Thursday, December 14, 2017

Smog, Smoke, Wind & Fire (Part 2)

You can find part 1 here, we pick up right where we left off....

As we got back into the car, Woody suggested I stay the night at his house so we could get as early a start as possible the next day.  I initially said no, and pointed out that I didn't have all the medications I needed.  Woody suggested we could swing by my house and get them.  Did I mention that the location of all these car shops is not that far from my neighborhood?  I guess I should point out that I live in a culturally diverse part of town.  There are all types of ethnic groups in my neighborhood....whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, you name it.  The only group you won't find is Jews.  I am the only Jew within a 30-mile radius of my home.

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it made sense for me to stay over Woody's that night.  These car shops we were at were all just jammed with cars, barely room for the car being worked on, let alone a second car.  And there was minimal street parking around any of them.  So meeting Woody there in the morning, having two cars, then taking two cars back and forth between the shops, didn't seem like such a good idea.  I was planning on having dinner with Woody & LM anyway, they have a lovely guest room, it started making sense.

So Woody swung by my place, not very far out of the way.  I grabbed my meds (though I later realized I forgot one, fortunately it was the one I could most easily skip for a day) and grabbed a change of clothes.  Also picked up a few items for my breakfast.  One thing I considered taking was my laptop.  But I decided for just the night it was no big deal to be without it (even though I had a blog post written that I had to proofread that I wanted to publish the next evening).  I did grab my tablet.

And we headed back to Woody's.  The three of us had a very nice dinner, relating our tale of frustration to LM, who naturally enough, thought we were both nuts.  And so the next day, we got up bright and early and headed back to the shop that installed the catalytic converters.

Now I mentioned that it had been windy the day before (Monday) and this day was also very windy.  You've probably heard of all the fires in Southern California last week. Well on the Monday I've just described, there was one that wasn't all that far from Woody & LM's place.  Now as we were driving towards the neighborhood where all the car shops were, I got a Google alert telling me about a fire very, very close to my residence.  I was trying to find out more about it when I received a phone call from the city of L.A. emergency system about mandatory evacuations.  I didn't take the call because I assumed it was a junk call but they left a voice message and I played it back.  It mentioned the areas where emergency evacuations were and I couldn't understand exactly what they were saying.  I finally used my smart phone to find the evacuation map.  It turned out that the border of the evacuation area was less than a five-minute walk from my front door.  In other words, if I tried to walk in that direction for six minutes, they'd have stopped me!  Oh and also, the freeway right by my house (the on and off ramps to which were in the mandatory evacuation area) was closed in both directions.  I pretty much take that freeway to go virtually anywhere I have to go!

Well by this time, we could see we were driving towards thick, heavy, black smoke.  If my house was near the fires (and it was), the repair shop we were headed to was even closer!  I had obviously picked the worst day possible to do this.

We got to the shop.  The guy Woody had spoken to the night before wasn't there of course.  Instead a worker, one of the mechanics was there—the very same mechanic who had installed the catalytic converter.  Like everyone we encountered at one of these shops Woody has done business with, he greeted Woody like his long lost friend, greeting him in a combination of Spanish and English. Woody had to explain the problem and he put the car on the lift.  Unfortunately, even on the lift, the mechanic (who we are going to call "Rudy") couldn't see the numbers.  Woody looked too and couldn't see them.  Maybe at this point it was determined that the CC's had been installed upside down.

Rudy took off the CC's and then saw the numbers.  Woody wrote down the numbers.  He even took pictures of them with the numbers visible.  He wanted Rudy to call Jesus and tell him (in Spanish) that the numbers were good, that everything was legit.  He tried a few times and couldn't get thru.

