The noise didn't sound good. Left behind while the family traveled abroad this summer, the old Peugeot was getting its revenge. "Leave me home while you drive around in a rental, huh?" it seemed to be saying. "Well, Avis this!"
"It's the battery," said Road Service Man with that glorious sense of understatement they get when they realize you're screwed.
Facing the inevitable, and with a zillion errands to run upon our return, we heartily agreed. "Let's replace it," we said, heading toward his truck where we knew he had a new one.
"No problem," he shrugged as he started removing the old one, which he claimed was "two or three years old." The price was electrifying: NIS 980, the result, he said, of skyrocketing copper and other metal prices. Having emptied my pockets, off he drove, leaving us to pocket our receipt and wonder why we weren't in the battery business. We sighed at the expense, took comfort in the time saved and chalked it up to just one more drain on our savings.
Until the next day. That's when, thanks to the collapse our our home computer network, we found ourselves spending our pre-Shabbat afternoon awaiting the technical support - there's an oxymoron for you - to answer the phone.
It's a good thing they took so long to do so or we would never have noticed what lay on the floor of our home office: a warranty for the car battery we'd just had replaced. Grabbing it like a winning lottery ticket, we quickly checked and found the old battery, which turned out to be just a little over a year old, was still under warranty. We'd bought a new battery for nothing. Feeling foolish, we quickly dialed the road service company. It's Friday, someone will get back to you, they promised.
The car drove great with the new battery, and Sunday they called, true to their word. A "complaint" file had been opened; they would look into the incident and get back to us.
A week went by. Nada. Then, a call. We explained: When this all began, we didn't have the warranty in the car, but now we did and wanted our money back and the old battery replaced. It seemed clear. They asked for more time.
A few days and several inquiries later, they called back, dragging us out of a class to make an offer: They would bring us a first-rate used battery and take back the new one. We agreed and set a place and time.
The same fellow showed up two days later, yanking out the new battery and slipping in the replacement. "Start 'er up," he commanded. The Peugeot coughed, but nothing. Out came a pair of jumper cables. "Try it now," he said, us wondering why the promised "first-rate" used battery already had coronary problems.
Reluctantly, the Peugeot started. "Let it run a while to fill up," said Road Service Man, heading off to his next emergency. Glancing in the car, we remembered we had an errand to run. Figuring it would only be good for the battery, we drove to the shopping center across the highway. Sliding back behind the wheel after completing the errand, we turned the key, only to hear a dying groan. We were marooned.
We cursed. We fumed. We thought of all the work we wouldn't be getting done. We felt our blood pressure rise. Then we determined to get even. Dialing the road service company, we explained our predicament, the injustice of it all. No luck. The call-in woman had no clue what we were talking about. She'd call back, though.
Ordinarily, such things drive us completely crazy. But we wouldn't let them win. We looked at the blue sky, took a drink and thought of all the much worse things that could have happened. We thought back to the beautiful Newton, Massachusetts lake we had only recently enjoyed. We tried to conjure up yoga exercises. Then... the phone rang. No, she had no idea of the deal we'd reached, but a service truck was on its way. Be there within half an hour, she promised. The blood pressure rose a bit higher.
When Road Service Man turned up again, we didn't know whether to kiss him or take a jack to his head. He emerged from his truck, glowering at the dead Peugeot. "What's the matter this time?" he asked, as if he didn't know. "It's dead," I explained. "You had the chance to get it fixed before and you didn't want to," he said. He cajoled us. He berated us. He accused us of trying to get "a gift" for free. And never did the word "sorry" emerge from his lips.
Taking a moment's break from deriding us, he suddenly had an idea.
"Come with me to the battery place; we'll let them sort it out," he suggested, offering to ride with me across town. Off we went.
Along the way, I considered what had happened: The company had gone back on its word, simply replacing the new battery with our old battery, then abandoning us to our fate. They'd set the calendar back three weeks, leaving us in the lurch. But now, suddenly there was hope.
Arriving at the battery place, Road Service Man explained. Battery Man examined the warranty; Road Service Man tried to look serious. Battery Man looked up at me. "We're giving you a brand new battery," he declared, pulling one out of its wrapping ahead of installation. We decided it was time to speak up.
"Great. You know, you're really only as good as your good name," we said, offering some advice I've tried to pass on to my children. "Without your good name, you are nothing."
"Right," he said.
Returning from the bathroom, we found Road Service Man had disappeared. After three hours, we were back to where we'd been before any of this had happened.
The bottom line: The Peugeot runs great. We're using the NIS 980 to pay our car insurance.
I guess that's why they call it "road service."