I should've posted this story forever ago, but I guess it took a recent retelling to remind me of exactly how hilarious it actually was.
First, a bit of background...
In 2005 I left active duty in the US Navy, sold my modest home in New England at a ridiculous profit and set out across the country with enough money in hand to take a year off. In short order I ended up back home in California, living a life of relative ease and occasionally contemplating a return to the ranks of responsible adults.
For me, too much free time and too much money in the bank proved to be a very dangerous combination. Somewhere along the way I decided that my reliable respectable little car was boring to look at.
So I did a bit of research, spent way too much money, converted part of an old barn into a spray booth, and added some chrome:
In fact, I chromed all of it:
All of it:
Here I am snapping a poorly-focused self-portrait in one of the front fenders:
Despite the fact that everyone I mentioned it to told me that changing a car from its factory color would decrease the value, I was thrilled to be the only guy I knew of who had an all-chrome Miata:
All of it:
Over the next couple of years I continued to make additional modifications. I replaced the stock tan carpet with black, replaced the original tan vinyl seats with black and blue leather, replaced the interior panels and glove compartment with diamond plate aluminum, and swapped out the shift knob for a jet fighter joystick from a video game. By the time I was done, everything about this vehicle suggested it was the plaything of an overgrown child and I loved it.*
Still, like anything else, the chrome Miata began to lose its luster. Seven years after I'd turned this humble little sports car into some sort of sci-fi ghetto escape pod, I finally started having enough mechanical problems that my monthly repair bills were starting to be higher than potential payments on a new car. At this point, I'd finally fallen out of love with this car that had served me faithfully for a solid decade.
At some point I made up my mind to stop fixing things, but still resolved to drive one of the most obnoxious bits of bling on the road until it could drive no more. No longer proud of my uniquely silver creation, I stopped washing it, gave up vacuuming out the interior, and just let it go. Since I took my dogs in the passenger seat everywhere I went, drifts of shedded hair had started to pile up. Before long, the once black interior was completely layered over with discarded white husky fluff and the dashboard had an arc wiped clean of dust wherever Bain could reach when he leaned his head forward to look out the windshield.*
Here's how it looked most days:
Toward the end of its life I had gotten into the habit of carrying a shovel in the trunk. If it broke down, I wouldn't call a tow truck. No. I'd just dig a hole, push it in, cover it up, and call a cab.
In the Spring of 2012 I finally came to an impasse. I was due to renew the registration on the car and I couldn't get it to pass the required smog test. The main bearings were shot, the timing was horribly off, and even if I did fix the smog-related issues, there were still countless little problems that would cost more to fix than the car could ever be worth. It was time to have the old beast put down.
So the registration expired and I had until the end of the month before I'd start getting pulled over for having expired tags on the license plate. Having done the tiniest bit of research, I decided I wanted my car. Just new. As long as I was upgrading, I'd graduate from a rag top to a powered retractable hardtop. This way I could fold the roof up and tuck it in the trunk with a push of a button. It's as close as I'll get to having a James Bond car until I finish building the ejection seat.
So on the second to last day of the month (because I'm a very capable procrastinator) I woke up and started car shopping on an internet. I found the exact car I wanted on a used car lot just twenty minutes down the road. It was just two years old with low miles, a manual transmission, and a powered hard top! I even liked the color.
Just to be sure, I called the dealership and was thrilled to learn that it was still available. "Hide it in the back of the lot," says I, "I'm on my way and it will be mine."
Then I realized I was still wearing the clothes I woke up in* and smelled ripe enough to make showering a priority. After a thorough scrubbing I noticed that I was still trying to shake a pretty nasty cough that had haunted me for days. I took an expectorant to free up all of the lung-butter I'd been choking on and hopefully make breathing easier. This tidbit will matter shortly.
Grabbing a cup of coffee, I set out on what should have been a twenty minute ride down the freeway to drop my shiny old jalopy off on death row and drive off into the sunset with the new hotness. Little did I know, some jackass had jackknifed a truck and trailer at the county line and traffic had slowed to a speed that can only be described as "dear-God-what-the-HELL!?!"
Creeping along at a quarter of a snail's pace, my cough started acting up. The fury of a thousand slimy wasps was broiling up and down my respiratory tract and I was hawking up golf ball sized lumps of ick every couple of minutes. At one point, it got so bad that I nearly choked on an especially stubborn pile of phlegm and gagged a bit. I nearly threw up. I could taste it.
