RIP.Off.City.

Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  The always-quaint burg of Sunnydale in the story, with it’s hidden recesses of evil?  Here in this idyllic little burg I inhabit, owning a motorized vehicle is the several thousands of pounds of flesh that keeps on being taken.  I have never had even a marginally good experience buying a car.  I have bought two in my life so far (both new), and despise the process. I do all my homework, bring a male, wear pink, and still get treated like an idiot, and forced to go through some terrible passion play that car dealerships script out that lasts about as long, and is as agonizing.  Suffice it to say, I can’t stand car dealerships, and not just for the agonizing pain that ultimately cumulated in my turning over thousands of my dollars for the privilege.  The first was paid for via a bank loan, the second all in cash- yes, all in cash.  I was not purchasing some dream car, or some adolescent fantasy vehicle.  Both times I purchased durable, practical autos that I intended to drive until they would not go anymore.  The experiences 15 years apart, they were almost exactly the same.  I searched for almost a year, visited many places, and ultimately nothing had changed.  

My Mazda B220, the dark blue stealth machine with the cap, was a true friend for 15 years through my single life.  Two years ago Husband and I purchased a Kia Sedona mini van.  Dark blue again (Husband picked the color, I did not care), it has been a good family workhorse but for the abysmal gas mileage. My mother gave me her 92’ Toyota Corolla before she died, and that’s our back-up car.  In the ‘burg, I have had such problems with our local dealership (who also sells the Kia’s, and while forced to service them, makes it clear they are reluctant to do so), I refuse to go there any more for service. They have also skinned my 71 year old father on his T100 (which he keeps in pristine condition) so many times it makes me want to scream.  Options?  Sure, if I drive over an hour away through the hills only to get the same scripts and role offers. I would LOVE to play the devil sometime, switch it up- and force them to pay egregious amounts of money while being insulted for attempting to make minor repairs.  Yes, attempted.  The number of times they have caused more problems than they have solved have been shocking- well, not really.  I expect them to try to skin me now.

These may well be national matters, this culture of auto dealerships, as well as the in-bred habits of the auto and oil industries, which have stagnated fuel innovation for the last 75 years.  But the local skinning is both a state and regional scam. Let me explain.

In the ‘Burg, the state of VA has made a pretty deal with the combustion engine devils.  All the lower forms of hell are in on it too, from the shade tree mechanic to the slick dealerships.  It is the “inspection sticker” scam.  After moving here, we were told we would have to pay our moving taxes in more ways than one.  The first way was the rookie moving tax on our car.  Sure enough, there was pain in order to get the small “we saw your car and it runs” sticker for our window, thereby avoiding massive fines if we didn’t and got caught (beware the several times a year state cop drag nets set out to do just that- I swear it seems to be around a full moon. Forget drunk driving; the horrors here are not paying to get a worthless inspection sticker).  We were told by three separate repair shops that there were things wrong with our car we knew were not (different problems identified at each hell mouth), and we must have repairs made repaired BY THAT SHOP before they could “let” us have the sticker.  So the first shop slapped a “not approved” sticker on our window as well.  Scarlet letter cum flag, “woo-hoo!  Oh Mr. Policeman! These people refuse to be shafted! So scam them some more!”

I was furious. I called various information chains only to find out that the regulation of this sticker business and approving of the stations that can hand them out is done by- you guessed it, the state police.  Who gets the revenue from the sticker? The state police.  Who is allowed to charge what ever they want, however they choose, and skim that cream off the process without any fear of being prosecuted for malfeasance?  The shops.  Because if you wish to complain, your paperwork must go to the state police.  What crazy motivation could the state police possibly have to follow up anyone’s complaints about a shop scamming for stickers?  As long as the shops keep sticking folks for repairs they do not need, the police get their cut (if they don’t they simply withdraw a shop’s ability to hand stickers out, thereby cutting into a shops revenue base), and the citizens (unless you have a relative who is one of the devils) get stuck every time- the cycle is complete. Classic government fraud in action. 

Once we were in the cycle, it happens EVERY YEAR.  We searched and searched for shops that would only demand a small patronage, such as the changing of wiper blades and tire rotation on some such.  The total bill (the basic sticker cost is $15) usually runs around $50.  People tell me we are getting off cheap.  I let my blades go bad before the due date of the sticker, because I know if I don’t I’ll get charged for them anyway.  Sigh.  Don’t forget the state auto taxes which seem to follow no sound process of charges (which the DMV refuses to explain), or the yearly “car tax” that is so insane in the application (how they determine what to charge changes and varies more than highway maintenance in VA) that I have yet to find anyone who understands the who what where and why of the several hundred dollar charges (the how is simple- pay it or you get fined).

The local scam is the yearly city sticker, and the separate property taxes (can’t buy the one without having paid the other).  It’s a revenue scam that works well for the city.  Local police will pull citizens over to check it, and do at several key times in the year (catching unwary college students is easy pickin’s).  The sticker (prominently placed along side the inspection tattoo, both required to sit right in the center of an auto front windshield; safety first my flabby behind) serves no function but to announce that you paid your pound of flesh to the city, from which said revenues can be used to fatten the wallets of local developers, make cushy the life of the arrogantly corrupt mayor, or other such crucial city functions.  Many municipalities across the country have done away with the city sticker; the ‘Burg has not, and clearly will not any time soon.

My great grand father, who saw the creation of personal automobiles, and the entire arc of the auto through the 20th century, had this to say.  “If it can’t get you from point A to B, then it is worthless.” He did not want bells and whistles, not even a radio (prescient, considering all the studies done recently showing the direct causality between distracted drivers and accidents). Air conditioners were for sissies. If you knew how to work on your own machine, you were a smart person.  I wish I could work on mine.  The vast array of bells, whistles, computers, specialized tools, and general high tech junk makes this impossible, to the auto manufacturers benefit.

