They say you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. In theory, I agree. Life is not always lived in the theoretical realm, however. Like recently when my super awesomely generous parents gave our “Clark Kent” a used Tahoe.

How cool is it that our kids get their hand-me-down cars? I can answer that, as the parent who has avoided the expense and hassle of used car shopping: ummmmm, wellllll, hmmmmm 🙂 it’s been interesting.

The first hand-me-down car came to Liz before her senior year in high school. It was a car I had wanted for myself a few years ago, a sweet little maroon Jeep Liberty. It’s a great car.

There’s another hand-me-down planned for next year. Susanne is slated (shh, don’t tell her yet) to get her grandfather’s Chevy Silverado truck, which she lusts after. Actually she’d prefer it to be on jacked-up super tires with a roll bar, but it will do.

The gift horse in question, though, is Clark’s Tahoe, formerly my mother’s Tahoe. I say it’s Clark’s. He doesn’t actually get to drive it yet. We enforced our draconian “drivers license plus six months” rule on him before we’d let him drive anything other than Eric’s beater Suburban, the one we haul dogs and poo-tainers (the stinky pee-U containers) in back and forth to Nowheresville. Susanne will drive it next, and then it goes back to poor Eric. Who needs shocks and stereo speakers anyway, right?

So my parents delivered the Tahoe to us last November. Oh, the excitement. It arrived, shiny and new compared to the Suburban, and we all gathered to admire it. We turned it on. The “service engine soon” light came on.

“Don’t worry about that,” my mother said. “I took it in to get that fixed last week, but then I hit a roadrunner on the way here and it came back on. There’s nothing wrong with the engine.”

Well, the engine light and the brake lights had been on in our Suburban for months, so this sounded reasonable to us. It was ironic though. Years ago, my mother had hit a roadrunner on I-20 near Abilene. The roadrunner had died impaled on her grill. Unfortunately, it took the Audi out with it. We spent the next 24 hours in Abilene while the local mechanics scratched their heads and muttered something about “foreign cars” and “city folks.”

The title was going in my name, so I dutifully trudged to the City offices to transfer title. I waited in line for an hour and a half with 150 fellow sufferers, many of whom brought folding chairs. I wish they’d spent more time on basic hygiene than camping plans, but, oh well.

“You can’t transfer title without an emissions test,” the women behind the counter informed me.

“I checked the website before I came, and it didn’t say that,” I said, in my “I’m not going to cry” voice.

“You can’t transfer title without an emissions test,” she repeated, and wrote, “denied — no emissions test” across the top of my pristine form.

15 minutes later, I sat in the lobby of the Texaco near our house, reading back issues of People magazine and drumming my fingers.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but the service engine light is on, so we can’t conduct the emissions test,” he said.

“But there’s nothing wrong with it. A little old lady was driving it [sorry Mom, but I was desparate],” I said, in my “I’m not going to cry” voice.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and handed me back my keys, now smudged with grease.

Roadrunner 1, Tahoe 0.

Engine issues are Eric’s responsibility. He has a mechanic he loves, Joe, a guy that treated us right when we got jerked around by Firestone to the tune of 1500 smackers for “fixing” the Suburban, when they caused most of its problems with something they did to it in the first place. Since Joe saved us from the clutches of the evil Firestone before, and charged us nothing for the consult, we were glad to throw some business his way.

I went to pick up the Tahoe from Joe.

“I think we’ve got it fixed,” Joe said, running our credit card through the machine for $450. Right beside his cash register was a rubber Roadrunner, like the one from Looney Tunes. Come to think of it, this one was nearly identical to my prized toy Roadrunner from my childhood. I had lost it one day when a neighborhood bully stole it from me in our backyard  sandbox. He was a future serial killer, and the Roadrunner toy ended up chopped into bits and thrown in the sewer. Ugh. “Take it to my friend’s place, tell them I fixed it, and they’ll do your emissions test.”

By now, you’ll have guessed what’s coming.

Fail.

Roadrunner 2, Tahoe 0. But we were not faint of heart. Game on, Roadrunner. Wile E. Coyote never gave up, and neither will we.

Eric took it back to Joe. Joe fixed it again.

Fail.

Roadrunner 3, Tahoe 0.

Eric took it back to Joe, who by now was on a mission. Joe found a new engine problem and fixed the Tahoe again. Another $450 beside the Roadrunner, who looked like he was grinning now.

Fail.

Road-frickin-runner 4, Tahoe 0.

Eric took it back to Joe. Joe said he wouldn’t charge us again until we passed the test. He found a new problem, a major problem. He fixed it.

Fail. Damn it. The Roadrunner was up to 4 points, and the Tahoe wasn’t even giving him a game. But this time they said that the problem reported back by their computers was new. The last repair had worked. Progress?

Eric took it back to Joe. Joe fixed it again, charges deferred.

I took it in for the 5th emissions test. And it finally passed, five repairs, six tests, and two months later. We reported the success to Joe. Joe was relieved. Joe charged us another $600, which, legitimately was a fair price. The damn thing practically had a new engine and should be good for another 300,000 miles. This time, the rubber Roadrunner on Joe’s counter looked at me evilly, though, and I couldn’t help but feel dread.

Tahoe 1?

Through it all, my parents were great, even offering to take the Tahoe back. By now, though, we had invested, and not just the money. We’d given up about a week of work time to the damn thing, at a time when I billed more hours in a three month-period than I had in any other three months in my 20-year career, traveling and working on the upcoming publication of five books in my spare time (Eric was in similar straits), and it was by God going to be Clark’s, and be the best car any of us ever had.

Most of you are wincing . You know it’s coming, whatever it is, and it isn’t good. What happened next? Did Eric wreck it before Clark ever drove it? Did a tree fall on it in the driveway during one of Houston’s recent megastorms? Did it fall the title transfer process again? DID WE HIT ANOTHER ROADRUNNER?

Well, unfortunately, I got even busier with work and that title transfer still hasn’t taken place. In fact, our emissions test expired and Eric had to take it back in again this week for another so that I can transfer title soon…ish…or at least within the next 90 days. Don’t worry: it passed.

But on the way back from the emissions test, Eric heard a buzzing from the backseat. Like, under the backseat. Odd. He pulled over. He lifted the seat. And underneath the seat was a hornet’s nest. Not like a metaphorical hornet’s nest, but like an actual-six footed-multi-winged-hatched where mama laid us–extra large stingers ready hornets nest…eight inches in front of his face.

“Son of a BEEEEEEEEP” Eric yelled, right before the first newly hatched hornet sunk it’s stinger into the soft brown skin of his neck.

Fifteen minutes and three stings later, Eric had the hornets nest and its hatchlings in a trash can. Spitting out (more) curses, he got back into the Tahoe, his eyes flicking back and forth in a crazy dance between the road and the rearview mirror, in which he expected to see Mama Hornet any moment.

Now some of you are going to think he was hallucinating from all that hornet venom, but he swears this is true, and I believe him. As he pulled back onto the road, he saw a Roadrunner. Its head was thrown back, beak open, and he heard its maniacal cackle through the window he’d left open in case he needed to eject more hornets. The Roadrunner’s wing was bandaged with a tiny crutch underneath it, and the other wing was raised in a universal salute, giving him the bird.

Pamelot

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