Search This Blog

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A wilderness of internal combustion

The story starts, as it must, with a malaise era General Motors product.  Called by some the worst car produced in the last half of the twentieth century, my first car was a 1980 Chevrolet Citation.  Mine was silver with a burgundy interior and an AM/FM radio.  Bench seats, column automatic shift.  It had two keys, because GM couldn't be bothered to re-machine such that the door keys and the ignition keys were the same.

Purchased a new, it was from a Chevrolet dealer on West Ponce de Leon in Decatur, Georgia.  ("Pawnse," please, not "Pohnsay.")  Whitewall tires.  I wrecked it not long after I got it.  Badly.  Then again a bit later.  A terrible car made worse.

1980 Chevy Citation;
Or the beginning of the journey
(Not the actual car or color)

The floaty Enterprise rental Dodge Avenger pillows it's way down the 101.  I switch from NPR to K-EARTH 101 "Los Anngeeless."  I've just picked the Avenger up from the BMW dealer.  The new/used BMW I bought a week ago sits in the shop for the second time in four days.  Its USB port doesn't work.  I need podcasts.  Desperately.  Without it, I can't bring myself to sort out anything but NPR and K-EARTH.  The greatest hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  "I miss the earth so much.  I miss my wife..."

I grip the Dodge's nylon wheel.  It shifts slightly side to side.  I hardly feel it.  I pilot it into a barely adequate space in my work parking lot.  I remember that Enterprise guy said that anything smaller than a golf ball sized dent is fine. I don’t worry about it being squeezed between a truck and a minivan on the far side of the parking lot where the last of the earthquake trailers still hulk 19 years after the quake.  Not a good "MINI space" as my honey calls them.  Those are end spaces where her hot little coupe won't get dinged.  The Avenger is afforded no such love.  I lock it and don't look back as I walk away.

I hope in my deepest heart that the return of the Dodge to Enterprise within the next seventy-two hours will end my wandering in the car wilderness, at least for a while.  It's been a long journey.  

Later that morning, I'm sitting across from the dean of sciences in a meeting.  He does his own mechanic work.  When I torpedoed my Saturn Vue in 2006, he asked why in a way that made me feel like I had been hasty and was being judged. I made some noise about mechanical issues.  There wasn't anything wrong with the Saturn mechanically.  It was just a big plastic mess with uncomfortable seats.  Its best feature was the ability to throw my bicycles in its gaping rear.  

I swapped the Vue for a Toyota FJ, which had the same bike benefit.  The FJ had two faults.  Suicide doors made rear seat ingress difficult.  Like push up on your mother's butt difficult.  Egress was fine.  Gravity helps you fall out of any SUV.  The FJ also featured the box of death.  Open both front and rear doors and you were trapped by the car next to you.  On the upside it was a giant box that looked like a Tonka truck.

It also got poor gas mileage.  And I owned it when gas prices jumped.   So I bought a scooter for too much money.   I sold the scooter at a loss when I realized I had to talk myself into riding it.  

(Actual FJ in question)

It's a wilderness with machines of internal combustion.

(Not actual Sentra)

One college 23rd of December, I was traveling south on I-85.  The car started putting.  It finally died right outside Durham North Carolina.  Family friends, a nice tow driver, a Pep Boys open on Christmas Eve, and a new alternator later, I was back on the road.  Upon arrival home, the now revived Datsun (Nissan) Sentra was no longer trusted by parents.  A new car was to be found.

A teal Plymouth Colt E.  The E is awesome.  It includes a light bar and a 5 speed manual.  I loop it around and around the childhood block.  Stalling the manual on the hill.  And stalling it on the hill.  Until I get it.  I head back to DC and then skiing.  The Colt does well.  It goes through the snow, I refill the washer fluid.  Don't stall it often, even up the mountains of the east.  (Then I did not know about the mountains of the west.  Bumps, really, those eastern ones.  Rounds bumps).  Skiing goes fine.  I fall a lot, but I have on plastic pants.

The Colt is admirable.  It starts.   It runs.  It has that light bar.  Friends buy them because they like mine.  It's solid.  A couple of friends buy non-E Colts.  They don’t have the light bar.  Or the fifth gear.  I feel superior.  The teal is so awesomely 80s.  It's ok, though.  It is the 80s.  We are all forgiven for being of the 80s in the 80s.

