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The Five Hundred Dollar Commute

Going to work yesterday cost me five hundred dollars.

I suppose that's technically not true. To be fair, you'd have to add back the salary I made at work yesterday, minus the cuts for federal taxes, state taxes, Social Security, my retirement account, life insurance, health insurance, parking, and the annual office Cinco de Mayo fund. Plus the new slipcovers on the boss' couch I'm still paying for, from last year's Cinco de Mayo fiesta.

So in reality, going to work only cost me approximately four hundred and ninety-three dollars and twelve cents.

Yay, job. Whoop-de-doo.

Here's what happened: I was driving along, minding my own business and rocking out to Celine Dion The Wiggles Christopher Cross the latest manly death metal sensation. I forget the name of the band -- Devilspawn? Dripping Evil? Deathtongue? It's not important, really.

The significant bit happened as I was crooning belting out a chorus and *WHAM*, the passenger side of the car lurched and wobbled ominously. There was nothing obviously there, except the curb I wasn't near. No cars or motorbikes or filthy street urchins were to be seen.

"You see, here in the progressive Commonwealth of Masshole-achusetts, we have a mechanic check our wiper fluid and left tail lights every year, to make sure that the least complicated and most trivial bits of the vehicle are functioning properly."

But something was there, and whatever it was blew the hell out of my right front tire. In seconds, the car was limping and *kathump*-ing along in rhythm to the music. As 'percussion', it was sort of intriguing. As 'roadworthy vehicle', it was quickly fading out of the picture. I needed a garage, and fast.

So I found one. But slow. Painfully slowly, in fact, which is how I rolled and shimmied to the nearest garage I knew. I'd seen them with a busted tire before -- two at once, in fact. They're good people. Honest and hardworking, as far as I can tell. They probably call their mothers every weekend, too.

Anyway, I finally made it to the garage. They offered to sell me a new tire, and I graciously accepted. They noted -- quite politely, mind you -- that my inspection sticker was a few weeks overdue.

You see, here in the progressive Commonwealth of Masshole-achusetts, we have a mechanic check our wiper fluid and left tail lights every year, to make sure that the least complicated and most trivial bits of the vehicle are functioning properly. This is called an 'inspection', and we pay thirty bucks a pop for the privilege of the service.

We then pay several hundred more dollars to fix, reattach, patch, clean, buff, wax, or replace bits of the car that the mechanics say are faulty. Even though those parts aren't actually part of the inspection, and couldn't realistically be observed by anyone who's not 'examining' your car with X-ray specs and a high-powered chainsaw.

Basically, the 'problems' the 'mechanics' 'find' are all part of the process. We think of it as an extra tax, for having the audacity to own a car and gum up the environment in the first place. We're in New England; we're easily guilted like that.

So, long story marginally shorter, that's exactly what happened. The missus had already scolded me for letting the inspection lapse anyway, so I let the mechanics open her up for a look.

(That's the car, not my wife, mind you. I'm not letting any damned grease monkeys tinker under my wife's hood.

Or anyone else, for that matter. I even installed a Lo-Jack. Don't ask. And no touchy, leadfoot. I'm watching you.)

Five hours and five hundred dollars later, I had the car back, with not one, but three new tires, a remounted exhaust doohickey underneath, and a fancy new inspection sticker worth its weight in... hell, I don't know. What costs five hundred bucks for a fraction of an ounce, anyway? Gold-plated platinum? Really, really good crank? Concentrated stripper sweat? I'm not sure.

The truly amazing thing is that the ordeal could have cost me more. After a point, this garage simply wouldn't take my money. I told one guy that if they're changing three tires anyway, and I suspect the fourth has a slow leak, why not give me a whole new set?

And he pooh-poohed me. Insofar as a large, greasy Italian mechanic can 'pooh-pooh' anything, really. More likely, he 'pshaw'ed me, or 'pfffffftttt'ed me. Later, I was even 'fuggedabahtit'ed. The point is, they wouldn't do it. They were content to make the other fixes, patch my last remaining original tire, and leave it at that. I guess mechanics in New England are easily guilted, too.

After they've collected my five hundred bucks, of course. Dese guys in da garage, dey's sweethearts and all, but dey gotta eat, ya know what I'm sayin'? Youse ain't gettin' outta dere with a full wallet, but pays more than five hundred smackeroos? Fuggedabahtit!

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