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Mack Williams column: A $200 car

When I told my friend Rita Lea that I had just spent $400 on getting my old ’92 Lumina repaired, she said I could have had a new (well, not “a new,” but “a-nother”) one much cheaper.

She took me to the Virginia-Carolina Car Auction on the North Carolina-Virginia border. It is aptly named, for from its “barely” Virginia location, a southward glance envisions the green sign noting the Caswell County-North Carolina border.

Before the auction began, we walked around outside, checking the “prospects.” Keys were in ignitions, so cars could be cranked and their “heartbeats” given a listen. Automobiles could be driven around the lot, but not off of the premises, as that might lead to a different kind of “drive-off” than those sometimes experienced by filling station operators.

The ones we tried cranked up on the first try. There were little Chevy Cavaliers, medium-sized cars, SUVs, and a big van, all looking to be from the ’80s to early 2000s.

We didn’t test drive any of the vehicles, but watched as some were taken for a brief run. One SUV had some sort of secretion dripping from it, such liquid serving as embarrassment to an otherwise smooth spin. Walking over to the deposited spots, Rita bent down to attempt identification through smell, but even “post sniff,” we were still none the wiser.

We took our seats as auctioning was about to commence. Prospective “deals” would be entering through a garage door to our right and exiting through one to our left. The auctioneer reminded everyone to get their free tickets for a drawing. Those with the winning tickets would, in turn, receive a free lottery ticket, so in that building on the Virginia-Carolina border, it could be said that multiple-chance and “chancy” reigned supreme.

Hot dogs, chips, cake and drinks were sold on premises, reminding me of that other place of “dreams and chance,” the bingo hall.

The slow procession began; and after the cars were cranked, the auctioneer’s sing-song voice cranked up too. His chant reminded me of the old tobacco market, so in addition to seeing cars from the recent past, we heard something from much further back in time.

The SUV came through, still “oozing,” but the engine sounded good. Rita said one time a car had to be pushed past the observing crowd. That owner’s honesty has to be admired, but such forthrightness was probably not conducive to enthusiastic bidding that day.

One car went through with something “mucousy” coming out of its exhaust pipe each time the pistons fired, in much the same fashion as my nasal catarrh from spring pollen.

A van came through with a knock in the motor, but was still successfully auctioned off. Perhaps to some, such thing is only a blemish.

Speaking of “blemish,” after seeing scrapes and hearing motor “arrhythmia,” I felt like the auction was sort of an automotive version of the Miss America contest, in which warts, moles (or worse) didn’t much matter.

Those with further questions left their seats and approached a car, at which time the driver stopped so they could inquire. Imagine going to a race (of much slower pace) in which one could walk out onto the track and the driver would stop to field questions. (Imagine doing this with Dale, Jr.)

I got all excited when one car went for $200 (especially after I found out the place accepted debit cards). I said to Rita, excitedly: “I could have had a $200 car!”

Another one went for $300, and I said: “I could’ve had that one too!”

Sitting here now, writing this, I’m quite calm, and I realize that a $200-$300 suit is one thing, but that a $200-$300 car is something else entirely.

My attendance of a car auction was something new to me. Rita is from Michigan, and I guess they have car auctions up there (I know they make cars); but the whole thing, complete with “drawled” auctioneering (although drawled rapidly) seemed so very “sub-Mason-Dixon latitude,” that I felt as if a Yankee lady had introduced me to something truly Southern.

Thanks to her, I now know that in a “”transportational pinch,” a pre-owned (VERY pre-owned) car is only one card swipe away, no payment coupon book involved!

In summation, that slow procession of old rides on which new dreams could travel, seemed to be saying something positive about life (the human kind): that what was wanted and chosen before, could be wanted and chosen again.

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