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February 9, 2010

Travels with Uncle Chet: Toyota can ride on its record

AMSTERDAM _ The air was biting cold outside, but it was warm in the old pickup, tooling along the Thruway.

``This is our exit,’’ said Hon, who had printed out a Google map.

``Amsterdam.’’ Uncle Chet looked toward the old brick city. ``Haven’t been here in a while.’’

``I haven’t been here in 40 years,’’ I said.

``We’re still a ways from Cambridge,’’ he said. ``That’s just north of where I was born.’’

``Never thought I’d go to just north of where you were born to get a claw-foot bathtub.’’ I glanced at Hon.

``They’re pretty rare,’’ she said, ``especially when they’re small and deep like this one.’’

``Are you buying this thing, sight unseen?’’ Uncle Chet asked as we slowed down on the curving exit ramp.

``We’re not driving six hours to go window shopping,’’ I said.

``It looked good in the photos,’’ Hon said. ``And the ad said the porcelain is perfect.’’

``Wonder how old it is?’’ I slowed for a tollbooth in a line of traffic.

But when I clutched to down-shift, the clutch froze to the floor. I hit the pedal again; it stayed down. I swore, braked harder, reached down with my left hand to my left heel, stretching until my nose was just above the dashboard and I got a finger under the pedal.

I pulled the pedal up, then pushed it halfway down again with my foot and wiggled the shift into neutral.

``Is that an Olympic sport?’’ Uncle Chet said.

``That’s Toyota quality,’’ I said. ``But it’s happened before, so I know what to do.’’

``You mean, you’re going to do that every time we shift?’’ he said. ``I’m getting out right here.’’

``No, I just can’t put the pedal all the way down,’’ I assured him. ``Something freezes when it hits the floor.’’

``Why don’t you get it fixed?’’ he asked as we idled up to the toll attendant.

``It only happened once; I thought it went away.’’

``We should have taken my truck,’’ he said ruefully.

``We’ll be fine.’’ I took the change and closed the window. ``When we get home, I’ll call Toyota and ask them to recall all their ’93 pickups.’’

``There are no other ’93s,’’ he said. ``They’ve done their 350,000 miles and been recycled.’’

``Take Route 30 north,’’ Hon pointed to the sign.

``Then I’ll ask Congress to investigate,’’ I said. ``It’s an outrage, clutches wearing out after only 17 years.’’

``I think Toyota should be investigating Congress, not the other way around,’’ Uncle Chet said. ``How many people has Toyota killed with its faulty brakes?’’

``I heard 19,’’ Hon said.

``Nineteen?’’ Uncle Chet said. ``Toyota sells 2 million vehicles a year here. There must be at least 20 million on the road, so your odds of being killed by Toyota’s faulty brakes would seem to be less than one in a million.’’

``Sounds right,’’ I said as we wound through downtown.

``And what are the odds of finding a senator lining his pocket, representing Big Business?’’ he asked.

``Oh, probably even money,’’ I said.

``Or having a mistress on the side?’’

``Three in 10?’’ I posited.

``I say even money on that, too,’’ Hon said as we glided past Walgreens in a line of traffic.

``And what are the odds of a senator soliciting carnal favors in the men’s room?’’

``That, we know is at least one in a hundred,’’ I said.

``And how many people has Congress killed with the endless wars it funds and the endless stalling on universal health care?’’

``Thousands, tens of thousands,’’ I said.

``So there you have it. Congress is rife with ethics problems, in the pocket of the high and mighty, and people are dying.’’ Uncle Chet said. ``Toyota should have a field day looking into this.’’

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace’s column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit