Nothing screams middle class angst more than transmission trouble. Nothing. It’s not debatable, actually. The transmission is the Holy Grail of middle class life, the Sina Qua Non and dividing line that makes you realize that the comfy life you live all hangs in precarious balance, threatened by the extraordinarily complex workings of the drive train of your car.
Replacing a transmission is, as near as I can tell, the one thing that causes even mechanics to go queasy. It’s rather, I imagine, the heart in physician terms. Go to your family practitioner with a bad kidney infection? No problem, he can cure that with antibiotics. Migraine? They’ve got preparations for those. Bad ticker? Ooooh. Well, he or she has to refer you out to the cardiologist and the best he or she can do is tell you that something isn’t right and there are a couple of options and the data aren’t in on which one works best. Meanwhile, try to keep your stress-level down as that will only exacerbate whatever the hell is wrong with you. And here’s the bill.
So when I awoke this morning, thankful and happy that I was home with the fam after a blessed vacation, the cold hard reality of our beloved minivan sitting all alone in a strange garage in Santa Maria, about 120 miles from here, with a fried transmission slapped me in the face.
It took the better part of the morning to diagnose the problem, according to the owner of Transmissions for Less in Santa Maria. Cam seems a good sort with an honest pre-disposition. I’m sure that he’s capable. After all, he has been in business for more than 30 years there. But when the car was in top shape, it was worth about 4K dollars and it’s going to take rather a miracle for me to believe it’s worth sinking nearly the entire value of the car into….the car. Again.
That said, I’m a changed man. I’m happily trying to eliminate debt and that means that buying a new car is simply not in the cards right now. So, the question is less about whether or not to replace the van–a rather longer-term question–than whether or not to fix the van, a rather shorter-term question.
And so, it is the short term question that wins the day. So, how does one answer that question? One looks to those whom one trusts–and my man Cam, though again, I assert his good sorted-ness (as opposed to sordidness), is not that man because I don’t know him. I’m uncomfortable making a rather large financial decision using the knowledge of someone who before today, I never knew existed.
Now, Patrick I trust. He’s been my mechanic for a bit over a year–a friend of mine and my wife’s, his daughter and my daughter are pals. I’ve worked for him and done marketing, writing and brochure creation for him. I like him and I trust him. Patrick is truly my man–and the man I can have the all important shorter-term question conversation with. So, I have to get the car to Patrick.
Being the good sort that he is, he has offered to fetch it for me for the cost of gasoline and a car-dolly which total about 200 bucks. I have to pay Cam 175 bucks for the work he did so far–removing the pan, towing the vehicle 22 miles and storage for two days but after that amount, the van will be back here at home under the watchful and trusted eyes of Patrick and his crew. He’ll walk with me under the car, show me what’s going on, talk to me about what kind of rebuild has to be done on the transmission and, more importantly, he’ll then tell me whether or not it’s worth it to do it. Patrick is the sort that will say, if needs be, “you know, I could rebuild the tranny for you and it will cost you 2200 bucks. But in 6 months, this is going to happen–and that’ll cost you another 500. And after that, you’re going to need to do this….” you get the picture.
So, you see–in the midst of this angst is self-revelation, self-actualization. One must learn not just to trust, but also to make choices about where to place that trust. One must be willing to take chances and risk in order to succeed. Most importantly, one must not jump into “quick and easy fixes,” shutting one’s eyes to obvious lures to draw one back into the existential morass of credit card debt-hood which, ultimately is the devil’s tool and the force recon of the aforementioned middle-class angst.
Sometimes, short-term thinking can save you long-term damage and that’s an important lesson. But it still leaves me frustrated.