It was Saturday, my day for another trip to the flea market in nearby Metz, France. Normally, I take such short jaunts with a few select friends. Not everyone I know can come with me because a few act so crazy and I’d be easily tempted to leave their asses in France. Ria, a friend and coworker, was spunky just like me. She jumped at the chance to tag along.
I met her in the parking lot of the Bad Kreuznach Post Exchange. Usually, I drive but didn’t have enough gas in my car to make the trip. So Ria offered to let me drive her car. She had just purchased this older model Mercedes-Benz from a shifty coworker who was leaving for the states (thank Goodness and good riddance)
I got out of my car and walked over to her Benz. In my gut, I had a bad feeling about this heap on wheels. But I didn’t say anything to Ria. Happy as a kid at a circus, she got in on the passenger side. I opened the driver’s side door, which creaked like a haunted mansion’s steel gate. “Just how old is this fucking car?” I wondered to myself. A strong, prominent musty smell savagely invaded my nose. “Whew! Where and how long has this lemon been sitting?” I mused. I thought I would need an oxygen mask to survive the two-hour trip to France, but to get fresh air, I could always do like dogs do and let my head hang out the window as I drove. Since that would look stupid on my part, I decided to keep my window cracked open. Before leaving, I went through a checklist of necessities for such a trip: passports, ID cards, Euros, miniature Snickers and a small plastic zip-lock bag full of fresh fruit.
Careful not to reveal my distasteful observations to Ria about her car, I forced a smile as I cautiously slid onto the thickly padded seat behind the steering wheel, which was much bigger than the one in my car. I felt like a scrawny, six-year-old kid behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. Annoyed that I could see only over the top of the steering wheel down to the end of the long, wide hood, I ran back to my car to grab two pillows for a boost so that I could see the road. Returning, I readjusted the seat to fit me.
Before I could start the engine, Ria stopped me to rattle off some of the quirky “features” of her old ‘Betsy Benz.’
“The key’s permanently stuck in the ignition. Don’t take it out ‘cause it’ll mess up something in the electrical system. The parking brake is on the left side of the floor. You gotta pull the black handle really hard on the left side under the dashboard to engage it and release it.”
My grasp of these unusual features amounted to “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?” Suddenly taking my car made better sense, but filling up with gas now would cut into our shopping time. Later, I would regret this decision.
Appearance wise, the old Benz seemed to be in good shape, nice body, sturdy looking tires and not a scratch, but despite its inner warts that Ria described, this trip would validate its roadworthiness.
Finally, we took off. The ‘old girl’ sailed smoothly over bumps and potholes in the road. Just outside the city limits of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, I crested a hill, which allowed a panoramic view of a lush valley sprinkled with quaint villages. The morning’s light drizzle produced a beautiful misty rainbow, which hovered over a field. Excitable as a kid in a candy store, I shouted, “Quick, Ria, get the camera, take a picture!” I added, “The rainbow’s a good sign; for what, I don’t know, but it’s a good sign.
The camera, one of those small disposables, had taken cover somewhere underneath her seat. In my haste to park so that Ria could get a picture of the rainbow, I swung the big Benz sharply through an upcoming traffic circle and sped out. This Indy 500-maneuver caused the elusive camera to roll farther out of her reach. Ria scrambled to locate it, but before she could get it ready to take its first shot of the beautiful rainbow, my cell phone rang. I grabbed my earphone and tried to plug it in one ear, but the cord dropped into that black hole between the front seats. I kept one hand on the huge steering wheel and darted my eyes back and forth from the road to my cell phone while trying to punch those tiny buttons to connect with my caller. Yes, I know, safety was already out the window on this trip. But who would fault me for throwing caution to the wind when I was already sitting behind the wheel of this potential time bomb?
The call was from another friend, Tamikio, who regretted that she couldn’t make the trip. I told her we had just spotted a rainbow and she expressed excitement as well. I guess my friends and I are kindred spirits who still marvel at Mother Nature’s little wonders that others might ignore.
Realizing that talking on cell phones while driving is dangerous, not to mention illegal, I was looking for a rest stop to pull over and continue yakking with Tamikio and so that Ria could prepare the camera to get a good shot of the rainbow. Having difficulty advancing the film, Ria handed me the camera. Not a bright idea since I was still driving.
Anyway, I took the camera to advance the film and gave it back to Ria. In doing so, Ria accidentally pressed the “ready” button, which caused a sun-blinding flash to fill the car. Surprisingly, I kept the car steady as we roared laughing at her clumsiness, but at least, we knew that the camera worked. No picture of the rainbow yet, but I think we got a good shot of the dashboard and floor.
While wrapping it up with Tamikio, I parked to let Ria take her intended shot, but seconds later, she returned to the car frustrated, “It’s gone! The rainbow is gone. Poof, just like that.” I took this moment for some deep sage wisdom, “Oh well, that means that we’re going to have a great time.” I lied through my teeth to mask my growing apprehension.
