Corwin, a Full-service Asshat Company.

I got an e-mail yesterday from my used car salesman from this debacle. Remember? The one that ended in this way? Here’s what his email said: 

Hi Jennifer,

I sincerely hope that you have been enjoying your new Mazda MAZDA5. It has been 6 months since your purchase, and now may time for your second scheduled maintenance.

Please give our Service Department a call at (701) 282-8425 to schedule an appointment. Or if you would prefer, you can simply click here to schedule a service appointment online. Please click here to see any current service specials we may be offering.

Always at your service,

[a nice photo of my car saleman was here]
[his name was here. I don't know why I feel like protecting him, but I do]
Sales Specialist
Corwin Toyota
222 40th Street SW
Fargo, ND 58103
Cell [I have this if you want to call him and visit about your transportation options]

You are receiving this email because you inquired about or purchased a vehicle from Corwin Toyota recently or in the past. If you prefer not to receive further emails from us, click here to unsubscribe. Alternatively, you can send a written request to the address below. We’ll remove you from our list as quickly as possible.
This email was sent to [my email address] on March 15, 2014.

To contact us please visit or call (701) 282-8425.

This email was delivered to you by:
Corwin Toyota
222 40th Street SW
Fargo, ND 58103


Now, I know I could’ve just unsubscribed from the mailing list, but it made me a little…irate. After all of the trouble, and trauma, the ridiculousness…I talked to this salesman a week after the accident, showed him photos of the totaled car…aside from offering to help me find another (thanks so much), he did literally nothing for me. He couldn’t even take me off a stupid automatic reminder list that I clearly no longer needed. So I wrote to him, CC ing three managers and a finance guy in the company. Here’s my response.

[Car Salesman Name]:
I know that you have an automated system that sends out these reminders, so I’m not really upset with you, per se. But seriously, when I come back to Corwin and show you the photos of the horrible accident my daughter and I had, (a reminder of them, here: ) don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, you could take note and remove me from this mailing list?
The van was totalled in October. I sat in Justin’s office and watched you look at my photographs just a week later. The accident was a trauma for which my daughter is still in therapy. I don’t exactly need a reminder.
You sending me this is insensitive at best, salt in the wound, and just provides another reason (please, please see some more reasons, here: for me to never shop for another car from Corwin as long as I live.
Again, I don’t hold you personally responsible. Much. But I do believe you (and Corwin) could do better.
Jennifer Languishing [well, no, I used my real last name here...]
Instructor of English, Humanities, and Women’s Studies
[The school where I work. To make me seem extra bad-ass]
Moorhead, MN 56560
I don’t expect to get any sort of response from any of them, truly. But it felt necessary, somehow, to write it down once more, this time including management. They won’t return my calls, but by god, they’ll take me off the mailing list. Even if I have to unsubscribe myself in 6 more months.
Posted in Daughter, Universe | 1 Comment

To my friend, on her 41st birthday

I first met Kari on a dirt road outside of Morris in June, 1991. We were both just a month past our high school graduations, and I had come to the University of Minnesota campus for the first time in my life, to register for classes. Kari pulled up alongside us somewhere between town and Pomme de Terre, and knew one of my friends’ friends (who was in the car with me), and I liked her easy smile and the gap between her two front teeth. She had blonde hair like cornsilk (though it was only chin-length, then), and a laugh that I believed in.

When we moved into Spooner Hall in September, I was thrilled to see Kari just four doors down the hall from me. Our floor had twenty-eight women, one telephone, and as much drama as you might expect. Kari and I shared a love of good punctuation, a small-town girl naivete, and a ridiculous sense of humor. For Christmas that year, we bought each other watercolor paints, because we both fancied ourselves 6th-grade level artists. I had gone the cheap route, and bought the dollar store brand; she’d splurged on me and bought Crayola washable watercolors. We sat in the lounge between exams, and somehow went from painting on thick watercolor papers to decorating each others’ faces. Her blue eyes looked even bluer under watercolored lids, and she painted a heart on my chin.  Our laughter rang down the hall, and I’m sure did not help our more studious floormates. The best part was when we went to wash it off: the cheap paint I’d bought her had no intention of coming off my face, that day or the next, and her washable watercolors splashed away easily. She helped me scrub, but still I went home for Christmas break with a heart on my chin.

