Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

The Nightmare Before—And After—Christmas
Chapter 2

We return to the tale of my car woes in Vegas during my most recent visit. You can find chapter 1 here. 

I drove to Vegas without incident.  I must admit though, that for the first week or so, every time I had reason to lower my driver's side window, I kinda held my breath a little.  But it worked fine every time I used it.  There was no problem with the window the entire trip.

However, I soon had another concern.  I started noticing a weird noise coming from the engine.  I dunno how to describe it, it was just kind of an odd noise, perhaps a rattle, but it was not all that loud and I sometimes wondered if I was imagining it.  But every time I thought it had stopped, it came back.  It seemed a bit louder when the car was stopped and idling but that could have been because there was less road noise interfering with it.

Now, I had driven up on a Friday and by the first Monday of my trip, it was starting to worry me.  As it happened, I had arranged to drive up to Mesquite to meet LM and Woody for a nice dinner Monday nite.  Mesquite is about 80 miles north of Vegas on the way to Utah (but I think you actually drive the thru the northwest corner of Arizona before you get to Utah on the I-15).  Mesquite has a number of casinos, mostly accommodating locals and visitors from Utah.  There's actually one poker room there—at the Eureka Casino (and if you ever find yourself in Mesquite, you can see their live games on the PokerAtlas app).  The crowd in Mesquite is mostly older and basically the casinos in Mesquite remind you of how Vegas was 20-30 years ago.  Especially in regards to the prices.

LM & Woody like it for the lower prices, the more relaxed atmosphere and the reminder of what Vegas used to be like.  So while they also enjoy Vegas, they sometimes go to Mesquite for a few nights to enjoy the cuisine and the local spa (much cheaper than a Vegas spa).  At the CasaBlanca Casino, there is a really great restaurant called Katherine's that they eat at every time they go.  It is really like a Vegas restaurant from the 70's & 80's.  The ambiance and service are first rate, the food is beyond excellent and the prices are at least half of what a similar meal in Vegas would cost you, maybe less.  I've eaten there a number of times and really, really enjoy it.  Let me put it this way—it's so good that I don't mind the 2-1/2 hour round trip from Vegas through the middle of freaking nowhere to dine there.  The steaks are delicious and the last couple of times there I've had the veal parmigiana (one of my favorite dishes), which is to die for.

So I drove up there Monday and I did mention to Woody the noise I was hearing.  He went out to the car with me and had a listen.  Unfortunately, although he did acknowledge that it there was something off with the sound, he couldn't identify it and had no way of attempting to diagnose or fix it up there.  He said I needed to take it to The Wiz.  Well that was a great idea, but the Wiz was about 350 miles away from where I was at the moment.  He did say that it didn't sound too serious and that it would likely be fine for the rest of my trip.

I was a bit nervous about the hour-plus drive back to Vegas on a mostly deserted freeway but there were no issues.

The next day Woody came back to me with a theory about the noise the car was making.  It could be the A/C pump (I think that's what he said).  So I said, well if it's the A/C pump, could I just keep the A/C off for now and then the car would be fine until I had it checked back home?  He said that might work.  Now I should explain that the Lexus has a really spiffy climate control system and if you leave it on "auto" the A/C actually runs all the time, even when you are using the heater.  But I could manually turn it off and really, I didn't need the A/C when the outside temperature was running between 40° and 60°.  I was eager to test this by just running the engine and turning of the A/C.  Unfortunately, it didn't stop the noise, so apparently this wasn't the problem.

That evening I met with my buddy Don for dinner.  I volunteered to meet him in his neighborhood for our meal and then drive the two of us back to the Strip for some poker.  As I was about to leave to meet him, I cleared a few items I had in the front passenger seat.  I also wanted to move the passenger seat back so Don could easily get in it.  You see, when I am driving alone, which I usually am, I have the passenger seat moved all the way forward so I can sometimes rest my right arm on it while driving.  To my chagrin, the power seat was not working!  For the life of me I could not get the seat to move in any direction.  It was stuck moved all the way forward.  Only a small child could have gotten into that seat.  This was a brand new development.  Last time I had tried to move the seat it was working fine.

