Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Pet Sitter Mobile

At age 21, I bought a motorcycle, a Yamaha Virago -- meaning warrior woman-- dark red with chrome. On that bike with my black helmet and black suede leather jacket with the fringe, I thought I was the coolest amazon in town. Pet sitting on a motorcycle turned out to be great during the summer months, all that sun and fresh air and only $3 to fill up the gas tank, but when the rainy season started it was a real drag. I tried every type of rain gear, but nothing could keep me from getting soaked to the skin, and spending a day on your feet in wet shoes and underwear is quite unpleasant. The day finally came for me to buy a car.

Since I had only had my business less than a year, my budget was rather limited: I had no more than $1000 to purchase my new wheels, so I went to my local convenience store and picked up the Auto Trader magazine, a good pre-internet source for used vehicles. Each ad included a description of the vehicle with a photo and the seller’s phone number. Of course, one had to know how to translate these ads:”like new” meant not too many dents, “never raced” meant it probably was, especially if it was a Camero with a huge engine, and “cherry” meant it was washed recently. All ads contained the ubiquitous phrase, “runs good,” including, amazingly, some for cars without engines! I sat down with a cup of coffee and a pen and circled the most likely vehicles for me, then I began to make phone calls. The conversations went something like this:

Me: “Hi, I’m interested in your 1980 Honda.”
Woman’s voice: “Oh, it’s my husband’s car.”
“Okay, may I speak with your husband?”
“No, he doesn’t speak English.”
“Okay, how about I ask you questions and you ask your husband?”
After a long pause she agreed.

My first question, a common one, “How many miles does it have on the odometer?” I sat with pen poised over my notebook with the list of car-purchasing questions.

I heard her place the phone down on the table, then a muffled exchange in Spanish. She picked the phone up after some time and said, “My husband says, it doesn’t matter how many miles it has!”

My next call was no more successful. A man with a strong New York accent sang the praises of his 1982 Toyota Corolla for ten minutes, then said, “It just has oooone little problem.”
“Oh really, and what’s that?”
“Well, it doesn’t have third gear, but it runs just fine, you just shift like this: first, second, fourth!”

After the telephone screening, there was the actual viewing of the vehicles, which was no less amusing. Having been raised by my Dad, I was more car savvy than the average girl, but I was still leery of going to strangers’ homes alone, so he joined me for the shopping. So it was that we pulled up to the home of Chip, who was selling a 1980 Toyota Celica. Chip lived in, let’s just say, the “inexpensive” part of town; I immediately noticed that, along with a great deal of rubbish, there were several Toyotas in front of his home in varying states of repair. The hood was up on one of them and he was deeply buried in the engine compartment; my eyes traveled to his pants, which were slipping down and, oh god, there it was, the crack of his butt greatly exposed. I got out of Dad’s car and was accosted by the smell of dirty motor oil and Gunk engine cleaner spray. The smell got worse as we climbed into the Celica with Chip, who for some strange reason insisted on driving it himself, rather than letting one of us drive. Oil and Gunk were joined by B.O. and the smell of filthy upholstery and sun-damaged vinyl. He popped the clutch and flew down the street, hanging corners and grinding through the gears like a madman, talking all the way.

“Yeah, I did all the repairs on this car myself,” he said, to no great surprise. “I replaced the brakes and the clutch.” As if on cue, the clutch slipped just as he said that. “Yeah,” he went on, patting the cracked and warped dash board, “It runs good, but the insides ain’t so cherry!”

Finally my search yielded a treasure, a dark blue 1980 Honda Civic hatchback, great for transporting dogs, cheap on gas, and, as I soon discovered, small enough to park anywhere. I paid the seller $900 cash and drove away feeling like a wealthy lady in a Rolls Royce; that feeling was soon tempered, however, by my discovery of the vehicle’s “idiosyncrasies.” For one thing, the seat was not bolted down. It was somehow attached on the left side, so no problem making a right turn, but a left turn caused me and the seat to tilt at an alarming angle. There was no back seat, which was unsightly but worked out fine for dog transport. There were also some slight electrical problems, like when I put on the turn signal, the horn beeped, and when I pressed the horn, the turn signals flashed. When the rainy season started, I discovered that the sun roof, installed by the previous (teenage boy) owner, was not sealed properly and water leaked all over the place. I drove around wondering what was worse, sitting on a dry motorcycle seat and getting rained on or sitting on a wet, moldy smelling car seat? I developed a method of folding newspaper and wedging it between the visor and the leaky window. The newspaper turned out to be just as useful for absorbing rain water as puppy pee, and as long as I changed it every couple of days I stayed dry.

By the time I got rid of the Honda, it had 250,000 miles on the odometer; like the ad claimed, this vehicle “ran good” and, despite its shortcomings, was reliable transportation for two years, until I could afford to buy what I always wanted, a truck ... but that’s another story.