That year we wore the same size clothes, and on a floor full of size eights or lower, we shared the challenge of finding plus-sized clothes that were still cute. She was one of my first friends to tell me she thought I was beautiful. We were walking north, up Atlantic Avenue, in the glorious central-Minnesota spring time, and had just bought ridiculous floor-length vintage dresses at Second Hand Rose. I took her hand and told her she was beautiful, too. It  remains one of the happiest days of my life.

In the end, we were friends for three and a half years. She bought me drinks on my 21st birthday (she turned 21 nine weeks before I did, so I couldn’t do the same), and we knew we’d know each other forever. We wrote letters over breaks, and promised each other obvious bridesmaid status. We helped each other with homework, and crochet projects, and compared our farming families’ stories and wackiness. She was a poli sci major, did an internship in Washington, adored Paul Wellstone, and I promised to help her run for office, someday, or help her help someone else run.

The last day I saw her conscious, she was about to leave Duluth to visit her boyfriend. Love suited her, and we were seniors in college, and everything made us grin like fools. I hugged her on the mall that last Thursday of finals while fat white snowflakes fell around us. “Have a great break. See you next year! Call if you get lonesome.” I would ache for years that I had not sensed something, made her go to Turtle Mountain Cafe for ice cream, or to Pizza Hut for breadsticks. Anything to change the arc of time.

She stopped and bought a blouse in JCPenney’s at St. Cloud, then turned up highway 23 to Duluth, where after a little while a pickup crossed the center line and climbed up over the hood of her car. You can read my poem for her here, if you like. She was conscious when the EMTs arrived, which is not a good sign in such a serious accident, they told us much later. I got to see her four times in the hospital in Minneapolis before she died, on the 9th of January. She never woke up. I kissed her, and sang to her, and touched her long hair. I told her she was beautiful.

I would give up an awful lot to be able to hear her voice again, today, on her 41st birthday. Our babies were supposed to know each other, and we were supposed to have decades more of friendship. Today, though, I’ll try to focus on the three and a half we did get, and hold her laugh in my heart.

Posted in Love, Nostalgia, Universe | 3 Comments

Adventures in Homekeeping

Someday, I will write a children’s book called The Very Lazy Family. It will be about a family who moves into a house, but refuses to change any light bulbs. After about year 3, they use flashlights all the time. It starts because the first light to burn out is way up high in a stairwell, and so not really necessary; but when the next one burns out, it seems like they shouldn’t change that until they change the one in the stairwell…and, well, they are a Very Lazy Family.

Languishing readers will not be surprised to know that this is based on our life. We moved into this house in 2002, and it’s not just light bulb maintenance at which we suck. Frankly, we are the sort of people who should find ourselves a nice, reliable landlord and rent until we die. But here we are, 12 years in. It’s getting mighty dusty, too.

The most recent lighting debacle happened in our main floor bathroom/laundry room. Sometime in September, the lightswitch broke. Just snapped right off the wall. Does that happen to other people? Perhaps we were too emphatic in our light switching. At any rate, it broke, and for awhile it was no big deal, because it broke in the “on” position, so we were well illuminated. We shut the door to watch a movie, but for a good 6 weeks, we saw no need for concern.

Of course, the lightbulb couldn’t last forever. It burned out in early November, just as the long, long nights of winter settled heavily onto Minnesota. There’s a north facing window, so for 6 or 7 hours a day, the bathroom was lit up just fine. But it’s our tooth-brushing bathroom, and V did not want to brush her teeth in the dark. We dug out a flashlight. I had to change the flashlight batteries last month, but otherwise things were going pretty smoothly.