(Not actual Colt, but teal one)

I put a pro-choice sticker on it and some dodo at the Chrysler dealer writes a hostile note.  Then I'm offered a parental Camry.  Not offered.  Insisted.  And so the Colt it sold.  A nice woman who totaled her Colt buys mine.  

The Camry accompanies me across the country east to west stuffed full of stuff and a dog.  Somewhere in West Texas, I am so hot I try to fill up its freon at a service station.  There's no loss of freon.  It's just that hot in West Texas.  

(Not actual Camry, not baby shit brown)

Diesel!  My friend Bryan wants a diesel VW.  I have misleading thoughts about the Passat that I let go some years before.  I loved the Passat, I think.  I forget about the fuel pump.  And the phantom sunroof that opened and closed of its own accord.  And the power mirrors that needed to be pulled up by hand.  And and and.

I'll order a diesel Golf from a sales dude on VW Vortex in the OC.  Light blue.  My concern is the transmission.  It's a six speed.  It makes me nervous.  I ask the sales guy if I can drive a different six speed to make sure.  I don't know why I'm nervous.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5 + 1 = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.  How hard it that?  One more gear.  Ratios a little different.  Hand moves down and away from me for the last shift instead of up and away from me.

Sales dude wheels around a 2010 GTI.  It's black with a plaid interior.  Has a sunroof and the up stereo.  I drive off with sales dude.  The turbo kicks in.  I rev.  He actually gasps a little.  I decide I’m in love.  With the car, not sales dude.

I cancel the diesel.  Buy the GTI.  That one.  A black one.  With the plaid.  Sales dude offers me a solid offer on the FJ.  Sight unseen.  What I don't know is that the FJ holds its value better than any current car.  The thing sits and looks like a Tonka truck with its box of death and mother butt pushing back seat and makes money every day relative to every other car.  I hand over the keys and forget to remove my UCLA plate surround.  I still miss it.  The surround.  The FJ I regret only because I should have made more money.  Imagine, a used car that doesn’t lose money.  I had no idea.

I point the GTI up the 57 toward home.  Halfway there and I am in a panic.  I don't like the car.  It's too small.  I can't get comfortable.  Shit.  I stop at Baja Fresh to get a burrito.  Think about telling honey.  California has no cooling off period.  I've cooled off.  And it's my car.  So I'll not say anything.

Every day I get in the car.  I wiggle around.  The car is super fun to drive.  I look like a boy racer.  The stereo is good.  The plaid is cool.  Oh and it has electronic gremlins.  Volkswagen of Van Nuys gets to know me.  I drive it to San Francisco and enjoy it.  I drive it to Denver.  It's pleasant enough.  I tweak the seats.  A couple of times I find the perfect setting for seats.  Then it has to go back to the shop because the gremlins ate some wire and the dealership dudes mess up the seats.  I can't get it back.  It's like the shadows on the wall.  I know the ideal exists, but just the right twist of the wrist eludes me.

Then it starts to backfire.  VW fixes something in the exhaust.  36 hours after that, it backfires again and starts spewing smoke.  A cyclist waves his hand in front of his face as if I want the smoke to pour out and choke him.  VW has it multiple days.  Doesn't offer a loaner.  Charges me the extended warranty deductible.  Says the fuel injectors aren't part of the powertrain.  The car has no power when two of them go out.  But it's not powertrain.  

(Actual GTI.  Proof?  Actual writer in picture)

I text my friend Irene.  She works for Honda.  We talk car choices.  Honey says I should lease.  I'm a car swinger she says.  

A lease!  A lease.  The GTI must go away.  That I know.

I don't trust it.  The seat seems worse than ever.

The baby shit colored Camry was hot in West Texas.   One Friday I was reading the paper and looking at the car ads.  There's a "special" Toyota Paseo at Santa Monica Toyota.  I go look at it.  Commit to buy.  It's teal.  In the 90s that's much less defensible.  Much.  But I still miss the Colt.   The dog is a basenji.  I got her because my first basenji died while I was in college.  I am making up.  My dad was the catalyst for the dog going; my mom for the car.  I'm driving down Wilshire.  The dog's hair is getting in the upholstery.  I start yelling at her.  Why am I yelling at the dog for having hair?  She's a dog.  They have hair.  I'm young and on the wrong coast and pre-adult therapy.  So, I say now to the universe:  I'm sorry I yelled at her.  I'm sorry I exacerbated her neuroses.  It's a good thing I don't have kids.  They have hair.

I keep the Paseo for a good long time.  It gives me little trouble.  It stays teal the whole time.

