April 02, 2011


A few months ago, my wife decided she wanted to try to sell her car online. While I love the Internet as a communications tool, and even for legitimate online transactions, I personally tend to shy away from the kind of Internet-based interactions that can lead to actually meeting someone for the purposes of completing a sale. My reasoning is simple: there are a lot of crazy people online. Like, seriously crazy people.

Nevertheless, my wife got it in her head that advertising her VW Jetta was the way to realize the most money, so she posted her vehicle's pictures and stats on various online car selling venues. And then she waited. And she waited some more.

I will say this: selling the car wasn't a terrible experience. Granted, it took three months, and she had several interested people come sniffing around, and none of them seemed all that crazy. Even the family that eventually bought it this week seemed like good folk.

It's the flip side of the online vehicle selling/buying process where the crazy people started popping up. Once my wife sold her car, after all, she had to start the unpleasant task of finding a suitable replacement vehicle.

As she began making calls, she encountered people who insisted a three foot hole in the car's floor was a unique and desirable feature, or that a rebuilt engine is better than a factory original. Whereas used car salesmen have developed a universal reputation tending toward the sleazy side of the personality spectrum, it turns out online car salesmen are actually far worse. Imagine an anonymous Internet comment troll trying to sell a car, and you get some idea of what you can end up dealing with.

Finally, my wife came across a Volvo station wagon that immediately caught her eye.

Me? I hate Volvos. Aesthetically, they look like garbage cans on wheels. But, my wife has always, ALWAYS wanted a Volvo. I mean, she has dreamed of owning a Volvo the way Ralphie dreamed of getting a Red Ryder B.B. gun. So, today, she called the number and set up a time to see the vehicle.

"He was hard to understand," she told me afterward. "He had a thick accent. Like Russian or Arabic or something.

This immediately set off warning bells in my mind, because Russians and Arabs made up the brunt of villains in most of the action movies I watched in the 80s and 90s. Right then and there, I knew I had to go with my wife, if for no other reason because I had to be present for a Russian-Arab Volvo deal; that's the kind of thing I just can't imagine happens every day.

So, we were off to the Twin Cities, a metropolitan area I've been to countless times but still can't navigate to save my soul. Usually, my wife acts as a trusted direction provider (she lived there five years), but she was distracted by having to pump breast milk along the way, and we had an 18-month-old in tow who, it turns out, was harboring a fever all day, so the stage was set for a good old travel tale.

For the most part, the trip was uneventful, right up until we had to snake our way into the underbelly of the Cities' seedier side. As we followed our MapQuest directions further towards our destination--which winded us past dilapidated buildings with hand-scrawled signs that (paraphrased) read "Bail Bonds. . . Sort Of" and "Checks Cashed While You're Beaten"--I started to realize things were about to get sort of interesting.

We finally arrived at our destination, which we recognized because the Volvo we sought was parked alongside two other Volvos outside a ramshackle auto-body shop. We pulled up tentatively, but were waved in by a very tall man who introduced himself as "Alex," although from the accent I imagine that was short for "Alexei." He had to be Russian all the way--or at least a former satellite state guy. No chance he was Arabic. I confess, I was disappointed.

The Volvo looked good from the outside--as good as a garbage can on wheels can look, I mean--but then, those things just don't rust that quickly, if at all.

Then, I opened the driver's side door and I immediately knew I was looking at the vehicle the singer Jewel probably lived in. I mean, it looked worse than Jewel's teeth. Alex hadn't taken the time to even attempt to clean it up. Online, it was claimed to be in "Excellent Condition," which I'm sure would be true in Russia. The dashboard was peeling, which is the only way to describe it. You wouldn't think leather could peel, but it was in this case. And, the whole car smelled like dog farts mixed with cigarette smoke, which is in no way an indictment on dog farts, which can be heavenly depending on what you feed the dog.

Even our 18-month-old started crying uncontrollably when we looked inside, so I had to take him for a walk around "Little Russia" to calm him down while my wife took Oscar the Grouch's Volvo for a test drive.

Obviously, I wasn't there to see it, but my wife told me the dashboard warning lights came to life like a Christmas tree, to the point she had to pull over a few blocks away to consult the owner's manual, which informed her the engine light, the ABS light, the battery light and the "don't buy this car if you value your life" light were all screaming "get the hell out of here!" As if we needed further encouragement.

When my wife returned from her test drive (I was with our son across the street from the auto-body), I could discern from her scrunched up nose and the way she mouthed "LET'S GO!" we wouldn't be going home with a Volvo. So when "Alex" approached and greeted us with a "You buy Volvo, yes?" I found myself wrestling with an answer that wouldn't end up with my family in some dark back room where an illegal game of "Texas Hold 'Em" was taking place with Matt Damon and John Malkovich.

My wife actually came up with the escape phrase "We have two other cars we want to look at before we make a decision," which I only heard sort of muffled as I hurried to put our son back in his car seat.

As we pulled away, I saw "Alex" screaming at another person far shorter than he was. I can only assume he was dressing him down for not yanking out the fuses that controlled the dashboard warning lights.

Posted by Ryan at April 2, 2011 06:41 PM | TrackBack

Your wife is kind of a bad ass, I could hang with her and not worry about my back...

Posted by: Donna at April 4, 2011 04:02 AM
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