Mom used to say, “The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” Today, I am a man.
The previous two weeks have been rather grueling for a number of reasons, both work-related and personal. This past week, however, has been quite good, and part of it is due, I believe, to my acquisition of a couple of new toys. Who says you can’t buy happiness?
New Phone… Thingy!
First, as previously mentioned, I finally broke down and got myself a Blackberry – a Blackberry 8830 World Edition, to be precise. It wasn’t much more expensive than the other Blackberry I was looking at, so I sprung for it. I have resisted the Crackberry because I really am not a fan of being constantly connected. I have always believed that the singe worst human invention was the telephone because it completely destroyed the concept of etiquette and ushered in email and the entire Internet, eroding polite social interaction even further. So to have this thing in my pocket which is a combination of all three really just sounded to me like the single worst idea ever.
And I was right. No less than once every five minutes I’m hunched over this dastardly device to respond to or send out some kind of communication. I’ve installed Google Talk on it, have it syncing (unsuccessfully still, but I’m optimistic) with my Google Calendar and have it tied in to two of my master email accounts. It’s gets WAY better cell phone reception than my crappy LG vx8100 did, so I can actually use the thing as a phone. And the saddest thing of it all – I’m loving being this connected. My response times to clients have improved considerably, which was the whole point of getting it to begin with. I can easily surf the web, check up on my news (I’m a news junky – leftover from my journalism days), use Google Maps to get directions and use their satellite imagery to spy on my backyard and, more or less, stay on top of everything going on in my currently crazy little life. I am thrilled with it, but it still makes me feel a little dirty.
On Monday I had a major life first – I bought my first new car. Like new new. I purchased a 2008 Toyota Highlander Sport edition with built-in hands-free Bluetooth communications package and slightly upgraded interior. It has a fold-flat third row seat that human adults could actually fit in (the older versions of the Highlander had tiny third row seats), tinted windows, exactly enough leg room for me and – get this – a back-up camera that displays an image on a tiny screen when I put the car in reverse to ensure I don’t run over bikes, animals or small children. That thing is just gratuitous, but it comes standard in the Sport edition and, well… it’s cool.
I didn’t opt for any of the more ostentatious packages, like leather seats of built-in navigation, but I wanted the Bluetooth capability because I’m not a fan of using those little ear pieces (I can never get them to work reliably) and, while I hate using the cellphone in the car, these days I have to take calls when I’m on the run.
Given my history with cars, this is a huge major milestone. When I turned 16, I inherited my Dad’s 1983 Honda Civic, which was badly stained with nicotine and, when he handed it over, was in such disrepair that the brakes were literally down to metal against metal. Not long after, my grandfather passed away and I inherited his 1985 Topaz, which got me through High School, college and the first couple of years of my post-collegiate life before it finally gave up the ghost.
When Dani and I met, I had about $6,000 saved in my bank account for a down payment on a new car. At the time, I was making more money than I ever imagined and literally didn’t know what to do with what was leftover, so I didn’t really intentionally save the money as it just sort of happened. After I started dating, however, I suddenly found extra uses for that money. Not long after Dani and I moved in together that $6,000 went into rent, food and everything else we needed to survive. We’ve never been very money smart. At one point, we were a tad strapped for cash and both her 1989 Ford Escort and my Topaz had major car issues, each costing about $1,000. I had to make a decision as to which car to fix and, well, let’s say I lost. So we fixed the Escort and the Topaz fell into total disrepair.
Not long after that, we purchased Dani’s Grandmother’s Dodge Intrepid when she upgraded to one of the first Prius models. Dani took the Intrepid and I squeezed myself into the Escort. It went like this for a couple of years until the Escort breathed its last and permanently parked itself on our driveway.
When Mom passed away, I inherited her 2003 Toyota Solara. Mom and I had the same philosophy about cars – you buy something super reliable then drive it until it just decides to completely die. She had driven her red 1983 Subaru wagon for 20 years, and it was showing its age. I had graduated from college and was setting up my own career and family, so she finally had money she could call her own. She took that money and replaced her car with the Solara, a sporty indulgence with upgraded sound system, leather seats, faux wood interior and lots of creature comforts, but still a terrific, reliable car. It was a symbol of freedom and independence and she babied that thing. When she passed, everyone – EVERYONE – said I’d better take good care of that car because she just loved it.
