With prices exceeding $4.00 a gallon in our neighborhood gas pumps, we cannot but feel the pinch in our own pocketbooks. I've cut down on unnecessary driving, and have even switched to using regular unleaded, saving precious dollars every time I fill up. For us, it is mostly a matter of incovenience, although an expensive one.
Two weeks ago, I had the joy of watching my son graduate from NYU with a degree from the Tisch School of Arts. One day, I dream that he will be a movie star, and appear in a motion picture based on a novel that I would have written. I happen to have two other nephews--twin sons of my sister--who are of the same age.
One of them graduated from a school in Richmond, Virginia, and had to get his car out West. That's a 2,500 mile drive, and with gas prices the way they are, I figured that even with his Toyota, the gas bill alone would be close to $500. So when I was told that he found an automotive transport company that would do it for $900, it sounded like a good deal.
My nephew, Junpei, sent me the particulars of the transport company (I'll withhold the name). The trip would take about a week. I was expecting the car to arrive sometime last week, before the Memorial Day week-end.
On Friday, still no car, and I got worried. I wondered what kind of shady outfit wouldn't even bother contacting us. At 2:00 pm, our phone rang, and my wife picked up. She hollered at me and said that she couldn't tell what the guy was saying over the phone.
I grabbed the phone and could barely make out the words. He had a heavy East European accent, or maybe it was Spanish. I couldn't tell. It sounded like he was going to arrive on Saturday late afternoon, and that he would confirm it to us by 11:00 am the following morning.
My wife and I complained to each other about the reliability of the company and the driver. We had no idea where the truck was at that point. In addition, that would mean that we may have to wait the entire day, first for the phone call, and then for the actual arrival of the truck.
Saturday came, and no phone call at 11:00 am as promised. We were frustrated, but not surprised. At 4:00 pm, the driver finally called. He told my wife that he was in LA, and that he was dropping off a car, and it would be another three to four hours before he would make it to our place in the Valley. He also told her that he had a big truck.
"Well, there goes our day," we both thought. It was an inconvenience, but this was a favor for my sister and nephew, so it was no big deal. He was going to law school in San Diego in September, so he needed to have the car stored on the West Coast.
As darkness approached, and the time passed 7:00 pm, my wife and I were getting uneasy. We had hoped that we could at least visually inspect the car when it arrived. The sun had already set when we got a call from the driver. When we gave him final directions and told him that we lived on a cul-de-sac, he said his truck is bigger than a moving truck, and he can't turn around. So we told him to park it at the entrance of our street. My wife and I drove out together to the point to wait. Another inconvenience, we told ourselves.
A little past 8:00 pm, the monster of a car carrier labored up the hill and stopped short of our street. I walked and inspected the huge truck. It had enough room to hold 10 vehicles. I figured that if it could carry 10 cars at $900 each, that's $9,000 for one week's work--not bad.
An older gentleman came out of the cab, and walked around the huge front grill and greeted me. He wore a faded cap. It was too dark for me to see if it was of his favorite baseball team or racing team. He spoke softly and shook my hand.
"I am sorry, but my last drop off in Los Angeles, it took me longer than I expected. I had to leave the truck parked and drive long distance to customer and customer had to drive me back to truck," he explained. The man must have been in his 60's.
I usually never chat around, but I asked him how long the whole trip took. "A little over a week,"he responded.
"Must be expensive with the gas," I asked.
"It costs $1,000 to fill up every time," he waved his hands upward in dismay, as he explained. "And I had to fill up five times."
"Five times!?" I was amazed. But I figured with his trailer pulling ten cars, that must be about right. That's $5,000 right there.
"And I had gasket problem... It cost me $1,500 to fix that," he offered, without being asked. "And when tires go, they're $400-500 each.
"I have to turn around and head back again after two-day rest."
"You go back and forth?"
"Yes, back and forth."
With overhead and other costs, the man was not making very much at all, whether he wass subcontracted or just was driving for a fee. The orange glow of the street lamps highlighted the lines on his tired face.
I nodded, but say nothing. In between our little chat, he maneuvered the hydraulics, lowered the car, and managed to back the Toyota out onto the road.
We checked for any damages with a flashlight. He had a piece of paper with all the prior-scratches marked up. He was thorough, and obviously a man very proud of his job, and a professional.
"So many companies go bankrupt these days," he told me, as he got ready to leave.
I gave him directions back to the freeway. We shook hands again, and this time, I felt the hard callouses on his palm through the gentle grip. He smiled, and I smiled back, and thanked him.
As I drove my nephew's car back to our cul-de-sac, I thought of how fortunate I was, and that to us, these energy prices were a mere inconvenience. And that even the one day that we spent waiting for the car was just an inconvenience.
But for that driver, it was his lifelihood.
I walked up to my garage door, and I could hear the engine of the truck firing up, as it climbed the hill and started another 2,500-mile journey.
I felt a bit ashamed of myself, and wished the driver with the strong accent good luck.