It was going to be the best one yet. That next Suzuki. It was to be our third vehicle branded with a big silver S. Personally it would be a chance to underscore my brilliance once again in hopes that like water on stone; the happy accidents that festoon all the trails I walk would make some discernible tracings on the obsidian common sense possessed by my wife. Here is some background on my relationship with Suzy.
After obtaining my second divorce on only thirty-four years on the planet, I found myself driving a beat-up dusty Volkswagen Van. It had no heater, questionable brakes, an insatiable appetite for clutch cables and a not so secret desire to help the mechanic down on Main St. retire early. Eventually I came to my senses and divorced that Teutonic embarrassment. I watched with a smile and proudly folded arms as the tow driver hauled its arthritic carcass far, far away.
I had been without wheels many times in my life and never found it that disconcerting especially when living in any urban area and gainfully employed. Houston and Baton Rouge excepted. In those two locations having a vehicle is not an option as it is in Vancouver and most Canadian cities. After a brief withdrawal, less intense than one would experience say when the video store across the street goes belly-up, I would always rally and become a transit riding fool, rent cars when needed and many times, cover more ground than before when I was in the driver’s seat.
A big part of my reasoning at that particular time was due to the fact I was going to have to pay out about fifteen years of child support. I had no qualms about doing this because the birth my first son was a planned and welcomed event. I hadn’t planned on nor welcomed the disharmonious relationship that had gone into free-fall soon afterwards.
I re-married when I was legally and emotionally disentangled and in possession of my gumption once again. Within a year I was the proud Papa of another blessed son. As my wife and I slowly moved from our first third floor walk up apartment in New Westminster to a succession of slightly larger and more well appointed apartments, I did some calculations.
As it turned out, I was amazed to find out that when all costs incurred by owning a car were considered and averaged to the month, that amount was equal within tens of dollars to what I was paying in child support. Thus, I reckoned that if we simply gave up having a vehicle that the money saved would practically exactly offset the extra expense of my child support. In this way, our new three person lifestyle as dictated by my mail man’s salary would be the same as if I had never divorced and was the breadwinner of my original family of three. I was motivated by not wanting my new family to suffer for my past miscalculations. It was nascent bobcat logic and it became our way of life for the next ten years.
My wife worked a variety of jobs and I tried working two full-time jobs for about six months. I carried mail from 6:30 to 3:00 and then slept in a booth till 4:00 at the Premier Café on Main and Broadway. The waitress would wake me to grab my bus back to New West and I would work in the kitchen of a restaurant at the New West Quay till 1:00. I’d be home at 2:00 and off to bed by 3:00. After paying my income tax that year, I saw the folly of my ways and stuck to just doing my post office gig. We provided daycare for two and sometimes three little boys which kept my son as busy and entertained as it did my wife. I got to enjoy a few hours with the gang each afternoon when I rolled in from the Skytrain. My wife had already raised a half dozen baby boys to adulthood by the time she had her own and she was a natural. It was like watching a horse whisperer. None of the little fellows wanted to leave when their parents came to carry them home.
I always approached by the back door of my ground floor apartment as it was near to the kitchen. One sunny day I encountered a biker-type dude setting on a folding chair in the back alley of our Agnes St. apartment. Right smack in the middle of where I had to walk. He regarded my postie uniform and asked me if I’d like to make some real money. He said he had been watching me work like an ant for about a year. I had never met him and asked him what exactly he had in mind. He said it would be pretty similar to what he figured I already did for Canada Post, that is, delivering the odd package to the odd place.
On the roof of the apartment complex across the alley, a herd of young skinheads had cranked up their music and begun to dive into some serious Wednesday afternoon drinking. I looked again at my prospective employer. He was about forty-five years old and wore an immaculate white tee-shirt, immaculate faded blue jeans and military spit-polished Doc Watson’s. He had an expensive haircut, clean nails, good teeth and a perfectly trimmed beard. I saw in my minds eye the perfect father figure to captain the crystal meth playpen on that rooftop of fatherless boys. I told him no but thanks anyhow for thinking of me and he folded up his lawn chair and gave me that look that father’s sometimes cast upon their sons. The one that says, “I’m not angry boy, I’m just disappointed in you.” He waddled back to his wolf-pack and I went in to greet Nisa’s boys.