Now, though I fully intend to exploit our laziness for my children’s book career, I really am not proud of this lazy tendency. My father was a jack of all trades, and my mother taught me I could do whatever I put my mind to (though she also encouraged me to marry a doctor or lawyer). I’ve already mastered plumbing, so I figured replacing a lightswitch was a logical next step. This morning, I googled “replace a light switch,” and 20 minutes later, light has returned. No one got electrocuted, and we can put the handy tooth-brushing flashlight away.

For now.

Posted in Family, Write | 1 Comment

Wabi Sabi, Johnson style

When I was young, my dad was a farmer and my mama was a school teacher. We didn’t have a lot of money, though it was more the you-don’t-really-need-that-new-shirt kind than the go-to-bed-hungry kind. We got new school clothes in the fall, and shopped at garage sales and thrift shops, and I wanted to be a boy when I grew up anyway (long story…) so I didn’t care much about clothes and whatnot.

The winter of fourth grade, I think it was, I needed a new coat.  Because Dewey Johnson was my dad, we had to shop at Archie’s before we looked at any “real” stores, and I was not happy. Archie’s was a fantastic store in Dilworth, a giant, rambling place (much like Ron’s Warehouse in Alexandria) that prided itself on unusual, low-priced merchandise. I had recently come to care, at least a little, about appearances though, and when I realized that I would have to wear this coat every single day for months and months, and I wanted a cute one, not some weird farmer’s surplus odd colored discount fire sale coat.

But my tears of protest were ignored. We wandered around the cavernous store, and with dread I found the winter coat section. But wait: what was this, shoved behind the typical yellow and gray selections? A purple coat. Purple. My Favorite Color Ever, and no one I knew had ever had a purple coat. This one was warm, with soft cuffs, and down inside a thick cotton shell. There was only one. And it was in my size. And in our budget.

I almost wept. I was so excited, I put it on before we got to the checkout, and made the lady look at the back of my neck for the price. It was the prettiest coat in America, I was sure. And it was mine.

I wore it to school before it was really cold enough, because I loved it so much.  I seriously can still feel those stretchy cuffs around my wrists, and feel the snaps on the pockets. I had not loved a piece of clothing so much since my mom washed my satin baseball jacket with the green crayon in the pocket.

One night, as my whole family cleaned the bank (as we were wont to do), it was my turn to take the trash out to the dumpster. It was only about ten feet from the backdoor, and usually we just ran out and back without bundling up. But I missed my jacket, so I put it on, propped open the door, and took the garbage back out, swinging it twice to get it into the tall dumpster. As I turned to go back inside, the Prettiest Coat in America caught, just a little, on a rough piece of metal. Before I even noticed, I heard a ripping noise, and my heart fell. On my right shoulder, a hole the size of a nickel showed the lovely white down inside. I thought I was going to throw up.

I came back inside the bank, almost hyperventilating. “Mommmmm…” I called, and ran to show her the tragedy of my coat. “I need another new coat.” My dad snorted, and mom assured me she could fix it. She looked at it carefully, though, and realized I had not just torn it, but somehow removed an entire circle of fabric. She sighed. I was crying, and I meant it.  It was so much worse, having loved and lost, than never having loved at all! Why hadn’t I picked a stupid yellow coat that I wouldn’t care about a gaping hole in the sleeve? Why did I need to wear it just to take out the trash? Why were dumpsters so stupid? The whole world was unfair, and my parents didn’t understand at all. Ugh. I was mad and sad and heartsick.

The next morning, I came downstairs to a carefully stitched coat. But my mom hadn’t just fixed it. Somewhere in her sewing box, she’d found a gorgeous, lacy unicorn patch. In fourth grade, the only thing I loved more than purple was unicorns, and my mama had magically brought both together.  Instead of being the worst thing ever, my mama took this hole in my coat and made it into the most magical garment I’d ever dreamed of.

mIb4oEj9iXtjM-qAnh0VIFg (This is not the actual patch. It’s the closest I could find. The purple is pretty close, though).  

Even now, more than thirty years later, I have a great fondness for purple, and for unicorns. And I’m still a believer in the magic of my mama.

