Post 43: Third Installment – On The Way to Romania
The Test Drive
At the hotel, we freshened up and went down to the lobby to meet our interpreter. Except he wasn’t there. At my request, the hotel clerk called him and handed me the receiver. The gentleman informed me we never sent a deposit for his services, so he wasn’t sure we were legitimate and wasn’t about to sit around the hotel waiting for us. I put Dr. G on the phone. He exuberantly apologized for the mix up and promised to pay the deposit in cash as soon as he arrived.
About thirty minutes later, a polite, slender, bookish guy in his early thirties arrived. Dr. G gave him some cash and we all jumped in a cab and headed towards the car dealership. Instead of finding a showroom surrounded by acres of new vehicles, we pulled up to a nondescript brick office with street parking and nary a new car in sight. The interpreter explained how new cars were stored elsewhere while all transactions took place in the dealer’s office. There were certainly no car dealerships like this in the States.
The two men in the office seemed surprised we actually showed up. At first they seemed a little skeptical about our intentions, but after some conversation, they realized we were serious. They made a phone call and gave us strong, black, hot coffee in tiny cups with lots of sugar cubes, and attempted to make conversation through the interpreter as we waited. Eventually, two bright red shiny cars appeared in the parking spaces outside of the office window.
We went out to look at them and did the typical male, new-car inspection thing. We walked around them, kicked the tires, opened and slammed doors, peered inside, inhaled the new car smell and commented on how, even though they had no radios and were stick shifts, they looked like good, reliable autos.
The keys were in the ignitions. Dr. G suddenly jumped into the driver’s seat of one and started it up. This action startled the dealers, causing them to look slightly concerned and confused. Dr. G ground the car into reverse, loudly revved the engine, popped the clutch and stalled. The men’s look of concern grew on. Sporting a big kid-like grin on his face, Dr. G started it again and backed the car into the street, again stalling, now in the middle of the street. The men started to yell.
I tried not to laugh as they ran toward the car, arms waving with pained expressions on their faces. Dr. G again started the car, missed first gear, ended up in reverse and lurched backward, striking a garbage can sitting behind him. The men were almost apoplectic now. Dr. G put the car into first gear and slowly and calmly pulled it back into its original spot.
As the men and I quickly checked for damage, Dr. G jumped out, proud as punch, and shouted, “Beeal, these good cars, I think we buy them.”
Back inside, we sat around a low coffee table, finalized the price of around $16,000 U.S. dollars and confirmed there were no export taxes. The two dealers appeared calmer, but still a little anxious about how we would pay them in U.S. currency. They obviously hadn’t dealt with people like Dr. G. He casually leaned back on the couch and unpinned a pocket. Their eyes got big as he reached into the pocket and pulled out a wad of bills and handed them to me. With a big yawn he said, “Here Beeal, I too tired. You count.”
I was tired too! During our overnight flight in economy class, I barely slept because I worried Dr. G might leave his suit coat onboard. Groggily, I poured myself some more strong coffee, added sugar and began counting those hundred dollar bills, splitting them into piles of tens in neat rows across the low table while hoping the caffeine would kick in. When I finished counting one wad of bills, Dr. G nonchalantly unpinned another pocket and handed me a fresh fistful. The interpreter sat there, sedately trying to look like this was a common experience for him, but by the third safety pin, his eyes were bugging out too. After I completed sixteen stacks, we watched as the dealers recounted those beautiful, crisp Benjamin Franklins and then signed off on the paperwork.
As part of my negotiations, the dealer agreed to help us arrange insurance for the cars. We planned to arrive Monday, buy the cars, get them insured, get a good night’s sleep and then hit the road Tuesday morning, bound for Romania.
However, after counting the money and signing the paperwork, the dealers informed us the insurance broker would not be able to finalize insurance arrangements until Tuesday morning. Not wanting to drive the cars uninsured, we decided to taxi back to the hotel. Before leaving the small office, we asked the dealer a favor. Once the cars were insured and we were ready to leave, could they have the two cars waiting at a point off the expressway so we could begin our southbound trek? They agreed. Prague is a big, complex old city with narrow, winding streets which makes it extremely hard to navigate, especially for foreigners.
Next week: A Review of Face Your Fears!