I'm usually good about having my oil changed regularly, but I've been a little overdue. My oil light has been flickering on, which has never happened before, so I brought the car in to my buddies at Value Service.
"You live around the corner, right?" the first mechanic asked me.
"No, I'm in Rogers Park now, but you have a good memory!" I said. I love the guys there; most are Vietnamese, which means not only are they pretty cute, I never have to adjust my car seat when I get my car back.
I explained that I just needed an oil change, and he offered to do it right away if I wanted to wait. Sure; great.
I sat in the waiting area, a small, dirty area with only Vietnamese publications to read. Looking around, I wondered what I could barter for in exchange for cleaning and painting the space.
The mechanic popped his head in. "Can I show you something?"
Oh no. This is never a good phrase. Just as, "We need to talk" is clear code for "I'm about to dump you," "Can I show you something?" is Mechanic Speak for, "brace yourself, and get out the credit card."
He walked me under my car, which was on the lift. (I never get used to this; having a few tons of metal suspended over my head will always freak me out.)
"You have a bad oil leak." He pointed. Yes, I did.
"So what do you need to do?"
"I need to fix the leak here, but when you do this, you also need to change the timing belt and water pump."
The cynical among you might think he was giving me a line, but I have never had these guys ever try to highball me. In fact, they have jumped and worked on my car for free at times.
Dac, the head mechanic, had told me at my last change that the mileage on my car suggested I change the timing belt, but money being tight, I'd waited. Now it looked like the decision had been made for me.
"How much will it cost?"
"Oh you'll have to ask Dac; I don't know about the cost part," he said.
Again, not good.
I waited for Dac, who came over and repeated what I'd heard. The cost? "About $500."
He saw the look on my face, and explained the breakdown, trying to calm me.
"No, no, I understand, and it's not that I don't think it's a fair price, it's just that I haven't worked in six months, and well, this wasn't something I'd planned on."
They suggested I could wait a bit and keep pouring oil into the engine, but aside from the environmental ramifications, I knew I'd just worry all the time.
"Do it," I said.
I got my babysitting money last night, transferred money from savings, and managed to cover the repair without using the credit card. Yesterday, as I went home on the train, having left the car for the repairs, I stood on the platform, looking out at the blue sky, the clouds, the sun. I felt really content. Things happen. It's life. And it's all OK.