Category Archives: cars

Cars and Country Music, Part II

I haven’t actually had that many cars in my life.  Sometimes I rode the bus, or a bike, or mooched rides from other people, or walked.

My first car ever was a used black VW Beetle, in 1967.  My father made the down payment, but I had to pay the monthly note which was between $30 and $35.  I fell on hard times, however, and my aunt advised me to park it in the parking lot of the bank, then call them and say “Here’s your car back”.  So I did.

My second car was a….used black VW Beetle.  Bought for me in cash by my then boyfriend…I think it cost about $300.  He did that because he was sick of picking me up after work so I could spend the night at his house.  I remember service station attendants (remember them?) repeatedly asking me if I’d like them to check the water, ha ha.  I actually fell for that the first time, what did I know?  Since I didn’t have to check the water, nobody ever told me I still had to check the oil.   One day, driving from the Tennessee River back to Memphis, it threw a rod.  Black smoke was boiling out everywhere.  I called a friend who towed me the last 50 miles back to Memphis…illegally, on a chain.  We were just lucky not to encounter the Highway Patrol.  Boyfriend person was not happy.  The car was, literally, toast.

Sadly, I don’t know of any country music songs featuring VW Beetles.

The next car I had, once I graduated from college and got a full-time job, was a Fiat 850 Spider convertible. One day, while driving to work in the rain, distracted, the car in front of me slammed on its brakes and so did I (this is before ABS, remember). I lost control of the car and it literally climbed a fire plug, pretty much gutting the underside of the car. I wasn’t hurt…just a little shaken up. It was next door to a school and all these little kids came running over saying, “You ain’t drunk, are you? ‘Cause if you are, you need to leave now. We won’t tell on you.” Well, it was 8:00 in the morning, and so far, I haven’t ever been drunk at that time of day, not that I’m ruling it out. My insurance company totaled the car, and even gave me credit for the brand new convertible top I’d just bought, which cost me $250. As a bonus, the motorcycle cop who responded was very cute. He gave me a ride to work, and we dated for a while afterwards.

I used the money I got from the insurance company and added more, and bought a brand new AMC Pacer. Stop laughing. I loved that car. It was my very first new car and my very first car with an automatic transmission, and my first American-made car. It was like driving in a soap bubble–you could see out 360 degrees. The first thing that happened was that the salesman absconded with my down payment (about $4,000 in cash). The dealer called just to inform me, because they knew I’d paid–they had all my paperwork and I also had a receipt. But perhaps that was an omen?

One day I was driving home from work (are you beginning to see a pattern here?) and the Pacer just…stopped. On an overpass. In rush-hour traffic. It wasn’t the oil–I’d learned my lesson–and there was no telltale black smoke. I thought I was going to die on that overpass. It was snowing that day. I had the tow truck take it to the parking lot of the grocery store across the street from my apartment, because my driveway had a steep incline they couldn’t make. I’ll never know what was wrong with the Pacer, because a couple of weeks later, once the snow cleared and I had saved a little money to get it to the shop, it was gone. As in, disappeared. I called the grocery and asked if they had had it towed, and they said no. So I called and made a police report, reporting it stolen. It was never found. But can you imagine? Stealing it would have required a tow truck. And who would want an AMC Pacer that much?

After a while, I bought a used Oldsmobile Omega for $1,500, and I have to tell you, I loved it too. It was sort of ugly, but it got me from Point A to Point B, at least until the transmission went out. I bought it from the first female car salesperson I’d ever met, and I just loved her. We exchanged Christmas cards for several years. And I bought another car from her later. And the insurance salesman she brought in for me was the brother of a guy I’d previously dated, and the cousin of another guy I’d previously dated. (Okay, don’t judge, it was very much a coincidence.) The insurance guy had fairly recently left the Memphis police department. When he was there, he was only one of two Jews in the department, the second being his aforementioned cousin. Several year later, he shot himself to death.

And finally, we come to a car celebrated in country music. Well, not the Omega, but the Oldsmobile. There are no country music songs about VW’s, Fiats, or AMC Pacers. But there should be.

I see I’m going to have to do a Part III, because we are only up to the 1980’s here. More car disasters await having their stories told.

The New Baby Wheels


My new car–a 2012 Toyota Yaris.  Until Friday, I owned one that looked almost exactly like this.  The difference is that the “old” one (a 2010) had a manual transmission and only two doors.  Excuse me.  Three doors.  They count the hatchback as a “door”.  Don’t ask me.  But by that logic, the new one officially has five doors.  Also the new one has an automatic transmission.

