Friday, July 17, 2009

The Saga of El Diablo

I think it is appropriate to tell the tale of the Devil Van that has been mentioned in previous posts, because it does have its very own story. This is a cautionary tale. Despite how more and more power positions are being held by women (Clinton, Palin, Pelosi, Sotomayer have all been mentioned on the news I watch in the last 24 hours), they should never go to their local mechanic without a man by their side. And once these women are elderly, they should worry how easy it is to take advantage of them if their family isn't paying close attention.

After Mother's accident last September, which meant the demise of her last van, it was with absolutely no surprise that she began making noises about buying a new one. However, I felt smugly in control of that situation because I was certainly not going to take her out shopping for one. Add that to the fact that the State of Texas revoked her license, and I felt I had no reason to worry. Little did I know that places dealing in specialty equipped vehicles will bring them to you, apparently with no questions asked, such as, "Do you have a valid driver's license?" So, while I was trying to find transportation alternatives for Mother, like a private driver or a car service, she was busy van shopping with every intent that she was simply going to go back to the way things were before that fateful day. How I found this out was through the weekend receptionist at Mother's apartment complex, who greeted me cheerfully one Sunday morning and asked what I thought of the new van. What van? Turns out, Mother had paid $25,000 cash for an used handicap equipped van.

What I didn't know at the time was that one cannot take title to a vehicle without a valid driver's license. Had I known that then, then the van and I would not be tied unwillingly to one another now. I simply would have demanded that the broker take it back. But, I assumed the damage was done by the time the news was leaked to me. Still secure in the knowledge that Mother wasn't rebel enough to drive the thing without a license, I just assumed she had flushed that 25 grand down the toilet, and I bemoaned that she couldn't have tossed it my way if she really was so intent on wasting money. The reality was that she had the van in her possession, but the broker had sent her the title, in the previous owner's name, his death certificate and instructions on transferring ownership. Technically, it still belonged to someone else. She had no intention of telling me about that part initially.

I didn't see the van the day I found out, or for the next week or two for that matter. I had been doing her grocery shopping for her, but she finally balked at that and wanted me to take her so she could pick her own things. So, the van, Mother and I had our first outing together. It was fairly uneventful actually. I even sort of liked the look of it, it was definitely more sporty than her last van, and it had some bells and whistles, like a rear view camera and a nice radio. I began to think that maybe it wasn't so bad to have it available when I needed to transport her, because I simply no longer could hoist her in and out of my car. The one thing I noticed that day was the alarm. It was equipped with a blaring alarm that sounded anytime the vehicle was too close to another object. Apparently, being in the same county was too close. The thing went off constantly, startling both of us every time. But, with a beast that big, even that could come in handy. What I didn't know, was that the van was laying in wait for me. Now that it had me hooked, it would show its true self.

Which came a week later when I brought Mother over to watch the Steelers. At some point during the game, something caught my eye, a glint of sun against glass, and I looked out to see if someone had pulled in. What I saw was the back hatch of Mother's van opening up on its own. I fumbled around in my pockets to see if I had hit the remote accidentally. No, there it sat on the table. Something must have bumped it, I told myself. I closed the hatch, locked the van and went back to watching us beat Cincinnati. But, the cat was out of the bag. When I drove her home, it happened again. Then she mentioned that someone had come to tell her the back was open once totally randomly. The next time I went to drive it, it wouldn't start, all that door opening had drained the battery. I was beginning to become perplexed.

The van hit its all time low and earned its name the day Mother checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice. I had pulled the van into the semi-circular drive by the emergency entrance to go and get her. As soon as I shut off the ignition, every door began opening, then closing, then opening again. For an insane moment, I thought I had to be on candid camera. I finally got everything closed and went upstairs to get her from her room, meeting Kelsey and her boyfriend on the way. They had decided to stop in and visit, assuming that Mother was settling in for a long stay. So, instead, they helped me out with her. Now, to fully appreciate the scene, picture me already in tears over all of this because Mother was in no shape to go home and I knew I couldn't take care of very serious needs on my own, and because she had said some really intensely awful things to me when she threw her tantrum demanding to leave. Then picture Kelsey, not a model of patience, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, with a quiet, shy boyfriend who didn't know any of us all that well, trudging downstairs with my ranting mother on an unseasonably warm fall day. I was already chalking this one up as the worst day of my life, when, after getting her secured in the back of the van, it wouldn't start. We had taken the jumper cables out of the van to use on Marissa's car and forgotten to put them back in. Neither Kelsey nor her boyfriend had any, and Greg was at home, 20 miles away, watching football.

