Posted by: patti | July 27, 2010

How Not to Buy a Car, Part 2

While Jittery arranged to have the title returned from the State Department, I was busy doing more research.  I needed to get an unregistered car I didn’t know how to drive across state lines.  The simplest thing to do would have been to borrow plates from someone who was both willing to participate in such a scheme and had at least a rudimentary understanding of driving stick.  But the more I shared with my friends and family, the harder they tried to talk me out of buying this car, and I was not going to be talked out of this car.  So I stuck with my flatbed trailer plan.

And while I was hatching the plot for Grand Theft Auto V, Jittery was harassing my credit union.  He called my loan officer, Rose.  He didn’t believe her that it was an official check with certified funds, so he asked to speak to her manager.  Rose’s manager could not convince Jittery that the check was good.  Ultimately, the president of the credit union spoke to Jittery and he could not convince him that the check was good.  Jittery called me almost every day, with an update, looking for assurances that he wasn’t going to get stuck with an unregistered car weeks away from his departure for Japan.

I realized that the only way I was going to get my Beetle was to show up and take it, which made the flatbed idea even better.  So, in my conversations with Jittery, I may have left him with the impression that I was going to give him the check and he was going to give me the title, but not the keys, and that I would take the title back to Connecticut and get temporary plates.  Which would have given the check time to clear while he still held on to the car, which might make him less jittery, and then with the cash in his account and my paperwork official, I’d return to New York and get the keys and drive home.

There was no way I was going to do that.  There was absolutely no way I was handing over money and getting only a piece of paper.  I was leaving New York City with my Beetle.

Jittery called at 11 am on Friday to say he had the title, and I told him I was on my way, and I immediately ran to U-Haul.  I had a reservation, and the guy there knew me well, because I’d rented vans from him for my trips to Ikea to outfit my new apartment.  A big mess of a man, he wore stained shirts that never quite buttoned over his belly, he had a beard that was thick and unruly enough to house small woodland creatures, and he had a tendency to use his sweaty hat to wipe his sweaty face.  He was the manager, the type of manager who doesn’t look like a manager, and who only softens his gruff demeanor if you are pleasant and attentive enough to fill out the contracts properly.  It took me a few visits to figure out that he was treating me with more respect and kindness than most other customers — on Whalley Avenue in New Haven, he does not get many renters who are responsible or friendly.

So when I showed up this particular Friday, McGruff left a long line of irritable renters to teach me how to use the flatbed.  There were three steps: pull out the ramps, flip open the wheel well, align the straps.  And then attach and secure the straps to the car.  And then do the three steps in reverse.  McGruff demonstrated everything multiple times, then made me show him I could do it, multiple times, and then made me recite the steps back to him, multiple times.  I knew the traffic from New Haven to New York City was going to be horrific, and I wrestled with growing impatience and anxiety.  But I listened, and I demonstrated, and I practiced, and I let what should have been a quick rental turn into an hour and a half.  Which is precisely why I did not admit to McGruff that I had never driven a pickup truck, let alone a pickup truck with a flatbed car trailer attached to it.

But driving it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.   As long as I took my time and left myself plenty of room, it was no different than driving, say, a nice Honda Civic, if that Honda Civic had been retrofitted as the USS Nimitz.  Traffic, however, was way worse than I thought it would be.  It was move-in week for Yale, which meant it was almost 1 pm when I merged the Nimitz onto 95 South.  On the Friday before Labor Day.  In the rain.

Without traffic, without rain, it should have taken an hour and forty minutes, give or take, to get to the bank on Forty Second and First.  Jittery had already started calling me, because I may have left him with the impression that I was taking the train to meet him.  I called his bank, confirmed that they were open until 6 pm, and then called him back and told him I’d meet him at 4 pm.  I’m an optimist, you see.

Stuck in the interminable traffic, I reviewed the plan, and began to have doubts.  Maybe I was being too stubborn.  Maybe it was perfectly reasonable to give him the money and process the paperwork and then get the keys after it had all cleared.  Maybe Rose and everyone else who had tried to talk me out of this deal was right.  What if I had gone to all this trouble and expense, and he freaked out and refused to give me the car?  It was too late for all of these doubts — I had already gone to the trouble and the expense, and there was no turning back.  Literally, no turning back, because I didn’t even want to contemplate the idea of having to figure out reverse in the Nimitz.

I had an idea, and called Rose.  I explained what I was doing, with the trailer and the traffic and my concerns.  She listened, quietly, and then said, “Honey, I only met you a few times, and you seem real smart.  But this is the craziest, stupidest car purchase I have ever seen in thirty years of doing car loans.”

