Pollution? What pollution?
By Walter Jowers
AUGUST 31, 1998: Every year, when it's time to renew my license plate, I have to drive across town, wait in line, and then pay somebody six dollars to stick a little wand up my car's tailpipe.
This chore usually burns an hour or two of my time. It doesn't seem like much now, but when I'm drawing my last breath, I know I'll be thinking about the hours I wasted going to the tailpipe-hosing station.
I know, I know. We do this so our cars won't pollute the air. I'm all for clean air, and I'm willing to do my part. But the Jowers family car really isn't much of a polluter. Check out these readings from my last visit to the Melrose tailpipe-sniffing station:
Maximum allowable hydrocarbons: 220 parts per million. My car's hydrocarbons: 13 parts per million. A Chihuahua pup can fart that much hydrocarbon.
Maximum allowable carbon monoxide (expressed in percentage): 1.20. My car's carbon monoxide: 0.01. At this rate, I could take the car in for the next hundred years and still not be a certified carbon monoxide polluter.
Since wife Brenda and I have lived here, we've owned and tested seven different vehicles, including my old band car, a brake-fluid-leaking, transmission-slipping '72 Mercury Marquis. Not one of these cars ever came close to failing the tailpipe-hosing test.
So why do I need to go back every year? Co-inspector Rick grew up in Los Angeles. He tells me that out there, where the smog's thick enough to hide a whole mountain range, motorists have their vehicles tested once every two years.
Maybe the government just needs the money. If the good folks downtown can't pay their light bill without getting six bucks from me every year, that's fine. Let 'em send me a bill, and I'll pay up. Shoot, I wouldn't mind paying a little extrasay two more bucksin the years when I don't have to test.
If we must take our cars in for yearly testing, I say we ought to add a basic safety check to the festivities. Back home in South Carolinawhere the town government was so cheap that we had to haul our own trash to the landfillwe still had to take our cars in for yearly safety checks.
Some local motorists are zipping down Broadway in cars so beat up that Evel Knievel would be ashamed to jump over 'em. I can't go to the Krispy Kreme and back without seeing a half-dozen cars with busted-up windshields, Saran-wrap windows, and red-tape taillights. In any given parking lot, about a third of the vehicles have slick tires. On any given night, about half the pickup trucks are missing a headlight.
A few years back, my musician buddy Bruce bought an old Chevy pickup. The side panels on the bed were seriously rusty, so he tied them in place with bungee cords. One day, as I was following Bruce on Nolensville Road, he hit a pothole; at that moment, the strength of the side panels exceeded the power of the bungee cords. The sides just peeled back, like the solid-rocket boosters falling away during a Space Shuttle launch. The panels crashed onto the asphalt, then spun and sparked along for about 50 yards. We picked 'em up and threw 'em in the back of the truck. Within six months, they had disintegratedrust in the wind. That truck was legal and never got tested for anything.
But last week, co-inspector Rick took his car in for its annual tailpipe hosing. The exhaust was a little rich in hydrocarbons, so the car failed the test. Rick, being the good citizen that he is, drove straight to his mechanic's shop, which is conveniently located right up the street from the pollution-testing shack.
"Here's what you do," the mechanic said. "Drive out of here, then run full-out to the end of the road. Turn around, run full-out back to the testing shack, then take the car out of gear and coast in."
There was no other traffic on the road, so Rick did that very thing. He peeled out, roared down the road, U-turned, and roared back. As he neared the testing shack, he saw that the bay was open. So he slapped the transmission into neutral and coasted into the bay.
He passed, big time. Next year, he'll know what to do.
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