Archive for August, 2022

Breaking My Chains

I usually take my Mercedes to the dealer in Oxnard. The car is seven years old, and I figure I’ve been there about twenty times since I bought it. I always cringe when the bill is presented expecting the worst. And it usually is.

Add to that a thirty mile drive taking 40 minutes each way. That’s forty trips in seven years totaling 2,400 miles. Or 120 gallons of gas at $5 a gallon, or $600. But, what the heck, it’s a Mercedes.

If I owned a Chevy, I’d probably go to the local repair shop. But Mercedes has developed a reputation that only a Mercedes dealer can perform services. I’m easily swayed by friends, the internet and strange lights in the sky, so I’ve also been cowed into thinking that my C300 will fall to pieces if touched by a generic mechanic who has grease smeared on his Hawaiian shirt and says things like duh, what?

I don’t even adjust the tire pressure when the dashboard warns me that I will die if any of the tires has the wrong PSI as prescribed on page 268 of the user manual. Instead, I wait for my next service at the dealer to correct the pressure, believing that doing otherwise will void the warranty and cause a tire to explode leaving a gaping hole in the middle of Ojai Avenue.

Jackie also has a Mercedes and a similar fear of aliens touching her car. This fear, unlike mine, does not include tire pressure adjustments. She will go any place with an air hose and a willing mechanic. She uses her cute smile to get the work done. No money changes hands and both parties are happy. Jackie because she has freshly topped-off air, and the guy with the Hawaiian shirt because he gets to ogle her for five minutes.

Since no mechanic is interested in ogling me, I wait for the Mercedes dealer to do the work and bill me for his time, and probably his air.

But all that changed a couple of months ago. I needed air and decided to break my Mercedes chains and visit Ojai Valley Imports, walking distance from my house. A strange name for this car repair shop since they don’t import anything and, based on my visual inspection, mostly service cars that look like they haven’t been washed since they came off the assembly line.

They did a five-star job of adding air to my tires without breaking anything. And the guy who did it had a clean shirt. And he charged me nothing. Maybe I am worth ogling.

But one success does not necessarily change a life-long habit. A month later my dashboard lit up with messages, lights and whistles announcing I was due for service at the Mercedes dealer money pit. I procrastinated for two weeks hoping the message would disappear. It did not and became the very first thing I saw every time I started the car. You are seven days beyond your service period. Then eight days. Then twenty days. It was unending.

If that wasn’t enough, the tire pressure indicator lit up again. Another annoying announcement that dogged me for a couple of weeks. Like unrelenting dripping water, the two messages overwhelmed me. I broke down and called Mercedes for an appointment.

My first call produced a transfer to the service department where I was disconnected before I could say anything. Maybe they checked my bank balance and figured I couldn’t afford them.

My second call connected me to Ralph, who seemed disinterested in my need for service. After promising that I would add large sums of money to my bank account, he granted me an appointment ten days later. Busy place.

And then I thought about the free air. And the walking distance from home to Ojai ImportsAnd I said, why not? What have I got to lose? A beat-up seven-year-old Mercedes? Jackie can always buy me a new car. Or better yet, she can drive me wherever life takes me.

So, I took a deep breath, put on my favorite hat, got in the car, and took what I thought would be a two-minute ride to Ojai Imports. It took only 90 seconds, and I began to wonder what I’d do with the rest of my day.

Tyrone wore a greaseless shirt, welcomed me without saying duh, and told me they could take me right away. No waiting, no return trips. He smiled and, sensing my unease said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be kind. We’ll be gentle.”

And they were.

In spite of breaking my Mercedes chains, the Creature from the Black Lagoon did not emerge from the abyss in Lake Casitas. Godzilla did not fly in from Tokyo and flatten the Chevron station and King Kong did not climb the post office tower with city council member Suza Francina in his giant hand.

I paid my bill, got in the car, and rested a minute staring at the dashboard. I thought…Can’t wait until the next time I need service.

Fantasy Island

Our latest trip to Healdsburg included another visit to Enso, the Zen inspired retirement community being built about two miles from the center of town.

It’s been about six months since we made a deposit on one of the 200 apartment style units that will house about 300 people with an average age of about 75. Six months ago, construction had been scheduled for completion in late summer of 2023. I had relaxed knowing that anything could happen in the intervening 18 months, a lifetime when you’re 83.