I really didn’t know what to say to that, except, “Yeah, I know, but if he freaks out at the bank, can I have him or his bank call you to verify that the funds are there?”  She reminded me that the entire credit union could not convince him it was a good check.  “A guy like that, that nervous, you don’t want to do business with him, honey.”

No, probably not, but I wanted my car.  And Rose’s reaction confirmed that I had done the right thing in telling exactly no one the real plan for getting this car.  Rose reluctantly agreed to field a call from the bank or Jittery if it came, but warned me that she was leaving at five, on the dot.

That hour and forty minutes came and went.  Two hours became three hours, became three and a half.  Jittery kept calling and I kept adding half an hour to our meeting time, and I finally had to admit that I was stuck in traffic but would definitely be there by five.  I had to get creative with my route — between the traffic and the rain, and the commercial plates, and the fact that I was driving the freaking USS Nimitz, I had to use every New-York-driver trick I knew, plus a few I made up along the way.  It’s not for nothing I learned to drive in Queens.  At one stretch on Willis Avenue, I thought I saw the trailer disappear completely into a pothole, but it bounced back into view and somehow stayed attached.

At five minutes to five, just under four hours after I left New Haven, I parked the Nimitz in a loading zone on Forty-Second Street, right before First Avenue.  I popped the hazards on, hoped I’d be back before I got a ticket, or worse, towed, and ran to the bank.  Jittery was standing on the corner, clutching his plastic bag.

I ran up to him, and out of breath, quickly summarized what was going to happen, with many emphatic hand gestures:  “I have a trailer for the car.  You’re going to go in, deposit the check, and then we’re going to drive the trailer over to the garage to get the car.  If you are still worried about the check, which you shouldn’t be, the bank manager can call Rose at the credit union to verify that the funds are there.”

I didn’t give him, or me, a chance to stop and think.  I held the bank door open for him, and he just stood and blinked at me.  I stared back at him, pretending I knew what I was doing and that my heart wasn’t going to beat right out of my chest.  He finally found his voice: “But, no, I give you the title and I wait for the money, and then you get the car.”

I let the door close and faced him straight on.  He is quite tall, and I am not, but somehow, putting my hands on my hips made me grow an inch or two.  “No.  That’s not how it works.  I give you money, you give me a car.  That is how it works.”

His face crumbled.  He knew I was right.  He protested some more, and I just kept repeating, “That’s not how it works.”  He followed me into the bank.

It was now five on the dot, so I marched him to customer service, and I talked fast.  The World’s Most Bored Bank Employees sat expressionless as I held up the check, explained that the gentleman did not believe that this was a good check, but if they would just call this woman at this number, they could verify for the gentleman that this was indeed a good check.  Please and thank you.  With emphatic hand gestures.

Most Bored Number One looked over her glasses at the check, and at us.  “It’s a good check,” she said to Jittery.  The clock was ticking.  “Yes,” I said.  “Could you call, please?” Most Bored Number Two looked at the check.  “It’s a good check,” he said to me.  It was all too much.  I snapped.  “I know that!  Just call!”  Jittery was worrying a hole in his plastic bag.

Still staring at us over her glasses, Number One punched the speakerphone button with the end of her pencil, which she drew, excruciatingly slowly, from her pouffy hair.  She punched each number to Rose slowly slowly maddeningly slowly.  It was after five, but Rose, God bless you, Rose, Rose answered on the first ring.  She didn’t answer with the name of the credit union, nothing like that.  She just sighed, “Hello,” knowing what the call was going to be.  Number One recited the information on the check.  Rose’s response was crisp, irritated — she bit off every word, ready to be done with this particular brand of insanity: “That is a good check.” And she hung up.

Number One ended the call and stared at Jittery.  Number Two had never stopped staring at Jittery.  I turned and stared at Jittery.  I handed him the check that was a good check, the check that had always been a good check.  Jittery clutched his plastic bag tighter with one hand, but he took the very very good check with the other.  He looked back at us.  “This is a good check?” he asked us.  Number One’s voice was completely devoid of the exasperation her eyebrows betrayed as she pointed to the phone and said, “You heard the woman say it was a good check.”  Shoulders drooping, looking utterly stunned and completely defeated, Jittery slumped to the teller’s window and deposited the check.

Number One and Number Two and I exchanged looks that said, Can you believe…? and looks that said, Not at all, and looks that said, It takes all kinds.  But as I stood there, feeling the adrenaline drain, I realized that as hard as this part was, I still had to go get the car.  I still had to get it on the trailer.  I still had to get it back to Connecticut on the trailer.  It had to be inspected.  And then registered.

And then, if that all worked out, I still had to learn how to drive it.

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