Wednesday, July 10, 2013

19 April 2013 A Continental Journey, Day 1

Detroit, MI and Bowling Green, OH:

The descent into Detroit seemed to take forever, perhaps because the Detroit airport is quite a distance from Detroit itself.  Under leaden skies, the long approach give me an extended view of the greater Detroit area, someplace I have never been.  My first reaction was surprise that all of the trees were still leafless.  The foliage back in sunny California had been in full bloom for weeks, so my first adjustment to the Midwest was to realize that true spring was still to come.

I had finally reached the point where my adventure could truly begin.  Detroit was the airport nearest the town in Ohio where the objective of my trip resided.  Or usually did, when it wasn’t being delivered directly to me at the Detroit airport.

I had flown two thirds of the way across the country to buy a car I had seen only in pictures from a man I had spoken to on the phone two or three times.  It was not as unreasonable as it sounds, and it sounds plenty unreasonable.  Searching for cars is a task for which the Internet is particularly well-suited.  Make, model, year, color, options and prices, among other criteria, can all be entered into search engines, which will not only locate cars meeting your requirements, but can perform the search regularly and notify you when it finds cars you might want. 

On an otherwise nondescript afternoon a week earlier, a car popped up on one of my searches that I hadn't seen before.  Because I checked my searches at least once a day, if not more often, I knew this was a new offering.  It was also a model type that should not have appeared in my searches because it should have been well outside my price range.  I immediately suspected that somewhere in the description I would find the fateful words "salvage title," something I had seen before with cars advertised at a price substantially lower than similar vehicles.  The description provided by the seller, however, did not indicate that anything was amiss, and in fact the pictures suggested that the car was particularly well cared for.  If the car was as advertised, it was being offered at an obscene discount, and would surely be snapped up quickly. 

I wrote to the owner that afternoon inquiring about the car.  He wrote back, and we engaged in meaningful dialogue so quickly that by the next morning, his wife had scanned and e-mailed to me all of the maintenance and repair records for the car.  By the end of the next day, I had arranged with the owner and the local mechanic to have the car inspected.  By the following Monday, having received a clean bill of health report from the mechanic, I offered to buy the car.  I agreed to the asking price, because I could not in good conscience justify a reduction in a price that was substantially below market level for that model.  I also did not want to give another buyer leverage.   Indeed, the seller informed me that there was somebody else interested in the car.  With my offer in hand, he was concerned that he would have to wait a long time to consummate the deal.  Informing him that I had already figured out how to be in his neighborhood by the end of the week put his mind at ease and sealed the deal.  He did not require me to make an earnest money deposit, figuring that my purchase of an airline ticket indicated my intentions sufficiently.  The only difficulty was how to get to his town, which was an hour south of Detroit.  Being the solid Midwestern gentleman that he was, the owner offered to drive up to Detroit to pick me up from the airport, in the car I was to buy.  That seemed like a pretty good opportunity for a test drive to me.

Stepping off airplane Detroit, I called the owner to let them know I had landed.  He was just minutes away from the curb, so I stepped outside into the stinging wind to await my first view in the flesh of what I expected would be my new car in just over one hour's time.

As I expected, the first view was memorable.  Coming up the access road to the arrivals curb was an impossibly low and black Porsche.  I was inconceivable that I was about to own that beast.  I waved to the owner, who pulled the car up to the curb.  He offered to let me drive the car immediately, but I had no interest in attempting to negotiate the maze of roads that lead away from the airport.  I settled into the car, a bit shocked that the interior I was experiencing for the first time would soon be an interior I would become intimately familiar with as “mine” if all went as planned.

The picture in the ad that hooked me
I don’t consider myself the more natural conversationalist, so I carefully planned my next steps.  I knew that he had just returned from the Masters golf tournament, so I prompted him to talk about it, and we chatted easily about his experience there.  We got along very well and enjoyed our conversation.  As we headed south, he eventually pulled over into a highway rest area so I could take over the driving duties.  There's nothing like taking a first test drive of a car while on the way to the bank to conclude the sales transaction.  I just prayed that everything would work, that I would fit, and that I would love it.
Check, check and check.

The owner described features and components of the car as we drove, while I tried to stay alert to Friday rush hour traffic in a state I had never visited in a car I had never driven.  Adding to the general stress of the event was the fact that the owner's bank would soon be closing, just about the time we estimated we would arrive there.  He called ahead to make sure they would stay open until the last minute, which is when we expected we would pull in.  Sure enough, I parked the car not more than two minutes before five o'clock in the afternoon.  I sent the owner inside to keep the bank doors open while I took a moment to take at least one cursory look around the car.  It seemed kind of a crazy way to buy a car, but everything had checked out to that point, so I did not expect to find any major faults.  Finding none, I went inside and watched as the bank manager locked the door behind me.  In a matter of moments, I scratched out an impromptu bill of sale, the owner signed over the title, I handed over a cashier’s check, and the owner deposited the check in his account.  Just like that, I owned a ridiculously fabulous car, 2500 miles from home.

I gave the owner a ride back to his house, which was less than a mile away in a community of large, newish houses on a golf course.  As the skies darkened with light rain, we dashed inside so I could meet the owner's wife, son and mother in law briefly while he, with his innate Midwestern charm, put together a small pack of water bottles and granola bars for my journey.

Minutes later, I pulled away from the (former) owner's house in my new car, with 2500 miles to go get home, biting wind and rain starting to whip up, and less than two hours of daylight remaining.  And I hadn't even had lunch.

I drove back to town the way we had come in, the only way I knew how.  I noticed some fast food restaurants on my first pass through the town, and pulled off into the parking lot of one of them.  I switched the engine off and sat for a moment, simultaneously giddy and terrified.  The phrase, "what have I done?" applied equally to each sentiment.  There is nothing left to do but grab a bite to eat, pray that I didn't pick up a door ding in the parking lot in my first half-hour of ownership, and get started on the journey.  The thrilled tension I felt in that moment foreshadowed the adventures that lay ahead.