Car Repair Appointment Turns Into a Party

Back in the pre-Covid days when I spent a lot of time cruising I-5

When I take my Honda to Sunwest Honda in Newport for repairs, I plan for a long sit in the waiting room. I bring a book to read and work to do. I have written poems, researched articles, and caught up with my emails in that little room with the leather sofas, coffee machine, TV, and racks of brochures. Stranded without my car, I turn Sunwest into my office away from home. If one or two other people are there, it doesn’t matter. They barely look up from their phones. We mind our own business.

Not this time. When I took my aging Honda Element in on Friday to see why it was getting more and more difficult to start, I walked into a party. Five women, a man, and two toddlers filled the room. I squeezed into the only seat left as the little girl said “Hi!” and the boy showed me the magazine he was mangling. The children talked to everyone, so the grownups talked to each other. 

I considered the work I had hoped to get done and scolded myself: You’re always complaining about being lonely. You are surrounded by people here. Enjoy it. 

 “Looks like Sunwest is going to make a lot of money today,” I said. The adults laughed. The kids were busy crawling up and down the furniture and grabbing brochures off the rack. 

Soon I knew that one woman worked at the Dollar Tree and had six grandchildren, that two of them were waiting for oil changes and two had lived in Colorado, where smog checks are mandatory (they’re not in Oregon). We learned that all of us hate keyless ignitions and none of us are ready for electric cars. The Dollar Tree lady doesn’t have a smartphone and doesn’t do email. But she talks to everyone she meets.

One by one, the service manager called people by name as their cars were ready. With each departure, we said goodbye like old friends.

I was the last one. I paced around the room, walked through the showroom where one red truck was parked, and looked out the window at the rain on the empty lot until I finally heard “Mrs. Lick?” 

The problem was the battery, years past its expected expiration date. $231. I paid and pet the dog hanging out with the staff, a gorgeous black and white male that smelled Annie on me and decided I was part of the family, too. 

I remember the San Jose days of waiting in a long line of cars at dawn, handing my car over to a rude guy with a clipboard and going home because it would be a long time before they got to my vehicle. Not here. I made my appointment online, choosing to come at 10 a.m., and I was out the door in time for lunch. Plus I got to pet a dog. Small towns rock.

On my way out,  I ran into a salesman. “When are you going to sell me a new car?” I asked.

His eyes lit up. “Are you looking for a car?”

I explained that I was kind of looking. I gestured to my 2008 Element with 144,700 miles and a new battery. I had planned to buy a new car a couple years ago, but with Covid, I wasn’t driving anywhere. Now people are traveling more despite Covid, but there are no new cars in the showroom or in the lot. “Supply chain” issues. The manufacturers can’t get the computer chips they need to make the cars. [Read: “The Car Market is Insane” ]

Selling cars must be a miserable job these days with everyone in crisis over Covid and inflation and no actual cars to sell. The salesman couldn’t just walk over to a shiny new sedan and say, “Well, this little beauty. . . ” or “Would you like to take a test drive?” He told me the process these days is to decide what you want and order it. They will call you when it comes in. Yes, but what if I hate it?  What happened to kicking the tires and looking under the hood? I slid the guy’s card into my pocket and climbed into my dusty, dog–fur-coated Element. 

I’ve got a new battery to wear out. No hurry buying a new car when I can party with the others keeping their old cars going. 

Although there was hand sanitizer at the door, we weren’t wearing masks or talking about Covid. My arm was still hurting from my second booster shot. With luck, we’ve all had our shots, and they do their job. 

The slogan at the entrances to Newport claims our town is “The Friendliest.” I agree. It is. But I’ll still bring my books just in case no one shows up. 

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Seeing dead birds and old cars

You never know what you’re going to see on the road. I was driving east on Highway 20 toward Albany, Oregon Saturday when a black and white bird suddenly flew up about 20 feet then crashed onto the passing lane. Did it have a heart attack? Was it dropped by a hawk? Did it commit suicide? It went down hard and probably got run over before its heart stopped beating. Thank God I wasn’t in that lane. I thought about that poor bird all day.

Did I ever mention the toilet planter in front of a yard on 20? Brown pots with lush red geraniums perch on the seat and the tank. It would certainly be easy to find that house.

The other day, I found myself following our old car. When I got close enough to read the license plate, I knew it was that gold Honda Accord Fred and I bought in 2000. Seeing it brought back all kinds of memories. I remembered places we went in that car. I remembered washing it, rubbing that “Naples gold” paint in the sun. I can see the dog fur on the tan upholstery, the cloth butterfly hanging off the mirror, the scatter of cassette tapes on the passenger seat.

I introduced my new car to my old one, as if it were a living thing.

I have seen our previous car here, too, parked at the dentist’s office by the post office. When we moved to Oregon 14 years ago, we had a white Honda Accord, with blue upholstery. The right back bumper was popped out a little. Fred drove the big yellow rental truck while I followed him in the Honda with our old dog Sadie beside me and the back seat full of guitars, computers and my Chatty Cathy doll. She peed on the seat just before we landed in Lincoln City. It must have taken a year to get rid of the smell.

Maybe we should have kept those old cars; they’re still going. Each car brings back memories of different eras in our lives. I know they’re just cars, but I get attached. Way back when my parents traded in our green 1955 Buick Special for a Ford Fairlane, I cried. My family still teases me over that, but the back seat of that car was my second home. I can still feel the soft blanket I snuggled in back there between battles with my little brother.

The front seat of my silver Honda Element is my second home now. Inside is a jumble of CDs, yoga gear, books to sell and books to read, Kleenex, flashlights, an umbrella (I live in Oregon), chewing gum and granola bars, a guitar stand and random guitar picks, a dog blanket and a dog water bowl, and a red metal water bottle for me. Fill up the gas tank, turn the key and off I go into the world in the safety of my shell like a fast-moving turtle with tires.

I have been counting Honda Elements on my weekly drives to and from Albany. So far the record is 11. Some people think they’re ugly, but I love those big boxy things and I love all the wild oranges, greens, blues and reds they come in. The Element looks a little old-fashioned, and I like that too. Before we started buying Hondas, I drove VWs. Which probably says something about me.

Meanwhile, three of our cars are rolling around Lincoln County, Oregon. There’s an outdoor toilet with geraniums around Elk City and a smashed bird somewhere near Burnt Woods.

You never know what you’re going to see.

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