Posted in Family, Hendrum, Nostalgia | 1 Comment

Books for kids and people who were kids once

A recent Facebook meme had me posting ten books that, for whatever reason, had stayed with me. As a nerdy nerd, narrowing it to ten was hard, but also fun. And it’s planted the seed in my mind about books we carry in our hearts and heads, and why, and how, and I’m so grateful for my parents who read every day, and read to us, and encouraged us to read, and bought us books.

And since it’s nearing the holidays, and Languishing loves to give you gift ideas (see here, and here, and here…), let’s just kill both our birds with the one stone, shall we? I hereby declare 2013 the year of the book, and you should chose your favorite book and give copies to everyone you love. What is better than getting a new book? Very little, if you ask me. As a bonus, many of these are often available at thrift stores in nearly new condition for less than 80 cents. Frugal and fantastic: that’s the Languishing way!

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish: I’ve mentioned her before, but I remember as a girl being incredulous at the way Amelia Bedelia viewed the world. She has many books, but Thank You, Amelia Bedelia is one of my favorites.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: We received a boxed set of the first four books, like this one, as a gift from someone when V was but wee. When I was a girl, there were no books I would rather read for a long stretch of time. They kept their milk cold but tucking it into the stream! They found dishes at the dump! As a full grown feminist, their gender roles are a bit too restrictive for my tastes (really, Jessie? You have to do all the cooking? Why can’t Benny cook a little?), but they are resourceful, polite, and so thankful for what they do have. The first 19 books are by Ms. Warner, FYI, and I love all 19 of them.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Now I’m a firm believer that children can and should handle a lot of grown up poetry, but there is something magical about Silverstein’s take on the world, his playfulness, and the song-writing skills he brings. V has been reading me his poems since she was 4 years old, and it’s still one of our favorite ways to pass the time in the car. “If you are a dreamer, come in..”

Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol: Again, I have discussed the joy that is Encyclopedia Brown before, but truly, I loved reading his stories. They had that handy “How did Encyclopedia know? Turn to page 112 to find out!” feature, which I liked much more than the find-your-own-adventure books. 

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: It’s no surprise, I suppose, that a third-generation American-Swedish girl would fall in love with Pippi, but I’d argue it’s no surprise when anyone falls in love with Pippi. Like The Boxcar Children and Where the Lilies Bloom, Pippi’s parents are MIA, but  she has a suitcase full of gold coins and a wacky imagination, so everything’s a lot more cheerful at Pippi’s house. V loves Pippi, and it does my heart good to read stories of these kinds of adventures with my fourth-generation American-Swedish girl.

Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill Cleaver and Vera Cleaver: This is a young adult novel set in the Appalachian Mountains, and Mrs. Holtz, may she rest in peace, drug our class all the way through it in junior high school.  This book meant the world to me when I was thirteen: Mary Call, the main character, holds her family together through almost unimaginable hardship, and shows ingenuity, stubbornness, and an impressive work ethic throughout. Apparently, when your dad has a stroke, stories of people whose lives are harder than yours are very appealing, especially when they survive the ordeal in someway. The family in this book reminded me of a slightly older Boxcar Children family, but with even fewer resources. Heart wrenching and beautiful.

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo: Another choice of Mrs. Holtz, this is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read, and since I’ve studied Faulkner more than many, I think that’s saying a lot. It was hard because of the subject matter, but also because I couldn’t get my brain around the storytelling style. I remember not understanding what was going on in the text, and being frustrated, but then I clearly remember when I finally understood: there was a light bulb moment, fairly rare in my time in high school, when the whole story clicked for me, and I can still recall how it moved into my bones. This book is brutal, and beautiful, and if you’ve never read it you probably should.

Very Special People by Frederick Drimmer: It’s not so much that I recommend Very Special People, because that would be presumptuous of me. It’s more in the interest of full disclosure: this may be the most influential book of my life. My parents had bought me the children’s version of this book, apparently, which I loved, and so when they found the whole grown-up version at a rummage sale, they picked it up for me. It was a standard-sized Bantam paperback, but over 1000 pages, and I wore it out. I read it cover to cover perhaps thirty times, and the spine gave out around reading 22. Drimmer’s not especially good at objective reporting, but his stories of the lives of circus sideshow performers still fascinate me. (I replaced the disintegrating copy in 2001 with a hardbound copy Tenessa and I found at the largest used book store I’d ever been in, Strand in New York City.)