There was Joey who always remarked that his little “yeggs” were tired from walking up and down the riverside hills of New West. His Chinese Mom kept a big turtle as a pet in a large tank in her kitchen. There was Terrance. His Brazilian Mom was always sleepy and late to pick him up. He had an incredible blond afro halo of hair and loved nothing better than sitting on his “manky” and drinking “chocomomo” from a sippy cup. My youngest, Miggy, liked to watch the “mototatos” rumble down the alley, bang on an old guitar and blow on the harmonica. My eldest, Daniel, liked to catch ants outside between the buildings and see the “hellcoppers” fly by. There was Samuel, the little Finn. Joey called him Namu and it stuck. His Scandinavian mother left orders for my wife to have him nap outdoors in the winter to acclimatize him to the cold. He was a robust, cheerful little man.
Once I brought a soccer ball home and when he saw it he did a dribble across the living room floor that had me wondering if his father was actually Diego Maradona. When his Mom picked him up that night and I told her about it, she said his grandfather had been a professional in the old country. He was so small they hadn’t given him a ball yet and I suggested it was now indeed time. As I write this I am aware that these little guys are very possibly fathers themselves by now. May the Great Spirit hold them in the hollow of his hand.
We walked and we walked. We bused and we bused. We dragged dozens grocery bags and babies up from Columbia St. At the time we all had legs like tree-trunks and hearts like hammers, including the little ones. Once I scored a big old Weber barbecue in Vancouver from a customer and ferried it home on the Skytrain. One joker said that if the train broke down he’d donate the meat if I’d light her up. A pretty young lady held up a six pack of vodka coolers. I carried Christmas trees, live birds and fifty pound sacks of rice on that New West run. Fortunately this was before the advent of i-phones and Facebook pages.
Days, months and years passed. Boys got tall and my beard started having more salt than pepper. One day my wife told me that in her considered opinion and expert calculations that we could now indeed afford the luxury of a car. I was skeptical at first but soon came to the same conclusion after running the numbers. I told her I would research what was out there to be had and what had changed in the past ten years that we had been without a private vehicle.
During this time and for some time preceding, the Suzuki Corporation had been conducting a rare TV commercial blitz on the Canadian broadcasts. The plots were usually the same. A family group out in a pristine wilderness, grooving to some funky tunes, diving off cliffs into swimming holes and turtling up impossible inclines. Then there was the classic Wolf Boy. The slogan at the time was something like, “You belong outdoors.” Much like last week’s, “Never sit still.” I am here to tell ya’ll that the first one worked on me like a charm back then but the latter one wouldn’t move me off my porch. I’ll sit still all I want, thank you very much.
Turned out that after a careful review of all the available vehicles within our price range and our desire to belong outdoors, Suzuki won fairly and squarely. The quality of their boat and motorcycle engines was an added reason to trust this outfit and their prices compared to the similar SUVs of the time (which were the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4) were hard to argue with. I had been saving all the money from my junk mail deliveries for four years and this supplemented by other savings we had garnered was enough to pay cash for a lovely little four cylinder Suzuki Vitara. It had four-wheel shift on the fly which I preferred to the chip-controlled sensors for the other two candidates.
We had already moved closer to my workplace and were now ensconced near 41st and Main. My youngest son had only been in a car two or three times in his life and insisted that I drive him to school several blocks away to show the other kids. I understood and we proceeded the four blocks down a stately row of sycamore trees to Van Horne Elementary along which route he did the Royal wave with great pleasure like little Lord Fauntleroy.
It had a steel skid plate underneath to protect the gas tank from tree stumps and rocks. We bought a slew of camping gear at the Three Vets and started to really get into it. I washed, waxed and detailed the little red wagon whether it needed it or not. Once there was a slight problem of worn out bearings. As it predictably turned out, this was discovered several days after the warranty on these parts had expired. My friends at North Shore Suzuki made some calls and managed to fix them for free. There were no other problems with that vehicle except the time I parked under a horse-chestnut tree once and lost the windshield.
One day I went into the lunch room at the Mountainview Letter carrier depot on 6th & Yukon. Someone had left an interesting article on one of the tables and as I ate my adobong pusit, rice, apples and oranges; I read with growing interest. The article was the very first precursor to the Peak Oil myth. Some of the personages quoted within had bona fide oilman names like T. Boone Pickens and others were hyphenated experts on economics, the environment and transportation.
