"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


For the last ten years, I've taken my car for emissions testing on August 6th. 

The first two times were unintentional, but once I noticed the coincidence on my renewal paperwork, I made a ritual out of it.

To be honest, I don't have much of a relationship with my car. I put gas in it, I get the oil changed regularly, I have the tires rotated for free. Everything else I entrust to my mechanic. My father was a big car guy, but I've never been a big car guy.

I'm not my car, I'm really not. It's just how I get from place to place.

Every two years, I drive to the same emissions place and I start worrying almost immediately. 

On one hand, I feel like a parent anxiously awaiting SAT results. Is my kid going to Harvard or community college? I want my car to pass emissions, to demonstrate I'm a good parent, to show these people I raised my car right. And you know what?  My car always passes. 

But once I get to the place, once I'm in line with my car idling, a new fear grips me. I feel like Billy Hayes, the guy in Midnight Express. I feel like a drug mule with bricks of hash taped to my chest. I'm standing at customs, sweating like a pig, trying not to look guilty. That's me, in the little booth at the emissions place, while they check out my car. 

They're not the police, they're not airport security. Nobody ever went to jail for failing the emissions test.

But there I am, my heart pounding like Giorgio Moroder himself is playing keyboards in my chest.

The technician points me back into my vehicle and tells me the test cost $27.75.  I hand him the money and when he gives me the receipt he tells me my car has failed the emissions test.


He won't even tell me what's wrong, just that the car failed. He tells me to pull around the corner and park and somebody in the building will explain the problem.

Let's back up for uno segundo. My life has been a little crazy the last four months.  Not necessarily bad, just not what I'm used to. 

Apart from the reading I did last Friday, which was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had, things have mostly not gone my way. I'm selling my house, my house has termites. I'm switching jobs, I don't know which job will make me happy. Am I staying where I am or moving away?  

Also: what is the correct length for my sideburns?

So now, it's August 6th and I take my car in, like clockwork, for emissions testing. Except this time, there's a hitch. 

I look at the paperwork. The car has actually passed the emissions test. It's my gas cap that failed. I take it to the guy in the office, the guy confirms.

"Go buy yourself a new gas cap," he tells me. "You have 60 days to retry your vehicle."

Except I don't have 60 days. It's the 6th of August. I have today.

It's raining now, so I drive over to an auto parts store near my house. Apart from the termites, the buyers want my air conditioner checked out. They're not sure about the air flow, not sure about the ducts. I wonder how the rain is going to affect the A/C tech on my roof. I wonder if he's going to fail my house the way emissions testing failed my car.

The guy at the auto parts store wants to know if I want a gas cap that locks. "No," I tell him. "Just one that doesn't leak."

He asks about the car. I tell him it's a Honda Civic and give him the year.  He asks me which one. "Which one what?" He wants to know if it's a CX, DX, EX, EXR, HX, LX, etc. You know, like I'm an idiot, like I forgot my anniversary or my kid's birthday.

I go out in the rain and stare at the rear of my car. When I come back inside, I tell him it's an EX.

The new cap costs $11. I drive back to the emissions place.  The tech who helped me is eating a sandwich. Another guy is laughing. Four lanes have been reduced to one.  

I get in line and wait.  When my turn comes, I hand the guy my paperwork, show him my receipt for the gas cap. He nods.

Two minutes later: pass.

I'm free to go about my business.

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