Part 2- Things Get Bad
The seller insisted that we pay him cash, which seemed odd, but, frankly, he wasn’t a Mercedes kinda guy. He was probably selling the car, because he couldn’t handle the prestige.
The first premonition that maybe, just maybe, this was not the greatest idea came about ten minutes after our packet of cash was exchanged for the key. My son was driving, and I was following in the family van when a giant cloud of blue smoke emerged from the exhaust. I choked my way through it. Probably just a few errant drops of oil, I reasoned.
For the next week or so we strutted the car around to the friends and neighbors, so that they could see first-hand the vehicular acquisition that had catapulted us to new social standing. We tried not to let our core values be changed by our new status. We shouldn’t abandon our friends, I explained to my son, just because they didn’t own Mercedeses.
A second glitch occurred two weeks into the honeymoon. We were sitting with a group of friends on the front porch when the Mercedes, carrying my son and his girlfriend, made a majestic entrance into the driveway. The entrance was punctuated with a resounding “pop” followed by the hiss of steam, and the acrid smell of anti-freeze boiling as the contents of the radiator spilled over the engine and down onto the driveway. No big deal, I said, probably just a broken hose. It looks worse than it really is.
The girl friend, however, had a different view. “I don’t ever want to ride in that piece of junk again!” she declared, adding that she was humiliated whenever the car belched one its blue clouds. Clearly, she was not a Mercedes kinda girl.
The broken hose, in fact, was no big deal. What were big deals, however, were the facts that my son now had to choose in his love life between his car and girlfriend. An even bigger deal was the fact that the mechanic who fixed the hose, Chip Milnor of Chip’s Tire & Auto informed us that the floor beneath the driver’s side was rotted out and that there was no way the car would ever pass inspection again unless fixed.
Was this anything he could fix, I asked? He made one of those faces where you put your teeth together and inhale sharply. He gave me the names of a few people who specialized in sheet metal work. The smug, I-told-you-so look on my wife’s face didn’t help matters, but hey, I told her, this is only July and the inspection is good until December.
As the summer limped by, however, the frailties of the car became more apparent. The clouds of blue smoke became more frequent and more noxious. The heater appeared to be permanently stuck in the “on” position. Horsehair stuffing from the leather seats fell onto the backseat floor where it combined with incoming water from the leaky floorboards making a sticky, brown goo. I never calculated the gas mileage, but it was surely in the single digits (high-test, no less), and the oil consumption was nearly the same.
Increasingly, my son avoided the car like the plague except on those occasions when he and a bunch of male friends would go for a toxic joy ride. They discovered that the cloud of blue smoke was particularly impressive after descending a steep hill. Somehow, what was humiliating to the girl friend, became a barrel of laughs when the car was filled with his bonehead friends. My lectures about how a vintage car needed regular maintenance fell on deaf ears. Worst of all, summer turned to fall. And what happens in Vermont each fall?
IT GETS COLD!
Never too proud to admit a mistake, especially when the reality of it is squatting in the driveway every day, I put “For Sale” signs on the car, and hoped to find other Mercedes Wannabes whose quest for status would supercede their common sense. To my chagrin I discovered that everyone in town was smarter than I was. Perhaps the clouds of blue smoke were not the best advertising.
We took the Mercedes to a body shop to assess the floor situation. It took six weeks for a one-word analysis, “Hopeless.”
“You mean I’m the owner of a $3500 lawn ornament?” I blustered. Needing sympathy and guidance, I received, instead, two wisecracks:
“You paid $3500 for that rust bucket?” said the mechanic.
“You think you’re keeping that car on the lawn?” said my wife.
In desperation I returned to the original seller. “Ridiculous,” was his one word assessment of the body shop’s one word assessment. Obviously the man just didn’t understand Mercedes.
By now December had arrived. The inspection deadline had come and gone, and the weather deadline had passed for the time when the Mercedes made any sense at all as a Vermont mode of transportation. We struck a deal with the seller to store the car for the winter and to help us sell it in the spring.
The long, cold Vermont winter gave me an opportunity to clearly assess the situation.
I was a Mercedes Man, but I wuz screwed. And I wuz an idiot.
To review, I had paid $3500 for a vehicle that was currently uninspectable and, according to the body shop guy, would cost more to fix than it was worth. My son, for whom the vehicle had been ostensibly purchased, never wanted to see the car again. My wife had been proven to be married to a moron, and to add insult to injury, the car was now in the possession of the same guy who took advantage of me in the first place.
I avoided thinking about the Mercedes for most of the winter. I had made $3500 mistakes before, but this was different. This was a car. I had never made a vehicular mistake, if you understand the nuance. Guys don’t make car mistakes. It’s not allowed. I mean, I bought two Chevrolet Vegas, and hadn’t admitted to a mistake. This issue struck right to the heart of the species. To make matters worse, a Mercedes Man was required to handle the situation with a certain European panache. And my panache was in a deep, frozen ditch.