Eventually, Greg left the game and came to rescue us and we got Mother home. I had to take a few days off and literally move in with her, and it was then I learned the title hadn't been transferred and why. Probably at that point I still could have forced the broker to take the thing back, but Mother was touchy about everything that illustrated her losing control over her life. She wanted that van, I knew it was probably easier to have something to carry her around in, and all my energy was in trying to care for her, so I didn't push it. But, I didn't transfer the title over right away either. What I did do was take the blasted thing in to try and fix the electrical issues that caused doors to fly open of their own free will. A month, two batteries, three shops, and over a thousand dollars later, it still wasn't resolved. The place that sold it to mother was also the place that had equipped it with the handicap features. They actually scolded me over the problems, saying that a van like that had to be driven every day or the electrical systems malfunctioned. They swore that the phantom door opening wasn't happening for them, since they drove it around the block every day. So, the Head-Bullshitter-in-Charge says to me, just drive it some everyday, it should be fine, but oh, by the way, now the electric locks on the doors don't work. Of course, I wanted to ask why, when they saw my mother, did they see fit to sell her a van that needed to be driven everyday, when she clearly wasn't moving around much or fast and didn't need it for a work commute. But, I didn't ask, because I figured the question was moot when it already become clear that anything that they said was going to be a lie. My mechanic agreed, but he couldn't fix it either, neither could the dealer. Finally, I cut my losses and just retrieved it. When I pulled it into a nearby gas station to fill it up, the back hatch popped open as if it was waving at me, welcoming back into its little circle of hell.

Finally, I dealt with the title, too exhausted to fight over it, which had to be transferred to my name. It took three trips to get it done because there was a question over whether the widow had the right to sell it. I guess they worried the poor deceased man would rise up from the grave and want it back. Not likely, aggravation from the van is probably what killed him! When one of the clerks mentioned how calm I was being, I smiled and told her, "With this van, I would have been surprised if it had gone right the first time, so I was expecting this." So, I own El Diablo technically. Mother goes around telling the staff at the nursing home she gave it to me. I just smile, but would like to say, "Yeah, kind of like someone gave Ivan the Terrible syphilis." The locks still don't work, I have to manually lock it. That really doesn't bother me, but it took me a while to realize that the ramp has to be manually pulled down as well. I can do it, the hydraulics make it easy enough to lower and fold back up, but the metal heats up quickly and I literally burned my hand on it the other day. The back panel door on the driver's side will still open on its own unless I lock it, and the back hatch opens every time I turn the van off. The good news is that the alarm that blared when I got too close to things doesn't work any more either. I do drive it every day, because the battery will drain down quickly if I don't, and the thing gets about ten miles to the gallon. Lovely. I bought some Steeler car accessories at the Pittsburgh airport recently, thinking they would draw some of the bad karma off of it, but it is just a possessed piece of crap and always will be. At least, I can dress it up little with some black and gold in the meantime while I wait for the day when I can sell it. That will be a Good Day.


  1. This reminded me of a little while back when my 72 year old mother asked if she could dorrow $300. I said "sure" but what for? She said her car was acting funny and she brought it to the mechanic and he told her she need almost $800 worth of repairs. I asked mom if he had given her anything in writing, showing the repairs needed and the cost, she said no. I said "bullshit". That van (it is a van too - what is it with old people and vans?) has only got 40K miles on it. They are lying. I took it over to my mechanic's (they are one of the few honest ones). Less than $200 later it was fixed (there was an electronic module that needed to be replaced and I had them change the oil and rotate the tires since she had not done it). Why some people feel perfectly at ease stealing from the elderly I do not understand. If I had not been here, my mother would have been eating sliced american cheese and water for a month to pay for the "repairs". I swear to God I was so mad I felt like going over there and taking a tire iron to that guy's knees.

    The dealer who sold you mother the van still acted illegally. I hope you report him for nothing more than the satisfaction (and hopefully, to prevent him from doing the same to someone else.)

  2. Gotta be a CHRYSLER, am I right?