Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wham, Bam, No Thank You Ma’am

My car has been a target for other drivers, collisions, and general annoyances. It started with the Annual Tune-Up And Parting Of Large Sums Of Money. They are supposed to change the oil and follow a checklist in the Owner’s Manual, which is in Slovak, so I can’t really read it. I did get new wiper blades, I noticed.

So, the first Bad Thing that happened was that I got rear-ended on my way to the French school to drop off Eldest Daughter. No damage and the perp was French, which somehow made me less annoyed with him. The street, which has a significant downhill slope, was extremely icy that morning and had been untouched by local salt trucks (no self-respecting Bratislava salt truck driver would think of hitting the streets before 7:45 a.m.). The poor fellow was apparently doing everything in his power to keep from ramming the back of my car. I didn’t even see him back there, sweating and cursing in French, until I felt the odd sensation that I had just driven over a large chuckhole.

We delivered our kids to their respective classes and called the Traffic Police, who arrived, about 30 minutes later, in a van, but as if they were driving the General Lee or perhaps whatever Starsky and Hutch drove. They skidded into a parking space and practically hopped out through the windows. They refused to help us with the paperwork, claiming that they would be obliged to charge us some exorbitant amount in order to do their jobs. So, we did it ourselves.

Shortly after this, on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon when Ron was out of town, I parked in a city parking garage. When I returned, the car was dead. Nothing. Would not start. I called my good friend, British Restaurateur, and we examined the problem, but decided it was beyond our means and left the car there. On Sunday, we returned with jumper cables, tried to start it, but again were unsuccessful. Monday I was supposed to drive to Vienna to meet Mother-in-Law as she arrived from the US for an impromptu, but welcome visit. I finally got hold of the dealer on Monday afternoon and was informed that their usual towing guy would contact me the following morning.

Towing Guy apparently had some sort of medical emergency, as he was unavailable until late Tuesday afternoon. Further, the garage ceiling was too low for a standard tow truck. So he, Slovak style, tied a rope to my front bumper and pulled my car to the dealer. I couldn’t watch. The garage, very kindly, was unable to deal with my parking fee and just waved us through.

The problem turned out to be some sort of clogged air valve. Solved for about $20. Now why they did not discover this during the Annual Tune Up, which was barely two weeks before, is beyond me.

A few days later, with Mother-in-Law in the car, I turned into Younger Daughter’s school parking lot to find the entrance blocked by another driver. He seemed to be waiting for a parking space, so I sat, patiently, behind him, until I realized, to my horror, that he had his car in reverse.

He was not waiting for a parking spot IN the lot, but was preparing to park along the curb of the parking lot entrance. He threw that bad boy into reverse and slammed backwards into me before I had time to do anything other than curse. I saw something small fly up during the impact.

We both exited our cars and examined the damage. His car seemed fine. Mine seemed fine. He shook my hand enthusiastically and said “Everything OKAY!” and then went back to his car and resumed parking.

I was sure I had seen something fly. So after I delivered Youngest Child to class, I looked at my car again and, sure enough, there was a chunk missing from my grille. Backing Guy was gone, but his car was not. I wrote down his license number and went back inside the school, with Mother-in-Law, to find someone to help me call the police.

First attempt: Police tell us to call my insurance company. If the adjuster reports an appropriate amount of damage, the police will come out.

Second attempt: We call insurance company. They laugh and say, “That’s not how it works! Tell the police to make a report and then come see us. Bring the report.”

Third attempt: We call police again. This time they tell us “You must call us first. The Traffic Police van will be there shortly.”

Traffic Police van does not make such a spectacular entrance this time. They are serious and professional. They Breathalyze me. They raise an eyebrow at my American driver’s license.

“Look,” I explain. “I have asked about getting a Slovak driver’s license. I would PREFER a Slovak driver’s license, as it is good for life and an EU driver’s license. But I have been told I am not a permanent resident and therefore am not eligible.”

“Who told you that?” they ask.

“Today I got two completely different responses from your office regarding how to deal with this accident,” I reply. “So I think it is possible that I have gotten incorrect information in the past from official sources, no?”

They concede. I promise to investigate the driver’s license thing and to change the address on my registration (since I moved in August).

Next Mother-in-Law and I visit the insurance company. At first, my attempts to receive service are rebuffed by Customer Service Lady. There is nowhere for the Damned to sit in I Want to Make a Claim Office. You must cluster outside the door and wait your turn. Then you stand next to the desk of the next available Customer Service rep. Today there seems to be only one.

“Good morning,” I say in my bad Slovak. “I have car problem. I am sorry. I don’t speak Slovak.” I hold out my police report hopefully.

“Too bad,” she replied. “Only Slovak.” She makes to turn away from me.

“Hey!” I resort to English. “I just paid my 2006 premium. Big money. I am good customer. Who can help me!”

I assume a look of I’m Not Moving. She picks up the phone and two nice young women from another department are dispatched to deal with me. They inform me that I am to call them if I’m not treated nicely in the future.

Believe me, I will.

Car goes back to dealer the following Monday where it remains until THURSDAY! I insist on a loaner. They provide one (I must pay for it, but the price is reasonable), but I don’t think I have ever driven such a stripped down car. Nothing is power. No radio. No remote entry. Must use key to manually lock or unlock all doors except back hatch, which will only open with a lever by driver’s seat. No HUBCAPS! At first, the children think it is cute, but eventually even they start referring to it as the Merde Car.

I celebrate when my noisy, diesel tank is returned to me.


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