The first mistake was buying a 10 year old car, sight-unseen, from 10,000 miles away. I was assured, though. that it happens all the time in a diplomatic community. “Everyone’s pretty trustworthy and their drivers take good care of their cars. No one wants to ruin their reputation by selling a lemon”
Not sure about the reputation and the car is by no means a lemon, but on arrival, several months later, I do have a 10 year old car with 10 year old problems. In this case, the A/C was on the fritz. All the drivers know each other or run into each other. When they’re waiting for you, they go to designated driver areas and eat, drink tea and exchange information.
Hence, our driver found out from our car’s previous driver that our car has had A/C problems for a long time. Indeed, in a deep recess of the car we found service receipts and written estimates for A/C repairs dating back a year or more. The repairs were never made, coolant would just be added every so often as needed. This is what we did 3 weeks ago. Already, though, the coolness was waning.
With a peri-menopausal wife and an unpredictable teen daughter, this was gonna be unacceptable.
Which leads to my spending a recent Saturday morning at an A/C repair shop with my driver. We headed to the shop where he’d had the Freon recharged a few weeks back.
We rolled up to this particular shop on a length of road with some 20 other A/C repair shops. I will, in the future, proclaim this road “Car-Repair Street”
“Pak, how did you discover this place?”
“Oh, I used to drive down this street a lot.”
That’s it. No word of mouth. No newspaper ad. No Yelp reviews. Neither of our language skills are good enough to delve deeper into why this particular garage is better than all the other places along the way. I am dying to know what drew him here.
The place is nothing to look at. A dingy, concrete garage open on two sides. The mechanics are sitting on a bamboo chaise lounge eating noodles and chips from dirty bowls in the corner of the shop. We may be the first ones there that day. They may have spent the night there.
They leap into action and quickly determine that I’ve lost about half the coolant they put in last time. We ask for an estimate and the owner went back to the office and came back with a written estimate which seems pretty reasonable. An almost completely new A/C system, parts and labor for 300 bucks.
My driver mentioned that the power window was really slow and laboring and that one of the rear seat belts wasn’t working. For 25 bucks they agreed to fix those, too.
My driver said excitedly to me, “Ok, we bargain now!” and he asked him for a better price. Maybe it was my diplomatic plates, maybe it was my lack of conviction, but we were only able to talk him down 10 dollars. With a nod of my head they sprung into action. They told me they’d have it done in 2-3 hours.
The hooked up all their hoses and turned valves and, to my horror, vented all the coolant into the air. I reached down and grabbed the hissing hose and took a whiff to see if maybe, this was just air. They smiled and assured me it was Freon. They handed me a new can of coolant and spun it around to show me the warning label, indicating that maybe I shouldn’t inhale this. The fact that we were both concerned about the same thing was lost on them.
Aside from the environmental concerns, though, every thing at the shop ran smoothly. While we waited, assorted others men wandered in and out of the shop. All seemed to have some task. Some man brought in water and pulled up a chair for me. Yet, another just poked his head around under the hood and disappeared. Another man came in and scootered off to get parts.
They pulled out the dashboard, They cleaned and disinfected all the vents. With every new part that came, they were quick let me open the box and match the serial numbers. They handed me all the old parts and offered to send them home with me.
In under two hours all was complete and I could stew on home in my own icy cold, environmental guilt. Though I tried to console my horror with the belief that before the repair, I was already leaking freon slowly into the atmosphere, I was now complicit in raping the earth.
I vowed to start a small fund, so that the next time I hear someone in America say the EPA is superfluous, I would fly them gratis to Jakarta and wander around with them for a week and see what sort of consequences result from indiscriminate dumping of pollutants.
The only qualifier would be that they have to go swimming in the dead and blackened river or go for a walk down a busy street at rush hour. Or just hang out here in this A/C shop and watch the hole in the ozone grow when they spew coolant into the air.
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