This is a true story about cars and concern.
I always wanted a Saab. The French teacher at my grammar school had one. The sloping body was so distinct and stood out with sophistication amid the boxy and bulky cars of the mid 80s. The memory of my admiration for Miss White’s Saab stuck with me for the rest of my adolescence and early adulthood. Through that time, I didn’t sit in a single Saab, no one I knew had one or had much to say about them. Slowly they crept in to my life once I moved to a mountain town. I had a discussion at a coffee shop with an enthusiast which pricked my hunch that it was in my destiny to own a Saab. I worked for a photographer who loaded his up to the brim with equipment and was a loyal driver – only good things to say. So when it came time for me to buy a car, with cash, I bought a Volvo.
I guess this way, I could ease into Swedish design. I had about one grand to spend, and set my luck on Volvo since I was in Portland where they were more ubiquitous than Subaru which reigned supreme in Santa Fe at that time. I saw an ad for a Swedish mechanic off Macadam Avenue selling used Volvos who turned out to be a messy-haired, brutish Swede with a stern face and a look in his eyes that hinted at a desire to smile. He was curt, quick to assimilate my situation and took me under his wing. I test drove a couple, he checked out the innards, and after looking under the hood put his hands on his hips and asked, “Do you feel it?” I sighed, “No.” He slammed down the hood, said, ”You’ve got to feel it!” and walked away. I eventually found the perfect one, baked the mechanics cookies as a way to say thanks, and drove it farther than the price. I loved it; but eventually, I needed something with better performance and a little more reliability. I was ready for Saab.
By sheer timing, a Subaru became available to me. I had to take it and felt disappointed that I wasn’t getting the car I wanted: it was an automatic, and I looked like a soccer mom. Within a few weeks, I was in an accident, struck on the left side by an apologetic driver who was happy I didn’t want to call the cops. She called me a few hours after the accident to check on me and told me how she was enjoying a virgin bloody Mary, emphasis on the first adjective. More interestingly, her name was Velva. Everything worked out in my favor, the car was declared totaled and within five days, a check was in my hand. My mind wandered back to my Saab fantasy… could this be the time?
Back when I was in Portland, after I bought the Volvo I met a guy – a lovely Canadian brainy engineer – who was a pretty committed Saab driver. On our second date he took me for a drive on the old Columbia Gorge highway in a 1968 Mercedes convertible he had restored for his dad. He knew cars so there was nothing to argue against regarding his reasons for loving his late 90s 900 coup. I didn’t regret my decision to go Volvo, but I knew that when it was time to size up, I was going to remember the 900 series.
After my experience with brown Volvo – lovingly named Ovlov, and the soccer mom Subaru and the questionably DUI Velva, I went on Craigslist for Albuquerque. I found an ad, called the guy, had a nice conversation and found out that the car was an automatic. No, this just wouldn’t do; I was resolved to get the car I wanted. He mentioned that his mechanic turned over cars and just got a beautiful Saab in that fit my taste. I immediately called the mechanic who was ready to sell and eager to let the car go, saying, “don’t wait too long, this car isn’t gonna last.” This drove me crazy; I was compelled to drive down the next day for a test drive.
I took three grand in cash, my checkbook, and my newish boyfriend who also knew a good bit about cars. The mechanic was located in the junkyards of Albuquerque: not an idyllic scene by any means. We took the car out for a spin, pulled it over, looked throughout and man, this is it. A rebuild with a totaled title, it had been in an identical accident to the one I was in prior. This seemed like fate talking, and sealed my confidence in completing the sale. We drove back, I talked him down by eight hundred, he signed the title over to me, and we left.
We decided to get a bite to eat. When I turned off the car I couldn’t get the keys out of the ignition. My mind immediately jumped to paranoia, suspecting that this is a hot car and I just got skunked. My boyfriend called the mechanic and, it turned out, that in Saabs you had to place the car in reverse in order to get the key out. News to me. He mentioned that he needed the license plate on the car which planted another seed of suspicion in me. He’s worried about the plates because they’re from a stolen car! But I tried to remain calm and decided that I would register the car after the weekend and everything would be okay.