After hacking a bit more and spitting the nearly fatal booger-blob onto the freeway, I took a sip of coffee to flush out the near-vomit taste. When I tried to swallow the coffee it touched off whatever little nerve had made me nearly gag-vomit and without any warning whatsoever I puked. I mean I really puked.
The only way to describe it was "spectacular." I'd been looking upward for some reason when it happened, so the streak of vomit (comprised almost entirely of coffee and recycled snot) started inside the ragtop just above the rear view mirror, then it continued across the mirror, down the middle of the windshield, the dashboard, the stereo, the stick shift, the center console, and into one of the cup holders.*
I opened up the windows to blow out the smell, sipped a bit more coffee to flush out the taste, and marveled at the state of the car. In the passenger seat I had a dirty towel that I used to use to dry off the dogs' paws when they were muddy, so I used it to wipe off the bulk of the vomit. After a few swipes, it did little more than smear.
After almost two hours worth of my twenty-minute drive down the road, I arrived at the dealership smelling of coffee-vomit. I walked in, shook hands with the salesman I spoke to on the phone, and saw the car I was looking for pull right up to the front door.
Clearly they were waiting for me.
Then I saw someone who was not a salesman get out of the driver's seat. It turns out they were just coming back from a test drive.
According to my salesman, the car would sell to whoever signed the pricing agreement first. Leery of a scam, I took the car for the fastest test-drive ever and came back to the office to sign the agreement.
My salesman went to his desk and printed out the form, but in the time it took him to walk over to the printer, the other buyer had already signed with the other salesman.
"Not to worry," says my guy, "we've got lots of other cars here."
So I gave him my shopping list: 3rd Generation Mazda MX5, manual transmission, powered hardtop.
"We've got a 2001," he replies, "with a hardtop and a manual transmission!"
"Which is not a third gen," says I.
"Oh," says he, looking through their database, "we've got a 2010 with a hardtop."
"Is it a manual transmission?" I query.
"Then it's not a 'sports car,'" I tell him, "just a small car. I'm not very particular, but the few particulars I have are not negotiable."
"Well when were you planning on buying a car?" he asks.
"About an hour ago," says I, "my tags will expire tomorrow. My cursory internet shoppings found me six cars that meet my criteria in San Jose. If you can't get me something here right now, I'll be driving there next."
Meanwhile, the other buyer had handed the keys for his trade-in to one of the salesmen so they could give it a once-over. The deal had seemed like it was running smoothly, but suddenly the mood on that side of the showroom turned dark. My salesman excused himself to "make a few phone calls and see what he could find," but ended up hovering around that side of the room to overhear the conversation.
Suddenly the other buyer got up, shook his head emphatically, and left the room.
My salesman came back and told me that my car was indeed suddenly available again.
I couldn't help but ask what was suddenly wrong with it.
He explained that the other buyer had decided not to make the purchase because the car had no spare tire. Why no spare tire? With the powered retractable hardtop mechanism there's no space in the trunk for a spare tire. Instead, the car comes standard with run-flat tires. So even if someone shoots a hole in the tire, you can keep right on driving. The new car was becoming more and more James Bond by the minute!
"The only other question," says he, "is 'do you have a car you'd like to trade in?'"
"Sure do," says I, knowing full well what these poor bastards were in for.
So he calls someone over and I hand them the keys.
"Which one is it?" he asks.
"The shiny one."
"They're all pretty shiny..."
"Trust me," I grinned, "you won't miss it."
Ten minutes later he told me that if they offered an award for the most unique trade-in of the year award, I'd have won it. Hands down.
So what was it worth? They offered me three hundred dollars for it. I figure the snot-puke and dog hair probably cancelled out whatever value was added by the custom paintjob and snazzy jet fighter shift knob.
I laughed and signed it over, thankful that at least I wouldn't have to clean it out myself.
Ten minutes later I was back on the road in this beauty:
Which still fit both dogs comfortably:
Here's the best part: about a week after I'd made the trade-in, I got a call from the salesman. He told me that his roommate had actually purchased my old car from the dealership and repowered it. To this day every once in a blue moon I'll be zipping along down the highway and some guy will pass me in an all-chrome Miata and I'll think to myself, "Holy shit! Some other idiot chromed a Miata."
Then I'll notice the license plate numbers and realize: No. I'm still the only one...
*Whatever you're picturing in your head, this was worse.