Snacking on Snickers, we took off on the autobahn, which surprisingly had little traffic at that time of the morning. An annoying drizzle danced across the windshield, putting somewhat of a damper on the morning, but to me, the rainbow, which we never got a picture of, signaled otherwise. We decided not to succumb to the wiles of gloomy weather.
I usually like to drive with good music. Salsa is my preference. Since the car didn’t have the luxury of a CD player, I resigned myself to listen to any station that the ancient-looking radio could pull in. Ria grabbed a black knob and turned it a bit too much clockwise, releasing an ear-piercing static, which almost made me pee in my seat. Quickly she turned it off while I resorted yo humming a tune to myself to match the beat of the raindrops hitting the car. Boring at best!
Ria switched on the wiper because God knows I couldn’t have found it. This large, yard-long blade rose from its hiding place and creaked across the windshield, mopping up the raindrops with one swipe. It was hard to concentrate on my driving while I sat amazed at the amount of windshield area the blade could cover at one time. With this blade, the raindrops didn’t have a chance to settle as the blade broke up their party as they dropped.
Although the Benz handled easily on the autobahn, the ride itself was a bit rougher than my car, making me think that the good-looking tires were deceptive. Confidently, I slipped the car into fourth gear and gradually upped the speed to 180 kilometers and moved into the left lane. Suddenly I found myself behind a late-model BMW. As I approached it, the driver moved to the right lane to let me pass. After passing the BMW, the driver got behind me and flashed his high beams at me, which ticked me off. I hadn’t done anything offensive and didn’t understand this discourtesy. “What a moron!” I thought.
Feeling a bit hungry, we stopped up ahead for a breakfast at a McD’s. As we were returning to the car, I heard Ria gasp, “Oh my God, look!” I looked at Ria, “What?….what?” “Look at the car,” she continued, “One of my headlights is missing!”
I looked at the car and stifled a laugh. Sure enough, one headlight was missing and it looked like ‘old Betsy’ had a black eye. I turned to Ria and asked the most stupid question on this planet, “Did I hit something?” She looked at me as if I had just lost my mind. Rightfully so, she ignored my question. If I had hit anything, both of us would have known it. We ran over to the car to examine the gaping hole where the headlight had been. All that was left were a few tiny wires dangling in the slight breeze. “Hmmm….maybe that’s why the “moron” flashed his lights at me…to let me know that I had lost the damn headlight somewhere back on the autobahn.”
Let me go over this hoopty’s features again….key stuck in the ignition, parking brake on the floor, headlight missing….hmmmm…suddenly this Benz made me recall the infamous Russian Mir space station which made it back to earth on a broken wing and several hundred prayers.
Ria shrugged off the missing headlight and jumped back in. As for me, I thought, “we’re too far away from our destination to catch a bus or call a taxi, so I cautiously slid behind the wheel again, suspiciously eyeing the dashboard, thinking that if I touched anything else, something would disintegrate or explode. Ria strapped on her seatbelt; slowly I strapped on mine, all the while feeling like a reluctant crash test dummy.
Before starting out again, I grabbed more Snickers and went through a ‘pre-flight’ check: windshield wiper still attached: check; radio out of commission: check; headlights: one missing in action, but we wouldn’t need it anyway since it was still daylight. So we took off again, roaring with nervous laughter.
Actually, I felt bad inside for my friend Ria and angry at the jerk who sold her this first-classed lemon. But I wouldn’t let my anger dampen her enthusiasm for doing the Metz Flea Market drill for the first time.
Finally, we pulled into the packed parking lot. It was still raining, but we remained upbeat and anxious to roam through the cavernous halls that house an enormous eclectic mix of trash and treasures.
But before I got out of the car, something peculiar at the end of the hood caught my eye. The Benz hood ornament was bent at an odd angle. “Maybe I killed it by pushing the car to 180 Kilometers,” I surmised. I got out and tried to straighten the ornament back up, but it came off in my hand. I forced it back into its slot. It wobbled a bit but, fortunately, stayed steady and upright. Not wanting to risk losing anything else on the way back, I vowed to drive back to Germany at the same speed Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy. After browsing and making our deals, we headed back to the car, arms full of unique treasures. Actually, I even thought of trying to make a last-minute trade of Ria’s Benz for a sturdy little red wagon. Fortunately, for Ria, this wasn’t my car. Thankfully, we experienced no mishaps on the trip back. As I pulled into the lot and parked next to my car, I sensed that it, too, was as surprised as I was that we made it back safely without losing any more vital car parts. I ran over and hugged my hood, ignored Ria’s strange look, and promised never to forsake my “baby” for a lemon again.
The moral of this true story: Everything that looks good is not always good for you…except chocolate and red wine.