“You know, 15 percent of people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot, and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They get together on Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers.” – Al Gore, Oct. 25, 2006

Al Gore was in Auckland just ahead of us after vacationing in the Bay of Islands with Tipper. Headline: The Inconvenient Truth-teller. Then a big headline-sized pull quote: “I have a big ally – reality.” They really worry about climate change down here. Depletion of the ozone caught these people by surprise and they haven’t gotten over it. It is true that the sun is stronger here, sunburns, heat exhaustion, sunstroke more common. In a recent poll some 58 percent of Kiwis want some something done, post haste, about the problem.



The rest, almost to a man (and woman), consider it one of the most if not the most pressing problem faced by the world. So it’s a perfect place for Al to come: his movie is in every theater, viewed by droves, and his work is admired by the populace.



Plus everyone here hates Bush. So there’s a general pervasive sentiment that the world would have been better off if Gore had triumphed (I don’t say won: he did win) in 2000.



We returned to Auckland with time to spare to prepare Melba for sale. Tip for travelers: if staying for a week or more in one place, inquire at dormitories or other university accommodation: they often have cheap weekly rates. In our case we stayed at the centrally located Huia Residence and paid something less than NZ$36 a day (which translates to about US$24).



Our first day in town we took Melba for a Warrant of Fitness, or WOF, which every car in the country must have every six months. Melba’s was about to run out and we knew having a new one would be a big selling point. Problem is, the technicians who do these assessments are usually strict. We encountered a couple Italian guys who were in tough straits because a van they’d bought at the car market wouldn’t pass muster without a couple thousand dollars’ work. Testimonials of that sort (there were others) stimulated fears of paying Melba’s value twice over just to qualify her for sale. Trying to recoup that kind of expense by transferring it to the sale price was more likely to keep us in the market for a longer period, twiddling our thumbs so to speak, perhaps even having to more than once pay the three-day display price. Or maybe we wouldn’t be able to sell her at all.



Our concerns seemed justified when Stan, an older gentleman who examined poor Melba, summoned us from the waiting room.



“Everything’s fine. But. You’ve got an emissions problem. There’s too much smoke coming out of the exhaust. I would have overlooked it but you were parked right in front of the window and my boss saw the whole thing. When was the last time you had an oil change?”



“Couple thousand kilometers ago. But we checked and filled the oil very regularly,” Lisa said. She’s the mechanic. “We were very careful about that.”



“Take ‘er next door and get an oil change.” Stan’s voice was low now, conspiratorial. “Ask for the more expensive synthetic oil. That cuts down on the smoke temporarily and it may be enough to get it through inspection. You’ll have to drive ‘er around for 100 kilometers or so to get the new oil into the system. Even then with a van this old it’s only about a 50-50 shot. But it’s either that or an engine overhaul.



“When you come back, pull into the front area there” – he waved with his clipboard – “where no one else can see ‘er, and come find me.”



We did as he said, and after about NZ$200 and an unplanned trip to the terminus of the Auckland Motorway, we returned. We caught Stan just as he was walking by, clipboard in hand. I didn’t even have to stop the engine. There was no smoke. New WOF for Melba, oh yeah.



After a thorough cleaning, we set up the next day with a buffer of about nine days in case Melba didn’t attract interest. We’d bought her for NZ$3,450 but that was at the tail end of the slow season and now it was the high season, so we marked her at NZ$4,300 with a secret willingness to go down to NZ$4,000.

I spent the first morning there while Lisa ran some errands. I talked with a Welch guy who had been there more than a week. His van was parked next to Melba. He was asking too much money but didn’t seem to realize it. Still – a week. Worrisome. He had a dead, zombie-fied look about him. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and ate candy out of a machine.



Lisa returned in the afternoon and I was happy to get out of the garage and into the fresh air. I was gone two hours. I returned to find Lisa sitting near the van, reading a magazine.



“So, no interest, huh?” I plopped down, looking around at the surroundings I’d already memorized and come to hate.



“I sold her.”



“Tomorrow you take the morning shift and … what was that you said, my darling?”



“I sold Melba.”



“Whaaaaa?!” My best incredulous interrogative, courtesy The Simpsons.



“To a French couple. They’re getting the money now.”



Turns out that Lisa, my darling wife, is one heck of a salesperson. She took a proactive approach. Right away she had a couple of Germans on the hook, but the French couple swooped in. Aided by the market overseer, Nina – who happens to be French – the sale was completed in minutes. Much more effective than my sulky, scowling laissez-faire approach, I must admit.



We got NZ$3,900, in cash, and were out of there by 3 p.m. The giggling glee, however, didn’t fade until well into the next day, despite attempts to subdue it with alcohol. Counting some repairs and things like the oil change, we spent about NZ$700 on the Melba Experience – far less than the NZ$3,100 it would have cost, at a minimum, to rent a car for nine weeks.



So we say, the Backpackers’ Car Market rules! And thank you Nina, you’re the best.



The sudden successful sale left us with more than a week in Auckland. I’ll wrap this up quickly because we’re already in Australia and just as we came to be sick of Auckland, and to a lesser degree New Zealand (only natural), I’m sick of writing about it. We went to the Sky Tower, because I think it’s written somewhere that you have to, and we went to the museum and the botanic gardens and did some shopping on Queen Street. We sat around and enjoyed sleeping and waking up in the same bed for more than two days in a row. We watched glorious television; I even watched some cricket, just because the pictures were moving and had sound. And we ate out a lot, enjoying the best of Auckland’s cuisine. We had a great Japanese dinner the last night at a place on K Rd. called Masako.



And then we were on a plane and then the plane was touching down in Melbourne. And that was that.