If the price is low and the service is great, add a tip to an unexpected charge

Dressing up a gripe about a car company as praise for a capable, happy fixer.

I’ve had a bit of shit luck lately, exacerbated by the realities of a wandering attention span, aging equipment, and miseries both ambient and personal. Each of these mostly first-world woes has me confronting my newfound lazy desire to be lazy about everything that isn’t absolutely vital to moving my everyday life forward. Even when I find myself maximally encumbered by voluntary obligations, living doesn’t take a lot of real work for me compared to most people, just a lot of engaging with different files presenting different needs. Lately, I often finish everything I need to do on a given day before realizing I don’t really feel like doing anything that day, making it too late too procrastinate, meaning I’m either overly efficient or under-burdened, or cannot reliably keep track of time. On many afternoons, I chew entire packs of Big Red at a sitting, blowing lovely cinnamon burps into Rosie’s face as payback for the rest of the hours we share.

The shit luck started when I gave a friend a ride to the big airfield 40 miles yonder three weeks ago. The fact that this was at 2:30 a.m. by itself was only a mild inconvenience, but the severe blizzard that started on the way back was nontrivial. In addition to having to creep home in a 2004 MINI Cooper S in white-out conditions, I had the defroster on full the entire way and found myself following salt trucks wherever I could in the hope of better traction. At the instant I pulled up in front on the house, the entire electrical system quit and the car wouldn’t start at all. As it was pre-dawn and I was exhausted, I didn’t much care then and felt lucky to have made it back, period. But after I slept for a few hours and dragged myself back into view later that morning, I knew I had a problem that might be worse than charging or replacing the battery. Just getting to the battery would be a pain in the ass, for diabolical and likely purposeful reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

I tried using another friend’s car, almost-new battery and all, to jump-start mine, but all I got was a series of clicks. Thus commenced a bunch of theorizing commensurate with my minimal knowledge of automotive maintenance and some haphazard chemistry. Although the car is well-maintained overall for an aging, roving source of annoyances, thus reflecting its owner, I had no idea how old the battery was. I surmised that a small, older car could be over-taxed with the blower and wipers and everything else draining power for over an hour, and maybe some of the otherwise salutary road salt had gotten into one of the battery terminals. Either way, not being able to jump the car into starting at all was more of an issue than with a typical car, because not only is the battery in the rear cargo compartment under the hatch in these Go-Karts for grownups, but there’s no key insert for the hatch; it only opens via the key fob, which requires a functional battery for its operation. Genius! (In case you’re wondering how I tried the jump in the first place, there is a battery node for the positive terminal under the hood in the front. Maybe this is not as rare as I think it is, but it seems an inopportune way to construct a car.)

So I did what every pissed-off guy with a garage full of tools and Internet access is required to do at times like these, and consulted YouTube for ways to solve the problem myself, preferably in ways suggested by big tattooed dudes making lots of metallic cutting and grinding noises as they work. As it happens, no one likes to work on MINIs of any model or vintage except when they owe some dismal friend who owns one a reluctant favor, or are in a mood to break something without consequences. But I learned a fairly tame way to get at the cable under the seat, which I didn’t know can be simply yanked free like a piece of Styrofoam and weighs about as much. However, when I applied tension to the cable, I heard the telltale snick, but the hatch only opened a centimeter or so. Some other mechanism was keeping the hatch down, as with a hood release (which you obviously want in the front as a safety feature). I couldn’t find any kind of manual release in the crack between the hatch and the frame, and decided to just give up and go without a car indefinitely. I’ve done this for extended periods before.

I called one of the two somewhat-nearby MINI Cooper dealerships. The other of these I had dealt with quite unsatisfactorily before, when I allowed myself to be charged over $1,100 for a new driver’s-side window for a job that wasn’t done on time and that I could have done myself had I sprung for a $150 part and watched a simple video. So this time I picked the unfamiliar one. The person in the service department put me on hold while consulting with her comrades and returned to tell me, in response to my specific question, that there was really no non-ruinous way to get into the car without having it towed 40 miles to the dealership (in a different direction from the airfield, and probably not in a blizzard, but 40 miles nonetheless). I politely hung up and thanked her, in that order. Her spiel was obviously bullshit, though I might have fallen for it had I not been suckered once by these goddamned mercenaries. But dodging their pitch didn’t leave me with a solution.

The car died on the morning of November 24. In the next two weeks, nothing much changed from my previously carful existence other than me walking to the supermarket once a day and doing all of my runs from home, with neither practice constituting any grand inconvenience. I sometimes do both things at once, carrying my necessary plastic in a shorts or windbreaker pocket on a run and winding up at the shopping center less than a half-mile away. (I already used up my one “yonder.”) On December 8, six days ago, a friend died. The next night, at about 9 p.m., I was making some end-of-run purchases at the shopping center and managed to my drop my driver’s license and a couple of debit cards somewhere. I knew within small limits where I had left them, but it became evident after a few sweeps and conversations with store clerks that tracking them down was a non-starter. So now I’d be not-driving with no license, a queer symphony of modest life degradation.