Maybe I was tired, maybe I was mentally exhausted from translating my web-site into three languages to the wee hours each night for the past year or so. At any rate, when I finished the article, I was bought, sold and headed down the river of fear, convinced that everyone else was wrong. On the way home from work I started to see all the vehicles on the road as if they were dinosaurs who had no inkling of their coming demise. As time went on, the feeling intensified. The rising insurance and fuel prices added to my anxiety. I figured for once, I’d stay ahead, well ahead of the curve of the inevitable. I reasoned that the sooner I ditched my wheels, the faster my family would adjust.
I told my wife and children and researched how much my Suzuki was worth on the open market. It was at this time I learned that a vehicle has a three thousand dollar spread between its trade-in and its private sale value. So, private sale it was. I have enough Scandinavian blood to find haggling in the marketplace abhorrent. Sellers should dispense with the bullshit and tag their wares with fair prices in the first instance, if they are proud to sell them. Buyers should not infer that their merchants are less than honest by questioning the tagged prices. It would have been well for me to have been born in Norway or Sweden several hundred years ago, for such is my natural inclination when buying or selling.
I wanted a fast sale, so I took about a thousand dollars off the fair price, printed a copy of the B. C. price guide and made an ad showing that this discount had been already applied and that the price was non-negotiable as a result. Did this work on the non-Vikings that came calling for test drives? Not at all. One Russian guy came three times and had me drive him up and down mountains to see what she could do and then complained that it didn’t have an air-conditioner. I finally told him he was a wimp of a Cossack and to go home. A Gujarati guy from Africa had me drive him to his house so his children and wife could sit inside and see if they liked the seats. I eventually sold it to him and even gave a slight discount on top of that already built in as he insisted that it was just contrary to his nature, upbringing and spirit to buy it otherwise.
It didn’t take too long after that for me to realize I had been had. There was a Welshman on my route that became interested in this story and had me bring him the original article. He was a private detective and was able to trace up all kinds of connections to reveal an entire planned campaign, designed to alter the way people thought about vehicles, fuel and transportation in general. Over time we discovered other bullshit campaigns to affect changes in how people banked, invested, ate food and just about any other human activity you could think of. I didn’t become cynical as a result of these rude awakenings but I did become about as easy as a coyote to get close enough to cheat in any way.
My wife bore all this nonsense with great dignity but did remind me from time to time of my folly. The twin towers came down, Patriot Acts got signed along with trade agreements, omnibus bills and treaties too numerous to count were entered into by groups of seven, groups of ten, groups of four and groups of three. Schools were shot up, animals were tagged and cameras were put in place. Some of these things went on out of sight and some were thrust upon the public. Therein lies a great clue as to which ones were bogus. Between researching on my computer at home, speed reading thousands of articles at the post office as well as my reading at home and talking to a myriad of folks daily from all over the globe, I found many more things to be concerned about of far greater magnitude than whether or not I drove a car.
My wife approached me while I was writing on my computer one day and asked me to go to the Suzuki website. I did so and she said to click on the little SX4. I did and she said to click on the little copper colored one. I did. She dropped a heavy envelope of cash on my keyboard and said, “Add to this Pop and we have enough to buy that one.” She was right.
I proudly parked it out back of our apartment and two days later a windstorm tore the rolled on roof off the building next door. The fly-by-nighters who installed it had decided that they could save some time and money by not using any fasteners. It first rolled into a tube weighing several tons and then flew off to just miss crushing the little copper car by several yards. I drove that second Suzy to San Diego to break in the engine on I-5. Along the way I saw all the military facilities that Bill Clinton and his successors had closed up.
One big Navy base in California was sold to COSCO or the China Overseas Shipping Company. It had a big gate and was off limits to US citizens. I wondered what they were bringing in besides 99 cent flyswatters and plastic dishes. I regarded the man-made water trough that tried to supply the thirsty plants, animals, swimming pools and people of L. A. It looked completely fragile and hopeful at best. I visited an old friend I hadn’t seen since I was twelve years old in Louisiana. He is a computer programmer and as smart, capable and friendly as they come.