Disease, war, and famine are only a few of the unknowns. At the top of the list was my ambivalence about the whole idea of packing my bags, abandoning Ojai, and depositing myself in what might as well be a foreign country.

Right on schedule, with crews working six days a week, that 18 months has shrunk to a dozen…and I am getting nervous. What was a refundable deposit fantasy, is now becoming a real-life possibility, complete with the uncertainty about what Enso will be when it grows up. There are no current residents to ask about life at Enso. No one to ask so how’s the food? No one to ask so is the staff attentive? No one to ask so is there enough to do? No one to ask so just how Zen is this place anyway?

Our trip to Healdsburg was prompted by a beam signing event at the Enso sales office and a 30-minute bus ride through the construction site. A gaggle of more than 100 old people, some sporting canes, were wandering around the parking lot sounding like a bunch of kids being sent to summer camp.

Jackie was in her element, aggressively seeking out people she had met during the various Zoom meetings including the one on aging that she had sponsored. I was my usual semi-introverted self, hanging back in the shadows and wondering what I was doing here. I occasionally nodded at someone who nodded back, both of us unsure who we were nodding to. Some people stood next to me who, based on their facial expressions, were also wondering why they were here.

A steel I-beam laid across two horses. Sharpies were gobbled up and used to sign the beam which, supposedly, would be set in place at the top of one of the buildings now under construction. Jackie and I completed the assignment, took obligatory selfi-photos, and marveled at our achievement.

Two large buses stood in the lot looking like they would never get off the ground. We were among the first of about 50 to clamber aboard. Some needed help, but all made it to their seats, some with a satisfying grunt. The jovial driver told a couple bus jokes and we began our five-minute ride to the construction site.

I was astonished by what I saw. Until now, my understanding of the project was limited to a scale model that sat on a wooden surface the size of a ping-pong table in the Enso sales office. Using a controller, our sales rep Leslie could turn on a tiny light in any apartment. It was eerily lifelike. Had we tried really hard we probably could have entered the apartment, sat on the  sofa and had a glass of Sutter Home Rose, Jackie’s favorite wine. The whole project could have been lifted off the table by two people.

Instead, what stood before me now were multi-storied buildings whose structures were defined by thousands of I-beams, crossbeams, and all manner of supporting materials.  The panels that would someday cover the beams were not yet visible; I could see through the structures without being impeded by paneling. It was like looking through the standing skeleton of a prehistoric T-Rex at the LA County Museum.

The size of the structures was overwhelming. The ping-pong table had lulled me into complacency. I had expected that the real thing would be more Lilliputian like. Something cute and comfortable. Something soft and welcoming. I felt glum. My bubble had burst. I was now in a deepening funk.

As we rode through the site, Jackie and I tried to spot our apartment. That one. No, that one. Maybe that one. That one for sure. Shit. I gave up.

The tour ended without anyone having a stroke. A major accomplishment for 100 old people confined in a small space without eating for 30 minutes. We had seen what we came for. Some people were apprehensive. Ruling out the possibility that it was caused by full bladders, others seemed giddy with what they had seen. What did they know, anyway?

Back at the sales office people were hanging around the ping-pong table version of the project. Some were interested in the possibility of trading their current pick for something else. This parlor game was played often, sometimes resulting in a series of changes or switching positions on the waiting list. Like grass, it’s always greener in someone else’s pasture.

Jackie and two newly minted Enso friends had arranged a buy-your-own dinner at two Healdsburg restaurants for those braving the beam signing and bus tour. About 50 had responded positively to the suggestion. I worked on name tags and fantasized about what the wearers might look like.

At 5pm, Jackie deposited me and half the name tags at Campo Fina, a cute eatery in mid-town. I sat anxiously at the end of a long table and tried to look like I belonged there. People arrived and I dealt out the tags, made small talk and smiled a lot. They should have made me a partner in the restaurant.

Having finished similar work at Bravas Bar de Tapas (also cute), Jackie arrived, looked around and patted me on the head for the good job I had done. She was pleased that no one was injured and had to this point avoided food poisoning.

We sat among strangers. All were pleasant, and relatively free of sarcasm. After briefly sharing reactions to the bus tour, conversation flowed freely. It was like meeting people you might never see again. Short of our favorite sexual position, we could have discussed anything.

I could live among those people. Too bad it might be in a place bigger than a ping-pong table.



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