So, there you have it: Languishing’s Best Bets for Vintage-y kids books this year. And truly, what adult couldn’t do with a little rereading of Pippi Longstocking or Where the Sidewalk Ends? While you’re at it, if you can’t find these books in the thrift shops in your neighborhood, and despite my links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, above, please support your local bookseller this holiday season. I know that Zandbroz (in Fargo and Souix Falls) would greatly appreciate your business, and you could probably do every bit of your holiday shopping right there in that one store.

What are your favorite books from childhood, gentle readers? Have you read any of mine? does Pippi Longstocking scare you a little? Do tell.

Posted in Books, Daughter, Nostalgia | 2 Comments

“Jesus Take the Wheel” my ass.

Oh, mercy. First, let me state very clearly: everyone here is fine. We are not physically hurt; no one is bleeding or broken.

Next, let me address the title of this post. “Jesus Take the Wheel” is the title of an alarmingly popular song by Carrie Underwood. I actually like Carrie Underwood, but to me this song is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.  Essentially, it’s a story of a woman who’s had an especially hard year, driving in winter with her baby in the backseat, when she hits black ice. Rather than employ standard winter driving practices, she throws her hands up and cries “Jesus, take the wheel!”  The baby doesn’t even wake up, she spins gently to the shoulder, and promises to change her life, etcetera, etcetera. The chorus is catchy, the lyrics are vapid, and the religious overtones make me sick.  I could write a post on all kinds of levels of disgust for this song.

But, as you may have guessed from my first point, this post will address an unfortunate happening. And it deals with the car mentioned in my last post, though I believe what happened was not the dealer’s fault, but a freak accident. But first, to fill in since I last wrote:

I had the front shocks replaced on our new Mazda, purchased with such poor customer service from Corwin in Fargo. The automotive department in my college undertook them, and they did fine work. On Tuesday, I asked the instructor who oversaw the work if I could take the car to Minneapolis this weekend, and he said “Absolutely.” I trust him: he’s a smart man and a good mechanic, and I see him at work all the time.

Still, Shaun wanted me to take the Scion, our car of three years. We know it well, and it has been a really good car (knock on wood). But I was trying to have a honeymoon with the new car. I hoped V and I would have many great adventures in the new to us Mazda, and I wanted to start right now. We were going to stay with Dan and Tenessa, our dear friends, for the weekend, on the north side of Minneapolis, a trip I’ve made dozens of times.

So V and I set out on Friday on the inaugural road trip in the Mazda5. We brought snacks & planned our fast food stops. I had sewn an organizer for the back seats, and V had a favorite doll or two tucked in the sliding doors. We had a great drive down, with nary a wobble, and it drove like a dream. I exhaled, sinking in to a seat I hoped to ride for at least 100,000 miles.

On the way home, as is often the case, V was getting crabby. She had to leave her two best friends, Dan and Tenessa’s boys, behind with their basement full of Wonderful Toys. She had to go back to her real life, and she was none too happy about it. But still the miles flew past us, and though she lost her expected root beer treat just outside of Alexandria because she was using that whiny voice I can’t stand over and over again, we were having a pretty good trip home, too.  Out of habit I checked the tires each time we got back in the car, and as we’d transitioned V recently out of her booster seat (she meets the size requirements, I swear!) I made sure to remind her to make sure the belt was tight across her hips, even though she’s been buckling her own seat belt for 6 years.

We’d stopped at the rest area just east of Fergus Falls, and noticed the wind had picked up significantly. “I’m so not ready for winter,” V said, and I agreed. We climbed back in the van for what I expected to be the last leg of our trip.

