Same Time Next Year

butch-body-shop

When you need an inspection miracle…

Last week I brought my 2006 Subaru Outback in for its annual safety and emissions inspection. Twice. Cars registered in New York City must be inspected within the city limits at a privately owned auto repair shop that is also a licensed Official Inspection Station. Each year it is a struggle to get a new inspection sticker without the repair shop trying to upsell or overcharge me for work that may not be necessary. I always think it would be easier if I were a man. If I were a rich man.

I let the Subaru dealer perform all the routine maintenance on the car. The master plan was to bring the car in to the dealer for its 90,000 mile servicing before the 2016 inspection sticker expired. The dealer can’t give me a sticker because they are outside the city limits, but at least they would catch anything that might cause me to fail. I didn’t follow the master plan.

I’ve tried eight different inspection stations. There are only two I’ve gone back to; Marty’s always passed my car if I paid for an oil change and wiper blades (regardless of how bad the car was), and Ericson always told me what was wrong with the car and actually fixed it (but they always found something to fix, usually in the $300 to $800 range).

Last year, I took the car to Ericson and had them do the struts and change the gas cap (the check engine light kept going on). A few months later, I put new tires on the car, installed a new battery, and replaced the timing belt. This year, I just wanted to pay $37 and get a 2017 inspection sticker.

Hoping for a miracle, I tried out a new nearby Official Inspection Station. Before I could close the driver’s door, the mechanic took out his flashlight, waved it at the rear tire, and said “Look at all that rust.”  Then he told me the car needed rotors and new brake pads. He didn’t even go through the motions to put the car up on the lift. He said no shop would pass the car without the repairs. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that if I were a man he wouldn’t have tried that line. I told him that I’d try my luck someplace else, I wasn’t in the market for rotors. He tried to charge me for a failed inspection. I told him to fuck off.

In these moments, I blame my bad luck on being read as female, as a butch in a Subaru, as an easy mark, as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I repeat the mantra of “if I were a man this wouldn’t be happening to me”. It isn’t dysphoria, I’m angry that I’m being treated disrespectfully. I’m also lacking confidence. I don’t remember the last time I replaced the brake pads.

The guys at work brag about how they never get conned at inspection. They sound confident. Maybe they are making it up. Maybe they are too embarrassed to tell the truth. Maybe they secretly paid full price for rotors and brakes, whether they needed them or not. I’ll never know.

I backed the car out of the shop and drove to Marty’s. On the way, I decided I was going to tell the mechanic that I just wanted a new inspection sticker. That I was going in next month for the 90,000 mile servicing, and that I would take care of anything major at that time.

The mechanic on duty wasn’t Marty’s regular easygoing mechanic. It was the guy from Ericson’s. The guy who always finds stuff to fix. He’d lost his lease on his old shop and bought out Marty’s.

He remembered me by name and we shook hands. He remembered the struts. He saw the new tires. I squared my shoulders and told him about the imminent 90,000 mile servicing. He told me there was a new Starbucks around the corner, close to the stairs to the High Line, and that I should come back in 30 minutes. When I did, there was a 2017 sticker on my car. He told me the car was good to go, that I probably should get new brake pads, and that he’d see me same time next year.

Notes: I grew up with the original cast album of Fiddler On The Roof. Here is Zero Mostel, at the 1971 Tony Awards, singing “If I Were A Rich Man“. Whenever my mother complained about us living in a small apartment without air-conditioning, my father would sing the first verse.

There used to be lots of auto body repair shops in Chelsea. One by one they’ve been replaced by apartment buildings, art galleries, and boutiques. The Heavenly Body Shop signage still exists, but the building now houses a Commes De Garcon shop. Marty’s is a couple of blocks away, tucked under the elevated structure of the High Line park.

17 thoughts on “Same Time Next Year

  1. Lesboi

    Sounds like you need more Inspection Stations in your neighborhood to keep everyone honest. That first guy sounds like a real winner. Glad you told him to fuck off. Maybe the second guy was hoping to get more business later on if he was helpful. Glad it worked out. Funny thing is I have been wanting new tires and had a leaky one that’s been driving me crazy with having to fill it every other day. About a month ago I sat for an hour at a tire shop to be told they couldn’t find the leak but that I needed new tires. They aggravated me by not finding the leak so I told them I’d think about it and left. Today I couldn’t stand it any longer and went to a different shop. They patched the hole for $36 and told me my tires were fine. Both shops called me sir but had different approaches with me. My experience with car shops has been mostly positive whether I presented as male or female. Not sure why that is, but I definitely don’t feel intimidated by them so maybe that’s part of it. I was actually disappointed the guy didn’t want to sell me new tires today because I really do hate the tires on my truck and want to replace them. I gave him ample opportunity to up-sell me and he didn’t. I couldn’t believe it! Go figure!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      When you want new tires, you’ll know which shop to go back to! One of the NYC problems is that the rent is so expensive, and the shops don’t make much money off the inspections (unless they try to fail you outright like the first guy did and you give him $37 for 30 seconds worth of work). So the shops make their money by either fixing what is wrong or by fixing what doesn’t really need to be fixed. I wish we had state DMV inspections like New Jersey – there is no incentive to fail you, and when they do they tell you exactly what needs to be fixed.
      I like my upstate Subaru dealer – they’re honest and although you can get the work done cheaper, they guarantee it and I’ve never had a problem with them. I was very surprised to get the sticker right away – but it may be some combination of confidence, knowing them, or just being lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Lesboi

        I guess I’m lucky that my state only requires inspections when you purchase a used car so we don’t have to deal with this very often. I can see how it could become quite a large source of income if everyone had to do it yearly. My county doesn’t even require emissions testing yet.