This past hour or so was one of the most uncomfortable of my life.  It was windy and cold.  OK, if you live in Minnesota maybe you wouldn't have been freezing.  But it was freezing for L.A., especially with that really bad wind blowing on us.  Also, that wind was blowing smoke and ash from the nearby fire right in our faces.  Woody and I kept getting dust and ash and smoke and  who knows what else in our eyes. If it wasn't hell, it will do until the actual hell comes along.  And for good measure, there was no place to sit down.  Either there was no office or it was locked.  We were just standing in a garage with wide open doors freezing, breathing smoke and getting ash in our eyes.

The experience wasn't a total loss, however.  Early on, while Rudy was taking down the CC's, he told Woody that he and a buddy were going to Tijuana soon.  And he was pretty clear about why they were going.  "We're going to get panocha."  (I'll let you folks Google it, this is a family blog).  Then he invited Woody to join him.  Then he pointed to me and said the four of us should all go.  We politely declined. 

Woody had developed a theory as to why Jesus suspected him of being an undercover inspector.  He decided that as a white guy, being in this part of town, he stuck out like a sore thumb—what else could a white guy be doing in his shop?  He was convinced that he had been "racially profiled."  Personally, I think that's a stretch.  These shops get plenty of business from people who don't speak Spanish.

While this was going on, a middle-aged black guy showed up.  I guess he was there to have his car worked on.  He too had no place to sit so he was just standing there.  Woody struck up a conversation with him.  He eventually told the guy the story of why we were there and about the smog check gone wrong, including his theory as to why he had been incorrectly identified as an inspector.  He said to him, "I was racially profiled." I was a little nervous about that but the guy just laughed, he was totally cool with it.

At one point, when Woody was out of earshot, Rudy said to me "Have you known him (meaning Woody) a long time?"  I said yes.  "He's crazy, isn't he?"  I laughed.  And then I said, "Oh yes.....loco."  Rudy laughed back.  "Yes, loco."

Well, Rudy put the CC's back on the car and went in the back to make one more try to get a hold of Jesus.  When he came back, he said he had reached him and explained the problem.  With hope in our hearts, we drove over to the smog shop.  We were about to have our "Come to Jesus" moment.

When we arrived at the shop, Jesus was not there.  He would be back "soon" we were told.  We waited in the office.  Meanwhile Woody left to make a call.  When he came back, he gave me some much needed good news.  He had called the guy we left my Camry with the day before.  At first he greeted Woody with a long list of issues with the car (outside of the catalytic converter, which he had told him about upfront).  Woody feared he was going to say he could only get me "X" for it, with "X" being a lot less than Woody had insisted on the day before.  But at the end of his list of issues with the car, the guy told Woody, "Well ok, I've got the money here.  You can come by with the pink slip and pick up the cash."  No shit?  Wow, that went a lot faster and smoother than I had any right to expect, especially considering all the problems we were having with the smog check. 

Fortunately, I had the pink slip with me, and the shop where the Camry was wasn't very far from where we were at that moment.  Maybe this was all coming together and we could get out of there with the smog certificate and be done with this ordeal?

No such luck.  Jesus returned.  He said he hadn't spoken to Rudy about the car.  What?  A guy who installs CC's upside down and was planning to go to Tijuana to score with some hookers would lie?  Who could have seen that coming?

Jesus was not interested in seeing Woody's pictures of the CC's with the numbers clearly visible. Nor did he want to see the receipt for the converters that Woody had located and could show him (which clearly stated that they were California approved).  And he still refused to put the car on the lift to look for the numbers.  "That's not part of the test, I shouldn't have to do that," he said.  Nor was he interested in talking to Rudy.  Woody even asked if he would come to the shop where the work had been down and talk to him face-to-face and let Rudy show him the numbers. He said no.  Woody told him the shop was like three minutes away. Nope.  He wasn't having any of it.  In fact, he was still at least half-convinced that Woody was undercover for the Bureau of Automotive Repair and trying to bust him.

So right there, from the office, Woody called the number for the BAR that was on the pamphlet and started explaining the issue to them.  I suppose he was hoping that they would be able to tell Jesus right on the phone to give us the damn smog certificate.  Alternatively, I think he wanted to make it clear to them that this Jesus guy was not at all a helpful fellow.