I decided to wait on canceling one of the cards, because I’d immediately be notified if someone tried to use it, successfully or otherwise. This happened two mornings later at the nearby McDonald’s, where someone made a purchase in the amount of $6.05. (It seems to be an iron law that everyone who uses a stolen debit card kicks off the theft-carnival at the nearest fucking McDonald’s.). I shut the card down and called the police, mostly to see how resistant they would be to helping. Boulder seems to have fostered the laziest, most openly dismissive police force of any mid-sized city I’ve spent time in; calling them is kind of like calling a highly selective P.I. firm — “Sounds interesting, but we’ll pass!” This is not a rogue opinion about town, not that this means shit, especially nowadays. The woman who answered, sounding like Ms. Crabtree during another runnin’-late mission though South Park, interrupted my report apace to start suggesting, against what my screen was telling me, that it had been an Internet rather than a point-of-sale purchase, making finding the perp impossible. I don’t blame cops for talking to everyone using the non-emergency number like they’re ten years old, given what and whom they continually deal with, but I also don’t blame anyone for complaining about lazy-ass, gatekeeper-style cops in affluent, high-tax cities. For what it’s worth, because I consciously waited to cancel the card, I’m eating the $6.05, but I genuinely believed the local constabulary might get excited at the prospect of using video surveillance footage to track down someone who was likely homeless and wanted a sandwich. (A breakfast sandwich, given the time of day.)

In my opinion, I had multiple plausible reasons to sulk. I managed to get access to my money pretty quickly, but now I had a funeral to go to this week and a car sitting dormant. I have a highly capable neighbor who enjoys working on cars for fun when not building other machines in his garage, but he’s been on vacation. I would probably be in the same basic situation now, trundling back and forth to the Safeway once a day for junk food, had another friend not stepped in with a resourceful early birthday present: A mobile mechanic. When told he’d be coming with a brand-new battery, I protested that access was the main problem, and that he might have to actually break something to gain it. But I contacted the guy and arranged to meet him at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, accepting that an experienced mechanic just might have wisdom and skills I was failing to credit him with.

To make a long story short, this kid, who was not much older than a literal kid, was in and out of my car in 15 minutes on a very cold morning, and all the car needed was in fact a battery, or so it seems thus far. He was able to manipulate the cable by taking the entire back seat out — including the back rest, which I hadn’t done — and maintaining the tension on the cable around a couple of right angles using different pressure points. It was a basic physics problem, and technically not that difficult, but I never, ever would have gotten anywhere with it myself even had it occurred to me to try.

The story gets really warm at this point. As my car was idling and making its familiar healthy rattle and whitening the frigid air with sweet-smelling environmental and biological toxins, I stood beside this kid and asked him how much he had gotten for the job from my benefactor and how much he would usually charge, etc. In short, he was going to do the work for $60 plus the cost of the battery. Maybe I am still a sucker, but this seemed insanely low for his trouble, expertise and attitude (he affirmed many of my genial but curt opinions about MINI as a company), so I tipped him considerably more than that, and I believe my friend did too.

I still haven’t driven much, but I rarely do as a rule, and the days are short and dark. But just having been cajoled into action counts for something, and I’ve experienced some momentum since then. Still, the way I would describe my interface with the external world these days is that I: 1) Anticipate the worst in most every person or situation, 2) Overcompensate with various sputtering kindnesses directed elsewhere if only to negate the psychic static of the mostly imagined malice, and 3) spend a lot of time ruminating and writing about this cycle and how I am managing moving that not-as-easy-as-I-pretend life forward as a full-blown cynic, more in the classical sense than in the familiar one. Worse than being cynical about my own future, which is not always the case, I often wonder how anyone can be optimistic about the things I’m seeing turned into increasingly joyless enterprises.

A lot of this boils down to a great deal of tension in the online citizen running world between accuracy norms and right-side norms. You don’t have to read that piece, but although I just read it the other day, you might find that it explains a lot of why I have a difficult time with “ends justify the means” arguments, regardless of the appeal of the ends, when the means involve lying and smearing and other plain obscenities. Anyone who believes otherwise is effectively a religious zealot, but I guess my seeing such people differently than they do explains a lot of why some people are unhappy with my output. None have engaged with it so far, but it’s been called poorly written and unhelpful, and one content producer with whom I have had no interactions with, good or bad, since reorienting my blogging blocked me on Twitter at some point. Nothing so far has deviated much from the SJW-frenzy form charts, with people looking for more fires to set so they can pretend to stomp them out in the name of progress, rarely either looking over their shoulders at the messes they’ve unapologetically made or toward the horizon at what’s really coming for the ones who really enjoy the slime too much. These ventures, I promise you, are invariably cannibalistic.

But returning to sunshine and rainbows, I hope you too have friends (and parents) with great timing and persistence in your orbits. I won’t be able to replace my driver’s license until the 30th, but if I get into that I’ll have to describe how nice the gentleman at the local DMV was today, and then you’ll all be sobbing into your Fat Tire or your oatmeal, or both, depending on when you read it and where you live. Although the bad pun in the title is worth a few tears on its own, I hope.