And so did I. I didn’t change a thing in it – I listened to her CDs and left her sunglasses in the console. This sounds odd, but it sort of smelled like her, which was comforting during the whole grieving thing. Most importantly, though, for the first time in five years I had a car that was rock solid and was mine.
Then the transmission in Dani’s Intrepid died. We paid about $2,000 for that car and the estimate for a new transmission was $2,400. Dani commutes to Richmond, which is about 30 miles or so from here. So I let her take the Solara – and I’ll admit I was a bit of a dick about it as I kept referring to it as “my car”, being extra possessive of it. After so many years of making compromises on cars so that Dani can drive around comfortably, though, I was happy about having a car I could call my own, though I despise the way I got it. And, of course, all the admonishments from everyone telling me to take care of it added to my desire to not let it out of my sight. To Dani, I called it my car, but in reality I always thought of it as Mom’s car, so even it wasn’t truly mine, but I was still glad to have it. It was a crappy consolation prize for Moms loss, but consoling it still was. So while Dani took the Solara to work, I borrowed her father’s 1967 or 1969 (we’re not sure) Chevy 350 pickup truck.
The truck is kind of cool. The engine is rebuilt and Dani’s father Tom replaced much of the interior. But it runs roughly, has no sound protection and none of the modern conveniences I’ve grown accustomed to. In the sweaty Concord heat it has no air conditioning and in the chilly winters it has no heat. Tom replaced the radio with a modern CD player with digital tuning, but you can’t hear it over the engine. Add the fact that it gets something like 5 miles to the gallon and you can see why I’m not a big fan of this truck, though everyone else assures me that it’s a really cool vehicle to drive. If it were fixed up I might agree, but the paint is peeling, there’s rust around the doors and the wood slats in the bed have all but rotted away. I’d like to work with Tom to fix it up – I really think it could be an awesome truck – but it’s a lousy car to commute in and I’m embarrassed to pull up to client sites in it.
I told Dani that, once we sold Mom’s condo, we’d buy her a newer car that would be hers and I’d take the Solara back. That was the plan.
Then Dani got in a car accident.
She was merging on to the 80 from the 4 when traffic suddenly stopped in front of her. She doesn’t remember the details, but this is what looks like happened – she slammed into the SUV in front of her, then the car behind her slammed into her and drove much of the Solara’s front end under the SUV. The SUV sustained minor damage, as did the car that hit her from behind. The Solara was totaled.
On the one hand, Dani sustained no visible injuries, though she was understandably sore for quite some time. On the other hand, her health hasn’t quite been the same since the accident. Add to it the emotional turmoil I felt over the whole thing and you can see how this has been a not so great situation for the two of us. She accuses me of being more concerned over the car than her, which is flat out wrong, but I can’t help but be angry. Mom worked in auto insurance claims for State Farm and we had many discussions regarding fault in accidents. One discussion we had was in regards to getting hit in the rear and how, for insurance purposes, it’s always the fault of the person driving the rear car. When people tailgated her on the freeway, she always tapped her brake pedal as a warning to back off. If they for some reason hit her, she said no worries – it would be their fault for driving too close. If you maintain a proper distance on the road, there’s no reason you’d hit the person in front.
In Dani’s case, however, she was coming off the 4 where she was probably going about 40 MPH and turned a blind curve onto the 80 approach to traffic that may have been moving at about 5 MPH. It’s likely the car in front of her wasn’t tapping their brakes and it’s remarkably difficult to gauge a car’s speed from behind while you’re moving as well and trying to keep an eye on the folks merging around you. So, while it’s technically her fault for slamming into the car in front of her, I can totally see how it would happen and not really be her fault. Still, I’ve hard a hard time getting past the fact that the Solara is now gone and she was the one driving it when it happened.