Well, apparently the only remedy was that we had to take the car to a "referee"  that works for BAR and have him test the car and determine if it was acceptable.  Miracle of miracles,  he was able to get an appointment that same day—but in the afternoon, at 1:50pm (it was still the middle of the morning).  Also, the location of the referee was at a college that was about midway between where we currently were and Woody's home.  So it wasn't some ridiculous drive.

But we before we left, there was still a matter of the money.  Woody had paid the guy $51 or so for the test, even though they wouldn't give him the certificate.  Woody told Jesus that the person on the phone said that Jesus needed to "cancel the test" out of the system—and also that he should give Woody the money back for the test.  The guy balked but then finally said he'd speak to his manager.  The manager didn't put up much of a fight.  But they said they didn't know how to credit Woody's credit card back!  They said they would give him a money order.  Strange, but we waited around for the lady in the office to get a money order from somewhere (she left the premises to get it).

Finally on our way, we headed to get the money for the Camry.  This actually went smoothly.  We both signed a few things and then the guy took the cash out of his shirt pocket and counted it out for me—the exact sum Woody had insisted on.  Now, it turned out that the first four bills he gave me were $50 bills.  I commented that gamblers consider $50 bills bad luck.  But I forced myself to take them anyway.  The rest were $100's.

I said goodbye to the Camry, my reliable transportation for 16 years, and we took off.  By this time Woody had decided he wanted to take it back to Rudy and insist he uninstall the CC's and then re-install them right side up.  That should definitely resolve things.  We were trying to avoid this because this would take at least an hour and was not that simple, apparently they would have to redo the welds or something.  But it could be done.

We got back to that shop and saw Rudy and he put the car back on the lift.  By this time the owner had shown up (he was the guy we had seen the day before just as he was closing).  Woody told him the whole story and then told him we wanted the converters installed right side up, as they should have been all along.  The guy said sure—but he would have to charge us $200!  This seemed outrageous seeing as how Woody had paid him for doing the job properly in the first place.  The shop owner showed Woody that the numbers were easily visible the way it was, you just had to look for them.  Note that Rudy could not see the numbers when he looked for them earlier that morning until he took them off.

Woody could not get the guy to agree to do the job for free.  So we left, rather pissed.  It was actually way too early to get to the referee, so we headed back to Woody's, grabbed some lunch while Woody started telling LM some of our tales of woe.  As soon as we entered the house, LM told us that we both stunk.  She could smell the smoke on our clothes!  Yeah, it was that bad.  We had basically spent a couple of hours inside of an ashtray.

Meanwhile, I had been trying to keep up with fire news.  My house wasn't in the mandatory evacuation area yet, but a couple of new fires had started all around us. I'm pretty sure that at this point, every single route I could use to get to, say, Vegas, was closed to me!  One of the fires actually had the potential to hit both Woody's and my neighborhood.  Of course, we saw smoke the entire time we were in the area where the car shops were.

We headed to the location of the referee, seeing plenty of smoke off in the distance as we drove.  We got there early and the referee was able to take us right awasy and listen to our story.  He turned out to be a very nice guy.  Woody really told him the whole story in great detail (hey folks, if Woody would have written this blog post, it would have been twice as long), including the part about the shop owner wanting to charge us $200 to redo his work.  Woody had assumed the guy would have a lift there but he did not.  Nevertheless, he put the car through its paces.  It took awhile. But when he came back to us he had good news, but he gave us a choice.

He was prepared to pass the car and give us the certificate.  He was able to see the numbers on the CC (and without using a lift!).  But since the CC's were installed upside down, if we preferred he could fail the car and thus give us ammunition to go back to the shop and insist on them redoing the installation.  It took us about three seconds to reject that idea.  Even if if we had a ticket from the BAR that said the CC's were installed improperly, there was no guarantee we could convince this guy to redo the job at no cost.

