Saturday, December 27, 2003

"I can't get into things without my keys"

Before leaving for this trip, I figured there were a few automotive issues to take care of first. No need having a repeat of the serpentine belt shredding incident of Thanksgiving,especially when that very belt has been squeaking for the past three weeks since our return. My thought was that it was just a bit loose and needed tightening. I also needed an oil change, so we wound up taking the Malibu to the local dealership since I knew they would have the proper belt tightening and oil changing tools that my usual place might not.

The dealership called a few hours later to say that I'm in need of a belt-pulley replacement. They didn't have the pulley in stock so it was up to me to decide what to do.

"Well, is it safe to travel with?" I asked. I figured, if it'll hold out til after the new year we can just change it then. After all, we don't want to make a 1,200 mile plus road trip in my wife's `91 Escort Station Wagon. Beyond being far from the most comfortable vehicle we own, it's also 50k miles past its 80k mile life expectancy. And we hope it lasts another 50k, or however many it takes to get us past Ash's graduation.

The dealership guy put me on hold to consult the experts. The experts said I should be fine.

When I came round to pick up the car, I marched up to the payment window where the dealership clerk guy I'd dealt with earlier stood, along side a large managerial-looking fellow.

"Hello," I said. "I'm here to pick up a blue `99 Malibu. I probably owe you guys some money for an oil change as well."

The managerial fellow sorted through some paperwork, found a page he liked, grabbed a keychain off the hook board behind him and slid it across the counter to me. I noticed immediately that the key was not mine.

"Um. This isn't me," I said.

"What?" Manager said.

"This isn't my key."

"Yeah, it is," he said, matter-of-factly.

"Uh, no, it's not."

"Uh, yeah, it IS," he insisted.

I picked up the keychain. It had a black plastic remote door unlocking device and a standard Chevrolet key with the black plastic grip.

"Sir, I promise you, I know what my key looks like and this is not it. For one thing, I don't have a little door clicker on mine. And for another thing my key is bent." I held up the unbent key for his inspection, then put the whole thing back on the counter.

The big managerial guy was getting angry now. Something wasn't making sense in his world. He snatched up the key chain and turned to the dealership clerk guy.

"Well, this is the key you gave me for it earlier! This IS the key to the Malibu!" he snapped. He was starting to turn red. Then he spun round, key still in hand, and stomped out of the office and out the side door into the lot beside the dealership.

The clerk gave me a confused and possibly irritated look. I had stirred up trouble.

"Um," I hazarded. "Is there a possibility there are two blue `99 Malibus in for service today?"

"Hmm. Could be," the clerk said. While he looked through more paperwork, I glanced through the window in the garage doors to watch the manager stomping around the lot in search of a blue Malibu in which to test the key.

"Oh, here it is," the clerk said after a few more seconds. He found my paperwork and shortly thereafter my true and properly bent key.

"Thanks," I said. "I sometimes forget I'm not the only one driving a Malibu."

The door flew open and the manager stomped back into the office, a triumphant gleem in his eye.

"I told you this was your key!" he said.

"No, Bill, it's not," the clerk said.

Bill the manager started to launch into a loud rant about how he'd just tried the key out in the Malibu and it had worked just fine when the clerk somehow managed to wedge the doppleganger Malibu theory in as well as point out my real key dangling from my finger.

"Oh," Bill said. He looked disappointed that the steam of his rant had been taken out of him. I can sympathize. Then he looked angry again. "Dammit! I hate it when I'm wrong!" he shouted. Then he smiled. "Well, it's still the first time I've ever been wrong... today."

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.