In all honesty, the fact that it was Mom’s car, while that makes me sad and bums me out quite a bit, is secondary to the fact that a car that was mine, the first car I’ve had in years that I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d reach my destination without a breakdown, was taken away from me so shortly after I got it. We used the insurance money to buy a 2005 Camry that is, admittedly, totally boring. Since Dani was still commuting to Richmond and, during this job, had gone through two cars, I wanted something rock solid reliable that got great gas mileage and didn’t cost us too much. She’s not a fan of the car, but I kept reminding her that it beat driving the truck, which I was now stuck with for much longer than I had hoped. On top of it, the condo was having trouble getting sold – the market softened into a complete stop and we had a buyer back out three days after the planned close of escrow who also had the audacity to fight to get their deposit back.
So, here we are a few months after all of this. The condo finally sold with a new buyer and I was given access to some of the proceeds (the rest is still in probate). I had been doing my research on a new car ever since we bought the Camry. I wanted an SUV because I wanted a good road trip car for when we have kids, and whatever I bought I intended to keep for at least 10 years. I also frequently truck around computer equipment and such and really don’t like putting it in the trunk or risking tearing the interior. But I also didn’t want some monstrous embarrassment like an Expedition or a Hummer. My penis is a perfectly fine size, thank you very much. I was initially infatuated with the Nissan Murano but, after doing a bit more research, was not as impressed with its reliability ratings.
Enter the Highlander. Though it doesn’t have the cult following of the 4Runner, it has better gas mileage without sacrificing cargo space or reliability. The RAV 4 was also an option, but it just felt too small for me. I was going to buy an ’05 or ’06, but after test driving a few models the ’08 was just a huge improvement over the others. Since I intend on keeping the thing for 10 years, I was able to justify the extra $7,000 or so for it.
I absolutely love it. I have never been happier in a car. I’ve gone from avoiding any commitments that require me to leave the house so I wouldn’t have to brave the truck to looking for any excuse to get out of the house. With the Blackberry, I also feel free from my desktop’s email inbox, so I am completely mobile.
And, just to prove I’m not a complete asshole, Dani took the Highlander to work today and left me with the Camry. I have laid claim to the Highlander – I bought the car with me in mind, and it is my company vehicle – but Dani wanted to drive it and experience the new car feel as well. I really didn’t want her to take it – not because I don’t trust her, only because I really love driving it that much and will miss it today – but I relented because it’s all part of the healing process. I can’t wait to get it back tonight, though.
New Cake CD!
I think it’s been six months since I first heard that Cake – one of my favorite bands – was putting out a new CD. It’s actually a bit of a re-hash, really. The CD is titled “B-Sides and Rarities” and is exactly that – mostly covers of songs that have appeared on the B-Side of their singles as well as remakes of two of their songs. It’s short – only about 35 minutes – but I love Cake and their version of “War Pigs” is just as good as Ozzy’s without being redundant. I ordered the CD about six months ago directly from the band’s website. It arrived yesterday. About a year or so ago they broke from their label to go completely independent and this is their first release without help from the label. At the concert we went to a month or two ago, they showed appreciation to their fans during the transition and thanked us for our patience in getting the CDs out. They didn’t even have any CDs for sale at the concert, which really shocked me.
So, was it worth the wait? Well, if you’re not a trufan, probably not. But I am and my answer is an emphatic “YES!”. Receiving the CD in the mail was like the cherry on top of a great week. I’m actively boycotting purchasing CDs these days because I despise the RIAA and the way they treat their customers. I even stopped buying music on iTunes because I got sick of dealing with their DRM. These days, I listen to Sirius Radio streamed through my computer (the Lithium channel ROCKS) and AM news radio in the car (God, I’m old). I just don’t purchase music that often these days. I broke my boycott and bought the Cake CD because it was produced independently and, thus, I was not supporting the RIAA at all and, well, I really, really love Cake.
So, yeah, they say money can’t buy happiness, but this week I was able to improve my customer relations, gain significant mobile freedom and rock out to one of my favorite bands. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure as heck can help get you through the gates.