Just before exit 55, (52 miles from home), road noise suddenly increased. A whole lot. At first, I thought maybe the wind was catching the rear hatch. This was our first trip in this car, and I wasn’t sure about the sounds it made in different situations. I looked in my rear view mirror and the back window was shaking, badly. “I’m gonna pull over, honey,” I said. “I’ll figure out what’s going on.” For a split second I thought about trying to press on to exit 54, only a mile ahead where there were many businesses to seek help from, as opposed to the closed antique shop at exit 55, but I figured we could get there if I couldn’t find out what was causing our new noise and shake. “Mama, I’m scared,” V called from the backseat, as I slowed from the 70mph speed limit I was driving to around 65, easing us off onto the exit ramp. “Oh, honey, you know I can fix almost anything,” I started to say, when suddenly I wasn’t steering the van anymore. The tail end flew up from behind us, turning us 90 degrees to the right. V started screaming, and I knew almost instantly that we would roll. We were going too fast toward the ditch. “Hold on,” I said. And then we were slamming into the ground, and the windshield was shattering, and the floor mats were flying up, and V was screaming. I wanted to grab her and hold on but all I could do was say, loudly so she could hear me over her own screaming, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” I said it with each terrible thump: left side, roof, right side, tires, left side, roof…

We landed tires down at the bottom of a ditch, three inches from a barbed wire fence. I think we rolled over two full times. We both exhaled, and I said “Are you okay?” before I even turned around. “Yes, are you?” She was not as hysterical as I expected, and asked “Can I unbuckle?” before she did. I stepped out of the car and came around to her door, and held her tight, looking carefully for blood or brokenness. She walked out of the van on her own, and I stared with wide eyes, not believing we could both be okay, but so, so thankful we seemed to be.

My cell phone, I thought. I’ve got to call the police. It was in my purse on the seat beside me, but I couldn’t find find it. Or my purse. It had flown all the way to the third row, and I had to lift up floor mats and dig through Cheezits. . By the time I did, though, two kind women who’d been driving behind us had pulled off, and one, whose name was Krysta, had already called the highway patrol.  They came quickly, as did the tow truck, and I gathered our suitcases out of the car. I went to gather V from the Krysta’s car, but she lives in West Fargo and offered to drive us home. I humbly accepted, and I’m sure that being able to stay with Krysta helped reduce V’s anxiety over the whole thing. It certainly reduced my anxiety.

I went back today, because I’d left all my work papers in the car, and I wanted to get V’s dolls and the organizer I made, in case insurance totals it out. I took some photos in the tow company’s barn. It’s always worse the next day, I’ve found.


Both mirrors snapped off, of course. I wasn’t sure the windshield would hold.


The hood.


We landed hard on the roof. Notice the fauna under the windshield wiper.


The windshield from the inside. The only blood I shed was today, when I went to gather our things, and had to shake the glass dust off.


The tire, left rear. Well, actually, the rim. The tire is almost gone. I was on the road for maybe ten seconds after the noise and the shaking, and I didn’t see or feel us hit anything, but this is what caused the accident, we reckon. We moved awful fast through the underbrush, as you can see.  I’ve gone over it hundreds of time in my mind, and I can’t think of anything I could’ve done differently. Other than not go to Minneapolis. Or to have taken the Scion. Or to have never bought this cursed car (in all fairness, I have no reason to believe this was anything but a freak accident. If I had driven on the shocks Corwin sold me, then this would be a very different story on many fronts. But I didn’t).


A shot of the rim from above, with what’s left of the tire.

Sigh. V won’t look at the pictures, and has declared she’ll never take another car trip. She’s got three red lines left behind by her seat belt, for which I am so, so grateful. For our wee anxious one, this is more than just an accident, and we’re working on how to best help her through this. I’ve called all the appropriate people, and am waiting for an estimate of loss & to hear what the insurance company can do for us.

