I love New Hampshire, but sometimes I think sadists invented the rules here.
For example, property-tax bills in my town are sent twice a year. The first one is due in June, which is okay, but the second one is due in December. And who wants to receive a bill for thousands of dollars during the Christmas-shopping season?
It’s a wonder the bills don’t say something like, “Dear Resident…you owe us $5,220 for your half-year property taxes. Payment must be received by December 7th or you will be charged a late fee, compounded daily. Have a very merry Christmas, and I hope your friends and relatives enjoy your gifts to them from the Dollar Store!”
Same with auto inspections, which are due annually during your birthday month – and my birthday is this month.
So I took my car to the dealership for an inspection a week ago. For a change, I wasn’t expecting to hear any bad news. Why not? Because my car had been there for an engine job just four months prior, and I’ve traveled only 300 miles since then. In fact, since my last inspection a year ago, I’ve racked up a grand total of barely 1,200 miles.
I suppose you could say I don’t exactly have a thrilling or very active social life.
Anyway, at the aforementioned visit four months ago, I contracted Covid, so I felt a bit uneasy as I drove back to the dealer’s – the scene of the crime – for this inspection. But I figured I’d be in and out of there with my new inspection sticker in about 20 minutes, so armed with my mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer, I’d be safe enough.
As I handed my car key to the guy at the desk, I asked him, “By the way…did any of your employees have Covid the last time I was here four months ago?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “We all took turns.”
I was tempted to thank him for sharing, but instead I joked, “Well, I caught it while I was here, so I figure you owe me now. So don’t find anything wrong with my car, okay?
“Okay, we’ll try,” he said.
I took a seat in the tiny waiting room and waited. And waited some more…and then waited even more. I didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out the inspection probably wasn’t going to be the “breeze” I’d anticipated it would be.
Sure enough, the guy at the desk finally came in to talk to me. He was holding some paperwork and frowning…neither of which translated into, “You’re all set! Your new sticker is on your car and we’ll see you next October!”
Nope. He said he was sorry but I needed engine mounts and bushings, and the total would be “roughly” $850 and the job would take at least six hours. In the meantime, he said they had no choice but to fail my inspection. That meant if I didn’t get the car repaired by the end of the month, I’d have only a 10-day grace period before I would be driving a vehicle with an expired sticker on the windshield…which most police officers have a knack for spotting from a distance of about five miles away.
As I drove home, a million thoughts raced through my mind, like which bank in my area might be the easiest to rob so I could afford to get my car repaired. I immediately nixed that idea, however. I mean, I walked into the local post office the other day and was wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a face mask, and the clerk looked up at me and said, “Oh, hi, Sally!”
So I’m obviously easily recognizable by some body part other than my face.
The more I thought about the inspection, however, the more it gave me a feeling of “something just doesn’t seem right.” I’d just had an engine job done there, so wouldn’t they have noticed the worn-out engine mounts then? I’m no mechanic by any means, but it did make me wonder.
If a doctor had told me I needed to have my spleen removed, even though I hadn't suffered any symptoms at all, I’d be sure to see another doctor for a second opinion before I agreed to go under the knife. So I decided that’s exactly what I was going to do with my car – take it to an independent mechanic, not another dealer. If he confirmed that I did need the parts I’d been told I needed, then fine, at least I’d know for certain that my car had deserved to flunk the inspection. And if it did need the work, then maybe the mechanic at least could do it more cheaply than the dealership.
One of my friends recommended her mechanic – someone she said was reliable, trustworthy and reasonably priced. Sounded good to me. So I called him and set up an appointment for the following Monday morning. I was honest and told him everything that had happened at the dealership. I didn’t leave out a thing…although after I hung up, I wondered if maybe I should have told him only to inspect my car, and then see what he might come up with on his own.
I’d never been to his garage before, and the online directions were vague, at best. The photo of the place online didn’t show a sign or any nearby buildings, either, so I knew I’d have to search a bit for it...on a busy road where the speed limit is 45 mph - which means the traffic usually does about 55. Even my friend who’d recommended the mechanic couldn’t tell me the exact location – only the general vicinity.
As I drove there on Monday morning, it began to pour so hard out, I could swear I saw animals lining up in pairs. Just what I needed when I was searching for a phantom garage. I made certain to let all of the other cars go ahead of me so no one would be riding my bumper as I searched.
Naturally, as luck would have it, the moment I reached the “general vicinity” of the place, a car zoomed up behind me as if it were competing in the Indianapolis 500. Wanting to ditch the car, I turned into the next parking lot I saw.
By then, I had only five minutes to get to my appointment, so I ran into the building that was in the lot I’d pulled into. It was a warehouse, where guys were loading steel beams onto huge dollies. I asked the first guy I came to if he knew where the garage was. He said no. I asked a second guy, who shook his head. I then wandered into an office, where a guy at a desk also had no clue about the garage's location, but he grabbed his phone and searched for me. He then said, “Well, it’s supposed to be around here somewhere.”
I’d already figured out that much on my own.
At that moment, another employee entered the office. The guy at the desk asked him if he knew where the garage was. He didn't (no big surprise there), then also took his phone out of his pocket and searched. Suddenly, he started laughing and led me over to the window in the office.
Pointing, he said, “See that building right next door? That’s it.”
I left there thinking the guys who worked in that warehouse must pay really close attention to their jobs…and nothing else.
Anyway, I finally made it to the garage, gave the keys to the mechanic, and then sat in the waiting area and read a Cosmo magazine. I have to admit I wasn’t in the greatest of moods by then. I was soaked from the rain, chilled, and muttering under my breath that my car hated me and I should pull a “Thelma and Louise” and drive it over a cliff.
Twenty minutes passed and the mechanic came into the waiting area and said, “You’re all set.” His expression, however, told me nothing. I was thinking he’d missed his true calling as a poker player.
I felt like “dead woman walking” as I followed him out to the desk and waited to hear the laundry list of things my car needed – already knowing I wouldn't be able to afford any of them.
“That’ll be $39 for your new sticker,” he said to me.
“And then what?” I asked.
“Then nothing,” he said with a shrug. “Your car is fine – couldn’t find anything wrong with it. In fact, for its age [18 years] it’s in great shape.”
My eyes felt as wide as an owl’s and my mouth fell open. “You’re serious? My car is fine?”
He nodded. “And yes, I thoroughly checked everything the dealer said was wrong with it and saw no reason at all for it to fail the inspection.”
I honestly had to give the guy a lot of credit. He easily could have made some fast money by saying, “Yeah, you do need all of the work the dealership said you did, but I can do it for only $500,” and then tell me to drop off the car for the alleged six-hour job and not do any work on it. I would have been easy prey because I wouldn't have known the difference.
So I now have him as my new mechanic.
And I also have my new sticker, good until October of 2023.
And I won’t have to eat Ramen noodles for the next two months.
So I think my birthday just might turn out to be a good one this year.
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: email@example.com