(Not actual Paseo.  Teal, though)

I trade the Paseo for the vaunted Passat.  The undeservingly vaunted Passat.  Honey sees the Paseo shortly after I trade it.  It has on a car bra.  The Paseo has a name.  We starts calling out, "Patty with a bra on" in plaintive ways.  I never see Patty again, though.  Bra or no.

The Passat was the Colt redux.  I loved it.  And then a parental Audi was on offer.  And so I sold it to a nice musician guy who got a bunch of parking tickets after he got it.  The Audi arrived on a truck from Chicago.  The truck driver parked in the Norm's parking lot where the pumpkin patch and tree farm live during the fall and winter.  

(Not actual Passat.  Correct color)

Fuel pumps.  Timing belts.  It was fabulously black and leathery.  A car that wasn't mine, but was mine.  A truck with frozen things (not cars) hits it in the McDonalds parking lot.  I shouldn't have been at McDonalds.  I missed teaching class.  I never got my McMuffin.  I've not had one since.

I had a fight with Audi about the fuel pump, arguing that I had already replaced it.  I hadn't.  I had replaced the one in the Passat.  The Volkswagen/Audi group products all ran together in my mind.

(Not actual Audi)

Honey bought a Saturn.  A few months later, I did too.  A big blue plastic piece of shit.  It won't be the last time I slink down the car buying road after honey.

(Not actual Vue.  Horrifying blue is accurate.)

I'm a good public speaker.  I'm persuasive.  I can sort out the reason to buy any car any time I want.  There is no authenticity to it.  It's paper mâché King Tut's tomb at the Luxor in Las Vegas.  Chicken wire and paste painted gold.  A big blue plastic car.

I pull the GTI into the BMW/MINI dealer.  They've got a lease offer on a Countryman--the big MINI which honey calls a "medium."  I like the way it drives.  The front seats are comfortable.  The "utility" of the vehicle is suspect.  It's got a rail running down the center.  When you fold down the seats, there's no utility.  The one on offer is a weird pukey brown color.  I drag Honey next door after to look at an Acura.

The website said they had manual TSXs in red and white.  The white one is gone.  Traded away.  They bring up the red one.  It's dirty.  Slicky smelly salesdude won't shut up about how much he loves his TSX.   I ask questions he can't answer.

He answers by talking more about his car.  I ask another question.  He can't answer it either.

We get back to the dealership and he gets out the four-square sheet.  Just a car tip from someone who has bought too many: if someone brings out a four square sheet, leave.  Quickly.

We leave.  Manager follows us and asks what's wrong.  I tell him.

Unbelievably, I lease the car anyway.  Why?  I don't know.  Honda friend maybe.  The seats are comfortable.  Car online boards like this car.

It's a Honda, I think.  No black smoke will pour forth from it.  It will last forever.  Except that it's a lease, so that doesn't matter.  

Honey wants me to keep looking.  I don't.  I lease the red one.  I don't like red cars.  It's got a great transmission.  The seats are comfortable.  The stereo works well.  Not as well as the veedub's.  I settle in for my 36 months.

(Actual TSX.  So very red.  At old house.)

When Honey was unemployed, after the bad times and during the emergence to better, her orange Saturn started whining.  It was the transmission.  

Unbeknownst to us, GM knew about the problem.  Settled.  Then declared bankruptcy.   Now, post bankruptcy, we could pay to get the diagnosis that the transmission didn't work.  The not working wasn't enough.  We had to pay to prove it.  Then we could buy a Cruze.  Honey drives one.  The manual is terrible.  

We almost buy a Kia.  We go in to buy it.  And there's no one there.  Literally.  The Subaru dealer next door has a hostile attitude about it.  Lonely Kias sit unbought.

We leave.  Another day we might buy a Kia.  Or not.

Then, while Honey is making salad, I find a brown MINI Cooper.  It has one feature--brownness.  That's a $500 up charge.  We buy it.

(Actual brown MINI)

It's a nice little car.  Anemic--with great gas mileage--and the stereo is terrible.

MINI comes out with the coupe.  Honey loves the coupe.   I try to get her to buy it once she has a job.  She won't.

We move.  Make money on the house.  We tuck into buying. A tv.  A sound bar to go with it.  A black box that does digital music.  Another black box that hold the music.  Speakers.  A new amp.

The Cooper's battery dies.  Honey test drives (at my very strong urging) a demo coupe.  They're going to stop making them.  It has everything.  Up stereo.  Auto fold mirrors.  Heated seats.