Retelling all this has made me tired, and I don’t really want to have a religious discussion over this. You’ll see this through your own prism no matter what I say, but I have to go back to Jesus taking the wheel. This song came in my mind soon after we crawled out of the car, and it made me angry. If Jesus took this wheel, he did a damn poor job. And that stupid woman in the song was speeding, which I wasn’t, and she didn’t even wake the fucking baby. My baby was not just woken up. And I know that many Christians will tell me that all the good that happened here was god at work: that no one is killed or even hurt is a bit of a miracle. Krysta saved us heartache and expense beyond measure. The cop and the tow truck driver were quick to arrive and kind. It wasn’t February, and there was no snow to climb through back up to the highway. I am thankful to the universe for all of these things. But for whatever caused that rear tire to fail, I am angry, exhausted, and sad. I’m sorry that it will take a long time for my daughter to be willing to go to Minneapolis again. Every muscle in my body hurts. I would rather have not had that tire fail in the first place, if Jesus was so busy making things happen for us.

I bought V a rootbeer in Rothsay.

Our first payment on this car is due on October 31.

Posted in Daughter, Universe | 5 Comments

Country Mouse buys a car

I am, as has been established, a small town girl. Sure, I live in a big city now, but my whole worldview is shaped by where I come from, and usually I find it serves me well.  I’ve owned five cars in my life, and two of them were purchased in Hendrum, from my dad’s good friend, Wayne Hetland. Wayne didn’t stock my preferred Hondas or Mazdas or Toyotas, but when I bought from him I knew I was getting a car that was road-worthy & that if I had any problems with it, he would help me to fix it. He charged a fair price and treated me as he would want his own children treated, and I knew it. He was good man. More than once I called him, even when dealing with a car he hadn’t sold me, to ask what I should do about a light or a noise, and he was always thoughtful and told me honestly what he thought.

Still, I wanted a Mazda. In 2001, just a few days after September 11, I bought my first (and probably only) new new car. It was a black Mazda Protege, a 5 speed with a sunroof, and I zoom-zoomed all over the place. Today, it has 195,000 miles on it, and I drove almost all of them. (195,000 miles! Think of where I could’ve been!) At any rate, as you might imagine, it is a bit worn out. The rear bumper is in the process of rusting itself right off the car, and the front seat is broken (though propped up, quite nicely I might add, with a milk crate). None of the seatbelts in the backseat work anymore (except the one behind the front seat, and straddling a milk crate is no way to ride), so V has to ride in the front when we go anywhere. A couple of weeks ago, the alternator started to go out. Though I truly love this car, it was clearly time for our family to replace it.

Now, we already have the Scion, and with less than 76,000 miles on it, it’s a relative baby. It will continue to be our “go out of town” car.  What I wanted, what we needed, was a reliable, comfortable car that got decent mileage (for us, that’s above 25 mpg) that was, according to my budget, under $10,000. Shaun requested it also be an automatic, so though I’ve had a stick shift for nigh on 15 years, I agreed.

I started shopping around the Fargo-Moorhead area. I’m working full time, and when I’m not working, I have grading to do, plus V, so I knew I didn’t have a lot of spare time to devote to all of this. I know enough about cars to know what I wanted, and I made liberal use of the Kelley Blue Book as I was doing my research. Since this would be the first car I ever purchased that was A. not from Wayne, and B. without a warranty, I was a bit nervous. I have a reliable mechanic whom I trust here in town, but getting a car that I may not even buy inspected would cost me about $120. I decided that I would instead use a reliable, well-known dealer in Fargo. I figured I could skip the inspection, because these types of dealerships are known for their customer service, and save myself both time and money. My sister and her husband just bought a used car from this particular dealer a few months ago, and were quite happy with the experience. Plus, they were the only people in town who had a used Mazda 5, one of the vehicles to make my short list. Corwin-Toyota it was, then.

Anyone who has ever lived in Fargo-Moorhead will be familiar with the Corwin name. They are everywhere in this town, (and also in Missouri, Idaho, and Montana, apparently), and own a Toyota Dealership and a Dodge Dealership both. In fact, they are the only certified Toyota Dealership in the FM area, so when the Scion needed dealership work, that’s where I’d taken it. I had no reason to distrust them, and when the price they offered matched the Kelley Blue Book for a car in excellent shape, I had no problem agreeing to that price, because I assumed a company of their reputation would not sell a vehicle if it was not in excellent shape. I test drove the car for just a few blocks, and things seemed fine. I had to go pick up V, but asked that they start the paperwork so we could sign things after school, and by 5:30 we were on our way home in a new-to-us vehicle. V and I started thinking up names for it.

