Posted by: patti | July 30, 2010

How Not to Buy a Car, Part 3

The Nimitz was parked exactly where I left it up the block from the bank, without a ticket, untowed.  Jittery followed me, still clutching his plastic bag, and when he saw the truck, and saw me swing up into the driver’s seat, he developed a sudden inability to form complete words: “Buh…? Wha…?”  Eventually, he climbed into the pickup next to me.  The adrenaline rush from the bank heist had left me shaky, but I managed to chatter away and drive like this was a normal Friday afternoon outing for me, like it wasn’t the Nimitz I was navigating through the East 30s.

I had to circle the block a few times, but I finally found enough room to park the trailer on First Avenue, just past the entryway of the Beetle’s garage.  Jittery had rediscovered language and was just starting to ask questions about what had happened back at the bank (“The check was good?”).  I hopped out and began to set up the trailer, just like McGruff taught me.  The lessons had paid off:  Jittery stood and watched, and finally asked, “How you know how to do this?”  Instead of answering, I suggested that he go get my car from the garage.

Once the trailer was all set up, I spread the paperwork on the dashboard of the pickup.  I filled out what I had to, and arranged everything so all he had to do was sign on all the dotted lines.  Then I stood on the trailer to wait.  The Beetle’s nose appeared in the mouth of the garage, like she was sniffing to check the weather, uncertain she wanted to venture outside.  But then Jittery guided her out and parked right behind the trailer ramps.

And being jittery, Jittery refused to drive her onto the trailer.  He explained that he did not want to be responsible for damaging my tires.

It was all I could do to not laugh out loud. My tires.  Up on the trailer, looking down at the little black Beetle squatting at the end of the ramps, her headlamps seemed like big sad eyes.  Time to go home, Ladybug, I thought, and just like that, I was that person, the one who gives her car a name.

I, of course, could not drive Ladybug onto the trailer.  The garage attendants had been hovering, watching me set up the trailer, clearly curious about what was going on.  Still up on the trailer, I called out to them, and asked them for help.  There was a Three Stooges moment as they responded—a knot of garage attendants vied to be the first to open Ladybug’s door.

The losing attendants swarmed the trailer.  One hopped up on the trailer to direct: “Allow me, little lady.”  (They were helping, so I let it go, but: ugh.)  The others checked the ramps, checked the straps, directed from the street.  The Three Stooges moments continued, with lots of alarmed shouting in Spanish.  I couldn’t bear to watch — more than once it looked like my car was going to end up on its side in the street, a helpless dead bug, wheels spinning at the gray sky.

I had Jittery fill out the paperwork while the Stooges did their thing.  I don’t know if it was the relative quiet of the pickup cab, or how organized I was with the papers, or the relief of seeing the end of this insane transaction, or if years of working as a bureaucrat had conditioned him to find filling out forms soothing, but Jittery was suddenly a lot less jittery and a lot more chatty.  We talked about living in New York, about adjusting to a new home, about driving.

All of a sudden, Ladybug was secure on her trailer, the paperwork was finished, and there was nothing left to do but shake hands and say goodbye.  Actually, there was one more thing:  I had to pry that plastic bag out of Jittery’s hands.  He let me take the manuals, and I managed to get most of the papers I needed, but he would not hand the whole thing over — I would have liked to have the car’s mechanical history, which I’d caught a glimpse of the day of the test drive, but I let it go.

My last sight of Jittery was in the rear-view mirrror, as the Nimitz and Ladybug and I eased into First Avenue traffic:  standing on the corner, in the rain, clutching the nearly empty plastic bag to his thin chest.  He turned right, walked a few steps, then turned around and walked back a few steps.  He turned again, and stood still, looking like he had entered a room and forgotten why he’d gone in there.  I had left poor Jittery literally walking in circles.

But I had my car.  Ladybug’s big eyes peeped over the back of the pickup truck in my rearview mirror: Where are we going? Home, little girl.  Home.

The traffic back to Connecticut was as bad as the traffic out of Connecticut had been, so I stopped off in Fairfield and had wings and a Guinness to celebrate my victory at Grand Theft Auto.  If you got off the train in Fairfield one rainy Friday night last August and saw a U-Haul pickup and car trailer carrying a little black Beetle taking up ten parking spots, yeah, that was me.

It was nearly 11 pm when I returned to New Haven. My apartment is in a good part of New Haven, but it is on the cusp of a bad part of New Haven, and after all that work and drama, there was no way I was going to let any harm come to my car.  On-street parking would have been hard to find for just the Beetle, let alone a Beetle on the Nimitz.  But there was also no way I could drive around all night until it was time to go to the DMV in the morning, so I improvised.

I went back to the U-Haul lot on Whalley Avenue.  It’s a huge double-lot, sharing space with a Staples, and I figured that as long as I was back in the morning before McGruff opened U-Haul, Ladybug would be safe and out of the way.  There was a perfect spot, a huge space between two trucks, up against the back fence.  I could position the trailer so that Ladybug would be between the two trucks, and if anyone wanted to molest or steal her, they’d really have to work at it.

