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Kick the Tires by Nigel Roth



While sipping San Pellegrino in the balmy climate of the damp, cold, and ever-dreary country I reside in, I decide to contact two people with the intention of purchasing their wares, one man about a car he had for sale, and another about some wooden door knobs.


The first was at a dealership, so I assumed he’d be used to selling vehicles. With little preamble, I asked if the car in question was still available and he replied with the most bizarre line.


It depends, he said, where you are.


I drank more sparkling water. I presumed this wasn’t a throwback to redline mortgage discrimination or a genuine regional prejudice, so I determined to ask why that mattered.


His reply, ‘because you won't be able to get here to kick the tires’.


The second man had a bag of old knobs for sale and I could use them in my new-old kitchen. Are they still available, I messaged, in-between sips.


Yes, he texted back, but he asked, ‘where are you located?’


‘Why’, I replied.


Because, he said, ‘I live a couple of villages over, not in your town’, which I knew because it tells you where the seller is located.


In both cases, if I was a fairly bright human, I would obviously have determined that I could view the car or grab the man's knobs, with acceptable travel expectations already in place, before calling.


So, why this odd location question, particularly in a time when remote is the norm anyway. And does the car dealer only sell cars to people locally? And why would two ‘villages over’ in a country the size of England make any difference to someone needing knobs at a good price?


And why do people think I’m so stupid?


That last question is rhetorical.


This question of distance confounded me, and I opened a new bottle and poured a bubbling fountain of enlightenment into my glass.


If the car was available in the GN-z11 galaxy, I mused, then certainly by the time I reached the dealership, it may need a new MOT, but that’s over thirteen billion light years away. And if the knobs sat neatly in a row on, say, Neptune, nearly four-and-a-half billion kilometres away, they may need a fresh coat of wax by the time I got them home.


But we all live on a very small planet, only forty-thousand-and-seventy-five kilometres around, and more than seventy percent of that is water anyway, and not the delightful fizzy kind.


Only thirty-seven billion acres are drivable, where roads or things that pass as roads actually exist, and a mere one-and-half percent of that are called the United Kingdom. An even smaller amount - less than half of that again - are in England, where I live.


As a fraction of our own solar system, which itself is located in the armpit of the Milky Way, my drive to see a car I might buy or knobs I could use to adorn my cupboards, is microscopic at best.


And yet, it worried the minds of these two sellers of such wondrous sundries as automotive transport and knobs. And, they passed on their worry to me, questioning my ability to read an ad, locate a location written clearly in my mother tongue, determine reasonable distance-to-benefit ratio, and organize my week to accommodate a visit.