Of course, gentle reader, you know where this is going.

Driving home from the dealership, with V in a functioning seat belt in the back seat, I was feeling pretty good. The Mazda5 is like a mini-minivan, and I liked the idea of being able to camp with V in our vehicle, and still have room for Seven and Shaun on car trips. But then I heard a little shake.

It’s nothing, I tried to tell myself, but these cruddy Fargo-Moorhead roads o’ ruts. When Shaun drove it the first time the next day, though, he heard (and felt) it too. After six days of in-town driving, during which I kept saying to myself “What could be wrong with it? I’m sure Corwin checked it out carefully. Why would they sell it to me otherwise?” I drove it Hendrum to show my familia. Outside of FM, the noise was becoming even more troublesome. If Wayne were still with us, I would’ve had him look at it, but he’s been gone for a couple of years already. Dang it.

So I brought it into the Corwin-Toyota service department that Saturday afternoon. I explained that I had driven out of town and been concerned with some noise and shaking, and since I’d just bought it couldn’t they please check it out. They tightened the lug nuts and found them fine, so checked below. “Your front struts and shocks,” the woman said, “seem to need replacing. You’ll have to call for an appointment to get them fixed.”

My stomach fell, but just a little. I had, after all, owned this car for less than a week. I had put perhaps 80 miles on it. Surely Corwin-Toyota would know the struts were worn out when I got them, and we could work something out.

I called on Monday and they told me to bring it back to service. For $1040, they could replace the front struts, shocks, and mounts.

I had paid just under $8000 for this car one week ago. The exact same price suggested by Kelley Blue Book for this car, in excellent condition. Which it clearly was not.

“Seriously? You’re going to make me pay for all of it?” I was incredulous. “Well,” the service  department woman said, “we could take about 10% off. So $940, okay?” Um, no. This is not okay. I drove the car back home and vented on Facebook and to anyone who stood still long enough to listen to me. Everyone agreed the price seemed high and that they should do more than 10% off. I tried to call the manager.

Three times.

Once, I talked to the manager of the new car division, who was as polite as could be but of course I was not his department. He promised the manager of the used car department would call me back. Instead, my original salesman called. I told HIM I wanted to talk to the manager, and he said, of course, I’ll tell him. Next, the service department woman called. She had talked to the manager, she said, and he offered to pay $250 of the repair.

I hung up the phone so angry I was shaking. I know, of course, that they were within their legal rights. North Dakota has lousy protections for car buyers of most ilks, but especially used car buyers. Shaun suggested he come with me to talk with them, believing (perhaps rightly) that they were brushing me off largely because I was a woman. I knew, though, if they gave me what I wanted (I was willing to pay for the parts, if only they’d provide the labor) with Shaun at my side, it would  be honestly worse than it already was. It was my car, bought with my money, and by god, they should treat me fairly, even if I don’t have a man beside me. If I’d taken a rock to the windshield on the way home, or if I drove over a nail and got a flat tire, I never would have asked the dealership for help, but shocks wear out relatively gradually, and while I don’t expect to buy a used car with everything worn replaced, I know they knew the shocks were kaput when they sold me the car. And I know that despite repeated attempts to talk to the manager himself, Corwin-Toyota thought my business was worth so little to them that they would not return my calls, or offer me a fair deal.

So here’s the moral of my story, boys and girls: Get an inspection. If you have your own Wayne Hetland, buy from him, and thank him for his time, especially if he’ll carry the kind of car you like. And never, ever give one penny of your business to Corwin-Toyota in Fargo, North Dakota. Don’t even buy a gumball there. They don’t deserve any of your money, and I’m still sorry I gave them mine.

PS: Next week, I’ll be having the car repaired at my college, where students will learn how to do it and I won’t be paying the salary of people who lie to nice small town girls. Thank you for your concern.

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