Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The New Car Blues

Last year my wife and I endured an escapade that might interest you, The Purchase of Yet Another Brand New Vehicle, or, as I prefer to call it, Yet Another Reason That We Won’t Be Able to Retire Before the Next Ice Age.

It all started the previous fall. We had already bought a brand new truck and a brand new minivan a few years back, forcing us to eat low-priced foods such as Hamburger Helper’s Helper. I was driving my 1993 Nissan Sentra, which was a dependable little vehicle that had never given me a problem in the 140,000 miles that I had driven it.

Well, my mom, who owned a 1992 Volvo 940 GL, decided to buy a new car, and she offered me her Volvo in a gesture of good intentions, which as you know are meant to be a good thing. Of course, good intentions also pave the road the Hell. I figure I’ve got my own asphalt half way there already. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before going further, I need to give you background on a Volvo that I owned many years ago. In 1987 I bought a used 1981 Volvo 282 GLA. At the time I was driving a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass, with hundreds of bumper stickers that covered its many rust holes. The Olds never gave me a single problem, but my father, God rest his soul, who for some bizarre reason had a boner for Volvos, found a used Volvo at a dealership and insisted that I buy it and keep it at his house in Boston because it was “such a great deal” and so I’d have it when the Olds finally dies. So I shelled out $6000 and the Volvo was stored in my parents’ garage. Well, within 6 months they decided that they didn’t want it taking up the garage space anymore, and it couldn’t be kept on the street because my parents lived on a snow emergency route on which you couldn’t park after dark six months out of the year, so I would have to take the car to my house. I subsequently sold the Oldsmobile to avoid the expense of keeping two cars insured.

Within a week the Volvo’s water pump gasket failed, costing me almost $200 for parts and labor. A week later, on my way to a bar-mitzvah, the fan pulley broke, stranding me on I-95. I thumbed a ride with a trucker who drove me to a pay phone, and I had the car towed to my mechanic, who didn’t have a pulley but who drove me to a junkyard to look for one. So there I was, on the ONE day I had worn a suit in TWO years, walking through a friggin’ junkyard. We found a Volvo, retrieved the pulley and went back to his garage, where he replaced the part.

Over the next six years I suffered through a string of Volvo-induced headaches: two replacements of the exhaust system, electrical problems, ignition difficulties, and so forth. The final kick in the balls came on a 15-degree evening as I was driving home. Unbeknownst to me, the engine was emptying itself of oil as I cruised obliviously along the highway. The engine pretty much melted down, I lost power, and I steered bewildered onto the shoulder, cursing the Swedish monstrosity and wondering what traumatic mechanical event was occuring. As it ground to a halt, the oil light came on, brightly informing me that the oil was perhaps leaking. Friggin’ Volvos.

The next day I bought my 3rd car ever, the Sentra I mentioned earlier. It was also my first new car. I drove it for almost 10 hassle-free years until my mom’s well-intentioned offer, which brings us back to our story.

I was gun-shy because of my first Volvo, but my wife said she wanted me to drive a car that was safer than a Sentra, and pointed out that the Sentra had a little problem with carbon buildup even though I, being a guy, didn’t notice because I was too insensitive (which is why I don’t notice problems in our relationship either). Knowing that she was right, because she was, after all, a woman, I accepted the offer. My mom, who had moved to Florida like all old Jews do, had the car checked for problems and shipped to my state, Maryland. I subsequently donated the Sentra to charity in order to get a tax break, going against the inner voice that told me I was making a big mistake.

Upon first use, we found several issues that began to concern us, even though we tried to brush off our misgivings as just not being used to the Volvo. Also, its wireless remote unlocked only the driver’s door instead of all four, which would have been okay if I were still a single, undatable bachelor, because having a remote that could open any door other than the driver’s would be about as useful as having a solar-powered flashlight.

Within a month it was having problems with the brakes. The AAA-approved garage told me that the front brake rotors and bushings, whatever the hell those are, were bad. That was $800. A few months later my wife and I were on our way to a party and the timing belt went, and I felt myself in that familiar predicament of pulling onto the shoulder of a major highway while a product of Sweden marooned me. What was eerie was that this happened exactly 10 years after the other Volvo’s death, on the second Saturday night in January, in 15-degree weather. This time I was equipped with a cell phone, so we immediately called AAA.

AAA: “Triple-A, can I help you?”
Me: “This %^@!*# piece of $#!* car has given me nothing but problems ever since I got it. Now I’m %^@!*# stuck on %^@!*# Route 695!”
AAA: “You own a Volvo, don’t you?”
Me: “You guessed that, huh?”
AAA: “Volvos are what keep us in business. You ever see that commercial where a Volvo goes off an embankment and lands on its front end?”
Me: “Yes.”
AAA: “That wasn’t a crash test. It was pushed over the embankment by its angry owner.”

