“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”-Chinese Proverb
Six weeks after the Dodgers game a mysterious email pops up in my inbox that simply reads, “Call me immediately with regards to the 2000 Mazda Millenia, Kerri.”
Who the hell is Kerri?
I don’t recognize the name, phone number or generic gmail account the message came from.
My heart sinks and I think what now?
I skeptically dial the number and brace for the worst as I wait for Kerri to pick up.
From Haifa or not, it turns out Idan was a sleazy used car salesman after all. I must have called and emailed him a hundred times after my car blew up and I never once heard back. Call me crazy, but I think that when you sell a car to someone and it blows up less than thirty miles from the dealership the least you can do is say sorry (even if you don’t mean it).
But this feels more like a reflection of United States lately than Idan. It seems like the country is beginning to unravel at its seems this summer. Every time I turn on the news I see something more horrifying than the last. And that’s not to mention all the chaos that’s surrounding Donald Trump and his bid to become our next President. Between him officially running for office as the Republican nominee and all the ugly bickering back and forth from the other side, I feel embarrassed to call this country my own.
Plus, no one seems very happy here at the moment and everyone’s heads are buried so deep into their phones that I’ve felt more foreign here than almost anywhere else. I don’t remember it being like this two years ago before I left, but maybe I’m just naïve and this whole shady used car situation has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
As Kerri’s phone rings and rings I can’t help but to wonder if anyone actually cares about anyone else anymore.
But as it turns out Kerri actually does. In a strange twist of fate she’s decided to come to my rescue. She’s in charge of pushing through all of Idan’s legal paperwork and she must have seen one of the ten billion emails I sent him where I was pleading my case to get some of my money back. She decided to take it upon herself and replied to me on her own.
Her voice is soft and sweet and she tells me that through an incredible used car-buying loophole that I miraculously might be able to get my two thousand dollars back for the car. She says that all I have to do is get the car to the Manheim Auction House in Anaheim (which is where Idan initially bought the car) by 3PM tomorrow.
This seems so odd, so far-fetched, that a used car company employee would go rogue and actually offer up a refund that I can’t help but wonder what the catch is. With my phone pressed up against my ear with one hand I scratch my head in disbelief with the other. This has got to be the first time in human history that anything like this has ever happened. Trying to get money back from a used car company is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.
Kerri goes on to explain that Idan never got the title from the Manheim Auction House because Tom, the guy who originally owned the car, never turned the title over to the auction house like he was supposed to. This is why Idan still hasn’t gotten the title to me, which if you’ve been reading along, is the same title that I’m supposed to get to Carlos, the mechanic I sold the car to when it died six weeks back.
Apparently there’s some sort of time limit in California as to how long someone has to turn the title over once they’ve sold their car. And Tom’s about to exceed that limit. He has until tomorrow at 3PM to get the title to the auction house.
Here lies the catch: Kerri says that Tom’s been notified by the auction house that he needs to bring the title to them by tomorrow and that it’s now basically become a race between Tom and I.
If he can get the title to the auction house before I can get the car there, then he gets to keep the money he made from selling his car at the auction and I don’t get my refund. But, if I can beat him there with the car and simultaneously beat the 3PM deadline, then I’ll be the one who gets the money in the form of an arbitration check.
My head starts spinning because of all the moving parts. Not only do I know nothing about cars, but I also don’t have the slightest clue about anything banking or finance related.
Kerri then asks me the million-dollar question, which is, “where’s the car?”
I reply after a sigh that stretches on forever, “I have no idea. I sold it to a mechanic named Carlos in San Moreno for fifty bucks the day the engine died.”
Kerri lets out an exasperated sigh of her own, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What did you want me to do? The auto body shop pushed it out into the street and I had no choice.”
“Can you get it back from the mechanic you sold it to?”
“No clue, he told me he was going to take the engine out and try to fix it. I know he wanted to sell the tires too. Does it need to be running for me to get my money back?”
“No, but the engine needs to at least be in the car for God’s sake. You just have to get it to the auction house and find a woman that works there named Jessica. Just tell her that you bought it from Idan like that.”
Kerri then asks me where I am, which oddly enough happens to be Pasadena, which is just an hour outside of San Moreno and kind of close to the auction house in Anaheim. I could have been anywhere in the United States when she emailed me, literally. I’d made it as far east as Denver a few weeks ago but then I decided to backtrack and head back out west because I signed a month-long contract with GreenTree Hotels.
I’ve been traveling around to their four hotels in Arizona and California and creating films and photos for their website which they are revamping. This is the last week of our deal and it just so happened to bring me back out to the Los Angeles area because they just bought and rebranded the Old Pasadena Inn.
So serendipitously enough, I just so happened to be back within sixty miles of where the whole fiasco started, which makes getting my money back just that much more possible.
Kerri gives me the address of the auction house in Anaheim and tells me that the decision is mine to make. She ends the call by saying that she’s going to let Jessica know that I’m coming tomorrow just in case I happen to show up.
