A visit to my dealership on a cold, drizzly autumn day
|I had to take my car to the dealership for service.
Today in the Heart of Carolina it’s the type of day that gives autumn a bad name. Leaden clouds suspended in pewter skies blot out the eye’s memory of the colors blue, and yellow. Late-term pregnant rain drops belie the low fifties temperature, shape-shifting as they tumble earthward, threatening to morph into sleet before splatting wetly against the windshield. Lemon-colored leaves, premature casualties in the clash of the seasons, lie like footprints on the cold asphalt. Westerly winds whisper “winter” as they exhale past my ear.
I steer my vehicle into the sprawling “Auto Mall” paralleling the four-lane highway and up to the service entrance of the dealership. The heavy, crenulated metal door, lowered against the inclement weather, rises slowly, revealing the spotlessly clean, empty bowels of the service bay entrance. I pull up to the designated spot, exit the car with my key dangling from the ignition lock, making sure not to reflexively lock the door. I tell the service writer what needs to be done, then walk on the battleship gray floor to a beige steel utility door that leads past the switchboard and the coffee machine and the customer rest rooms and into the showroom.
The “customer lounge” is a dimly-lit triangle in the corner of the showroom with a half dozen overstuffed vinyl chairs like the kind you used to find in banks. There’s a big floor console television tuned to “The Rachael Ray Show” with the volume down low and nobody watching. On one side of me is a friendly, earth-mother type in charcoal sweater and slacks. Her daughter is playing in a small glass-enclosed room filled with generic plastic toys behind the popcorn warmer. On the other side of me is a young, thin, professional-looking woman reading a book and checking the gold watch on her wrist every few minutes. The fireplace against the back wall has logs piled inside but no fire is present. The cavernous showroom is uncomfortably cool.
At a desk on the sales floor across from the lounge a solitary salesman sits reading a newspaper. The weather has discouraged “lookie-Lous” from wandering through the small display lot; is it the weather that’s kept shoppers from the showroom as well? I open the novel I had put in my shoulder bag and try to read by the dim glow of the track lighting.
The service writer comes into the lounge after a while and gives me the estimate for the repairs on my vehicle. I nod, reluctantly approving a bill I can barely afford, and go back to my book. A second salesman walks into the showroom, to the desk where his colleague is sitting. Some inconsequential chatter, then the first guy half-speaks, half-sings:
Ever since I was a young boy,
I’ve played the silver ball.
From Soho down to Brighton
I must’ve played them all.
But I ain’t seen nothin’ like him
in any amusement hall.
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
sure plays a mean pinball.
“What’s that from?”
“Pinball Wizard… Tommy… The Who.”
“Oh.” The second salesman clearly doesn’t have a clue.
A chapter or two later, the service writer comes back out to let me know my car’s finished. I go to the switchboard area which doubles as the cashier’s, settle my bill, and walk out to my car. It’s not in the covered service bay like usual. They’ve parked it outside, in the damp, dreary drizzle. They don’t seem to care as much as they used to.
The place is a funeral parlor with dozens of corpses.
It’s a Saturn dealership—land of the living dead.
They’re not even listed in the Auto Mall’s website anymore.