Oct 2, 2003

Small-Handed Cheapskate Saves the Day

From the files of "It Could Only Happen to Me" comes this rousing tale of unfortunate happenstance, poor customer service, the blood of strangers, and the solution I had with me all the time. It's just like The Wizard of Oz.

I was at the gas station this morning, and I went to put my credit card back in my handbag, when I bobbled it and dropped it alongside the driver's seat, in that scary little canyon, filled with papers with directions written on them, unopened mail, and shocking amounts of my hair. When I went to retrieve it, I managed to accidentally urge it further down and under my seat. But while at this I also noticed an old spare garage door opener, a bottle of Visine, an empty film container, and a quarter. I thought I should fetch those things out, while I was in the neighborhood, so one by one I retrieved them. Except for the quarter, which evaded my grasp and fell further down into the crevice. I shrugged it off. I had to pull the lever and scoot the seat back to gain access to my wandering plastic, which was so easy to get it's not worthy of mention. But when I went to scoot my seat forward again, it stopped hard at a place it usually does not. Far enough back that I would not be able to comfortably reach the pedals, even in my high-heeled boots. I reached under the seat and began retrieving half-empty bottles of water, an umbrella, tax paperwork, a free totebag of some sort. I was certain this would do the trick. But it didn't. I finally realized that the quarter had fallen into the rail that the seat rides on and had wedged itself in in such a way that I couldn't move the seat forward. And no amount of frantic slamming managed to jar it loose.

I looked around in the various receptacles in my car and found a small pair of nail scissors and a large paper clip. I used these two items for several minutes, trying to get the coin loose, but to no avail. It wasn't wedged in firmly, but it was inserted at an angle that made it impossible to grip.

I was meeting a friend for lunch, so I called and asked if he knew of any Honda places nearby where I might be able to get some assistance while we had lunch. He wasn't able to find anything, so I said not to worry and crammed a few jackets and a sweatshirt (handily in the trunk of my car) behind my back and made my way south, propped up by my makeshift booster seat. There's a Honda dealership on my way home that I planned to stop at and see if they couldn't help me with my inane predicament. We tried using a pair of needlenose pliers in the parking lot of Rubio's, but we were not triumphant.

When I got to the Honda dealership, the service manager I spoke with was immediately offputting. I explained my situation, and his facial expression and verbal response made it sound as if I had created an enormously inconvenient problem for him. He said they would have to take the seat out, and it would take a couple of hours. But he would only charge me for an hour, which would be seventy-five dollars. I cringed at the thought of having to pay such a great price to remove this coin. I even began, like an idiot savant, doing the math to figure out how many quarters there are in seventy-five dollars. There are three hundred.

I wasn't happy with how long he said it would take, so I said I would try somewhere else. He seemed to think I was being unreasonable or that I was haggling with him, because he then said it would only take an hour. And I pointed out that he had said it would take two hours only just moments ago, and that he had referred me to the many other patient customers whose cars also required attention today. He said it would probably take an hour and a half. It's not that I think this is unreasonable, I just didn't believe him, and I didn't want to pass the time in the neighborhood. I think my choices would have been Starbuck's or Magic Johnson's Friday's restaurant. I'd already had lunch, and I didn't have a book with me. And, frankly, I'm impatient and have things to do.

Anyway, there's an auto body place right around the corner from my apartment, and one of my neighbors once told me that I should go there if I ever needed work done. So I stopped in to see if they could help. The shop's namesake was helpful, but he was unable to free the coin with the pliers he brought out. He concluded the seat would have to be removed after all and that it would take more than an hour, but they were so busy that he couldn't work on it until next week. Another guy at the shop brought out a screwdriver and another long curve-ended pair of pliers and tried his hand (which he cut, causing it to bleed a little, which he attended to by grabbing one of the crumpled up napkins on the floor and dabbing at his wound -- blecch) at it. He also made comments about how much hair there was in my car that made me embarrassed. They sent me away making jokes about how much money I owed them, and this made me uncomfortable, because even when they said they were joking, I wondered if they actually were. But I drove the block to my house and resolved to try and rescue myself from this debacle. As I pulled up to my garage, I was thinking about whether I could Crazy Glue a popsicle stick to the side of the quarter and then just lift it out as if it had a handle. Brilliant? Maybe. But I don't have any popsicle sticks in the house. I found some tweezers and the Crazy Glue and a piece of plastic shaped somewhat like a popsicle stick. I changed my sweater, put my hair up, and went out to get to work. I was calmer. It was cooler in the shade of my garage. And I ended up being able to use the unbent paper clip I tried the first time around to gently tip the quarter into a position that made it possible for me to reach in between the seat and the center console with my little hand and pick the quarter up with my fingers. Its edges are all misshapen and metal-scarred, but I'll bet it would still buy me some time at a parking meter.

I don't know if that quarter got where it was because of the thieves who broke in on Monday night and stole my stereo. It could have been there already. Or it could have been dropped there as they tossed the little space-filling slot where I had kept my mix CDs and various other odds and ends (possibly including spare change and probably also including some hair). So as I was experiencing the mounting frustration of not being abe to solve this problem on my own, I was continuing to curse the creeps who robbed me. That whole business about insult to injury seems to fit here somehow.

But I outsmarted them. And team Honda. And gravity. With grace, cleverness, and tiny little paws, I managed to keep at bay all of the hideous forces aiming to ruin my day. This was a victory hard-won. But there's very little today that can make me cheer more loudly than swerving to avoid paying an essentially useless seventy-five or a hundred dollars. It's like Christmas. Now I can spend that money getting someone to detail my car so that the next time I need this kind of help, I don't have to cringe as they start showing me the mass of wadded up napkins, old ketchup packets, and valet ticket stubs they just found under my seat. My mother always clucks disapprovingly at how messy my car is. I always cluck disapprovingly at how she drives. Maybe we're even.

posted by Mary Forrest at 2:35 PM | Back to Monoblog


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