There was just one problem.  I had to back the trailer into the space.  It took me almost an hour, but I did it — once I figured out that the trailer in reverse works basically like a little red wagon, things went a lot more smoothly.  I started doing the opposite of what my spatial intuition wanted me to do, and all of a sudden, Ladybug was nestled in for the night and the Nimitz was straight.

I barely slept.  Even though I knew the trailer was fine, I still fretted about it, and I was also worried about oversleeping.  The schedule for Saturday was impossibly tight:  The Bridgeport DMV (my closest option for Saturday hours) was open from 8 to noon, and I had promised McGruff to have the trailer back to him by noon. To complicate matters, Jittery had told me that a front headlamp was burned out, so I needed to get that fixed before it would pass inspection.

So I was up and out by 6 am.  It seemed to me like Ladybug wagged her tail when she saw me coming, but I can’t be sure.  I had mapped an AutoZone in Bridgeport near the DMV, but that whole part of the world is really hard to navigate — the intersections are confusing and signs are unreadable to nonexistent — but even harder in the Nimitz.

I circled and circled, trying to find the AutoZone, and I was starting to get really nervous about time — I needed to get on line at the DMV because I only had that small four hour window to get everything done.  I finally pulled into a tire place to ask for help.  They didn’t have the bulb I needed, but they drew me a map for both the AutoZone and the DMV, and they were delighted to help because they had seen the trailer go by something like four times and had wanted to know the story.  It took up more precious time, but I told them, of course.  I’ve never been able to resist a good audience.

The Nimitz and I took up the whole AutoZone parking lot.  A crew of AutoZone guys helped me find and replace the bulb I needed, and it was a bit of a saga, because the Beetle’s headlamps are very hard to replace and are halogen, two details that will come back to haunt me.

Somehow, please don’t ask me how, I found a legal parking spot outside the DMV for the Nimitz.  It was 7:15, but the line outside was much longer than I had hoped, and it was raining, of course.  For those forty-five minutes, I checked and rechecked all of my papers and wished I had thought to carry them in a plastic bag instead of the folder that was growing limp from rain.

But things went very quickly.  By 8:30, I had temporary plates and all the papers I needed to get the car inspected.  I hopped back in the Nimitz and drove to the first service station that advertised inspections — not surprisingly, I did not have to go very far.

Unfortunately, they could not inspect the car on the trailer.  They backed the trailer up to the garage, thinking they could hook everything up with her still on the trailer, but the garage door was too low.  They tried to move the equipment out of the garage to the trailer, but the cords were too short.  Because the line of impatient people waiting for inspection was growing, the guys said I had to take the car off the trailer and get on line myself, but, of course, I can’t do this because I can’t drive the car.  So they made me wait.  When the line was finished, they drove the car off the trailer, inspected it, and drove it back on.  They were surly and annoyed, and they kept trying to make me go away, but I refused to give up.

But that inspection process took two hours.  The inspection itself took maybe five minutes, which made me think that Connecticut’s inspection regulations are a bit of a joke.  By the time I parked the Nimitz back at the DMV — much less legally, this time — I was pretty jittery myself, because it was 10:30 and the lines were much longer.

I didn’t need to be jittery, as it turns out.  For one thing, I had 30 days to complete the registration, but I had no idea if I’d ever learn to drive in time to get back there.  More importantly, though, I really just wanted the whole thing done.  With the inspection certificate in hand and the temporary paperwork already completed, processing was very simple.  The Nimitz and I were on our way back to New Haven by 11:15 — cutting it a little close for our noon deadline.

Thank goodness for the Mobil rest stop on 95 in Milford — I can’t think of another spot where there would have been room for me to refuel the Nimitz without causing major traffic jams and/or property damage.  But I was able to pull right in, gas up, and keep going.  Of course, I blocked two other tanks in the process, but I was quick about it.

When I pulled the trailer into the U-Haul lot, with ten minutes to spare, McGruff once again left a long line of surly renters to take care of me.  As I stepped out of the pickup, he was right there, holding the door for me, saying “You made it!”  He wanted to know what the problem with the car was, and so I explained that the car was fine, but I couldn’t drive it because I was still learning stick.

And just like nearly everyone else who featured in this story, he did more than he needed to, and helped me.  He drove Ladybug off the trailer for me and parked her off to the side.  Another customer was waiting for the pickup, so he processed all of that while I attached my license plates and visited with my new car.

She was a mess.  The damage I’d noticed on that first day was even worse than I thought.  But I didn’t care.  Who needs cup holders, anyway?  And a working glovebox?  Pfft.  The windows getting stuck open in the rain might be a problem, but for now, the drizzle on my arm felt wonderful.  The last digits of my license plate were XOU, and as silly as this sounds, it made me happy to see hugs and kisses on my Ladybug.

When McGruff was finished with the crowd, he gave me a quick driving lesson in the U-Haul parking lot.  He showed me reverse.  He tried to teach me how to feel the stall starting and how to prevent it.  He did the best he could, but I still had a long way to go.

I lurched out of the parking lot, and I turned left onto Whalley, across traffic, stalled on the double yellow line, burst into tears, started the car again, and lurched and sputtered up the street, only to realize that I was heading the wrong way.  Home was behind me and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to  turn around.


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