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.