Betting on the Smog Test
Just when I was convinced Las Vegas had pretty much become like everywhere else, I was reminded once again that this city is a very unique place.
Yesterday, I renewed my car registration. In Nevada, all vehicles must be smog checked once per year. This means, you drive your car to local station where they run a series of diagnostic tests. Sort of like Medicare, only it’s your car that gets a government-mandated check up, instead of you.
The cars are hooked up to a machine with a bunch of wires and switches and tested for emissions. What this really means is — the state and the auto merchants get to shake you down for $20 a pop, per car, each and every year.
On the west side of Las Vegas, I pulled into what’s called a “smog station.” Inside a small kiosk was a man who looked pretty much like you would imagine when I say the words “auto mechanic.”
“Need a smog check, today?” the man barked out as rolled down my window.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
As I passed my car keys over to the auto technician (that’s what they’re called now – “auto technicians”) I couldn’t help but notice a white sign plastered above the entrance.
The sign was perfectly clear. If your car passed the emissions test, the fee was $19.95. A failed test cost you $13.95 – which seems like the much better deal until you realize that you just got double-fucked. That’s because first you have to fix whatever triggered the failure and then second, you have to return again for a re-test. Basically, a “fail” means you probably just lost about $500.
I must admit, there’s a certain rush factor you get while waiting for your test results. The rush factor is even more intense if – like me — you drive an older vehicle. I have not one, but two older cars, so my rush factor is double. I guess that sort of makes me the meth-addict of smog testing. If I’m lucky and my car passes the emissions test — I win. I get to go on and register my car without any hassle.
On the other hand, if my car fails the emission test, fixing the problem could cost hundreds of dollars. It’s a freeroll for “the house” — and (you guessed it) the smog station is the house.
Waiting for smog test results has every bit the adrenal rush of betting on a horse race. The most exciting two-minutes in sports? Try holding your breath for 120 seconds and waiting for the smog test results to come in while you’ve got $16 in your pocket and a wallet full of maxed out credit cards. Like I said – it’s a rush.
Being this is Las Vegas, apparently some sickos actually turn the smog test into sport. Which brings me back the big sign posted on the kiosk.
Beneath the posted fee was a stern warning:
Similar signs were posted elsewhere around the kiosk. On the walls. On the machine that runs the test. Even, the blue traffic cones in the parking lot leading up to the emissions test issues the warning.
So, let me get this straight. We’re not permitted to gamble on the results of the smog test. Got it.
What next? Will we see “NO GAMBLING” signs posted inside hospitals on EKG machines? On CAT-scans? Where does the madness end?
I asked the mechanic about the sign and the strict prohibition against gambling.
“You mean people actually gamble on the smog test?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen,” the man replied.
The mechanic relayed a few stories. One time when he first began the job, he accepted a “double or nothing” proposition on a car he was convinced had no chance of passing. When the car indeed failed the test, the creep stiffed the mechanic and drove off. Another time, he recounted a story of when two people in a pickup truck and started arguing about who got to pick which side first and ended up in a screaming match.
That’s when it hit me. This guy didn’t know it but he was sitting on a $100,000-a-year bonanza! The man basically had a pair of loaded dice in his hand and could have tricked any sucker who pulled up to go ahead and have a throw. I mean, he actually controlled the test results! Like I said, loaded dice.
So, why not book all the action? Every dollar!
If a customer wanted to bet that his car would pass, all the auto tech had to do was jiggle a few wires on the machine and trigger a negative test result. The more pessimistic drivers would get a pass. Indeed, PASS and DON’T PASS could have an entirely different meaning at this smog station. Older cars could even be classified as HARDWAYS.
As it turned out, my car got a pass. I avoided the dreaded $500 repair bill. I felt as though I hit a six-team parlay.