Goodbye, old friend

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In 1999, I bought my first car, a `97 Subaru Outback wagon. I wanted a family, so I got a good family car.

(How did I afford such a thing at ~18 years of age? I was either already programming full time, or was soon to be. And I had some money left over from a legal settlement. You might say I traded the hearing in my left ear for that car.)

I loved that car. There are few more practical vehicles in the world, in my humble opinion. Pleasant to drive, safe, reliable, amazingly capable in rain, ice, and snow.  It almost certainly saved my butt on a number of occasions, compensating for the errors of judgement of an inexperienced driver by gamely clinging to the road when other cars would have spun into an embankment.

And indeed, a great family car, as I confirmed when I married a woman with two kids and a greyhound just a year or so later. It served us faithfully for many years and over 200,000 miles. It kept us safe when a driver in an SUV got distracted and rammed into us from behind at highway speeds on our way to visit family in Florida.

Then, one day on an outing to the mountains it blew its head gaskets. After that it took up permanent residence in our garage. We were hard up for money at the time, and it was hard to justify the cost of repair when our family was rapidly outgrowing it.

Today, I donated it to a charity for veterans. It was hard watching it go. Part of me wanted to say “wait, stop!”. But it was time.

I still eye newer models of the Outback with desire when I see them on the road. But our family is just too big to make such a car practical. Maybe when I’m old and the kids have all grown up I’ll buy myself another one.

Today in Dinosaur Extinction

Interesting article in the WSJ about how Detroit drove the American automotive industry into the ground. The American car companies are losing money hand-over-fist while the Japanese, Korean, and German companies are building new factories.  Expect GM and co. to be the next big corporations demanding bailouts in order to "save" the economy, probably sometime next year.  Once you open up the bailout trough every pig wants a share.

On a semi-related note, had an interesting conversation over lunch yesterday about the direction of the car industry.  There’s a good chance that Tesla Motors, with their all-electric vehicles, is creating the future of cars.  It’s worth noting that Tesla is a private company, working with technology (battery power) that experts had largely dismissed as a dead end.  Instead, we got public investment in hybrids (an interim solution), the "hydrogen economy" (remember that?), and Ethanol, which even environmental groups are now acknowledging was an unmitigated disaster – environmentally, economically, and diplomatically.  This is one of the reasons I don’t trust the government to move us towards a more sustainable future – when the government works on something they pick one or two golden solutions (usually with the "help" of well-funded lobbies), throw all the money at those, and ignore any and all other innovations until long after their chosen path has been shown to be a debacle.  Experience is more and more showing that "X-prize"-style competitions between independent organizations yield more diverse and promising innovations.  Yet most "X-prizes" are still privately funded.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Detroit/Autoworkers Union lobbies try to put up roadblocks to the success of electric transport in the US.  Electric transportation will also drastically change the auto maintenance market – another potential source of push-back.  Will an Obama campaign allow more-sustainable alternatives to move forward, or will it "protect" American business by propping up dying industries and regulating nascent ones?  Time will tell.

Tax Avoidance

I had a great time LARPing Friday night.  My roleplaying is still a little shaky, but improving.  It’s incredibly scary pretending to be a giant flirt.  Growing up isolated the way I did, I never intentionally flirted with anyone in my life.  Well, unless you count some IM conversations with Stacey during our super-brief courtship.  I’ve been told I flirt unconsciously, but I’m not even sure what that means.  Apparently being polite and personable is flirting, if the recipient is a female.

So walking up to random women and chatting them up is totally foreign territory to me.  There was a moment Friday when one of the targets of my attentions reacted coldly (in-character), and instead of being smooth, devil-may-care Anson Tyrell, I turned into panicked, smooth-things-over Avdi again.  Ah well.  It’s a learning experience.

Also had a sizable bombshell dropped in my lap toward the end of the night.  Back-room political machinations lead to me being elevated, to my shock (both in and out of character), from an unremarkable knight to one of the highest offices in the land.  I’m as clueless about the position as my character, but since I’m basically a puppet that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  The upside is that hopefully I will have more to do at games, and there won’t be as many dead periods where everyone is engaged in Big Important Secret Things and poor apolitical Anson has nothing to do but raid the refreshments table and keep an eye out for unoccupied Ladies.

~

Still liking the new car.  Handles miserably in snow compared to the Outback, but that’s to be expected. I didn’t buy it for snow driving.