She buys it.

(Actual MINI Coupe and actual TSX.  Note that TSX is not less red at new house)

I start looking at whether I can get out of my lease.  Why?  I don't know.  

I find a BMW at Carmax.  It ticks all my boxes.  Good color.  Manual.  Leather.  Sportline.  Low mileage.  $17k less than new.

I make charts.  Cars I've owned.  Stuff I've collected.  Money thrown into a hole.  Darkness and self-doubt filled with stupid stuff.  

Honey calls me a car swinger.  She's right.  Less than three years is my average. Even with the Paseo (5+ years) and the Audi (less than one) thrown out.  After I share it with Honey, she asks.  What does this mean?  Do you want the BMW or not?  I don't know.  I do know that for the first time ever, my excitement is there, but not out of control.  That rush of excitement.  It's bad for my brain.  I don't feel that way now.  I feel like I may have found the right car.  Great to drive.  Carries four people.   Not brand new, so that if there's a little scratch, I'll be ok.

I've told my therapist that I wanted to buy a new car.  Then I told her that I won't.  So now I'm worried about showing up with it.  

A switch in my brain flips.  I unsubscribe from all my online shoppings.  All of them.

I promise Honey to be more responsible.  I put more money into the joint account.  Pay my therapist more.  Feel bad about not paying her more for a bit.  We pay off my Amex.  I cancel one Amex.  Get a Visa instead.  It's still not activated.  That's good, I think.

I'm not 100%.  I back two (three?) more Kickstarters.   I return some stuff to The Clymb.  They don't do refunds.  Just credit.  So more shoes are coming.   I want to sell another bag.  I can't sort out which one.  Maybe I should sell a watch.  Honey asks if I regret the watches.  I say no.  I mostly mean it.

I worry a little about the seat.  It's comfortable but a little hard to adjust.  I find a couple of possibilities.  I set the seat memories to the two possibilities.

On the way to therapist's office, I drive fast.  It's amazing.  I mean beyond amazing. A whole other level of car.

Three trips later to the dealership, the USB port is fixed.  The $75 cable secured.  I slip again.  Buying shoes at the BMW dealer.  Shoes at the car dealer.  Really?  Yep.

There is a way in which one could argue that every Southern Californian gets issued a BMW 3-series.  Preferably white, black, or silver.  Leased.  Or bought by daddy.  They epitomize ubiquity.  328, 335, 320, 330.  If not a 3 series, what about an X1?  A 528?   Oh look a Z4.  They are everywhere.  A study has come out saying that BMW drivers are jerks.

No one will stop me (as they did with the FJ, as they do with Honey and her MINI coupe) and ask about it.  It’s a silvery blue 328i.  Like every other 328i.  Nothing special.

And yet every time I go out to get in it, I thrill.  The balance.  The black kidneys.  The thick wheels.  Every time I drive it, I feel connected to driving.  Not too fast.  Traveling down Roscoe, I want the fuel consumption gauge to swing up past 30.  Driving a back road, I don’t look at that gauge.  Hit the apex, hold the line.  Accelerate through.  Trust the car.

No one approved or disapproved.  They did, I’m sure, but I don’t care.  What I want is this car.  For me.  For a long time.  Not for it to be perfect.   I throw the dogs in the back seat.  Throw the bike in the back seat.

Honey worries about the bike.  I scratched the Acura with the bike right before I got rid of it.  I scratched the VUE with the bike.  I scratched the FJ with the bike.  I don't scratch the BMW (yet).

(Actual 328i at actual CarMax)

I want to feel differently about things and money, but brains don't have switches.

So, here I am with a car driven by jerks.

Yet, somehow it seems right.  Where does happiness live?  Not with the buying of things.  Even big things.  I haven't found it yet, but the silvery blue car will be what I want to try to get me there.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dog thoughts upon a house painting

We moved into our house some years ago.  February of 2002.
Teresa has chronicled the run-up to today quite well in her recent post which is about neither pea soup nor fuzzy unicorns.

I faced the weekend past with some trepidation.  It began well enough with a Friday off for me wherein a ran several errands, including a lovely coffee with a friend who I wish I saw more often--this despite the fact that she and I work two buildings away from one another.  
I also planned a visit to my favorite-est bike shop in all the world, Topanga Creek Bicycles where I dropped two of our four bikes off for work, had coffee with Chris the shop owner in my new handmade TBC mug.  

