Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sometimes you just have to laugh

Mama Bear was among those cut yesterday. She took it well. We had anticipated it, and she had been talking about looking for another job already. Not so for most of the people who lost their jobs. The idea of layoffs caught them by surprise, and they were even more surprised at who was let go. It did not go by seniority. Some people who had been there for over thirty years heard for the first time that there would be cutbacks and were out of work the same day. So far, my parents still have their jobs. We are waiting to hear whether they will be re-assigned.

Earlier this week, we took the car in for emissions testing, required here to renew the plates, which expire next month. They used to test by sticking a probe up the tailpipe, stepping on the gas, and measuring the exhaust. It was every bit as fun as it sounds. A few years ago, they switched to a system where they plug their computer into the car's computer, and the computer tells them you failed. Then you take the car to your mechanic, who plugs it into his computer to find out what the problem is. Sometimes, he can just reset your computer, and it will pass. Other times, it takes expensive repairs. Even if all he does is reset the computer, there is a minimum $100 charge for connecting your car to the the computer, in addition to the cost of any repairs. It's all a scheme to try to get fewer people to drive cars.

As long as we have owned this car, the Check Engine light has been on most the time. It runs fine, the computer just isn't happy. We've taken it in for repairs, and every time they corrected the problem the computer was complaining about, the light went out, but came back on within a week. It also randomly goes out for a few days and comes back on. Whenever we were due for emissions testing, we waited for the light to go out, then hurried down to the testing station. It usually passed. This time, the light went out about two months before we were due for testing, and stayed out. When we took the car in for testing, they had a new rule: if the Check Engine light doesn't come on when they turn the key, you automatically fail. If  the light comes on and stays on you fail. If the computer is having a bad day, you fail. In any case, you have to pay $100 to hook it up to the computer, spin the wheel, and see what you've won. Let's see, Bob, what's it going to cost me to register my car this year?

We've owned this car for ten years, and it wasn't new when we bought it. It has nearly 300,000 miles on it. It has run very well for us, and we were hoping to get one more year out of it, because we really can't afford to replace it just now. So we'd made an appointment to drop our car off for repairs the day Mama Bear lost her job. We dropped it off anyway, because you need a car to look for work at least as much as you need one to get to work. There is no public transportation in this town. (That's a good thing, by the way. Why is a story for another day.) The Check Engine light was out because...


the bulb had burnt out. The computer also said we had a bad catalytic converter (this car has two of them, at $700 each) but after a reset, all the codes cleared, and we passed, all for the low, low price of $181, not counting the $75 registration fee. That's one expensive light bulb.

So Mama Bear got a ride into town to pick up the car. She took GL, because he has been begging and whining for an adventure. That means riding in the car and getting something to eat. Since she was going  into town anyway, gas wasn't a problem, but teenage boys are expensive to feed at fast food restaurants, and whatever you offer him, he tries to negotiate up. She managed to talk him down to a visit to the big city library, which he's been asking for lately because they have several times the DVD selection of our local library. She just needed to stop at a couple of stores first. When they came out of the first store, the car wouldn't start. She called AAA. They had her describe the symptoms and put her cell phone in various places while trying to start it. Diagnosis: dead battery. It had a full and productive life, may it rest in peace. (Or be recycled into an equally reliable battery at an affordable price.)

They sent out a truck to give her a jump start, but estimated a 45 minute wait. In a car with a dead battery. In the middle of an asphalt parking lot. On a warm, sunny day in the middle of July. With GL already sputtering, "But-but-but, we didn't go to the library yet!" She called me, but I couldn't do anything because she had the car. I called around, but couldn't find her a ride. So they waited.

In the mean time, I called around to find out who had the battery we needed in stock for a reasonable price. That turned out to be Sears, at $64.98 for their bargain battery. When AAA showed up, they got the car started right away, then offered to sell her a Super Duper Battery for $125. When she politely declined, the man said, "But this battery comes with a six-year guarantee! If it fails in six years, we'll bring you a new battery for free!" Um, we weren't planning on keeping the car that long.

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