All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Uterus Tax

one of the things i miss most about japan is the trains. you just can't beat 4db6scd
the ease and reliability of japanese public transport. and honestly, who doesn't want a commute to work that involves zoning out with your ipod, texting novellas to your friends, putting on your make-up, and drinking your coffee or beer (coffee on the way in; beer on the way out) in total safety and serenity. it's an extra twenty minutes of responsibility-free lounging before you arrive at the office and hop back on the hamster wheel. not to mention the infinite joys of train games such as train surfing, shown here. incidently, this is the same day that marley, the indian/trinidadian/canadian wonder on the right, got shoved off the train. poor marley.

(see the addendum to The Anti-Climax for an explanation of why american trains don't cut the mustard.)

well, dorothy, we're not in japan anymore. here in the u.s. of a, if you have places to go, you need a car to get there. americans love cars. almost as much as we love guns. nothing gets us off more than having a gun in the back seat of our car. it's the american way.

enter my car. she's a mercury mystique -- notice how we love cars so much, they get to be called "she" instead of "it" -- a 1995, which is far from new, but her only previous owner was a little old lady who drove her to the grocery store and to church and nowhere else. when i got her, she had a staggering 30,000 miles on her. unbelievable. and o so beautiful. an added bonus: mystiques normally come with a little four-banger engine, but mine has a v6. this means that i will kick your ass in a drag race any day of the week. try me.

however, at the end of the day, a twelve year-old car is still a twelve year-old car, so we obviously have a few maintenance issues. right before i left for new york (literally the day before), one of these issues chose to rear its ugly head. it happened like this...

because i'm a delinquent cat parent, i often drop him off at my mother's when i decide to skip town in search of adventure or when i'm running from my creditors and crack dealers. on this particular occasion, i just get him settled in for another stay at "grandma's" and am about to pull out when the coolant light on the dash comes on. ok, no biggie. i stop the car, pop the hood, and sure enough, my coolant's a little low. i bee-bop into the garage and grab a bottle, top it off, and think i'm set to go. o no, no, no. as i start her back up, my mother comes running down the driveway after me.

"wait! i know why your coolant was low!"

"other than because there wasn't enough coolant in the tank?"

"don't get smart with me. it's leaking. it's dripping all over the driveway."

"well, i'm supposed to be in *insert name of other, slightly cooler town* in half an hour for dinner with *insert name of hot guy*, so... i don't care."

"well... you could take some coolant with you and top it off again later, but if the hose goes... especially since you're driving all the way to *other town*... you should really have somebody look at it before you take it on the highway, honey."

somehow by adding "honey" to the end of things, she always sounds so reasonable. so since she's my mom, i do what she says and i head over to an auto shop. the two auto shops we use are actually kitty-corner from each other on the same intersection. i randomly chose one. for our purposes, we shall call it "bill's".

bill checks out the car while i wait. a good twenty minutes later, he returns with bad news -- it's not a leaky hose; it's the water pump, which circulates the coolant through the engine. this is a biggie. if i had gotten on the highway, i would have basically toasted my engine and had to thumb my way home. thanks, mom.

but the news gets worse. a mystique is a smallish car and it turns out that the location of the water pump is somewhat problematic. bill tells me they'll actually have to take the engine out of the car in order to reach the pump, a job which will take four to five hours. i'm already late for dinner. did i mention it was dinner with a guy? and that he's hot?

bill insists that the car's in really bad shape and i shouldn't even drive it home. well, so much for dinner. i call my mom to get a ride home. one ringie dingie... two ringie dingies... no answer. hmm, i muse... how curious. i try her cell. same story. then i remember she had said something about mowing the lawn... dammit! it'll be at least an hour before she gets a message. so i'm going to be at bill's reading last january's "better homes and gardens" for a while. i call my dinner date to cancel and explain the situation, hoping he believes me and doesn't think i just bailed.

"*long explanation of my current conundrum*... so i guess i'm not going to make it up for dinner. i'm really sorry."

"where are you now?"

"at the auto shop."

"is someone coming to get you."

"no, not yet. i left a message for my mom, but i think she's mowing the lawn."

"what's she doing mowing the lawn? that's a man's job!"

"*laughter* i know! tell that to my dad!"

