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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Today At Sludge Junction ...

It was time for my vehicle's transfusion ... every 5,000 ... so I grabbed a neglected paperback and headed out for LotsaLube ... or QuikJunk ... or FastJuice ... or whatever the place was that was named after both speed and lubrication. I try to treat my car well, but handling routine maintenance is like calling a wedding planner in May to handle your June nuptials.

For years, I took my vehicles to the dealership-slash-orphanage from whence I purchased-slash-adopted them. My father was a firm believer in the power of the dealership, always spouting "it may cost a little more at the dealership, but those guys know what the hell they're doing!" Actually, it costs a good deal more and usually takes three or four days to schedule. And that dealership is the same place where, years ago, I picked out a two-door blue sporty little thing to lease and when I stopped by three days later to sign the paperwork there stood my father and the salesperson with my new tan four-door mid-size ... my Dad had found me a "better deal" and the dealership people went along with it like I wasn't even part of the equation.

So after my father passed away ... within a month, I think ... my cars became a little less finicky and started frequenting the "fast lube" establishments, kind of like going from gentleman's clubs to dark-alley strip joints. And to continue the analogy, the price of admission is a lot less, but the "lube job" is all the same. The only real downside is that instead of a few hours of downtime, I often spend the better part of a day there in a dumpy chair drinking weak coffee ... again, gentleman's club vs. strip joint.

There's "quickie" shop about 10 minutes from my house. It's usually my go-to spot ... good light for reading, a decent sized waiting area with magazines and usually a daily newspaper, and a few vending machines to help pass the time. But there have been times when I've called and the manager says "only one ahead of you if you come now," and I click off, grab my keys, and sprint to my car like Jesse Owens, and when I get there I'm behind two flat tire repairs, one brake replacement, and five lube jobs. If I stay, I'll be benched for probably four hours ... at least a 3 p.m. dealership appointment almost always had me back behind the wheel by 3:30. In those instances, I usually cruised around looking for someplace else to get my oil "fix."

And now, the "rapid lubes" are on my last nerve about my air filter. There's always a series of questions you are asked when registering for an oil change ... make and model, color, mileage, oil type and weight. Then they want to know if I want to be alerted to any problems with my lights, signals, or tires. No, I think, I want to be an uninformed motorist ... please tell me nothing.

Then they get in their final digs regarding the status of my windshield wipers and air filter. Do I want my wipers and/or air filter replaced, they ask. "Only if it needs it," I reply in my most commanding, don't-screw-with-me baritone. Now, I know when my wipers need replaced. When it rains, the water doesn't slide away like it should. Or the gentle "wwwhhhhoooossssshhh" or the squeegee-like action sounds more like a small whale banging its flukes on my windshield to get my attention. One Christmas, I got new wiper blades in my stocking. In later January, a "quickie" tech tried to tell me my wipers needed replacing. I challenged him and I never saw him again ... a different tech checked me out and handed me my keys.

Now the air filter I'm not so sure about. I assume it filters incoming air from the intakes and tries to catch any particulates that could cause problems. But is a slightly dirty air filter that precarious of a condition? When techs (in general) ask about my car's air filter, their voices become hushed and their brows knit in concern. Is it like a bad lung? Do I need to get on a donor list? Should I pay them their going rate or pay ten bucks and buy one off the black market? Change that damn filter ... STAT!

POINT OF RANT: Cars and people confuse me in equal amounts.

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