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On the Road with Sally: Behind the Scenes

Car buying in France

Behind the scenes

When the conversation about car buying in France came up, my friend Geoffrey kindly loaned “Ales,” the tattered Citroen, to me for road trips out of Uzès. Sadly for Geoffrey, he mentioned I might get to use his red Mustang with racing stripes when I return in the spring.

Arriving back in Uzès, I reminded Geoffrey of his offer. Often. Finally, we worked out a “loan” agreement. Geoffrey had stuff in his house he wanted to sell, and I wanted things for my new apartment. I wanted a car; he had more than one. It seemed to be working out great for both of us.

Sally has an exciting background. Before I go on, let me tell you about Sally’s past. She was given to Geoffrey by a wealthy man who owned her. He also bestowed another almost identical Mustang to my friend. They both are red with racing stripes. One difference between the two cars is the size of the engines. Sally has four cylinders, and her twin has six.

The other difference is that the Sally’s twin Mustang is being held hostage. Whereabouts unknown. 

A bargain is a bargain.

Part of my loan agreement for Sally was that I would help find her twin sister. That meant going with Geoffrey to a meeting with the “bailiff” to sort out the issues surrounding the missing Mustang.

On the day of the meeting, I walked to the bailiff’s office by myself. It’s in a two-story building with a driveway with the second-hand store I’ve often shopped in, so I knew where I was going. I first noticed the open-staircase structure when I visited the “brocante” store. Its architecture is totally out of character in this French provincial town. It looks like a 1970s-style motel.

Before I got far down the driveway, Geoffrey called me from the building’s second-floor balcony. I walked up the metal steps and into the office’s open door. Strangely, I felt like I was on the film set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It was all a bit “shady” — the surroundings and the people inside.

I stop here rather than spoil the plot for a great mystery novel. Let’s just say we thought the deed was done.

Car buying in France

Strings attached, with knots

The visit to the bailiff’s office was three weeks ago. Still no word on the missing car.

So, tired of waiting to get on the road last week, I told Geoffrey I was taking Sally. In fact, “She’s staying with me from now ’til April,” I announced. He agreed and handed me Sally’s keys.

We were off. Stopping at the nearest gas station to fill her up, I pumped petrol into Sally’s empty tank. I had to pay for the gas, and we’d be on our way.

Not so quick.

The lady behind the register at the gas station started ringing up the sale. She looked outside at Sally. She looked at me. Instead of handing me the reader for my credit card, she pulled a slip of paper out of the drawer. An unpaid bill for 95 euros.

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I gasped and said, “I don’t know, nothing.”

She politely announced she was calling the police.

Now, picture this. This discussion is happening between me — who speaks no French — and a lady at the counter who speaks no English. Fortunately, a couple of men waiting in line were able to help translate our conversation.

I am quickly considering my two choices:1) run, 2) or pay the bill. I handed over my credit card to pay the 95 euros. Starting off my three-year adventure in France with an encounter with the French gendarme isn’t exactly in my game plan.

Later, after returning to Geoffrey’s to renegotiate the terms of the car loan, we have a new agreement. Sally’s mine until June.

Off we go, on guard.

Wait … there’s more.

You see, before I adopted Sally, she was in an accident and a burglary. When her radio was “burgled,” the robber came through the driver’s side window. Now, the window won’t go up or down. That means every time I come into or out of my gated, underground parking lot, I have to put on the emergency brake, open my door, wrench my body around to swipe the parking pass on the automated “eye,” hope the garage gate will open; close the car door; buckle the seat belt;  release the brake; then take off.

As a result of the accident, Sally is sporting a spare tire. That takes us back to the Saint Jean du Gard trip story.

Sally and I were raring to go. Admittedly, I was concerned about taking a trip on a spare tire, albeit only 45 kilometers away. Fortunately, I ran into my friend Andy on Sunday. He had gone with me a few weeks ago to pick up my shipment of boxes from Marseilles. He offered to take his van on the sightseeing trip instead of taking a chance with Sally on the road. Stubbornly, I stuck with my plan to take her for the drive.

Luckily, there were no car mishaps along the road to Saint Jean du Gard. Andy knew he was indispensable as my road mechanic and took complete charge, giving road tips and warnings to slow down.

Sally handles it like a dream. She hugs France’s narrow, curvy back roads like a born racer.

Just wait ’til we get her “big girl” tire.

Ride Sally, ride.

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