Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
October 4, 2012
“I sure do wish I could predict the future,” the slimy guy who works the front desk at the mechanic in Glenwood says, “but I can’t.”
I’d just asked him what else could possibly go wrong with the used fancy foreign car everyone told me not to buy.
I’d brought it into the shop for one thing only to have them find 17 other things wrong with it. The seedy front-desk guy would call me each time with the news. He’d always begin with, “I wish there was an easy way to say this.” It was like going to the doctor with a head cold only to find out it’s cancer.
Then he’d launch into a huge explanation that could just as easily have been in Chinese about how to remove someone’s spleen.
“Just give me the bottom line, Charlie,” I’d say.
It’s not surprising I had to learn about cars the hard way. As much as I love to blame everything on my mother, this one is for sure my dad’s fault.
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When I was growing up, my dad loved cars. He had one hot car after another. The first I can remember was a Barracuda convertible. When I was a little girl, that convertible roof scared me half to death when he’d open or close it. It would stretch up toward the sky and then sort of fold in on itself in a way that looked threatening, at least to a toddler. My mom said I called it the “Baccaruda.” I knew, even at that age, that it was a really cool car.
In the late ’70s, he had a metallic green Mustang. It was stolen one night and found a day later abandoned in the streets of Hartford. Someone had taken the ignition out, started it with a screwdriver, taken it for a joyride and dumped it. Dad had longish, bushy hair and sideburns back then to match the look. As a friend of ours once said, the car looked good on him. He wore it well. It was groovy, baby.
Then came the ’80s and the Mazda RX-7, one of those two-seater models with the headlights that flip up like eyelids. This was a huge point of contention with my mom – where in God’s name were the kids supposed to go without a back seat? So when we took a weekend trip to the beach, my dad put a little mattress in the back for me and my little brother to lie on. We splayed out on our backs, watching the clouds go by through the hatchback window. It was a time when there were no car seats, no seat belts and no worries.
The latter decade led us into the Datsun Z series. His first one was a black 280ZX with gold pinstripes and a T-roof. Then he went for the 300Z after that, in gold – a perfect color for the Reagan era. And it had a back seat.
The Holy Grail of his sports-car ownership came the day he drove home in a brand-new, bright-red Porsche 944. Granted, it was the least expensive Porsche ever made, but still. I can remember the smell of the black leather interior, the shape of the steering wheel and the Blaupunkt stereo my dad would put on full blast. His favorite thing was to show off how many speakers he had by turning the dial that shifted the sound from back to front and then all-around sound. He loved to drive it aggressively, downshifting and accelerating on the windy, tree-shrouded back roads of my youth in rural Connecticut. He always had what he liked to call a “fuzz buster,” the latest and greatest technology in radar detectors, lit up like a Christmas tree on the dashboard, bleeping and squawking at everything, it seemed, but cops.
I always wanted an Audi Allroad, so when my friend Lisa had one for sale, it was a no-brainer. I didn’t even test-drive it before I bought it. It’s black with tinted windows. It’s a wagon, but it’s a sports car. It’s a utility vehicle but a fully decked-out luxury model. Hello, it’s twin turbo. More is more.
“Don’t do it,” my accountant, Super Steve, warned me. “You can’t afford a car like that.”
“But it’s only 12 grand,” I replied. “I got a loan with a super-low interest rate and low monthly payments.”
Super Steve won’t argue. He’ll say what he has to say once, and that’s it. Let me tell you, it’s an effective way to deliver a powerful message when he turns out to be right, which is always.
After getting jacked by the guys in Glenwood, I took the Audi to Salta Motorsports in Denver, which is hands-down the coolest garage on the planet. They’re like one of these garages you’d see on a reality-TV show. They’re all young and smart and cute and wear cool T-shirts and have a very hip reception area with corrugated metal and art on the walls and a vintage Schwinn and two dogs.
They not only fixed what was wrong but also fixed the mistakes the mechanic in Glenwood had made, shaking their heads at the sloppy work and the insane amount of money he’d charged me for it.
How was I supposed to know? The guy was speaking to me in Chinese, I told them.
The Salta people called me every day with updates. They talked about the car as if it were a person, as if it were my child in its first week at day care.
“The car was feeling temperamental because it was confused,” they told me. They said I could call them any time the car wasn’t feeling like itself again.
“You’re like an Audi therapist,” I said. “Can I call you when I’m confused?”
I guess in a lot of ways this car was made for me: totally high maintenance.
The Princess really needs to buy a fuzz-buster. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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