I hang up the phone and stare down at the piece of paper I scribbled the address on and quickly weigh my options.
Do I try to get the car back from Carlos and have it towed all the way to Anaheim without knowing if Tom’s going to beat me there with the title? Or do I just bite the bullet and swallow the two thousand-dollar loss and move on with my life?
I quickly do the math. It’s probably going to cost me a couple hundred bucks to hire a tow truck and then I’ll also have to buy the car back from Carlos, and that’s assuming he even still has it and is willing to sell it. So it’s entirely possible that I could actually lose even more money on this hunk of junk if I decide to re-buy the car and tow it to Anaheim only to find out that Tom’s beat me there with the title.
I wish there was some way to know where Tom was and if he’s going to deliver the title before I can get the car there. But there isn’t.
As I pace around my hotel room I think about one of my favorite quotes, it’s one of the ones that I always think about anytime I’m about to make a big decision. Geena Davis once said, “If you risk nothing, you risk everything.”
She’s so right. I didn’t quit my job and try to transform my life and come this far to now sit back and suddenly play it safe. All the best moments of my journey are when I push all my chips to the center of the table and go all in. Because even the times I’ve failed when doing so, I’ve actually gained so much.
I crack an excited smile and call out to my empty room, “Tom, you better be one tough son of a bitch because the race is on!”
Enthusiasm shoots across my body. There’s nothing like that initial rush of blood when you feel inspired by something. But I’m quick to harness it and get down to business because I’ve got less than 24 hours until the 3PM deadline and who knows where Tom is right now. For all I know he could already be on his way to the auction house.
The first thing on my to-do list is to track down Carlos, but I have no way to get in touch with him. All I have is a photocopy of his driver’s license. He has such a common last name that when I search the white pages online, over fifty matches come back and none of them match the address on his license so it’s impossible to know which is the Carlos I’m looking for.
It then dawns on me to call Moreno Valley Collision, which is where he works. So after a quick search online for their phone number, I’m back speaking to the shop’s Jordanian owner, Yaseen. I ask him if he can put Carlos on the phone, but he’s quick to tell me that Carlos isn’t working today.
“Of course he isn’t,” I say.
Before Yaseen hangs up on me I beg him to give me Carlos’s phone number, which after some convincing he finally does.
Of course Carlos doesn’t answer when I call him and of course the voice mail on his cell phone isn’t set up so I can’t even leave a message. I start to anxiously pace around my hotel room while wondering if I’m making the right decision.
Do I really want to go through with this after all?
So many things have to go right in order for me to get my money back that it seems nearly impossible. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos has already taken the engine out of the car and sold all the tires anyway. I simply can’t return a car without tires or an engine in it.
I try Carlos’s phone all night. Again and again and again, but still no answer.
I decide to give it one final shot and I call him around midnight right before I go bed. I flip the nightstand light off and let the phone ring and ring across the darkness of my room.
On the tenth ring someone picks up and says, “Hola.”
I sit up, flip the light on and leap out of bed, “Carlos, buddy, its me, Eric!” I gasp, “The tall guy from a few weeks back. You bought my Mazda Millenia for 50 bucks.”
“Oh hey man. I’m still waiting on that title you promised me.”
I then launch into the whole spiel about how I haven’t gotten the title yet and that I can get my money back for the car if I can somehow get it to an auction house in Anaheim before this guy named Tom gets there tomorrow with the title.
Nearly breathless by now I say, “Please tell me that you haven’t taken out the engine yet?”
“Yeah I’ve already taken it out, its sitting next to the car, but I haven’t started working on it yet.”
I nervously ask, “Well could you put it back in?”
“Yeah, but why?”
“Well I’d like to buy the car back from you?”
Carlos’s tone changes. He immediately knows he has me up against a wall here. I’m sure he can tell from the desperation in my voice how badly I want the car back and how much it’s worth to me.
“Well I’d have to put the engine back in tonight, which is a lot of work,” he says as he pretends to stress. “So, if you pay me for the time and labor maybe we could come up with a deal.”
I sold the car to Carlos for $50 so I offer him double and he counters with double that.
I kick myself as I take the deal. I can’t believe I just agreed to pay $200 for a car that’s been nothing but a headache since day one.
What am I thinking?
Carlos tells me to meet him at Yaseen’s auto body shop tomorrow morning and that once I give him the money then he’ll tell me where the car’s at.
After we hang up I call a tow truck company that’s based in San Moreno Valley and tell them that I’ll need a tow tomorrow morning, which the dispatcher estimates is going to run me around another two hundred bucks. I feel like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit. Between buying the car, all the repairs, the three tow tucks and now having to re-buy it back at an inflated price, I’m in well over $3,000 for this lemon.
But as I climb into bed and turn the lights off, it now becomes about the principal of the thing. I’m going to get my money back come hell or high water.