I was in the Great Plains, whether Nebraska or Kansas I don't know. My car was obviously hurting. It was making ungodly noises, and most of its power was gone. I pulled into the first likely garage, and was struck by its appearance: a gigantic, corrugated tin structure with cars and trucks and more than a few tractors interred in its surprisingly cool, dark interior.
The service desk was a madhouse, and I retired to wait among a group of guys ensconced in a cluster of stuffed chairs and sofas. As desperate as I was for service, my mind drifted into a reverie as my fellow victims of mechanical breakdown discussed intellectual topics beyond my ken: definitely not NASCAR or corn futures. Suddenly I snapped to and realized the service counter was free of obstacles. I approached, and met with a kindly, stubble-cheeked old man (though surely not more than ten years older than I was -- am I that old already?).
He got up and accompanied me to my car. I lifted the hood, started the engine, and the evil noise was worse than ever. He looked for the briefest of moments and asked: "Son, why did you buy this car?"
I was taken aback. Any number of ideological threads swirled in my mind as I vainly reached for one that made a proper response. Finally, I could only stammer "What do you mean?"
"Why did you buy this car? What led you to make this decision?"
"Well, I did research on the Internet, compared what I wanted to what was available, examined reviews and consumer reports..."
"And what special quality did this car have that led you to buy it?"
"And what makes a car like this so reliable?"
He took apart the top of the engine with an amazing rapidity, considering he didn't actually have any tools in his hands. [Hey, this was a dream, remember?]
"Now tell me: does this look like a part that's in spec?"
It was ugly. God help me, it was bright green. Suddenly, the whole sordid episode came back to me.
"I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, in New Mexico. He was the only mechanic for hundreds of miles!"
"Granted, extenuating circumstances happen, son. But did you honestly think you would get away with this for any great period of time?"
"He fixed it, didn't he? I mean, the car was running perfectly until a few miles ago."
"Listen to me: when you're a mechanic in the middle of nowhere, and someone from out of town comes along with a broken car, what are you going to do?"
"What you are going to do is get him out of your hair. The statistical probability is that you will never see him again, if all you do is slap on a quick fix and give him enough time to break down again another 500 miles down the road. Now what's the first thing you should have done as soon as you could drive out of there?"
"Find the nearest authorized dealer."
That's about the time I woke up. I realize that this sounds like a blatant advertisement for a certain automobile manufacturer that I won't even name. I also realize there are endless arguments about the reliability and credibility of certain dealerships. I won't even go there. The story is told.
July 20, 2007