So after our nice dinner, where I had explained to Don the issue with the seat, Don took one look at where the seat was and saw that there was no way he could use the front seat.  So I cleared some space in the back seat and I had to drive with him directly behind me.  I have sometimes felt like a chauffeur transporting people before (especially in Vegas) but this time I actually looked the part too.  The only thing missing was my chauffeur's hat.

I texted Woody about the seat to see if he had any ideas.  Was it possible something that he (or the Wiz) had done in getting the window fixed had caused the problem?  He had no clue.  He said it was question for the Wiz.  Well, this time I was only 280 miles away from him. 

As my week progressed, it seemed to me like the noise was getting noisier, although I grant the possibility that it was my imagination.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it, and it started affecting some of my decisions.  By that Saturday, I ended up at the Venetian and after I was through there, I wanted to go to the Wynn.  With the cold temperatures, I would have preferred driving that short distance, but I ended up walking—I just didn't want to make one extra trip in the car.  I guess I was getting a little paranoid.

The next day was Sunday, which happened to be two days before Christmas.  And my plan at the outset was to drive home on that Friday, before the big New Year's Eve weekend.  I had been in Vegas for New Years the past few years and really felt like there was no need for me to experience it again.  The room rates really get jacked up.  Since I stay off-strip at a place built to accommodate long term guests (i.e., the rooms have refrigerators and microwaves), the rate wouldn't have been astronomically high like it would be at a Strip hotel, but still, I felt it wasn't worth it and that two weeks in Vegas this time of year was plenty.

On that Sunday, I was so paranoid I actually recorded the engine sound and sent it to Woody for his review.  I don't think the recording properly captured the noise, but I also expressed my thoughts that it was getting louder and that I was actually concerned that it might be a problem that would explode before I left for home or worse, on the way home that Friday.

I dunno if he was able to glean anything from the recording I sent him, or if he was reacting more to the obvious concern in my texts, but he did suggest that maybe it would be a good idea if I could try to find an independent Lexus repair shop in Vegas to check it out.  Obviously I could take it to a Lexus dealer but that would likely be extremely expensive (Woody knew this from firsthand experience). 

I found this advice on my phone after driving to Caesars for some dinner and poker on this Sunday night.  So while eating, I goggled Lexus repair.  I noticed a bunch of them said they wouldn't be open until Wednesday, meaning that they were taking Christmas and Christmas Eve off.  Taking it in on Wednesday when I was planning to drive home Friday seemed to be cutting it way too close.

But I did find one place that looked promising.  Almost all of the reviews were extremely positive.  The reviews said the shop was great at finding and fixing issues and they said the prices were reasonable.  According to Google, the shop would open at 9am the next morning.  Also, it was located pretty close to where I was staying.  Aside:  When you are used to Los Angeles, everything in Vegas is close to everything by comparison.  But this place was literally just a few miles from my hotel. 

I sent the link to Woody and he said this guy sounded perfect.  The thing was, timing was still tight.  Even if this guy was open Christmas Eve, was he working a full day, or perhaps taking a half day off?  Would he even have time to check my car out, especially since I'm not a regular customer of his?  Would the three days (Mon, Wed & Thurs) be enough time to diagnose and do the repair?

I knew that I had to get there when he opened, or at least as close to that as I could manage.  I have to admit, for me to be in Vegas and have to get some place at 9am is a virtual impossibility.  I often sleep well past that time!  But I knew I had to get there early to have any chance of getting the issue resolved in time for my return to L.A. that Friday.

As such, while I was playing, all I could think of was getting up real early to get over there on time.  I knew I had to make it an very early night.  I was totally preoccupied by this.  Also, that noise the car was making had been quite loud and I was wondering if I could even make the short trip back to my hotel from Caesars without incident.  As such, I was too distracted to pay any attention to the cards.  After an hour I realized it was pointless to keep playing and I just cashed out.  I made it back to my hotel ok, but the noise was just freaking me out.

