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May 28, 2009

car woes

I hit a pothole the other day, a big one. I didn't see it and I was going faster than I would have if I had seen it. Ever since, the car has had a bit of shimmy, a little extra vibration. It went in that instant from driving normally to driving like an Old Car. 

Now "Harriet" is 7 years old - right at the age when things start going wrong with a car, but she's a Honda, and I've been diligent in doing preventive maintenance, so I thought I would be ok for another few years before the gigantic shop bills started rolling in.


I think my first error was taking the car to the dealer. But I knew the car needed a good once over - inspected brakes, tires, alignment, belts, pumps, etc. It probably needed its transmission fluid replaced (a year five service) and would probably need new tires in the next year or so. Plus I wanted to get the shimmy looked at by someone who would know what they were doing.

But nothing prepared me for the call from the service guy (Stu) at 2. I wish he had asked me if I was sitting down, because sit down I did during his litany of things wrong with my car. Leaking right front strut, unevenly wearing tires (their perp in the vibration mystery), lower arm joint thing cracked and worn, improperly installed battery (this one's my fave - apparently the Jiffy Lube guys installed the wrong battery in my car 8 months ago - the terminals are reversed, and too close to the hood prop, and in danger of electrical fire/explosion should the hood prop hit the terminals. At least this is what the dealer tells me) and finally, and most terribly expensively, apparently the timing belt (and the water pump and oil seals) all should be replaced at 7 years. I had thought that the timing belt was a 100,000 mile/10 year fix, but apparently its 7 years. My car is no where near 100,000 miles, but it is 7 years old. I don't want to mess with the timing belt - I've heard the catastrophic horror stories.

But its $1300 to replace. More than my RENT. And that doesn't include any of the other work. Or that oil change. Hell.

Things like this leave me feeling helpless. I don't know enough about cars to really know what these guys are talking about, so I don't know if I can say "Nah, I'll do the timing belt next year." I'll be doing a good amount of driving this summer and I don't want to be worried that the car is going to blow up literally or figuratively at an inopportune moment - but as soon as the service guy says it, it's like the fear of breakdown has been planted in my mind.

Ultimately, though, it's about trust. Who do I trust? Does this mean I can't trust the jokers at Jiffy Lube who slapped whatever battery they had in my car? Or is the dealer making a big deal out of nothing, and just padding their charges to make their monthly service quota in a bad economy? If I took it somewhere else, would any other mechanic look at the mileage and year of my car and suggest the timing belt fix? I hate not knowing who to trust and oscillating between worrying about spending money needlessly (LOTS and LOTS OF MONEY - more than a year of savings GONE.) and worrying that I'm not properly taking care of a vehicle that I want and need to have last me 3 to 5 more years.

Sigh. I get it back tomorrow night. Stu promised me some "discounts." Said he'd "See what he could do." So we shall see what the ultimate damage is, but I suspect it will be well into the 4 figures.

May 28, 2009 at 07:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 27, 2009

A sense of place - thinking about travel & home

I'm currently reading Richard Russo's The Bridge of Sighs. The book begins with the main character describing his almost anachronistic rootedness in a place - his hometown - a place he's never really left.  The narrator (one of them) has never traveled much at all, and is preparing to travel to Italy - leaving the country for the first time.

I cracked the book on my plane flight back to this fair city from a simultaneously fun, but frustrating weekend at a conference that left me chaffing at some of the responsibilities of my job and the choices I'd made with regards to it. I started thinking about travel, and homecoming and the importance of the idea of home.

I enjoy travel - love it for the way it upends me out of my routines, my complacencies, my ruts. It exposes me to new places, foods, communities, accents and languages, attitudes and regional quirks, and in doing so makes me reconsider all of those elements of my own life. Shakes the dust off, challenges my own assumptions, and adds a new lustre to those previously wearying chores and life moments. The grocery store, the walk to the dry cleaner, my office all feel a little fresher.

But travel is also wearying. All that newness and disruption requires energy and management. We get into routines because they streamline life in certain ways and changing them requires more "cycles" of the brain and body. Add to this the indignities of travel - the cramming, jostling, lines, power struggles over security theater, the endless details of identification, liquids and compliance with regulations. Not only has travel lost its glamour, it's lost any element of enjoyment or relaxation and has become purely a utility - a way to get from A to B rather than a journey, or a part of the experience. Even when nothing particularly goes wrong, travel is exhausting.

So fleeing the stuffy confines of the airport on Sunday was like the release of a prisoner after a long captivity. I was headed Home, to the cats and their attendant dirt, my apartment, crammed full of its books, and ceramics, handmedown furniture and threadbare oriental rungs. The city itself welcomed me as only this place can, with a warm May evening, air soft and scented with honeysuckle through the open cab window as it wended its way past parks, glimmering river and glowing marble monuments in the lowering dark.

Home is now cast as a comfortable retreat after 5 days absence rather than the pedestrian and rather unkempt roof-over-ones head it was when I left. The idea of home is such a central concept to our ideas of life, its rhythms, and relaxation. I think of this when I remember the distinct moment when I no longer thought of my parent's house as home - the transition sometime after college, a month after signing a lease and moving into my own house with friends - and how incredibly radical that felt. I also think of this when I see how S's girls struggle at times with having two homes - Dad's and Mom's - but designating one as "home" so freighted with untenable favoritism and preference that it becomes as hard to articulate as it does to sometimes manage. But not having one "home" is a significant adjustment, and not just with regards to the movement of material things like soccer cleats and tshirts and favorite toys.

All of this makes me appreciate my own small apartment and renews my sense of delight in coming home to it.

May 27, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 01, 2009

What I should have written

So about a month ago, I wrote a post about eating at a restaurant with a very old friend and her husband. And while it was an amazing meal of poetically delicious food, I didn't really tell the whole story. But today I'm feeling honest and unflinching, so I'll share the parts I left out.

The parts about feeling resentful of having more food that I could ever possibly eat laid before me - including three or four 'gifts from the kitchen.' Of sitting with people who ordered fois gras (after talking with their server about how if it becomes illegal in their state - it might, for reasons of animal cruelty - they'll just raise their own geese to force feed), and not one, but two helpings and rationally expected me to help pay for the $45 they just added to our bill.  What was styled as generosity (and don't get me wrong, it was) ended up feeling like obligation and left me feeling ill having over-eaten out of fear of offending my various hosts and companions and trying to figure out how to expense an $80 meal.

I also left out the part about how one of my companions felt compelled towards the end of the meal to wax rhapsodic (really, brag) about the other person sitting right there at the table with us. It's nice to be supportive of your spouse and all, but there's really no need to tell me every single wonderful thing about him. Really. It's actually a little embarrassing for us both and makes wonder if a little bit of the old high-school you bubbled up there for a second. I hope it wasn't because I did something that made you uncomfortable.

It was great to reconnect with this person and ultimately the meal was lovely - particularly a special salad of asparagus, radishes and new peas that the kitchen made especially for us. But it wasn't quite all sunshine and roses, either.

May 1, 2009 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack