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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Taking Liberties

My trusty 1989 Volvo 740 is taking no chances over my catching next week's Blighty-bound flight: it is staging phantom electrics malfunction to keep me and, more to the point, the Bainbridge constabulary on our toes.

It's a faithful old warhorse of a bus that requires minimum troughing and sluicing to keep going but it does have a habit of blowing the left rear brake light, at which point a light shows on the dashboard.

This is a monthly occurrence so, when the dashboard flashed orange a week or so back, I thought nothing of it and changed what looked irritatingly like a perfectly good bulb. Still the light. I puttered around for a while and then got Ted at the pump to tell me which exact light was on the blink. None, which annoyed me further; idiot, you'd think a garagiste of all people would be able to tell a dud light. I drove around some more and the light went out and then a few miles on it came on again, and so forth.

I wasn't worried because I was off booze in readiness for the massive onslaught ahead in Italy, but I slowed for any police cars to get a good look so that *they* could at least tell me, after they'd sniffed my breath in the usual Probable Cause routine. Zilch, until one evening I got the fuzzy flash and pulled over and had my clipboard of documents ready. Peer, sniff, peer, sniff.

"Yes, officer, I did suspect as much (sniff, peer) but no one has been able to identify *which* light." I showed him the spare bulb at the ready on the passenger seat. I exited the vehicle and removed the bulb and - duhh - black as Dame Edna's gladioli patch. From the policier, that infinitely patient and weary look that must be rigueur in training ("Guterson - I'm tellin' ya one more time, deliver The Look or dammit guy y're out.")

So more of the same until the penny dropped that the lights were perfectly OK most of the time but I want to take it for granted *just in case* the one time I was cruising with a bellyful of bourbon it was for real n I got pulled over and - whammo.

So, I'm driving on eggshells, and quite right, too.

Interesting history, has my Volvo: my choice of vendor - Liberty Bay Auto Center of 20201 Front Street NE, Poulsbo, WA 98370 - was thanks to #1 daughter asking her wheels-savvy Bainbridge High School chums what and where her dad should buy to replace the old Audi. Once past the helpful suggestions of persuing the showrooms of messrs Lamborghini, Ferrari, et al, we reached the more realistic venue of Liberty Bay.

All car dealers look like not-quite-retired gunfighters to me, and Mr Fred Buchi was a particularly muscular specimen with his broad shoulders and boxer's broken nose. But he sussed me right and we were soon filling in the paperwork on the Volvo.

And had I been recommended to come to Liberty? Because it was the custom to send the referee a $50,00 check. Why yes, I beamed, my daughter via BHS' finest. Excellent, nodded Fred, a check would be sent to me for passing on. When I gave Georgina the good news, the sweet thing immediately decided to share it on a pizza for all the lads involved.

Weeks passed and no check and when I went in to collect my new plates I mentioned this to Buchi who was not at all phased: was I sure that she hadn't collected it without my knowing? No. Well, perhaps the address I'd given was incomplete - was I sure I'd given the full precise postal address? Etc etc. I was.

So the days passed and still no sign of the check. Meanwhile, the natives were growing restless, convinced that G had reneged and spent the money on hooch or crack or something eminently more sensible than shared pizzas. And so it came to pass that the postman delivered a postcarded invite from messrs LB to take advantage of my exalted status as a valued client and avail myself of a free servicing and checkup, which I took up if only to raise the question of the check again.

Hmm, pondered Fred with practised furrowed brown of puzzlement. Odd. I suggested that there and then we have Accounts look up the check number in case it had gone astray. No no - far too busy, anyway my car was ready for collection and - tiens! - lucky I'd come in because look what else they'd found, alas not included among the perks. I agreed to the minor "adjustments" and drove off glad at least to have a fully fit voiture.

Next day, immobile. Furious, I phoned the garage and - because I'd decided to make this a PR exercise for the pizza-less stalwarts, I recorded the call so that they could hear an exemplary exchange between customer-service-savvy buyer and customer-centric business. Nothing of the kind: the junior mechanic to whom I spoke was as insolent and unsympathetic as I've ever dealt with and my only satisfaction was that I had it on tape to guffaw over with the pupils.

Now, the purpose and irony of this tale is that, over the years, I've received promotional junk mail from LBay addressed to every variation of my address, which has fazed our postie not at all. Indeed, I seem to recall that the more useless the mail, the barer the address, sans street number, sans even the basics. I dare say that "Chris, Bainbridge" would have reached me, or even "That limey who keeps bitchin' about the check",

Meanwhile, it became an established joke among the original advisors who, long since graduated, are of course driving their own Ferraris, Beemers and Jags, but whose bellies still rumble for that pizza and consequently are in less of a hurry to recommend the Bay to impoverished and pedestrianized.

Is there a moral here? I doubt it, but this being the season of good will, I'm prepared - on having confirmed the check # and ate of mailing - to donate fourfold the paltry $50 to a charity of the auto center's choosing.

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