~

How long does it take to trust again?  I admitted to Stacey yesterday that I’m not comfortable with her joining the LARP.  Right now the LARP is kind of a liberating experience for me, a safe environment where I explore a side of myself that has lain dormant all my life.  I don’t feel like I could feel as free to to explore that side if she were playing.  There have just been too many traumatic experiences in our shared history.  I can think of a half-dozen way things could quickly go south.  I don’t want the LARP to turn into an extension of my personal life.

On the other hand, it’s unhealthy for me to have these attachments.  The emotional attachment of worrying about what she’s doing or thinking.  The attachment to the past, bringing it into the present instead of letting her just be who she is now.  And maybe it’s true that I’ll never learn to trust again if I don’t give her the opportunity to prove herself.

Distrust is another foreign territory to me.  I tend to trust people by default, and it takes a lot to break that trust.  But being unaccustomed to distrust, I don’t know how to move on from it.  I remember talking to my shrink about it, but I don’t remember him having a lot of helpful suggestions.

I just keep thinking, isn’t it OK to have certain things that are “yours”, that you don’t share with your partner?  Or is that selfish (in a bad way)?

~

As a result of the issues above, yesterday was a tense day.  Come to think of it, so was Friday, for related reasons.  Last night I wanted to run off and find a St. Patrick’s day party or something, to occupy my mind, but Stacey wanted me to spend some time with the kids, and I recognized the wisdom in that.  Unfortunately, they didn’t want to spend any time with me 🙁

Today the sky is clear blue and I want nothing more than to take off and drive, but I promised myself I’d do our taxes this weekend.

Have I mentioned I need a vacation recently?

If I hear one more person say “Zoom Zoom” I will not be responsible for my actions

So oh yeah, I bought a car. 2005 Mazda 3s with all the bells and whistles. I am pleased to report that it goes forwards and backwards, as well as turning to both the port and starboard, all in a highly satisfactory fashion.

Hopefully this means the end of carblogging for awhile.

Balance Sheet

Lose: LendingTree.com.  I went through their application process, and when I finished I was presented with a cryptic page which made lots of references to “your offers”, but didn’t actually have any “offers” on it or explain where they might be found.  So I called the number provided, and the representative could find no trace of my application on the system.  Then he started on a retention script when I tried to get off the phone.

Half an hour later I got a couple of emails from them with auto loan offers in them, and a call from Capital One.  I guess I was in the system after all.  Oh well, too late.

Win: USAA.  Not only did they give me the best financing offer, but out of all the people and institutions I’ve dealt with during my car hunt, the people I talked to were by far the nicest, most helpful, and most organized.  A+.  It’s a shame USAA isn’t available to everyone.

Decisions, decisions

So tonight I drove a very nicely equipped 2005 Mazda 3.  I talked the dealer down to $17,200.  I really liked the car, even though it has some things I don’t necessarily want (automatic transmission and nav system).

I’ve been looking at numbers.  The same dealer will give me the same car except brand new, for about $20,500.  That’s a $3,300 difference.  Which is a lot, but it’s not as big a difference as I thought there might be.

If I go with the brand new one, here’s what I get for my three grand that I wouldn’t get otherwise:

  • A much better sound system (this is big)
  • Heated seats (I’ve gotten used to having this in my wagon)
  • Automatic climate control
  • Automatic lights
  • Automatic rain-sensing wipers
  • A built-in MP3 player jack
  • Electronic stability control
  • [EDIT] The possibility of getting it in black.

All of the car buying wisdom I’ve ever heard says that buying brand new is for fools with money to burn.

On the other hand, some of that stuff would be kinda nice.  The question is, is it worth the extra ~$70 a month?

(Does anyone know anything about aftermarket car stereo equipment?  I think it might be difficult to upgrade the stereo system in this car because the stereo is totally integrated with the console, there’s no replaceable stereo component the way there is on other cars.  But I don’t really know much about the subject.)

ADDENDUM: My decision is complicated by the fact that I’m making an effort lately not to automatically do the “wise” thing, and to do the “fun” thing instead now and then.  The sensible answer is obvious: pinch pennies!  But if I really wanted to pinch pennies there are much cheaper cars and/or trim levels I could be looking at.  So I’m already allowing the desire for Nice Things to influence my decision.  The question is, where to draw the line?

ADDENDUM 2:  I guess one way to look at it is: assuming a $70 difference in monthly payments, what other nice things could I get if I went the cheaper route?  That’s a new outfit, or a stack of books, every month.  An X-Box in two months.  Stretch it out longer and it becomes an electric guitar, or a new PC.  Used starts to look better and better.