Fun in very small places

>> Saturday, May 09, 2009

this photo sucks because i took it with my cell phone before going to the dealership, but it's illustrativeNo, sorry: the title is a little bit of a lie, or half a lie at least. There's no fun here, and it's not nearly as naughty as you might have been hoping. Here's how I broke down and did something that feels vaguely emasculating, though I'm trying to keep it in perspective by telling myself I am exercising that special gift of homo sapiens sapiens, Reason.

I was coming home from Star Trek last night, or really this morning around midnight, and there will certainly be a post about the movie showing up this weekend (short version: it's good), when I saw a police car make a U-turn after I drove past and get in behind me. There is perhaps something sad in the reality that the primal fear our ancient ancestors surely experienced out on the veldt when a lion happened to perk up his ears and yawn is now associated with Crown Victorias, vehicles that seem to have been designed with a particularly delicate and attenuated aesthetic for sheer ugliness, but there you go.

Anyway, it turned out I had a burned-out driver's side headlamp, and the officer was very nice not to ticket me, but of course being pulled over is simply an unpleasant experience no matter how polite and professional the cop is. It's actually not that hard to understand why some people speed off or leap out of the car and run: the rational chunk of your grey meat is telling you that the worst thing that will happen is a citation that you'll have to mail in with a money order, which will suck but it's not the end of the world, while the rest of your brain is screaming something along the lines of (if it could be put into words), "Arrgh! Lion! Lion! Run away! It's going to eeeeeeeeeeat yooooooooooooou!" This is called a "fight or flight" reaction, which is a little misleading for hominids since our obvious deficiencies in teeth, claws and good thick hides give a certain preference to finding a tree to climb, though I suppose wanting to throw a rock or poke with a stick does come close behind, the adoption of tools quickly and inevitably leading to genocide and the Mona Lisa, or perhaps to meeting a vast Hershey's bar in outer space. But I digress.

When I got home, of course I pulled out the owner's manual to see what kind of bulb I'd need to get in the morning (or later in the morning, technically... look, you know what I mean). I've had a driver's license since I was sixteen and have changed plenty of headlamps and even replaced an entire assembly or two in my time though I don't think it was lined up properly--anyway, not a big deal until I hit my first hitch: rather than advise me of what kind of bulb to buy, the owner's manual suggested I go to the dealership.

Well, don't be ridiculous. Go to the dealership to fix a lightbulb? To hell with that. So I popped the trunk to see what kind of bulb I would need. And here is where I noticed an... issue.

When I first bought the Bug, one of the things that impressed me was the marvel of German engineering under the hood--the engine compartment of the New Beetle packs everything in gorgeously, compactly like some kind of elegant mechanical puzzle.

It turns out that this is awesome to look at but much-less-awesome when something is going wrong. I couldn't even see how to get at the back of the headlamp assembly, much less pull the bulb.

So naturally I went to the internet.

Turns out that you can indeed change the driver's-side bulb yourself. First, according to various online sources, you have to pull the battery, which may or may not (probably not) require a special tool. Then you have to remove a clip that, according to at least one commenter, has a 100% failure rate when you look directly at it in good lighting. That last bit also may not be true, since another poster on another thread said changing the bulb is a simple and easy process (and don't believe the lies that it isn't), though his conception of simple apparently involves various silicone gels and/or graphite powder that you will have to remove or apply at various points while you're prying the bulb out of its nook behind your removed battery.

So I call the dealership.

Brian tells me they can do it in forty-five minutes, which is a full five hours and fifteen minutes less than one time estimate I read. I tell him that's a lot less time than most of the online sources I looked at said for doing it yourself, and Brian's reply is, direct quote, "It's not fun." (There's the lie in the title, again!) So I bring the car in. It's eighty freaking bucks, but I might also spend that much on gels and lubes and adhesives--and now we're back to making the whole thing sound fun again. More than anything, I'm paying not to take a major SAN loss from repeated failed rolls against the puzzle-box-horror of my car's engine.

So I'm at the dealership typing this. I feel, as I said, a little emasculated to have been brought so low so quickly. In theory, changing a lightbulb is among the most simple tasks a human being can perform, hence the ancient joke-pattern of:

"How many [despised ethnicity/creed/profession]s does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"How many?"

"One to change it and [number > 1] to [engage in behavior based on offensive stereotype]!"

"Hahahahahah! That's bigoted!"

What can I say? Does my resort to paying somebody to do something I hypothetically could do myself make me less of a man or more of a human? (Division of labor! Civilization! Capitalism!) Is the answer to the previous question simply, "yes"?

POSTSCRIPT: It was only about $70 in the end, which somehow made it feel like a bargain.

I'm now at home waiting for somebody to come and repair the chip in my windshield that occurred yesterday morning on the way to work. That, at least, will be covered in full by the fine folks at GEICO.

Have a great Saturday, folks.


mattw Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 11:30:00 AM EDT  

I just had to replace the right front blinker on my P.O.S. Saturn, which cost me about $5 and took me all of two minutes, so after reading your post I'm feeling not quite as bad about my car. Thanks!

And you would think the Germans wouldn't have designed something that would be such a hassle to change out like that.

rbird Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 11:50:00 AM EDT  

what a wus! (thumbs in ears, fingers wagging and tongue out)

Eric Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 1:37:00 PM EDT  

Matt: you're right, but apparently it's getting less uncommon with newer cars--when I told my Dad about it over the phone, he told me about a friend with a newer-model car that the friend was trying to tune up, only to discover that one of the spark plugs was situated in a way that required you to loosen the engine bolts to raise the engine halfway in order to get to it.

Yeah, my POS Saturn I drove to death before I got the Bug, I did all sorts of minor repairs on the cheap and just swapping out parts. That part I'll miss--the oil leak, not so much. :-)


kimby Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 1:42:00 PM EDT  

I spent my whole life around VW's, and if I learned anything from my father, it was this...
While they are a marvel of engineering,and you can drive them into the ground YEARS after others have had to replace them, they can be very COSTLY to repair. ANY REPAIR.

But in my opinion, still well worth it...besides, you wouldn't want to accidently get grease all over the white couches..Where would we Trollups sit then?

vince Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 4:47:00 PM EDT  

I have owned both a Bug (original) and VW van (also original). They ran forever, but weren't the easiest thing to fix. Though I did help a friend replace an engine in an original Bug and remember it being relatively easy. Can't say about lights, however, as I never had to replace a light in either vehicle.

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