How To Buy A Chicken
By Rachel McMillen
The man I married was a man of many skills. A chemical engineer by profession, he was capable of turning his talents to any job that needed doing, all with equal success. As an example, when we decided we wanted a larger boat than the twenty-six footer we currently owned, he immediately stated that while it would take too long to build from scratch, he could certainly do all the finishing required — carpentry, plumbing, electrical and equipment — on a pre-fabricated hull, and he did.
From melting six thousand pounds of lead for the keel, to installing teak floors and decks, to building mahogany cabinets on the complex curves of the hull, he built it all. Not only that, but he built it so well that when we came to sell it twenty years later, the salesman refused to believe that it had been home-built.
It should therefore come as no surprise to hear that although I got my driver’s licence when I was sixteen, and was never without a car to drive from that time on, forty years later I had never purchased my own. Nor had I ever taken any car to a garage. My husband had always repaired everything.
For the first few years of our marriage we shared a single vehicle, a used car he purchased from a friend. After our second child was born, he bought himself a small truck, and gave me the car. The years went by, and he bought me a nicer used car and himself a brand new truck.
After our eldest son graduated, he arrived home one evening with a sleek Sebring convertible complete with huge, low-profile tires and an aerodynamic shape that included a steeply angled rear window and trunk. I was, to say the least, surprised – although suspicious that it was not so much a gift to me as it was a devious attempt to satisfy his desire for a sports car.
That suspicion was confirmed after the first outing. The car was barely driveable on the highway. The 18” tires that had so impressed him barely fit in the wheel-well making the turning radius so large it needed a football field to turn it, and the steeply raked rear-end made seeing out the back window impossible. It caused one of only three arguments we had in our thirty-five year marriage, and it resulted in the sale of his truck and the purchase of a more driveable vehicle for me.
A couple of years later he suffered a stroke, and we traded the Sebring for a more sensible van that accommodated his wheelchair. Six months later he was gone.
I hated that van. It was practical, sensible, almost new, and a constant reminder of all I had lost. For three years I vacillated between selling it and keeping it, guilty at parting with something that linked me to my husband, yet tempted by the idea of buying something I wanted.
Slowly the scales tipped, and I started to research the market. Then came the doubt and indecision. I had never purchased a car. The few times I had gone to a dealership with Bud, I had disliked both the process and the salesmen so much I finally refused to go at all. I had no experience in evaluating anything about a vehicle other than what it looked like.
For months I agonized over what to do, and how to do it. I narrowed my choice down to three, borrowed vehicles from friends to test drive two of them, but was pretty sure that what I really wanted was the third on my list: a Nissan Xterra. I didn’t know anyone who had one of those.
Finally, driving home one day, I saw a Nissan dealership.
“It’s time,” I told myself. “Just do it.”
I straightened my spine and walked to the front entrance, sure I would have to fend off a swarm of salesmen. No one approached me.
After several minutes, I became impatient and approached a man I assumed was a salesman.
“Can you please show me a vehicle?” I asked.
He apologized for my wait, got a key from the office and led me back to the Xterra section.
“I like that one,” I said, pointing to a shiny black Xterra SE 4×4.
He had the wrong key for that one, and had to go back to the office.
He returned, new key in hand, but the black Xterra wouldn’t start. The battery had been “borrowed” by the maintenance department.
We moved to a shiny red Xterra SE 4×4 and he went off to get the key for that one. When he returned I said I wanted to go for a test drive on a road that had both a steep hill and some sharp curves. He looked uncomfortable.
“It’s empty,” he said. “I’ll have to fill it up.”
By now over well over half-an-hour had gone by, and not only had I lost any apprehension, I had gained a fair amount of annoyance.
“These are new vehicles,” I said. “Shouldn’t they be ready to show?”
Finally, with gas in the tank, we headed out. The Xterra handled beautifully, hugging the corners, and accelerating smoothly on the steep sections. We headed back.
“You like it?” the salesman asked.
“Seems okay,” I said, determined not to sound too eager.
We were almost back to the lot when he turned to me and said, “If you buy it today, I’ll give you a chicken.”
It was the closest I have ever come to driving off the road.
“A chicken?” I asked. “Live or dead?”
“Dead,” he said. “My wife and I raise organic chickens and we’re butchering six today.”
I bought the car, and when I picked it up three days later, a perfectly plucked, six pound chicken was waiting for me.
“El Pollo,” my bright red Xterra sported her name proudly from a plaque on the dash for the next ten years.