Almost Buying a car

mb_190_16jun2001aI didn’t like Thomas right from the first time I met him. Even though he spoke four languages and Don said that he was OK, he seemed too smooth and shifty to me. I didn’t know just how right my instincts would turn out to be.

Renting a car is expensive in Spain so when our friends the Collins mentioned that they knew a man who was selling his Mercedes, my interest peaked. They had seen the car and reported that while it was older, luxurious and immaculate. The owner, Marcos, owned a bar in town and Don and Margaret had met him when he hired Thomas who was renovating the house beside them. Now Thomas was running Marcos’ bar, and selling the car for him because Marcos didn’t speak a word of English. In the meantime, Thomas’ friend Francis had moved into the house next door to continue the renovations.  Apparently neither Thomas nor Francis had much money and Don and Margaret had fed them, paid for things when they ran short, bought them the occasional beer, provided needed bus fare and even hired them to do work on their own house. According to the Collins, they were different, a bit strange, but alright.

We went to the Collins villa and Don rang up the bar, spoke to Thomas and arranged for us to see the car. At this point Francis mysteriously appeared and climbed into the back of Don’s car with Don’s dog. It was hard to determine who was who until I realized that the dog had been washed, had less hair and had more personality. On reflection, I realize that I never actually heard Francis speak. I did however, notice that he could put away beer at a rapid rate as long as someone was buying for him. Going to town from Don and Margaret’s is always an adventure as one has two choices. One is to follow a narrow paved road that becomes a rutted farm track, up through an even narrower pitted dirt road, (obviously a former goat track), across a field and through a neighbour’s farmyard. Or one can elect to plunge down a precipitous windy track into the riverbed. Most of the time this is dry, but sometimes it has water in it. This was one of the times and of course, this is the way Don decided to go. His four-wheel drive jeep made quick work of it although I noticed that everyone including the dog was holding on to the grab bars for dear life. We had no choice but to follow in our rental car and I gained a new appreciation for a Peugeot’s ability to slosh through wheel high water and ride over sunken logs.

We eventually arrived in Torre del Mar, went to Marco’s bar and met Marcos and Thomas. Marcos was a small dark man huddled in a corner sipping a large whisky. We were introduced and he stuck out his hand but said not a word. Thomas was a slim young man dressed in a rumpled track suit with a cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth. He greeted us like long lost friends, shook my hand warmly and presented me to the car with a flourish while extolling its virtues. His English was good and he filled in the few gaps with a mixture of German, Italian or Spanish. The car was an S320 in gunmetal gray complete with sunroof and every luxury available. Don, Margaret, Lorna and I got in and I took it for a test drive. It handled beautifully, accelerated effortlessly and we drooled over it. Don told me what Marcos wanted for it and warned me that Thomas told Don he would up the price and split the difference with him. I decided to deal directly with Marcos regardless of the language barrier. Thomas pressured me to make an immediate decision claiming he had another party ready to see the car. I told him I was interested, but that I wanted to have a mechanic look it over first.

We made arrangements to get the car on Monday and have it inspected. We agreed to meet at the bar at 10:30 AM as Thomas had made an appointment at 11 with the people who had serviced the car. Don’s Spanish is very good so I asked him to join me since he is an old hand with cars and strange characters having run a pub in England for years. Lorna and I duly arrived at 10:30 but the pub was shut. The car wasn’t there, but then again neither were Thomas, Don or Margaret. Did we have the time wrong? Had we misunderstood the instructions? An hour passed and no one appeared. We sat in our car in the sun and watched this very German community come to life. The cafes on the beach promenade opened and a few portly couples settled in with their papers. We made a game of figuring out the various nationalities. The Germanic folk seemed to be built very low to the ground and were preceded by large stomachs and impressive busts. They were warmly wrapped and plopped themselves down with their friends all of whom were quaffing beer even though it seemed a bit early. The English on the other hand appeared in shorts and T-shirts, were more interested in brisk walks while trailing after miniature dogs and seemed quite impervious to the weather, which had now turned cold and cloudy.

