Rob at Green Garage in Denver understands the art of telling someone how expensive their car repair is going to be: You can’t deliver the news with the same gravitas that you would telling someone they have a terminal illness.
“You ready, man?” he always asks me whenever I take my van in for an oil change. And I brace for the impact on my wallet, which can be anywhere from $250 to $1,500. We go over it, and I shrug my shoulders and say ouch, OK, can you do it today, when can I pick it up, sure thing.
We have such a contentious relationship with vehicles sometimes: we beat the crap out of them, and we feel hurt when parts of them break, even get angry. We accuse manufacturers of building “lemons,” or we take it out on repair garages who we think are trying to rob us blind. I try to take everything in stride and not get too worked up about car repairs. I drive a van with 180,000 miles on it, and I put 25,000-plus miles on it each year, I live in it, and its pedigree … well, it ain’t a BMW. Whenever I take it in for a checkup, I mentally prepare myself for what I call my “surprise car payment,” which sometimes is just an oil change, but sometimes is four figures.
Last fall, I got the bad news that a bunch of repairs needed to be done, costing about what two round-trip flights to Switzerland would cost. It was a particularly large bill, in a year of lots of large car repair bills. I did something I try to never do: I started feeling sorry for myself.
My friend Craig DeMartino has a saying he is fond of: Life is 10% events, and 90% your reaction. This is actually a paraphrase of a longer quote from a book by Charles Swindoll, but I like to think of it coming from Craig, because he’s missing the lower part of his leg, has a fused spine, is in chronic pain, and still manages to climb harder than most people with all their limbs.
We sometimes think we have a lot of bad news, but what we often have are small problems plus a huge amount of first-world entitlement. Usually nobody’s dying. Most of us don’t have to walk two miles every morning to get water from a river. Most of us don’t have a huge risk of a suicide bomber stepping onto the bus we take to work every morning. Twitter went down for an hour. The barista obviously didn’t get it when we said “extra hot extra foam.” Someone pulled out in front of us on our way to work and we had to decelerate 8 miles per hour for almost three seconds. And then we get angry. Or entitled.
OK, so it’s a big car repair bill, or a rejection letter, or a bad this or bad that. But hey, my checking account still has enough money in it for a burrito and an ice cream cone, so it’s not that bad, is it? And there’s a dog with its tail wagging, and a construction worker telling another construction worker a joke and they’re both laughing. And someone out there is having a good day that’s far quote-unquote worse than my bad day.