Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Car Saga

Although we may have settled into a pattern of working, watching TV, and sleep, there have been a few things that have gone on in the last few months. I still have more to talk about with the trip to Japan that I keep putting off writing about. Family visited for a week. We managed to avoid the Olympics. But most importantly, our year is almost up, but since we extended our stay in Shanghai, the blog is now badly mis-titled.

Due to our extension, we headed back to California for this past weekend. We'd been told a couple weeks ago that our car battery was dead, so I figured we'd fly into SFO, rent a car so I could fix ours, and then have the rest of the weekend free.

Things, of course, conspired to try to convince me that I shouldn't bother to make plans.

Getting to SFO worked. That's when things started to go badly. I did manage to sleep on the airplane this time, so I was awake enough to drive, but first we had to find a place to rent a car. We hadn't rented on ahead of time, as we wanted to return the car in south-bay instead of at the airport, and couldn't figure out how to get that planned out online.

By the time we got to the car rental places and began asking about renting a car, though, we started to learn why people book cars ahead of time. One place was completely out of cars and one only had the very expensive SUVs that could at best be returned at the San Jose airport before we finally managed to find a place that had a not-too-expensive car that could be returned in Cupertino.

Even with all the running around to find a rental, it didn't take too long. Or flight landed at 8, I figured I'd be able to replace the battery by 11.

So we got to our apartment, popped the hood of our car, and discovered that the battery was near impossible to remove. It didn't help that all of my tools were the wrong size. It also didn't help that the car was designed to be completely inaccessible for novice mechanics. 10am, I finally managed to get the old, dead battery removed and into the rental. Closed the hood and drove somewhere to buy a new battery.

Still had plenty of time to be done by 11. If things hadn't started going even worse.

Being impossible to get at the battery would have been bad enough. Putting the battery back in was even worse. It didn't help that I managed to drop a piece which lost itself somewhere deep within the recesses of our car. It helped less that, being a novice mechanic, I didn't know if the loose piece would break something or hurt something or be flung into someone's eye. So I wasted way too much time trying to fish the piece back out of the car before I was convinced to throw in the towel and tow the car to an actual mechanic.

It was past 11, but surely we'd be done by noon.

So we decided to head to the hotel; we closed the hood, right onto of one of the pieces I'd been fiddling with, getting it stuck mostly-but-not-completely closed, unable to be closed, unable to be opened, and just generally in bad shape. The battery was in the back seat and we had no choice anymore but to call the tow truck.

Checked into the hotel, searched for a towing company, it was noon before we managed to call one. Half an hour, they said, and they'd be there. We said that was fine, gave them directions, and were told to wait in our hotel room for them to call back. An hour later, we got the angry phone call wondering why we hadn't waved them down as they passed our car.

I sighed and gave directions again. "Head east on that road, after the cross-road, take the right immediately past the first building on the right into the parking area." "Which building? There are lots of buildings at that corner." "The first building on the right past the intersection." "There are lots of buildings there." And here I thought 'first' was pretty specific. Oh well, we'd just have to run outside and go wave them down.

Twenty minutes later, as we were heading back to the hotel to call and cancel the refusing-to-arrive tow truck, they finally showed up. With the extra-large truck, after they'd been told we were in a parking garage. No chance they could actually tow our car out, but it was decided that maybe we could push it out to the truck.

From a couple levels down in the garage.

I shrugged and figured we could show them there's no chance we're pushing it out instead of just telling them. Sometimes it's good to not argue. This was one of them; not arguing and finally things started to think about looking up.

Even though our hood was stuck, neither of us able to figure out how to open it, the tow guy was able to open it with just his pinkie. He took a look and said that there's nothing to worry about with a piece down there, that we can just throw the new battery in and drive it up to put on the truck to be towed. Or just drive it to the actual non-novice mechanic to fix things.

We put the battery in and things worked like a charm. No other problems. I was overjoyed and offered to pay them slightly more than what I was quoted as the hook-up fee on the truck. Instead, they demanded about twice as much, even though they didn't have to either hook it up, or tow it. I complained that that was insane. They apparently liked the idea of getting cash, and accepted all the cash I had on me at the time, which was just about the amount I initially offered them.

Things looked up more. It was already past 1, well past the 11am I'd been aiming for, but at least our car moved. The actual mechanic ended up letting us know that the car would work fine, and that the next day they'd be able to get the part I'd lost for us. By then, we'd been expecting to have to extend our rental for another day--instead, we were able to use our own car for the evening.

The next day, we took our car in to get the last bit added. The place was packed and we were told it would take a couple hours. But that he'd come take a look and see if they could squeeze it in more quickly. The mechanic grabbed a tool, and ten minutes later we were ready to drive away with everything all fixed up. With the only extra charge being the $6 part I'd lost. Nothing for labor.

And thus our adventure with the car ended. After all the pain and frustration on day 1, day 2 went very well. And we didn't have to worry about our car any more for the whole weekend. Until I realized that, err, you know, just maybe our registration expired.

Trips to the DMV are just what everyone wants to do on their vacation, right?