I couldn’t tarry so I headed back North within 48 hours to see my son star in a school play. When I was climbing up the hills from L. A. to drop down into the San Fernando Valley, there was a freakish snowstorm and the little Suzy darted up and around all the six lanes of skidding Californians with the speed and accuracy of a rabbit. When I was next at the Suzuki dealer for an oil change I told the mechanic that I was so happy to have broken in the engine on such a long straight road as Highway 5. I had always been told that this would greatly lengthen the lifetime of a motor compared to a city bound break-in. He smiled like a Buddha and politely told me that I needn’t have done so as all modern cars are broken in prior to arriving at the dealerships. I slapped my forehead and said, “What’ll they think of next?”
When I knew we were moving to Lillooet, it became obvious that we’d need a bigger vehicle. I had a stroke of brilliance and decided that for the first time in my life, I’d use an auto broker to save me some money. I sold the SX4 to North Shore Suzuki and found a suitable broker on Main St. near my workplace. He was a friendly east Indian gentleman and after I told him I wanted a four cylinder, standard transmission Grand Vitara, he located four of these and negotiated a good price for me. I had undercoating, paint protection, snow mats, window trim and mud flaps added to the package.
We waited with great anticipation for the blessed day he had promised. Every time I phoned to inquire after that date had passed, I would be told, “It vill be ready definitely on Vensday. Bun hundred por tant! If not ready Vensday, definitely on Friday. Guaranteed, bun hundred por tant!”
This went on for about a month after the promised time and it became an in-joke at the post office when customers asked about their wayward packages.
Finally, the day came and it was raining cats and dogs when I went to pick up the new blue Suzy. I dropped a huge envelope of cash on the man’s desk and he looked at me with some surprise. This quickly changed to a knowing wink mixed in with some fatherly pride. Like the guy in the Lincoln commercial, I didn’t do it to be cool, I just liked to see the people’s faces when I did.
Within two days some idiots had dented and dinged it where it was parked at night behind the building I lived in. When my wife and I drove up to our trailer in December that year to fix some things up prior to my retirement, the oil light came on in Hope. I waited a bit and as the engine was purring like a kitten, I reckoned it was some malfunctioning computer chip and cautiously came on into Lillooet. The next morning when I checked the oil level at minus six Celsius, the reading was a quarter inch over the top limit.
I was perplexed and concerned. I decided to hazard a try back to Vancouver. It drove fine after some trouble getting it going. I dropped it off at North Shore Suzuki with a note and took a bus home. At home I wrote a long e-mail to the Suzuki family in Japan, the auto broker and the dealership in Langley where the vehicle had been prepped. I looked up the LinkedIn profiles of each man and from there was able to get the phone numbers of the cells that they carried in their pockets on the golf courses and actually answered.
Each e-mail contained the full contact information of each other man and the accurate description of what had happened. I also read up on the potential damage done by such elevated oil pressure which can cause havoc years into the future of the engine’s life. I identified myself as an avid Suzuki enthusiast who had purchased three of the vehicles and paid cash each time. I mentioned that I had a website, was a mailman and talked to thousands of people every day. The over all tone of my letter communicated an old fatherly favorite. You know, the one that says, “I’m not angry boy, I’m just disappointed in you.”
I tried to phone the dealer in Langley and he had his secretary trained to keep me at bay. When I promised to come in person and wait for him, he was magically found. He told me that he had been ordered by his bosses not to speak to me or deal with me. He said the whole affair had been given over to North Shore Suzuki although they were innocent of any involvement.
When I phoned those guys, I was told that the phone lines had been burning for days from back east and from Japan. I was informed that Suzuki was shipping a brand new engine from Japan and that when it arrived a single mechanic would be tasked with installing it. I thanked them and when the job was done I brought that man a Black Forest Cake in lieu of a bottle of Scotch. I never found out exactly what had occurred but the popular theories were that a robotic arm that drilled ports might have been slightly out of calibration. This necessitated the shutting down of the whole line of production to check and to correct.
I had to wait a long time but in the end, I felt I had been treated fairly and I was dismayed to find out that Mitsubishi had taken over operations in Canada. The parts will be available locally for ten years from the change. I received a letter last month that the gear-shift linkage for my year and model has been recalled and I am eagerly awaiting that adventure. As one of their slogans predicts, “It’s a way of life.” I’m now wondering if a horse and cart might be better in the long run from here on. After all, Lillooet's Main St. is wide enough to turn a rig around.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.