”

“But it runs fine! It looks good! It doesn’t smoke. It’s really quiet and the engine is clean. Jerry Lewis told me I missed by this much! What am I supposed to do, throw it away? I have underwear that’s in ten times worse shape and clearly worse for Air Quality, and I wouldn’t throw them away yet!”

“Well, sir, I am not authorized to tell you what to do with your car, but you can’t legal—”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it…”

So, I get to drive my beautiful, red Chrysler LeBaron Convertible with a 6 cylinder, 3.0 liter engine for less than two more months, thanks to another extension from the DMV, and then I have to set it out at the curb with the recyclables.

I hope it doesn’t get hit by the guy two doors down with the rusty ’67 Ford truck that takes 15 minutes to warm up every morning at 4:00am and sounds like the Space Shuttle until it finally puffs and spits its way down the street.

That would just be more than I can handle.