It had been a nice day and I offered to pick up supper on the way home Friday.  T and I discussed plans for the next day over said supper.  The plans were overly ambitious.  We were due at her parents' house at 12:30.  I wanted to leave early, have breakfast, stop and buy coffee beans at Klatch in Rancho Cucamonga, preview the antique auction in Redlands and still arrive by 12:30.  I should have remembered the old joke about passengers departing at Rancho Cucamonga.  That is that they should take care when getting off, as the train does not stop there.

So, as we got ready for bed, I felt sick.  Really sick.  And then I gave back the supper I had picked up.  

I did not make it to breakfast.  I passed on coffee.  No antiques were previewed.  And I was useless helping with the set-up for the party, as I was home on the couch, which is 75 miles away from anything needing set-up.

Sunday was to commence the three to (perhaps) four day house painting fandango.  Teresa's brother arrived to do the job.

Yesterday, I tried to help, but still felt pretty lousy, which didn't make scraping paint off the house very easy.  We did learn that, however unfortunate the current green color is, the previous color was pink and decidedly worse.

We also learned that having four dogs in exponentially more complicated than two.  

Everyone is getting along well, but I feel insufficient next to the force of canine will.  

One very recent incident illustrates the complexity.  I decided to go outside and play with the dogs because they looked very sad.  

My dogs took the opportunity of my presence to try to dominate Teresa's brother's dogs.  My dogs are of the 35-40 pound type (variants:  black and cocker-ish, earth tone and shephard-ish).  His dogs are of the great type (variant: dane) and pin type (variant: min).   

I then thought I should let them inside, but needed to check on the whereabouts of the cat (variant: small calico; afraid of dogs).  As I was doing so, the dane lifted himself up and placed his paws on my shoulders from behind, while the minpin tried to squirt between my legs.  After fending off the dual assault, I determined that the cat was in her cozy cup and as safe as she was going to get.  

I let the dogs in.  Mine both flopped on the ground as if shot.  The other two set out to exploring.  And did not stop.  Well, the dane stopped to dunk his whole head in the water bowl and flood the west end of the kitchen while doing so, but that was the only pause.  

I decided that the inside experiment wasn't working and invited everyone outside.  Three of four thought going out the sliding glass door a splendid idea.  

Minpin did not.  She thought going out the side door was fine, but then refused to go into the backyard with the rest.  

This set-up then allowed her prime barkpertunities at both passersby, and more vigorously at the UPS guy.

Let's photoblog that a little shall we?

Halo stayed in her cup.  Calico cats may be odd, but they're not stupid.

You can barely see it, but Biscuit has primer in her ear hair.

Scout is pretty sure he's got it going on, relative to the great dane.

Size comparo, black dog division.

Size comparo, visitor dog division:

The floodplain

No pictures of my daned back are available.

The medium and large dogs in the back and small dog on the side remained the status quo until Teresa's brother arrived home from the depot of homes.  Then the min pin squirted into the front yard to greet him and the dane rose over the fence to loom.
As I said, it's all going well.

Oh, except for the broken windows.  Not the theory of the broken windows (Wilson and Kelling) that argues:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars. Atlantic Monthly, 1982

We're not there yet.  But we do have two broken windows, one of which due to dog (variant: earth tone shepherd).  I'm not sure it signals the end of law and order at our house.  Order maybe.

I just took a break to try to curtail the attempted tunneling under the back side fence by one of the prisoners (variant: black cocker-ish).  Between prison escape and broken windows, I must say it feels like an intro to sociology class and I am not a social scientist. 

So the medium sized dogs are now inside with me.  Two more days to go.

I can say with certainty that I am intensely glad to be going back to work tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Letter to myself

It seems more blogcationy around here than not.  Yet, I think about it.  Waiting like the most patient dog in the world.  The most patient dog in the world, who would have long-ago starved to death from inactivity.

Today I received a letter from myself in the mail.  I wrote the letter in August at a two-week intensive professional development thing I did.  The thing was amazing.  The letter came at a good moment.

It's been hard, the new job.  Some days harder than others, but most hard.  There was one where I came home and was able to say it had been a good day.  That's one day out of lots.

It's not all bad, of course, just hard.  And lonely, as I knew it would be.  So, I try to take the moments.

The student who told me that she liked my pants today.  

The actual dogs, who do get fed.

Honey, whose birthday is tomorrow.

And, today, the letter.  The last line of which I said (to myself, remember), "Take care of yourself and ride your bike more often, without guilt and with joy."

I haven't done that, of course, but I like that I told myself to.