Pay it Forward can be a bitch

I had brake problems and took my car to a local shop. $573 later I tried pulling out of strip mall they’re located in and my car’s engine simply stopped running. A mechanic came out to see what the problem was and, an hour later, came back and said that everything came back pointing to a bad Engine Control Module (ECM), but they are expensive and he’d keep looking for something else. At my request the manager looked up a price on the net and found that NAPA would only rebuild the one I sent in, and it cost about $300. I said I’d try to find one and called my wife to pick me up.

While I waited for her I closed my car’s hood and windows, but another mechanic came out to check it out. At this point I felt like I was in an episode of House with people trying to out-diagnose each other.

At home I hit the net. I found replacement ECMs ranging from $85 for “pulls” (taken from junked cars) and $130 for remanufactured units. Not nearly so bad, and the shipping was cheap or even free. For the first time ever with a car in the shop I slept soundly, assured that the solution was easy and fairly cheap.

The next morning I called the shop and told them what I found. “Give us a couple more hours to figure this one out,”

“Er, I’m not interested in paying more shop hours while you guys diagnose this.”

“Oh, no, we won’t charge you! This is a mystery.”

“In that case, knock yourself out, but I’ll have the part by Saturday.”

Then it dawned on me: I live in Chicagoland, one of the largest municipal regions on Earth. I should be able to meet or beat any internet price with a quick strol through the Yellow Pages. And by the third call I had. He wanted me to pay up front, but that was only reasonable.

I hopped in my wife’s car and paid for the part. Instead of it taking two days, the guy said he’d have it the next morning. This shows the bonds that can grow between two fat guys who used to own Datsun 510s.

Such a successful excursion deserved a reward so I stopped at the Long John Silver’s around the corner for a side of clam strips. When I came to the window the cashier claimed it was no-charge, but wouldn’t explain why. I mean, I know that I get along especially well with thick, middle-aged, black women, but this was a first.

My hand still full of the money I was going to pay for my snack, I pulled back onto the street. At the light a fellow was collecting for some cause and, the filthy lucre burning a hole in my hand, I threw it into his bucket and waved away the proffered lollipop. Paying it forward was complete, as far as I was concerned, and I didn’t need to worry about it anymore.

I went back the next day, picked up the ECM, and dropped it at the shop. They were unable to install it late Thursday (none of us expected I’d get the part so quickly), but by Friday afternoon it was installed and my car was running. I went in to pay my bill.

“No, you gave us a lot for your brakes and we won’t charge you for this.”

“But your guys spent HOURS on my car.”

“It was an education for them.”

So NOW I have a couple-hundred bucks of Pay it Forward hanging over my head. Pay it Forward is a bitch.

Well, okay. Sigh. I will let you give it to me, if it will make you feel better. Jeez, the things I will do for other people- I’m rather selfless and generous. Email me for my address.

Actually, I was thinking of dropping off donuts or a pizza and calling it square.

People only do nice things for my cat - in, like, two days the emergency vet refused to charge me for examining him and then the regular vet refused to charge me for that pill-down-the-throat gun. It’s his sweet nature, I guess.

Hey, you too?

In his defense, his was a 2-door sedan with a Mazda Wankel motor while mine was a puke-colored wagon with the stock 1600 and the god-awful Borg-Warner automatic. We could only connect on the spiritual plane because his was stolen and I got $25 from a junkyard for mine.

Hey, you too? High school, not mine, but I spent a lot of time in it. Puke colored wagon, we skillsawed most of the roof off at one point, and wired a full home stereo system into it, including turntable.

Today, without your “improvements,” it might be worth something to the 510 people.

In 1976? Underpowered, underweight, and with that slushbox trans? Best car in the snow I ever owned.