An hour later when still no one had appeared I figured I had better telephone them. I hadn’t brought Don or Thomas’ phone numbers so I went looking for a call box and a telephone book. I found seven boxes along the beach. Some of them still had doors on them, some had phones and a few of them looked like they might actually work. None of them had phone books. Eventually I came across a Telefonica office (the Spanish telephone company). Forgetting for a moment that this was Spain, I stupidly assumed that they would have both operating phones and phone books. Yes to the former. No to the latter. How one finds anyone’s phone number here is beyond me. So back to the car, the fading sun and gathering clouds.

A little later Don and Margaret sauntered up and were astounded to learn that the clocks had changed the previous night and that they were an hour behind. They said that they had seen Thomas, and the car early that morning when he stopped by next door to pick up Francis. Don proceeded to reach them on his cell phone and Thomas explained that they had gone to Malaga for supplies for the bar, but had become stuck in traffic and the problems caused by the recent rains. However, he expected to meet us in another hour. This made sense since we had seen pictures on TV of flooded homes and cars that had been swept away in the Malaga area. Seventy homes had been destroyed and numerous cars had been swept down to the sea.

I needed a coffee, Don needed a drink, Don’s dog needed a walk and the ladies needed a change of scenery. We put on our coats and strolled down the beach to a relatively sheltered outdoor bar where we all had hot coffee. After another hour and several calls to and from Thomas (still struck in traffic) we moved along to a sidewalk restaurant where we could get a bite to eat and something else to drink. Thomas called to say that he had changed the appointment with the mechanic to later on and that he would be with us in half an hour. It was getting quite cool now but we had to pick a place in the open air so that the dog could stay with us. Despite the fact that two English girls in shorts were sitting beside us in what I estimated to be a force 5 gale, I was becoming very chilled. Three glasses of wine and a couple of plates of fried bocarrones helped but only a little. By this time Don had taken the dog back to the car (so why were we still sitting there?). When the English girls opened their backpacks and put on pants, sweaters and parkas, I was ready to throw in the towel but everyone else seemed content to tough it out although we did huddle a little closer behind the plastic windbreaks. Mind you, they were on only one side of the café and the wind and a few birds blew through on more than one occasion. No one moved and my moans were completely ignored amidst mutterings of “wimpy Canadians” until the skies opened and lashings of rain swept over us and our table. I’d had enough. Our plans for a pleasant afternoon, a quick mechanic’s OK, the completion of our purchase and a long celebratory luncheon disappeared with the rains that poured past taking trash, cushions and plastic chairs into the sea. We would have taken shelter but this was an open air restaurant and it had no roof and only one pitiful plastic wall.

We beat a hasty retreat to our cars and decided to call it a day. We had been waiting for five hours now and there was still no sight of the car or Thomas. In his last call Thomas told us that the battery on his phone was running out and now his cell phone seemed to have stopped working entirely. We went home and waited for someone to contact any one of us.

Over the next few days I called Thomas repeatedly, but never connected. Don and Margaret didn’t have any better luck. They even drove back to town (no mean feat as the river was much higher now) but the bar remained closed. No one knew anything, Marcos couldn’t be found, Thomas hadn’t reappeared and Francis hadn’t returned to continue the renovations next door. By this time we had visions of horrific accidents, the car being swept away in the floods, hijackings, drinking binges, drug overdoses and worse.

The mystery was solved on Wednesday when Margaret called. “Have I got news for you!” she said. “They’ve done a bunk! Marcos was here with another German friend who speaks English, looking for Thomas, Francis and his car. As far as we can make out, the two lads stole the car, drove to Malaga, sold the car and jumped on a plane to the Dominican Republic where Francis has a wife and family.” Marcos was mad, the Collins felt betrayed and we of course had no way of buying the car. This seemed a bit much even by Spanish standards.

We’ve noticed before that the warm climates seem to attract characters of every kind and Spain is no different. Toss in a mix of Europeans, plenty of bars, strange deals, a cavalier attitude to laws and the result is a never ending source of amusement, amazement and in this case frustration. We’ve re-initiated our search for a car, but I doubt that we’ll ever come close to such a great bargain again. Don says that he knows a Frenchman who has a great Citroen for sale, but I think we’ll pass on this one.

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