Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Baby you can drive my car

You all know Bob, our beloved 1990 Plymouth Voyager. Bought new by Shellswick's grandfather (in whose honor it was named), we inherited Bob in 2003. Even then, Bob had some problems; the brakes needed bleeding every few months, the driver's side lock wouldn't accept the key, forcing us to unlock the passenger side, then lean over and unlock the other side, and I can't remember a time when the "check engine" light WASN'T perpetually on.

Still, Bob was a workhorse, as long as we kept up the maintenance. Until Shelly's recent immigration woes kept her stuck in the US, Bob was great for making the regular trips between Seattle and Vancouver. And Bob had tons of storage space. We moved ourselves with Bob. We helped other people move with Bob. Bob helped us when we bought furniture, when other people bought furniture, when I moved offices, or when we had to bring stuff to the dump. And Bob did it all without complaining.

This past year, however, Bob's been showing his age. We had to finally deal with the brake problems after a few near-accidents; the cooling system gave out, resulting in the removal of the heater core, which we've really been feeling since the weather turned cold; more recently, the ceiling's been leaking. Then, just a couple of days ago, the door got snagged on a post and now won't close. Even though Bob still runs as strong as ever, we finally made the decision to let the old soldier fade away. It was time to get a new car.

After some research, we found an ad for a 2000 Daewoo, ahem, "Nubira." My last experience with a Korean-made car was my old 1986 Hyundai Excel, which ran great...until everything went wrong at once. But in the meantime, apparently, Korea has built itself a pretty decent auto industry; the reviews for this Daewoo Nubian were surprisingly good. So we went ahead and called.

For the sake of this story, let's call the seller "Chucklehead." We quickly found out he was Russion, his name being short for Chucklevich Headorov. He told us that he had bought the car for his wife, hoping she would learn to drive, but she got pregnant instead. He would be happy to meet with us the next day, provided she didn't go into labor in the morning.

So the following afternoon, Suzy drove us down to Renton to meet with Chucklehead. To our surprise and relief, the car looked good. Nice and clean, in good shape except for a couple of door dings. When Chucklehead let us take it for a test drive, the handling was good, or at least as good as the reviews had led us to believe. Though it did seem to be idling a little sluggishly. We soon found out why that was - the car ran out of gas a couple of blocks from Chucklehead's apartment.

Still, from what we had observed, the Nibblonian seemed in pretty good shape, and the price was right. As we walked back, we agreed that we would buy the car, pending the results of a mechanic's inspection. But first, we told Chucklehead, the car would need some gas. So, armed with an empty milk jug, I hopped in Chucklehead's car and we headed for the gas station.

Chucklehead filled the jug most of the way with gas and we went back to the Nubbin. With no funnel, about a third of the gas seeped back out onto my hand, leaving me smelling of gas for the rest of the day. I didn't think we had put in enough, but Chucklehead assured me it would start.

Long story short, it didn't. Chucklehead was undeterred, though, insisting thagt I try it just one more time. Finally I managed to convince him it needed another gallon to get started, so we got back in his car and returned to the gas station. This time, I left him to it while I went inside in search of a funnel. As I was waiting in line to ask about one, Chucklehead comes in and sheepishly tells me that he locked his keys in his car.

Chucklehead and I formulate a new plan; since he also locked the milk jug in the car, I'd buy a gas can and a couple of gallons, while he would walk back to his apartment to find something to jimmy the lock (because he could have a spare key, but where's the challenge in that?).

I get the can, I get the gas, I get back to the Naboo, and it starts up just fine. I go back to the gas station and fill it up, where I meet up with Chucklehead. He couldn't find anything to open his car, so he asks me to drive him to the dealership. He also mentions something about the sale of the Nabisco needing to be notarized, which doesn't sound right to me. Deciding to worry about that later, I reluctantly agree to drive him to the dealership, coordinating with Shelly and Suzy by phone.

By the time I get off the phone, there's a new problem; now I can't find Chucklehead at all. I finally drive back to his apartment and find he walked back there to get his wife's cellphone, since his - you guessed it - was in the car with his keys.

He's already called the dealership, he tells me, and they can't help. So he called a locksmith and they're on the way. In the meantime, we hash out the details of the sale. He agrees to our terms, to buy the car with the option to return it if it doesn't pass an inspection. He won't take a personal check, insisting on a cashier's check. Well, okay. But he still insists that the sale needs to be notarized, which we can't do today because the local notary has already closed. Suzy finally convinces him that a notary isn't necessary; he looks mortified that a woman is speaking to him so authoritatively, but she tells him that they just sold a car six months ago, and finally gets through to him. So we leave him to wait for the locksmith while we go to BECU for a cashier's check.

I should point out that most of the day's events so far - all the walking back and forth, all the negotiations, and so forth - have taken place outside, in a pretty constant light drizzle. I've had a cold for about a week and this really wasn't helping. I was coughing pretty harshly on the way to BECU and back.

On the way to BECU, Chucklehead called me to remind me that the cashier's check would have to be in his wife's name, since the car was registered to her. But just as he was about to tell me her name, the locksmith beeped in. He hung up on me to talk to the locksmith - or so he thought. He started telling me where his car was and asking how much it would cost for me to let him in. I tried a few times to tell him, "no, Chucklehead, it's still Rich." But he wasn't getting it, and Suzy was laughing so hard I thought she was going to drive off the road, so I hung up.

We get to the bank, I get the wife's name, we get the cashier's check, we go back. That part, at least, went easy. I'm still coughing like an asthmatic smoker, and I haven't eaten since breakfast. I just want this over.

In the car, Suzy tells us that while we were test-driving the car, she was getting Chucklehead's life story. He used to teach physics in Russia, he told her, and now he's starting an eBay business. We're getting the impression he yada-yada-ed over some important stuff in the middle. He had tried talking up the eBay business, saying "some of my friends said they're going to start an eBay business and work for that. I start eBay business and make it work for me." It sounds suspiciously like a sales pitch from the kind of seminars desperate people attend at the Airport Hilton Cascade Room.

Back at Chucklehead's place, he brings his wife out and we sit in the Nabisco to sign the paperwork. The wife is a good twenty years younger than he is, with that strange sullenness that seems to be inborn in Russian women. She spends most of the transaction sitting in the back, yelling at her child in Russian while Chucklehead and I fill out the title.

He adheres scrupulously to the "how to sell a car" instructions he downloaded; I notice frequent use of the word "notification" in those instructions, figuring that's probably where he got the idea that we needed a notary. Finally I hand him the cashier's check, and he hands it back to Mrs. Headorov. She stares at it suspiciously, and they argue in Russian for a minute before he finally gets through to her. "It's money," he tells her in English. "Money for you."

Finally we're done. Chuckle and Mrs. Head go inside, while Shelly and I hang out in the lot, thanking Suzy for the ride and the patience. Chucklehead comes out one more time and heads straight for the Naboobie.

"I can't find my keys," he says.

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