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Last weekend my trusty 2003 Honda Pilot -- bought used years ago upon retirement and loss of the company pickup -- decided it had made its last trip from the Arkansas Ozarks to Texas' Blackland Prairie. It dropped out of gear on the furiously busy Research Boulevard expressway in Austin's alabaster tech tower canyons. Was I stranded east of the Perdenales in desiccated cow skull wastelands? Oh, wait. Those are just University of Texas Longhorn decals decorating Subaru hatchbacks and BMW trunks.

I've never cared for Austin, but find myself here long-term caring for an ill daughter.

"Austin's nothing but three T's: tech, tacos and traffic," I'm wont to share with friends. Now there's a fourth "T" for tents of the homeless under highway ramps running from downtown to suburbia. Austin continues its progressive march toward Californication, in my view. Amid blue politics, the downtrodden lie amongst highly paid techies and information industry millionaires. Is this San Jose?

You'll never see tent cities under the Interstate 49 corridor as along Interstate 35 in Austin. Between the Waltons, Tysons and Hunts on one hand, and do-goodin' Northwest Arkansas church ladies on the other, those needing shelter would find it beyond Ozark Trail pop-ups from Walmart as in Travis County, Texas.

With God as co-pilot, my shimmying, sputtering Pilot limped to a repair shop. I hoped for the best. Ninety-nine bucks for a diagnosis proved the worst. Not only was the transmission shot, but most of the suspension bushings and connectors (cartilage and fetlocks of my steed) were failing. If the transmission didn't grind to a halt first, the wheels would fall off instead.

Estimated repairs of $4,000 for a vehicle with 240,000 miles made no sense, so I searched Autotrader on my phone. A 2011 Pilot with copious bells and whistles appeared. It was in my price range and sat on an Acura dealer lot nearby.

The repair shop service adviser offered a bit of hope, though I could not return to Arkansas in the old car.

"You can drive it locally some," he said, "but your next ride may be your last."

Those ominous words were like bass-voiced Sam Elliott delivering a line from a Louis L'Amour movie script. Would I be ambushed crossing the Brazos in Waco?

"Thanks for the advice, podner," I replied, and headed to the dealership. On the phone, the sales manager had promised $500 for my old trade-in sight unseen, which seemed reasonable and easier than negotiating with a junk man.

The scuffed-up red Pilot made it to the dealership lot. I parked next to the shiny, slate black Pilot seen on my phone. Fresh out of the detail shop, with new tires glistening in wet-look dressing, it had yet to be cleared for sale.

Buying a car from a dealership is certainly much different from mid-century when my father negotiated at the Louisiana hometown "Ford place" for a new feed store delivery truck or family car. He and the veteran salesman Mr. Huval went round and round on price. As a youngster I enjoyed tagging along. When Daddy bought a new Fairlane 500 or Thunderbird, Mr. Huval gifted "Little Teddy" with a plastic scale model of the car. I still have two Thunderbirds and a Galaxie at home in my bookcase.

Daddy had the upper hand. Whatever the outcome, Mr. Huval knew it would be an instant cash sale.

These days the price on your phone or laptop screen is the final price more or less because everyone has access to car value comparison tools provided by Carfax, Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds and the like. One sees pretty much early on whether a price is a fair deal or not.

The black Pilot sold itself on a test drive. But how to pay on the spot for immediate possession on a Saturday? My money was in Arvest Bank in Bentonville. The manager offered "No problem." They took debit cards. And when several travel credit cards spilled from my wallet, he said the dealership would also take up to $5,000 due on a credit card. The deal was clinched. A meticulously detailed Honda plus 5,000 Southwest Airlines points. No sweeter ride nor sweeter deal.

As I swiped the card, I thought about Daddy and the man who sold him dozens of Fords in decades past. What would they think -- Red Talley who always paid in cash and Vernon Huval whose invoices were typed on a manual Underwood? "Little Teddy" had just bought a Japanese car with a plastic credit card!

Commentary on 03/12/2020

Print Headline: Trouble in Texas

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