Jewish Journal

The Happiest Place On Earth Is Not

by Mihal Levy

December 17, 2009 | 2:00 pm

For Hanukkah I decided to treat my son to a special time at Disneyland.  And although we have annual passes, this time would be different.  We would spend the night at a local hotel in Anaheim and head to Disneyland again the next day.

My son was elated.  We got up early and packed our bags. I called one of the hotels closest to Disneyland to book a room before we headed out.  As I was about to give the reservationist my credit card number, he interrupted, “You know, we have plenty of rooms available tonight.  Why don’t you just come down and book it when you get here.  That way in case your car breaks down, you won’t be charged for the night’s stay.”

I thought this was very kind of him, but being the perfectionist I am, I insisted on giving him my credit card number.  He said he would hold a room without my card.  What could happen?  I was not going to change my mind about going to Disneyland.  And my car did not have any problems.  But, ok, I told him I would probably see him around noon.

My son was more excited about staying in a hotel than he was about Disneyland.  I was excited too, I must admit.  It was great to get away for a night and do something different, fun and with my son of course.

We headed down the five freeway and were making good time.  No traffic.  It was a beautiful day.  All was well…until the brakes seemed a little high. 

I didn’t think anything of it, at first.  Shortly after passing the Commerce Casino, not a fabulous part of town, I felt the car begin to quiver.  I still thought maybe it was nothing.  Perhaps it was just my imagination?  Had that reservationist put into my head that my car would breakdown and now I was reacting accordingly.  Just as I started to calm down, the car started to lose power and came to a sudden hault as the check engine light came on.

Panic kicked in as I thought I wouldn’t be able to hit the brakes before we stopped into the backside of the semi in front of me. 

I managed to stop and the car seemed to power up again, just long enough for me to head off the first exit and out into the beautiful industrial area of Commerce.

I decided to make a quick right, so I could pull over at any given moment.  And there it was- a service station.

Being the daughter of a mechanic, I know a thing or two about cars.  For one, mechanics love when women roll into their shops.  (What was the second thing again?  I forget.)  It gives them an opportunity to make up for lost sales they could not make earlier in the day (My dad was the exception to the rule.  He was probably the last honest mechanic I have ever known.)  I wish that I could say my expertise in car repair (by being the daughter of a mechanic, of course) has saved me from being taken advantage of by many cheating mechanics, but I can’t.

So, enter Joe, the owner of the gas station dressed in oil and dirt stained jeans with a gray short sleeve polo shirt that was actually clean, with a tag that read “Joe/Owner.”  He came over to the driver side of my car as I pulled up.  He said there was a fifty five dollar charge just to check the car and that he would be able to get to it in fifteen or twenty minutes since he was “pretty busy.”

I am not sure what he was busy with exactly, because all three stalls were empty, the only cars in the area were mine and the one that two other mechanics were sitting in and drinking coffee and smoking (hopefully their own car and not a customer’s, unless the customer did not mind the coffee stains and smell of cigarette smoke).

I got out of the car and grabbed my son.  We sat on the pavement outside the shop, since there were no chairs (well ones that we wanted to sit in).  Joe tried to make small talk.  I interrupted and asked if he could get to my car as soon as possible.  He got the hint and headed over to the counter where he immediately began acting busy.

Finally Manny and Moe (I don’t know if those were their names, but I named them…they were always together), came out of the parked car and walked over to my car…together.

My son and I watched as they drove off in our car.  Umm.  I hope it was for a test drive, a short one.  No one said anything, they just got in our car and took off?  I could not help but think of the scene from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, where the parking attendants take the car on a joy ride.  My daydream was interrupted as they pulled back up around the corner.  I realized that my car was just not cool enough for a joy ride and was not in working condition anyway, perhaps the reason they came back so quickly.

Fast forward to two hours later, Joe had diagnosed my car.  All I heard was “Blah blah blah…can’t do it until tomorrow…blah blah blah…around $500 for parts and labor approximately.” 

Approximately?  Does that mean anywhere between $500-$1000 approximately?  I did not know what was worse 1) That we would have to spend the night in Commerce?  or 2) The approximately $500 part?  (Even two days at Disneyland did not cost that much, souvenirs included.)

So, I did what any strong confident woman would do…and called my husband (who was in Michigan at the time on tour with American Idol).  He ordered us a tow truck and we decided we would be towed back to our own mechanic, who hopefully had something different to say.  That way we could sleep in the comfort of our own home, not some motel in Commerce or the Commerce Casino (hmmmm, might have not been that bad.)

Tony, the tow-truck driver saved us.  He was an ex police officer.  (He mentioned this a few times during our ride back, which made me feel confident that he had latched my son’s car seat correctly into the truck.) 

Tony chatted the whole way.  My son was in awe that he rode in a big truck and for the first time and could see out the front windshield without anything blocking his view.  I was ruminating.  (What else is new?)  I could not stop thinking about the premonition from the reservationst this morning about “car trouble.”  What are the chances of that actually happening?  Was he psychic?

Tony dropped us off at home and continued with our car to the nearby station from our house. (Thank you, Tony, for brigging us home safely.)  My son could not stop talking about how much fun he had and what a great day it was.  I could not wait to get back home and swallow a bottle of advils, ok, a couple (of pills, not bottles).

I was happy that my son had a great time and even happier to be back home.  It made me realize that home is actually the happiest place on earth after all.

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Mihal Levy used to collect degrees as a hobby.  After receiving her B.S. and M.S. degrees, she worked as a psychotherapist and research scientist before continuing her hobby of...

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