I washed the car. Well, the car wash did. I just stood to one side and read a few pages of my Agatha Christie while the machine got it done. Incidentally, the car wash machine has a memorable name. It’s either Jesus or Christ. I just can’t remember which.
I don’t like all this car test palaver. They make you wait in a little room with other people who all seem overwhelmed by a need to be over-chatty, as if that will somehow help their jalopy fare better out in the workshop. I generally go and stand outside and read a few more pages of my Agatha Christie and freeze my cojones off while the test progresses inside.
Here's the thing. This week’s thing.
When you first go into the test place, you are greeted with a hatch in a wall with a sliding glass screen. It is here that the car testing person will take your details and your car keys and your fee and bid you to wait. But there’s some other bidding to be done before you can get to that stage. The hatch is unattended because all the personnel are out in the workshop, testing cars. They’ll only come back in when they have a result for someone and when they need to get the next car to test. So there’s a note taped to the glass screen on the hatch. I can’t remember precisely what it says – hell, I can’t ever remember if it’s Jesus or Christ on the car wash – but here’s the general gist of it.
“Please take a seat and you will be called when we are ready for you.”
That kind of thing. It’s pretty unambiguous. I read it and I take my seat and my mind recalls another reason why I don’t like this process very much. It’s that sign. Well, no, tell a lie. It’s not the sign itself, it’s how everyone in the world seems to deal with it. Everyone, that is, except me.
I take my seat and wait to be called. Poirot’s case can no longer distract me. I know, all too well, what happens next.
A woman comes in. Don’t get me wrong, it could have been a man. It just happened to be a woman. I’m not even making that up for the benefit of the story, as I am sometimes wont to do.
This woman steps up to the hatch and near-sightedly reads the notice. Then she stands and waits at the glass. She peers inside. She checks the time on her phone. She shifts her weight from foot to foot.
The car test guy appears at the window.
“I’m here for my car test,” the woman proclaims, as if this was to be some kind of a surprise to anybody in the room.
What does the car guy do? Does he direct her to the sign (“Read the sign, lady.”) and exhort her to take a pew. Does he perhaps even gently reprimand her for not just taking the seat in the first place?
To quote the late John Wayne: The hell he does.
He processes her.
While he’s doing that, a young guy arrives. He sees there’s a very short queue of one at the hatch and he gets in line. Guess what? He’s here for the car test. He gets processed.
Another person comes in… and another… and another.
During this gala of processing an elderly guy comes in, reads the sign, and sits down quietly beside me. He has a gentle air of compliance and despair about him. We sit and watch the busier, more important people parade past us.
“I am this guy beside me,” I think to myself, “I carry the subtle fragrance of other people’s boots on my back.”
Eventually, exactly at my appointed time. A car guy appears and rather annoyedly calls my name. I go to the hatch, bypassing a girl who is evidently in a dreadful hurry.
I am processed with kindness and good attention and I am processed at exactly my allotted time. I had, in fairness, arrived a little early, having set off early out of fear of possible traffic.
My car fails but that’s beside the point. It always does. I have a few small things to get attended to and then I’ll go back for a retest and that will be fine.
But the scene that played out bruises me a little. There is no reason that it should. I played my part in the smooth running of the test centre and I got looked after at the correct time and I got looked after well.
It’s just all those people who step in front of me, who ignore the signs. Well, they make me feel like a lesser person than I should be. I should be up there, getting all thick and confrontational with them. Possibly assuming a poor shadow of a New York accent.
“Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? Don’t you read so good? See the sign? You take a seat and they call you when they’re good-and-ready. Savvy?”
It’s not just that I would probably get hand-bagged and verbally assailed if I stuck my head up over the parapet like that. It’s more than that. It’s just not in my nature.
I am compliant. I generally continue to feel that being compliant is a pretty good thing.
But, as I get older, I get to feel like maybe, just once in a while, it's not.