On the drive home after dinner, I started feeling sick. I got home and fell in bed, struck with a fever and sore throat. I had awful dreams of the cops coming after me in the Saab, the hot car that I fell for too fast. Like a reckless lover, going too far too soon… I really should have known better! Worse, this was also the night that our new kitten tracked diarrhea onto the quilt in front of my face. Everything seemed to be going wrong all of a sudden, and I had to wait two long days until I could just register the car and know that everything was okay.
Monday came and I was at the DMV eight AM, sharp. I was not messing around because I had to put myself at ease. I got up to the desk, the attendant reviewed my title, and after conferring with a coworker, looked up with big, brown, concerned eyes and tsked, “Oh, jita, you need a bill of sale.” I said, “That’s what the other piece of paper is.” He said, “No, jita, it needs to be a standard bill of sale.” I could consent that this was a pretty nondescript receipt from Office Depot. My heart started beating faster. The man said, “Jita, go back to the seller, get the bill of sale, have him sign the back of the title, and come right back to me at this window, you don’t have to wait in line.” This type of concern and kindness coming from the DMV really started to take my concern to the next level: fear. My mouth went dry, I felt scared, and when we get scared, we get irrational. On the drive home to call the mechanic, I reasoned that I loved this car so much that if it turned out to be hot, I would just never register it or return the plates, I would be a perfect driver and never need to deal with this. I mean, I finally had my Saab. 70,000 miles. $4000. Clean. A tape player and disc changer. Seat heaters. I wasn’t going to give this back.
I called the mechanic. It turned out that the title was incorrectly filled out by the owner of the junkyard, Mr. P, in such a way that he essentially sold the car back to himself. I explained this to him and the information from the DMV about the bill of sale, and he actually got indignant. “That type of receipt works fine in Albuquerque. You should register the car down here.” Our conversation goes around a bit to where I had to get confrontational: “Albert, are you fucking with me?” He started to backpeddle. He sputtered, got nervous, I could hear it all. My boyfriend got on the phone and threatened to call Mr. P. “Don’t call Mr. P!” Albert agreed to fill out a receipt I supply, sign a title and even offered the services of a notary. He hung up the phone and looked up Mr. P’s residence and called him. He left a message explaining our situation sounding like a polite Southerner, full of respect and warmth.
We met the mechanic the next morning. I brought my boyfriend for backup. We got the documents signed, but no Mr. P. Someone “representing” Mr. P signed in the correct box. He chatted me up about his past of driving big rigs and working in Hollywood. A sleazy, snaky man in a leather vest appeared behind a dusty counter to notarize the title. I’m concerned that the signatures don’t match up. “Is this going to be a big deal?” I asked. They assured me, “Get it registered down the street, no one will bother you.” We went to a nearby DMV. There was a problem. My stomach started churning. It was my insurance – I hadn’t gotten my new insurance cards yet, and the wrong ones were faxed over. Then another problem arose: they were concerned about the handwriting. They needed Mr. P to come in.
During my hot phone conversation with Albert, I had discovered that Mr. P was quite an elusive old man. He had a temper, didn’t like bad news, and had a bad foot. He missed our meeting that morning because he had a doctor’s appointment. Everything sounded fabricated. I broke down and called the guy who got me into this mess, the guy who directed me to his mechanic. He showed up to the DMV to vouch for Mr. P. The whole thing was so ridiculous and emotionally gripping for me that I can’t recall the rest of the transaction other than writing the check and driving away in stoned amazement. Everything was okay. I had my Saab. Black beauty was finally mine.
Three days later, the phone rang. I answered, there’s a pause, then a feeble, old voice asked for my boyfriend by his full name. “Is there a Chris Wilson there?” He was not, and I offered to take a message. “This is Mr. P, and I’m calling because he sounded very concerned about a sale from my property.” Allelujah, there was a Mr. P! I told him a concise reprisal of the situation, laughing through the tale as though it were a simple, easy misunderstanding that was of no real concern, after all.