I couldn't sleep much that night so I was up extra early and did indeed manage to get up and out the next morning to be there at around 9:10 or so.  That was better than I expected.  The place was located in an auto repair strip mall I guess you'd call it.  You turn into a driveway and there's a row of service bays.  There were three distinct names over the bays, so I guess there were three distinct repair shops (four, if you count the bay that was for smog checks). 

I found a place to park and walked past the bays, and saw that the Lexus repair guy was at the far end.  And his bays were all closed.  His door was locked.  There was no sign indicating his hours.  But it was past his opening time (per Google) and he sure wasn't there.


The repair shop next to his was also apparently closed.  But the one closest to the street, was open and busy.  There were a bunch of cars being worked on by a bunch of people.

Note: both this shop and the one next to it (which was closed) seemed to just general repair shops.  The shop I'd come for was specifically identified as Toyota & Lexus repair.

The first thing I wanted to do was try to find out if the Lexus guy was just running late or if he was closed today.  I poked my head into the garage that was open and got someone's attention.  He was Asian and I noticed that most if not all of the mechanics were also Asian.

I said, "Do you know if the Lexus shop is going to be open today?"

He said, "No."

Hmmm..  I guess I should have been clearer.  Did he mean no, he didn't know, or no, he is not open?

"He's not going to be open today?"

The guy said, "No, he won't be here today."  Or something to that effect.

By this time I'd noted that he had a pretty strong accent and I knew that there might be a language issue communicating with him.

Now I had a split-second decision to make.  Do I take off and go back to Google and try to find another Lexus repair shop, knowing that many if not most of them would likely be closed on Christmas Eve?  Or do I ask this guy, who obviously repairs cars for a living, if he can check my car?

I went with the second option.  I said, "Do you work on Lexus?"  He said he did.  I asked if he could listen to my car, it was making a funny noise.  (Not too much later, I noticed one of the cars that he was working on at the time was a Lexus, an older model but not as old as mine).  I should mention when I started up the car that morning, I didn't hear any noise at all.  It was like when you finally make that dentist appointment for a toothache and you go see the dentist and the pain is suddenly not there.  But no, that didn't last very long and by the time I got to this place, the car was as noisy as it'd had ever been.

So he checked it out.  He heard the noise, looked around, and after a few minutes he came up with his (initial) diagnosis.  "It's the water pump."  I asked if he could fix it.  He said something like, "let me check."  And went into the office, leaving me by my car with the hood and door open.  I stayed there for awhile but eventually went into the office, where I found the guy looking intently at a PC.  He didn't seem to notice me.

As I already indicated, there was something of a language barrier.  The name of the shop was displayed in English, but above it there were Asian characters (I know there's no such thing as Asian characters but I'm not sure what actual language it was and even if I was sure, I wouldn't say because I don't want to identify this place).  He was a bit hard to understand, and he seemed to be having trouble understanding me to some degree.

In the meantime I had texted Woody that it was the water pump.  He texted back that he didn't think that was it, he had replaced the water pump within the past year and a half.  He suggested I take it to the guy I found on Google.  Well, that wasn't an option at the moment.  Oh and spoiler warning:  It turned out that Lexus shop wasn't open the entire week. He didn't return until after the New Year.  The fact that I know that gives you some idea of where this story is heading.

Anyway, the guy finally looked up from his PC, saw me and said it wasn't the water pump, it was a bearing adjacent to the water pump.  He wrote down something and showed me his estimate for the repair.  It wasn't that bad.  But I didn't know if what he said made any sense.  So I asked him if he would mind talking to my friend, who sold me the car and had worked on it for over 20 years.  He said ok and asked for his number, but I said I would just call him on my cell phone and hand him the phone.

I called Woody and told him the new diagnosis, and then handed the guy the phone.  I could only hear one side of the conversation of course.  But at the end, he handed me back the phone.  Woody told me it sounded legit.  The bearing was right next to the water pump, and he wasn't going to replace the water pump.  Woody's main concern was the quality of the part.  He tried to get the guy to tell him where he was getting the part from and he couldn't get that answer.  But the guy assured him it was a brand new part, and good quality.  Woody said he thought it was ok to let the guy do the fix.

