A Failed Narco

“Remind me,” my mechanic friend down in Santa Ana asked, “What have you replaced on this thing?”

The thing he referred to was my old Galloper, known without affection but with malice as the Malloper. I started ticking off items, using my fingers to count along. Once I had completed a lap through all ten digits and the count was healthily into the teens he waved me off. 

“I got it,” he said. “Everything.”

Yes, in the less than three years I’d had the misfortune to call the Malloper mine I had indeed repaired and replaced just about every electrical and mechanical component. These improvements occasionally helped for a short while, but ultimately the new part aggravated all of the older ones around it—one of which soon quit out of indignation.

The Malloper has now spent the better part of two months in the parking lot of my friend the mechanic’s shop in Santa Ana — a “se vende” sign in the window. It has, unfortunately, gathered more dust than interest in that largely upscale community. I refused to sell it up on the mountain as: 1) I don’t want to put this cursed car in the hands of anyone I know, and, more importantly, 2) I never want to see it again.

My mechanic friend has, thus far, politely refrained from mentioning this extended parking situation. If the Malloper—being sold ‘as-is’ in the most strenuous use of that term — fails to find a new home, I suspect that we will chop it up for parts (since most are new) and then set fire to what remains.

So, you might ask, if the Malloper is gone (almost), what am I driving around the mean streets of the Monte Verde district these days? I’ll tell you, and you’ll be surprised. I still am.

It looks even shadier when clean, which is why it’s dirty

I have gone from a situation where people, assuming I was uninsured and had perhaps just escaped from a state facility of some kind, veered out of the way of my Malloper, to a whole new vibe: people now jump out of my way because they fear that, behind all of the chrome and dark tinting, my Avalanche and I might be packing heat. I might, in fact, be a Narco.

When my same mechanic friend told me a couple of months ago about a gringo leaving the country that needed to sell three fancy cars in just a few weeks, I admit that I had I liked the sound of that potential deal. For once, I would be on the winning side. The side with time, patience and the ability to walk away.

When I first received pictures of the Chevy Avalanche I chuckled. “No,” I said to my friend, “that’s not exactly the look I’m trying to cultivate.” 

“But you said you wanted a truck. The rear seat on this thing folds down and the panels covering the back can be removed. It’s like a truck and an SUV had a baby.”

“Yeah,” I answered, “But it’s also got 20” chrome rims, and a leather interior you can’t even see through the tinted windows.”

My friend persisted. “You’ve been complaining about cars since you got to Costa Rica. This thing only has 75,000 kilometers (not miles) on it and my shop has been taking care of it for the past six years. It’s mint. You’re not going to find a better car.”

“But I just don’t think I’ll look good with all the big gold chains I’ll have to wear around my neck.”

“Come take a look at it when you’re in town. The guy’s driver will bring it over.”

“You see!” I exclaimed. “This is the kind of car that comes with a driver. I don’t have a driver. I don’t even have a personal assistant or a masseuse. I’m going to have to get my back waxed and wear authentic fútbol jerseys just to ride around in it.”

“We’ll cross those bridges when we have to—just come check it out.”

I did and, I am slightly embarrassed to admit, I liked it. What I liked most was that the motor started when you turned the key and, more importantly, nothing fell off when you turned a corner. The negotiations ensued. They were brief. They were in my favor, and I sheepishly told my bride about our potential new car.

“Will that fit in the driveway?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said, now a little unsure.

The rest of the negotiations took place from afar, and I arranged to pick up the Avalanche on the same day my family was to return to Costa Rica via the San Jose airport. I felt fairly confident that something significant would go wrong with this plan—which involved driving my Malloper down to Santa Ana, meeting the sellers at a bank, successfully wiring money AND, most importantly, making it to the airport in time to get my family. 

Pura Vida did its level best to throw large wrenches in the plan (the fact that the Seller’s passport had a slight conflict with the name on the registration caused havoc, as did the precise order in which the various names were placed on the cashier’s check I had to get when we discovered that the Seller’s bank wouldn’t accept a wire). I persevered and, eventually, found myself with the keys to a car I’d sat in for all of five minutes. 

I raced to the airport, enjoying the fact that I could see over the traffic in which I was solidly stuck, and eventually picked up my family. The heavens unleashed rain, and darkness fell on the already midnight windows. From the backseat came a cry of triumph.

“Daddy, it has a TV!”

I narrowed my gaze as motorcycles cut in and around me. “No, it doesn’t.”

I did not dare take my eyes from the road but was sorely tempted by the noises of plastic things being opened and shut behind me.

“Yep, there’s a TV right here!”

I risked a look back and, sure enough, a small television screen folded down from the roof. As Things #1 and #2 did a seated, belted victory dance regarding the fact that every future car trip was now a double-feature, I tried to think through how many blocks away from the bank I’d now have to park. The bank keeps shutting down my account access because they already think I’m a Narco. The Avalanche was likely going to get me deported.

The unhappy thoughts were eventually droned out by the power of the V8 engine. I had one last moment of panic when I thought I would need a chainsaw–or a blowtorch–to get the beast down our driveway, but soon found I had at least two inches to spare. As I squeezed past the trees I thought it might not be all bad if I banged it up a bit. A few dents and scrapes might take the high out of my high profile.

Or, then again, they might just make me look like the worst of all options: a failed Narco.