We gladly accepted the certificate right then and there.  One good thing about having the referee do the test—there was no charge for it!  Only the $8.25 for the actually certificate (which I believe goes right to the state and is fixed).  So we actually came out ahead on the deal.  Also, the referee told Woody that he made some notes in the file on the car and we could come back in two years to him (or whoever the referee was by then) and have him do the test.  Not only would that make getting it passed smooth but it would be free to test it.  How sweet is that?

We headed back to Woody's neighborhood. While we had been waiting (at least it was inside), whenever we looked outside we could see smoke coming from one of the fires clearly visible in the sky.  And I had been trying to get updates on my phone and had seen that even more freeways were closed.  So when we got back up to the freeway we needed to get to Woody's, we noticed that the traffic in the opposite direction was at an absolute standstill.  A complete parking lot.  Fortunately we were headed in the other direction and traffic that way was moving fine.  But that stalled traffic was the heading in the direction of my house.  In other words, if I would have been trying to get home just then, I wouldn't have been able to.

I dropped Woody off at his house, and headed back to the DMV.  Again, the wait wasn't too bad.  Amazingly, I got the same lady who had help us the day before. She even remembered me.  Soon, I was on my way back to Woody's, temporary registration in hand.  The car was finally, legally, mine.

Well, I checked with Google Maps and there was no good route back to my house.  It said it would take 55 minutes to get there (double the normal time), but as it was turning into rush hour I knew that it would likely get worse by the minute. Also, the power at my place was likely out.  Or at least the internet was down. I knew this because I couldn't get my Echo Dot to respond to anything. Everyone agreed it made more sense for me to stay there yet another night and hope things cleared up some by the next day.  I did start referring to myself as "The Man Who Came to Dinner."  So we ended up going out to dinner again and once again I took advantage of Woody & LM's generous hospitality.  But man, I really, really wished I had my laptop with me!  Somehow, with just a smart phone and a tablet, I managed.  But it was touch and go for awhile.

When I woke up the next morning, I checked Google and it showed that I could get home in the usual time.  And it showed that freeway by my house had reopened, except for the exit I normally take.  I'd have to exit one stop earlier.  No big deal.  Woody and LM were still asleep, but I wanted to make it home while the getting was good, and before morning rush hour traffic kicked in.  So I left without even saying goodbye.

Traffic was light and it never got bad.  I didn't see any smoke as I approached my neighborhood.  And suddenly Google was telling me I could exit at my usual street and not one stop before!  Although there were still a few traffic cones that were sort of in the way (they had probably blown back into traffic).  But I navigated through that was very happy to be home.  And yes, I confirmed that the there had been a power outage at my house since I'd been there, but it was working when I got home.

Well that's my story.  I'd just like to publically thank Woody and LM for everything, including putting me up (and putting up with me) for two nights, all the help with the car and of course the incredible deal they gave me on such a great car.  Thanks, guys!


  1. Alls well that ends well. Glad to hear everything is safe and you got your new ride.

    Is it a pink Cadillac?

  2. Well... how about a single detail about your new ride??? Simple question: 6 cylinders or 8 cylinders???

    1. 8 cylinders, 4 door sedan...not made in the US.

  3. 1 million 300 thousand words to report:

    "Got me a new car."

    Love to see a Google route map of all your meandering. If you don't get another supper invite, you could eat the spaghetti it contains.

  4. Congrats on the new ride, Rob. One question, the car is American, European, or Asian? :)

    1. Thanks, Ace, I've already said it wasn't a domestic car.....and that's all I'm giving up for now.

    2. May it serve you as well as the Camry!

  5. While it would kill me to spend the entire day doing what you did, it's enthralling. I read it all, great writing!

    You need to consider writing a book.

    -JP from Philly

    1. Wow. Thank you very much for the kind words, JP. I really, really appreciate them!

      I'm considering turning my blog into a novel. Ha, just kidding. For now.