OK then.  I asked the guy how fast he could do it.  "Well, very busy."  I wasn't expecting him to finish that day, even if he was planning on working a full day this Christmas Eve.  He said he could take it out today but then he'd have to order the part and put it in Wednesday. So I said, "It'll be ready Wednesday afternoon?"  He kind of nodded but not in a way that convinced me he'd have it done by then.  So I told him I had to drive the car back to L.A. on Friday, so I really needed it back on Wednesday. He said OK. But I didn't have total confidence that I'd get it back then.

Anyway, the guy gave me his card.  On the front, it was mostly in English but with I guess the name of his business at the very top in the Asian characters.  The back was entirely the Asian characters.  It was Greek to me except it definitely was not Greek. 

For the purposes of this story, from here on out, I will refer to this gentleman, who I was now entrusting my Lexus to, as "TC."  Because you know, this blog always uses pseudonyms.

And that's where we leave chapter 2 in this long running series.  There will be another chapter, or at least another blog post, "soon."  

Note: The next chapter has been posted and you can now find it here.


  1. Normally when an unusual sound in a motor comes and goes or is sometimes quiet or sometimes loud lubrication can be the issue. When the suspect part is happy with the amount of oil it is exposed to it is quiet. When it is shorted on oil it becomes loud. I am not familiar with Lexus motors but it sounds like the bearing in question had a lubrication issue. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of this mechanical dilema!

    1. Thanks, Lester. Lubrication was not this issue, but stay tuned for a certain liquid making an unwelcome appearance.

  2. "I have sometimes felt like a chauffeur transporting people before (especially in Vegas) but this time I actually looked the part too. The only thing missing was my chauffeur's hat."

    I hope you weren't speaking of anyone in particular. And ... ummm ... I'll look for that hat for you.

    1. Heh heh. You know, I might have been thinking of you just a bit. Also your pal Mike from last summer. But what I was really thinking of was years ago when I transported both you and Miss Josie around Vegas. Remember that?

    2. Yes. That was a fun time. But when one has a car and others don't ...

      It was nice having a private Uber driver. And you were certainly much less bossy than other private Las Vegas Uber drivers I have had. 😃

    3. Hmm.....I wonder who you mean? :)

  3. What an ordeal. And that's just the beginning. Only the other day did I learn the hard way not to rely on Google Maps for retail closings. Woody and I braved the pouring rain to treat ourselves to a great restaurant about 30 minutes from our home. I checked to make sure it was open just because one time a few years ago it unexpectedly closed as a car rammed into it after exiting the freeway. Google Maps said open. Made it there through lots of water and flooding on the streets only to find it CLOSED. And, since it was rush hour we couldn't hop back on the freeway to return home. Lesson learned!

    1. Closed because of rain?

      That's terrible. Yeah, you can't trust info like, I guess you gotta call.

      Did you end up at Costco for dinner? Or In-N-Out?

  4. I give you props for typing typing all this up and looking forward to reading the ending.

    1. Thanks, Ace. I'm actually more enthusiastic about writing this up than any post I've done in a long while.

  5. Wow even by your standard this is quite. Long post. Keep posting more rob.
    My idea about your car problem will be , go win a big poker tournament and buy a new one.

    1. Well that's a fine idea, winning a big poker tournament. I'll see if I can arrange that.

      I've done longer posts than this one (in fact I think the next chapter will be a little longer) but as a multi-part, when this is all done, it will definitely be the longest story I've ever done. It's really gonna be novel-lengthed.

  6. Wow never knew it was so complicted to get service on a car. usually you take to a good shop (probably several hundred in Vegas), then a few hours later your car is repaired, unless you procrasinate and weight until Christmas Eve. I would hate to see what would have happen if you had a real problem to deal with. I hope they were able to repair your spaceship before Friday.

    1. Thanks ummm....what should I call you for short? Crazy or Bitch? Or 88?

      In my umpteen years of driving a car, that's usually how it works. But sometimes, things go awry.