One Last Ride

Posted: December 27, 2014 in Nonfiction

I lost my car to natural causes a few months ago. I wrote about it in “Riding through the desert in a car with no name.” I’ll try not to repeat myself. This week I got one final gift from the old girl, and a little bit of closure.

The car broke down while I was out of town, and my buddy turned it over to a junkyard. They gave him some money, and told him we could get more if I sent them the title. I was in Indiana at the time, but I did. It was probably a mistake. I shouldn’t have just sent it to someone, but I typically assume people are on the level. I sent the guy the title, and called him a couple of times to organize things. He told me he never got the title. I didn’t believe him.

He said he’d pay me anyway, which made less sense, and told me I might be right. My roommate went to pick up the check, because the guy said he couldn’t send it, which I also think was a lie. They told her she needed the VIN and license plate information. I sent them again. It was consistently difficult to get him what he needed, and when I did, it always seemed to change.

I remained persistent, more persistent than I really am. This car was really good to me, and I feel raw about not being there when she died. It overperformed. I owed her.

I’d call the guy at the junkyard every couple of weeks while I was on the road, enough to remind him that I meant this, even if there was nothing I could do. We arranged for me to pick up my check when I got back to LA, which was a few weeks ago. It took me a little while to get around to it. The garage was a long way away, especially without a car.

It was in East LA. I’m not real familiar with LA.

I took a bus, the 88, downtown to get on another bus to drop me off about a half mile from the spot. I was the only white guy I saw for the last hour of my trip. I’m not often the only white guy anywhere. For all of my liberal ideals and progressive lies, I really only have about 3 friends of color, and my cultural insensitivity considers any non-black person more than 2 generations into America, “white.” I recently worked with a very funny Latina and referred to us as “a couple of white dudes.” She corrected, “I’m Spanish” (she was cool with “dude.”) I answered half-jokingly, “I just couldn’t tell… we were getting along so well.” We both laughed at how clever I am and felt bad about who we were.

I was scared on that bus, and more so off of it. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was nervous. A bunch of well meaning Mexicans riding home on the bus made me nervous solely because of who they are. I’m a coward.

I got to the place and it was a pretty standard junkyard; a couple of dudes walking around a few dozen cars all piled up like New York City parking. I spoke to the first guy I ran into and asked for the man I’d spoken to on the phone. I’d call him the manager, but such titles seem meaningless in the tribes of Junkyard peoples. I might be uncomfortable around Mexicans, but I’m super comfortable around Junkyards. The guy was short and fat with a mat of black chest hair. He spoke good English, and with it told me he didn’t have the stuff he needed to pay me. I had brought the stuff with me, the information, the numbers, the dates I’d called. He told me he was leaving for the day and the boss would be there tomorrow. I needed to come back in the AM to get things taken care of.

I came in in the AM, and he wasn’t there. There was a shorter older dude with no English. He sat at the chair outside the gate. We staggered between languages for awhile. I have a little Spanish, and he was good enough at talking to people who didn’t understand him to get the job done. He told me the place was empty and it was. I looked around and it made him uncomfortable. He told me they’d be gone all day, and I’d be better off leaving. I sat down next to him. I’d brought a book. He brought over another guy, a good looking dude with a curly mustache who might have spoken both languages better than I do. He translated for me that the guy in charge wouldn’t be there today. He said both he was at the doctor, and that his kid was at the doctor, and I think he might have known he was lying to me. I think he might have even felt bad about it. I told him I was fine waiting, and he grinned and shrugged. “You’re within your rights,” he said, which sounded wrong. It sounded like I might have made a mistake.

Four more guys came and told me to leave throughout the day. One got a little short with me. No ugly words were thrown, but our voices got louder. He told me I was wasting my time and I should come back later. Coming back seemed really important to everybody. I told him it was later, and I had a pretty good book. A guy showed up pulling two cars with his truck, and another one on its bed. It looked awesome. I had a really good time watching the comings and goings of a Junkyard. He was related to the guy I needed, the guy who’d give me my money. The money for my car.

I heard him talk on his phone for awhile, then tell me who couldn’t get a hold of anyone. He told me, like everyone, that I should go. I didn’t. He asked if I had traveled far, I said I had, North Hollywood. “That’s not very far,” he corrected. “It is on a bus,” I smiled, only partially looking up from my book. I waited there for about 4 hours on the day before Christmas.

Eventually a guy showed up in nice blue shirt with spiky hair. He came in in a slick car and talked fast about money. I told him the situation and told me to come back with the VIN and License plate number. I had them. He frowned. He went inside and made me sign something and gave me 200 dollars cash. He declared he was paying me in cash loudly. I walked back to the bus stop quickly and without looking back.

I was afraid I was going to get robbed on the way out. I was afraid my mom was going to be right about everything and every old man in my hometown would use me as an illustration of the dangers of meeting people. It was weird to get cash, it was weird he announced it, it was weird to get hustled out, and it was weird to walk through a bunch of stares from people who didn’t look like me. I was so mad I’d told folks how I was leaving.

I heard a big truck pull up behind me two blocks from the Junkyard. It squeaked when it stopped the way big trucks do. I glanced over my shoulder, with my fists clenched and my back foot planted. The little guy who’d yelled at me earlier got out of the truck and walked around towards me, “You get it all handled man?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said, ” a good looking little dude helped me out,” I said approximating his height with my hand the way tall guys do without realizing it makes us look like assholes. “Cool,” he said, and hopped back in his truck, giving me the two fingered pistol salute I thought only rednecks knew about. I walked to the stop feeling like a hypocrite and a coward.

On the way home I got off the bus too early and had to walk through a bum town. That made me feel a little tougher. When I got in I was exhausted. I looked at the money. I felt good. It was good to feel scared, it was good to feel dumb, it was good to learn things. I know not to get off the bus on 6th & Central. I know I can bluff my way through fear in 2 languages. I know I’m not as cool or good or smart as I pretend to be.

I accidentally got 50 more dollars out of the deal than was originally agreed to. I didn’t feel bad about it. That car was Always good to me. It took me to a lot of places I needed to go. Maybe it did again.


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