        Since I’m probably getting rid of the truck soon it’s best I don’t buy new tires for it at this point so that shop really helped me out. And, yes, I will remember them next time one of us needs tires.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. MainelyButch

    omg, I am also facing the dreaded annual inspection on my SUV. The last guy that I took it to told me it would never make it another 500 miles. Here I am over a year later and it’s just fine. I need two new rear tires (I just did the front ones in September) and it should pass a “normal” inspection just fine. If they put her up on the lift I am doomed. But, as you point out, “if I were a man” I could get it passed with the current tires on it no problem. Perhaps I will have my biker buddy Otis take it to the inspection station, it may save me a lot of aggravation! Great blog! ~MB

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I wish I had a biker buddy to take my car in. For an 11 year old car it is in good condition, and it drives well (especially since I got the new timing belt), but it is at that point where things start to need replacing in their normal life cycle and I’m at that point where I don’t want to sink a lot of money into it, but I don’t want it to conk out while I’m driving. I’ll see what the dealer says when I bring it in for the 90,000 check up.

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  3. anexactinglife

    I can relate! But I will say, whenever I take my car in the shop, I see a lot of (presumably) cis men being fleeced too. The shop attendant will often amp up the technical language and talk about performance and so on, so it is hard for the customers to save face and back down. The only preventative thing I do is to review my previous repair records before each trip to the shop so I won’t be convinced to repeat something I just had done in the previous 12 months! But I suppose as a long-time car owner, I have some sense of when ordinary components are likely to fail. Mostly learned through negative experiences, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Negative experiences are a hard way to learn; I try to do all the preventive maintenance in order to avoid breakdowns. I have a car log but I got lazy about entering the oil changes, brakes etc. I should probably start it up again and go back through my receipts….

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  4. World of Lucky

    Sadly you are true about how they treat people who don’t seem like cisgendered straight guys. For years before Wolsey transitioned we would go into shops and they would always walk up to me, talk to me about the car, ask me what the problems where.

    Personally I hate working on cars, I hate grease under my nails and the only thing I know to do is to set points on a pre-1980s cars with a matchbook. Other than that it has always been what Wolsey likes and does.

    It is always funny to watch the guy’s face when Wolsey would tell them that they lost a sale because he was (at the time appearing as a she) the one who worked on the car. However, that little bit of humor was never enough to offset the anger at the treatment you get depending on your appearance.

    I am glad it worked out this time though.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad that Wolsey will now get to have all the discussions about cars his heart desires! I had a similar issue when I tried to buy the Subaru and the salesman didn’t want to negotiate with me. I had two solid prices on the new car I wanted, and he didn’t want to match either one. I had to walk back to my car before he agreed to my price, and then I had to explain at that point that he had lost the sale. Sometimes it just sucks to be seen as female or less than cis male.

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      1. World of Lucky

        I really wish it wasn’t like that. When we bought Wolsey’s current car, the test drive was awkward because the salesman went on and on about female drivers. The only reason we bought the car was Wolsey needed it the next morning.

        I mean I guess it was good because evidently Wolsey “passed” but it was horrific and we vowed to never be that desperate so we could walk away next time.

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  5. A Country boy

    I am glad you told that guy to eff off, it really frosts my backside when guys try to screw someone over like that, and to answer your question… it happens to guys too , not so much guys between the ages of 40 and up, but the younger urban yuppies and the ,millennials are easy targets and professionals know this.

    Liked by 1 person

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      1. A Country boy

        well hipsters are way way different than yuppies, hipsters are actually pretty cool and easy going, while yuppies tend to be ever so serious self centered peoples who seem to have a carrot jammed up their @ss … seriously… have you ever got stuck walkin behind one of them?? they walk like they’re constipated !!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. hiddeninyoursoul

    I always wondered that too when folks “identified” me as female before transitioning. Ugh. I see it happen to other people now, even at work, and I can’t believe it’s real sometimes. It makes me angry.

    Anyway, I visited New York for the first time ever in October, and I can say with almost certainty that I’d never dare drive there. Haha. I barely like driving in San Francisco. Also, a friend of mine took me to the High Line!

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  7. Jamie Ray Post author

    I try not to drive in the city. We use the car to go upstate (small cabin near Hudson NY), and we park it on the street because the garage is too expensive ($700/month!). Parking is scarce, so no one moves their car unless they have to (e.g. I don’t use it for errands or grocery shopping). The High Line is pretty incredible, but it has changed the neighborhood a lot because of increasing real estate values. Fortunately, we have 24 hour subway service.

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  8. mostcurious

    Interesting, we don’t have inspections anymore in Minnesota, but when we did, the state DMV did them, not local repair guys. I also haven’t had much of an issue getting an honest opinion from a repair shop even being read female but possibly it’s because the market is heavy with them here. They know you can (and will) go somewhere else if you find out you’re being taken for a ride.

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