I read that Viggo Mortensen drives a 1950 pickup because he knows he can work on it.  The man can afford what ever he wants, and his own garage mechanics to service it (see Jay Leno), but he chooses the truck.  Good onya I say.  My father had a 1950 Ford pickup when I was a child, and I still have happy dreams about that truck.  If I can ever afford one, it will be mine as fast as you can say curmudgeon in the dungeon and I will learn to repair it.  It may only seem like symbolic independence, but my boys will also learn not to be afraid of machines or the industries that produce and control them.  Get thee away, Satan, and all your minions; ok, ok, after I pay all these governmental fees.  Who ever thought the reality of evil would be so mundanely manifested in our everyday lives; and less the hovering red eyes of a terrorist or paranormal being?  Our collective obsession with capitalistic status and the resulting consumption orgy of the past hundred years has been shameful, and only served to dumb us down into ignorant, useless consumers.  In this time of peak oil, it is good to remember amid the sunny streets of tract mansions and gas-guzzlers, that we are the instruments of our own destruction.  

Oh, yeah, and here’s a little bit of irony to serve as a reminder to those who live in this ‘burg– don’t forget much of that government flesh will not be sliced off or will be significantly cheaper if you drive a vehicle with ANTIQUE tags (ever seen a rusted Chevy chevette labeled an antique?  They roam, they roam).

Anyone got a cherry’50 Ford they want to sell cheap?

Is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city?

Is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city? 

Today I suffocated under 4 consecutive hours of a crying 20 month old, and the usual domestic duties.  I told my husband, who came home at 6 p.m. intellectually on fire after participating as a mentor in numerous trying and yet exhilarating grad critiques, that I was jealous.  It had been so long since I had discussed David Byrne’s Big Suit, or the tricky route from symbol to meaning in creative endeavors.  So I cracked open yet another bottle of cheap red wine (now 0 for 6, the other 6 in the past two months having been relegated to cooking use after a first sip), surprised at the irony of finally getting a drinkable glass on this of all days.  Perhaps not irony then, but grace.

Ever seen the movie Network?

Of course you have.  If I have not completely alienated all readers of every stereotypical stripe, what’s left will understand.

It is a true life partner, it is true love, when one melts down and says “I just want to get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, throw the kids in the car and go to the city for the weekend and feed my head”, and partner says simply “Ok, let’s do it.”  After a moment adding with wry humor, “heck- is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city?”

I grew up working class- yes the word class.  The taboo word of not only the academy, but also public life.  Sniff at the socialist whiff, turn to the GOP fantasy and tell me I am obsolete.  My colleagues in academia have already beaten you to it, Race being the “good”, and strangely exclusive, concept of the moment (if 40 years is a moment).  I worked in pizza restaurants at 15, and a string of cheese factories (where I was not asked to sit with women my age at break, on the midnight to 7 shift because I was going to college- I was informed by the matrons on shift- and was perceived as having a way out), temp jobs, restaurant jobs, and other good working class girl wage endeavors while trying to rise beyond, explicitly so, the factory and receptionist life my parents were relegated to and hated.  It was not the honest work; it was the gradual decay of respect and evidence of respect (lost health benefits, wage stagnation, retirement raiding, lay offs and eliminations, dismissals of concerns, rudeness, invisibility) that wore them down.

What is this hybridized identity- so post modern, yet so not cool- that finds me university PhD educated, middle aged and female, discarded and invisible to most.  Bitter?  Angry?  Hell yes.  To a mutual friend of ours who writes “graphic novels” (not to over simplify, but a fancy name for comic books), I said my hero is the middle-aged woman who becomes a vigilante.  Say, have you seen the new series on TV about that?  Yea sure, those glamour pusses are my ideal.  As my niece would say, NOT.

Perhaps you could call upon women writers of 40 years ago, who had rage and understanding in spades.  Say I am “uninformed”, derivative.  I say, No.  I know them.  I have read them.  And that they are still relevant does not negate this space, this life.  After the first blog, I was told I was angry.  I laughed.  Oh yeah, you got it.  Acerbic?  Sarcastic?  Yet still sincere?  Oh my.  Fold another napkin on the fire, and let me apologize for my lack of tact.  NOT.

Think of this as the anti-Ann Coulter.  That scion of current journalism who has never worked an honest day in her life.  And yet, I say you go girl, savor it while you can, because when it all goes away all you’ll be left with is your nasty coke habit and wrinkly neck skin.  Those GOP puppet masters who romanced your rise to fame will run and hide, bounce your emails and treat you as the pariah you are.  You may want to have a feminist moment when this point comes, you may even think you earned it, but you’ll probably find yourself alienated.   Whisper to yourself that you are still good, you are still important, while the world shuns you.  Welcome to the real world baby- if you have not saved, you have not earned- as that female money guru Suze Orman would say.

You want placebo? You want sexy, palatable, mildly amusing mother? Read the syndicated folks.  Those who get paid to entertain.  Enter here, and enter another realm.  My hero Molly Ivins died this past year, and a little bit of my hope went with her.  When Studs (Terkel) goes, I don’t know what I’ll do.  .  . Scream, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it any more”.  Not that many will notice me without an AK-47, or other armaments- the standard attention getting (and economy riding) devices for all from Dub to the local sad teenager.  I guess middle-aged women are just not threatening or sexy.  Pass the Provigil and the written ammunition. 

Halleluiah. . .get your hands off the scissors!  Get in bed! Where is that damned cooler? 

See you tomorrow at the Smithsonian.