Anyway, they got there in just under an hour. In the meantime, the condensation on the inside of the windows was freezing, and we consoled each other with the knowledge that, if we were to die, at least we had beer in the trunk. No, I mean, at least we would die together. And our loved ones could sue the Volvo company for producing more lemons than Minute Maid. It was then that I realized why Volvos are so safe: you can’t get into an accident when you’re stranded.

Over the next several months my arch nemesis kept presenting me with more expenses. I was very nice to it too. I even put new tires on it. But this anti-Semitic piece of Swedish debris just wouldn’t let up. When summer came, its leather seats caused me to drive home from work every day with a burned bottom as I listened to the melody of a failing exhaust system and dealt with a failing brake light, both of which I refused to replace as a matter of general principle. I mean, giving that horrible car any new parts would be like giving Bill Clinton the ability to publish a book.

Eventually my wife, sensing my growing hatred for the Volvo by deciphering my subtle grumblings (“I hate that f#*&ing Volvo!”), suggested that we look into selling it or trading it in and buying a car that we like. Once again she was right. I had been holding onto the car in a vain attempt to get enough use out of it to reimburse me the $1500 I had put into it, but it was no use. Every day it became clearer to me that it was nothing more than an evil, unreliable, spiteful vehicle - the Newt Gingrich of cars.

My wife and my older stepson went to CarMax to see what cars were available and what we could get for the Volvo. They found some good car deals but the trade-in part didn’t go so well:

My wife: “How much can we get on a trade-in?”
CarMax: “Depends. How much gas is in the tank?”
My wife: “It’s got plenty of gas.”
CarMax: “Premium or regular?”
My wife: “Regular.”
CarMax: “Tell you what. Drive that thing off my lot, and I won’t tell anyone you were here.”
My wife: “Listen buddy, I’ve dealt with bigger jerks than you. My husband, for example. You make me an offer or I’ll rip you a new one!”
CarMax: “Okay, $1800.”

When she called me and told me of this not-so-generous offer, several questions came up in my mind:

“Should I let it go for so little when I’ve put almost that much into it?”
“Should I spend what little savings I have on a new car, thereby leaving my family without a nest egg?”
“Why am I so clueless when it comes to cars?”
“What has Sweden produced of value besides its bikini team?”
“That’s Switzerland, you tool!”

Two days later my patient, loving wife and 16-year-old stepchild went to a Toyota dealership to see if they would beat CarMax’s deal. The good news is: yes, they did. The bad news is: not by much. Basically we got $200 more for the Volvo than CarMax offered. Also, the Camry they were eyeing had more options (such as anti-lock brakes) than the one at CarMax. Meanwhile I thought about selling the Volvo privately, because the Kelly Blue Book said that it should be worth about $4000, but images of more money were quickly replaced with fears of it breaking down during a potential buyer’s test drive, so I told her to accept the offer.

45 minutes later I joined them at the dealership. We spent two stressful hours waiting and going through paperwork, and I envied my younger stepchild, who was at the beach with his dad. Eventually we got to say good riddance to the 1992 POS (Piece Of Sh*t) and drive home in a brand new Toyota Camry. Sure, the cost means that we have to forgo some of the luxuries we’ve become accustomed to, such as food, but we love our new car so much that we really don’t mind subsisting on pocket lint.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

John Kerry’s Purple Heart Application

Government Form SF-1903, Application for Purple Heart, as filled out by John F. Kerry:

1. I was injured with (check one):

_ knitting needle
_ thumbtack
_ stapler
_ Q-tip
_ Tampon

2. The wound was inflicted by (check one):

_ Viet Cong
_ myself
_ a killer rabbit
_ a Botox injection
_ my millionaire ex-wife

3. Body parts injured (check all that apply):

_ ego
_ pinkie
_ pinkie toe
_ brain’s truth center
_ hair

4. I can prove that I was wounded by:

_ releasing my medical records
_ producing pictures of my wound(s)
_ giving you my word

5. Witnesses to the incident:

_ Al Gore
_ Jimmy Hoffa
_ Winksie, my imaginary friend
_ Pinocchio
_ Bill Clinton

6. Long-term effects of my injury:

_ I missed a lot of Senate committee meetings
_ I need Botox in order to appear at least remotely human
_ I won a Herman Munster look-alike contest
_ I cannot keep the same position on an issue for longer than
one episode of Who Wants to Marry a Heinz Millionaire?
_ I am now a lying, power-hungry scumbag

7. What I plan to do with my Purple Heart:

_ throw it away
_ use it to pick up chicks
_ tell everyone it entitles me to call my Navy buddies baby killers