"well, stay put. i'm on my way."

the tone with which he says this conjures vague childhood memories of batman on the red phone with the commissioner and inside i swoon a little bit. on the outside, i protest -- it's too far and he really shouldn't go to all the trouble... but he's already walking out the door and before he hangs up i can hear his car starting.


so dinner was saved, but i had to abandon my car at bill's while i was in the adirondacks. when i picked it up a week and a half later, his $500 estimate had lept to $650. yikes methinks as i write a check. that's gonna leave a mark. just to make my day a little better, he stops me on my way out and explains that they also found a problem with the o2 sensors. (o2 means oxygen, he explains, as if i didn't pass fifth grade science.) there are four of them -- three are completely shot and the fourth is going, so they all need to be replaced. he estimates $90 per part and $120 in labour, which will be another $500 by the time you add tax and such. brilliant. i sigh and set up an appointment to bring it back in.

i take the receipt home to file it with other work we've had done on the car and i am astounded to find another receipt from the auto shop across the street -- paul's -- for the exact same job early last fall. my parents have had this car for a while now, and less than a year ago, they replaced that same water pump. this raises a wide variety of disturbing epiphanies. first and foremost, the water pump paul installed was under warranty, and thus if i had taken it back to him, he would have replaced it for free. $650 thrown to the wind. but it gets better.

the overall job at paul's cost only $400, a whopping 40% less than bill's version of the same repair. confuseb and a bit irritated, i start looking at the fine print. $110 for paul's water pump; $160 for bill's. $15 for a belt at paul's; $30 at bill's. $15 for fresh coolant at paul's; $25 at bill's. 2.8 hours of labour at paul's vs 4.5 at bill's. for the same bloody job! that's $180 for paul's labour and $280 for bill's. then my favourite -- as i'm looking at the charges on bill's bill, i notice something kind of funny: less than $250 in parts plus less than $300 in labour plus $15 in taxes magically equals more than $650 total. you don't have to take non-euclidian geometries to figure out that that's bullshit, and i f*cking aced non-euclidian geometries.

i'm flying into an apoplectic rage about now. i leap back into my g-mobile and all six cylinders buzz me over to bill's to read him the riot act. i try to be polite to the receptionist 'cuz none of this is her fault, but she can probably see the plumes of donald duckesque red smoke billowing from my ears.

bill is, of course, shocked and appalled at the mathematical "error" and slyly attempts to blame it on the receptionist who has conveniently left the room. almost instantly, he pulls the difference of $100 out of his wallet in cold, hard cash and thrusts it at me, all the while blubbering about how his accountant would have caught that mistake. she surely would have called me in a day or two.

then let me ask you this, bill: shouldn't you give me my refund in the form of a check so that you have some written record to show your accountant when she comes asking?

"o no," he's floundering big time now, "not necessary. i just prefer cash 'cuz it's faster."

yeah, that's the same thing my crack dealer says.

next i set my two receipts on the counter side-by-side and demand an explanation of the pricing difference. why is your water pump worth $160 when paul charged me $110 for the same part? and the belt? the coolant? the labour??

blah blah blah, bill tries valiantly to explain something about the quality of the parts and warranties and such.

this is hard to swallow since i was just on the phone with paul who assured me the pump and belt both have lifetime warranties. the pump, in fact, is the newest model they can get their hands on, absolutely 100% satisfaction guarenteed. through the whole ordeal, paul's a total star and even though i took my problem to the guy across the street, he's willing to refund me the cost of the defective part. he is in no way obligated to do this. he's just nice.

bill's voice is starting to remind me of charlie brown's mom and i know that the 100 bucks in my pocket is the only useful thing i'm going to get out of him, so i start to collect my papers and walk out. in the last death throes of our customer service relationship, he changes strategies and offers me some "good" news -- it turns out he was wrong about those o2 sensors. only one of them is really bad and a second one going, so i'll just have to have two of them replaced instead of all four.

i almost laugh aloud because he has got to be a cokehead if he thinks he's ever touching my car again.

i've heard other women complain about the uterus tax that you pay when you take your car to a shop yourself, instead of having your husband/boyfriend/father take it in for you. i always thought it was sort of an urban legend. well, somebody call "myth busters." of course, some of the additional fees on bill's water pump job were probably related to the fact that i was going out of town and not just the fact that i don't have a penis, but in total they amounted to $250 worth of bullshit charges, not including the upcoming $500+ o2 sensor replacement.

unfortunately for bill, i'm ballsy enough that i pulled right out of his parking lot and into paul's where i had him run a scope on my car. you'll be relieved to know, dear reader, that my o2 sensors are just fine.


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