Thursday, December 8, 2011

Almost political: Jan. 8, 2006

I have usually stayed away from the political or the topical or the current event-y in my column. I'm pretty sure there is plenty being written about that stuff that whips the tail of anything I could produce on those topics.

This time, however, I got pretty close to writing about a current event-y topic, mostly because it cost me time and money and, eventually, made me cry from sheer frustration.

Emissions testing exhausts my patience
    I really liked the idea of emissions testing.

    I was absolutely in favor of it, not just because the EPA was going to slap a bunch of penalties on us if we didn’t do it. And not just because I’m temperamentally and politically a fan of anything that will make our surroundings a little less toxic.

    I was in favor of it because, over the years, I have been stuck behind so many vans and buses and big, stinky trucks spewing fumes into my face for miles down two-lane roads. Add two small children to the back seat who are also forced to suck those fumes, and a fervent proponent of emissions testing was born.

    Of course, I soon discovered that those big, stinky buses and trucks don’t have to be tested at all.

    And vehicles made before 1975 don’t have to be tested at all.

    And if you spend a little money to fix your old, smoke-spewing van, and it still spews smoke, you can take that receipt over to the county mechanic and get a waiver so you can spew smoke for another year.

    Well. OK. The system was looking a little less appealing.

    I was disheartened but resigned. No system is perfect, I figured. Some testing is better than none.

    But I must admit, it seemed a bit ridiculous that I had to roll my little Volvo sedan into the emissions testing facility and fork over a $10 bill when I had just driven down Riverfront Parkway behind a big, stinky truck going merrily on its way.

    So be it, I thought. This is what crow tastes like.

    The emissions testing people took my money and hooked up to my little Volvo sedan’s diagnostic computer and announced that I had failed. I was handed a receipt with a frowny face on it, instructed to make repairs and sent on my way.

    OK. I’m liking this less all the time.

    My trusty Volvo mechanic had that car for two weeks.

He replaced a bunch of different parts, ran tests and then more tests. At one point he told me, in his laid-back, Zentype voice, "Mary, this car is about to make me scream."

    He was out of ideas. I really needed my car back.

    So I gave him $858.66, retrieved the car and went to fail the emissions test yet again. I got my depressing little frowny-face failure receipt. Then I drove over to see the county mechanic, clutching my frowny-face receipt and my receipt for $858.66.

    On my way to visit the county mechanic, I silently vowed that I would not cry, though I certainly felt like crying. But I was not going to be that woman, with the baby sleeping in the backseat and the crumpled receipts in her hand and the 8-year-old car sporting half a dozen new parts paid for with a credit card, CRYING in front of the county mechanic. Not me.


    The county mechanic (who was very nice) took my frowny-face receipt and my receipt for $858.66 and asked for another $10 bill and did another test, which I failed.

    Then he hooked up the emissions testing machine to my car’s tailpipe.

    And I passed.

    I was happy. Not just that I had passed the test, but that my car was not spewing plumes of poisonous exhaust into the air. I was happy to be done, done, done with this ridiculous process.

    "So," I chirpily asked the county mechanic, "does this mean I just have to have the tailpipe test every year instead of hooking up to the diagnostic computer?"

    No, he said.

    Actually, ahem. Sorry. No.

    Turns out I have to spend at least $650 each and every year getting the car’s emissions system worked on in order to take the tailpipe test.

    No, it does not matter that I cannot afford to spend money on repairs that go nowhere.

    No, it does not matter that the problem is apparently some dumb glitch deep in the bowels of my car’s diagnostic computer.

    No, it does not matter that the actual emissions of the actual tailpipe going into the actual air are actually fine.

    Do I sell the car? No. Who would buy a car that won’t pass the emissions test? Do you want it? Why, NO, you don’t.

    And yes, I should probably take the car to another mechanic, but can I afford to?

    No. No. No.

    Then I did cry. I was that woman. But I was so frustrated that I did not care.

    In retrospect, I still don’t care. I think I was entitled to a good cry. The baby woke up and cried, too. I like to think he was being supportive but, really, he just needed his diaper changed.

    And then we drove home, all the way down Bonny Oaks Drive, sucking fumes behind a big, stinky truck.

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