I’ve been stressing out for the last week or so, because my rental car has to be returned on the 15th of February.  I’m wearing a pneumatic boot on my left leg, and have to keep wearing it until the 28th, when I have my next doctor’s appointment.  So what to do?  Extend the rental for another couple of weeks?  The problem with that was there is no guarantee I’ll be able to STOP wearing the boot then.  And I couldn’t drive my car with the boot on.  Or maybe even with the boot off.  I just don’t know, and the decision had to be made now.

The only logical thing to do was to trade in my car for one with an automatic transmission.  I was depressed about the idea.  I love driving manual transmission cars.  They’re more fun.  You feel as if you have more control, though that’s probably an illusion.  But this I’m fairly sure of:  you have to be more alert to drive a car with a manual transmission.  It’s much harder to “zone out” when you have to do more than just apply the brake or the accelerator.  But trust me, I didn’t waste too much time on being depressed about it.  When you have no choice, being sad about what you can’t do is just wasted emotion.

The perk was, I got four doors.  The thing that annoyed me to no end about the “old” Yaris is that you could only get into the back seat through the passenger side.  Not that I hardly ever used the back seat (in fact, maybe never) for actual people, but in my previous car, the Camaro, I was used to pulling the driver’s side seat back forward and tossing groceries in the back seat rather than putting them in the trunk.   With the “old” Yaris, I took to putting groceries in the passenger seat and floorboard.

And there were more perks.  My favorite is that you can operate the controls for the radio from the steering wheel. It has Bluetooth built in.  (I’m not sure yet whether I’ll use that. Probably not, while driving, unless I’m stopped when I answer it or make a call.)  It has electric locks and windows and side-view mirrors.  Here’s a funny fact:  this is the first time in my life, in 46 years of car ownership, that I’ve owned a car you can lock and unlock from the buttons on your key.  Fakename graduates to the 21st century.

Here’s another funny fact.  I bought my Camaro in 1995 after a major flood in New Orleans totalled the car before that.  During that flood, two Tulane students drowned in their Lexus when they drove under an overpass with standing water in the road.  What they didn’t know was that that water was 20 feet deep. (When they tell you, “Don’t drive into standing water”, you should pay attention.)  They had automatic everything, which immediately shorted out, so they couldn’t open the doors or the windows. Therefore, when I got the Camaro, I purposefully got manual everything so that I could open the doors and windows.  I guess I’m over it now.  Not to mention that it takes work to find a car without electric controls these days.

There are other perks.  For example, you could sit in the back seat without having to have both legs amputated to the knee first.  The seats are much more comfortable.  It has cruise control (I missed that from the Camaro).  And God forbid I should fail to mention that it has 9 airbags.  The salesperson was obsessed with that.

But here is the most important thing:  it’s really cute, and bright and shiny 🙂

I picked up the car on Friday the 8th, and here is another perk:  I got to enter a drawing for a 2 week vacation for two for anywhere in the U.S.  Airfare and hotel included.  If I win, I’m taking Fakesister.  Where you wanna go, Fakesister? I pick NYC.  The thing is, I have a lot better chance than usual, because you had to buy a car to enter, and I think the contest is only 10 days long.

I leave you with a photo of me (and my Kindle) at the dealership.  The salesperson took it when I was not expecting it, although frankly, no amount of preparation would have made me look any better that day. I refer to this as my “deer in the headlights” pose.


Cars and Trucks..Especially Trucks

Today I accidentally rediscovered one of my own posts about the death, in 2009, of my 1995 Camaro.  I just can’t tell you how distressed I was.  You would think I’d lost a family member, or a dog.  But it felt very similar.  That Camaro had traveled all over the country with me, and reliably gotten me from Point A to Point B for almost 15 years.  (Which is really all I ask of a car.)  We were friends.

It turned out it was only temporarily dead.  It had a blown head gasket.  The person I bartered it to fixed it up and sold it.  As far as I know, it’s still cruising the streets. I’m strangely comforted by that.  But how is it that it’s cheaper to buy a new car than it is to fix your old one?

The Camaro did have its downsides. First there was the 15 mpg thing.  Which leads me to an aside, namely Cash For Clunkers.  Remember that? Talk about an ill-conceived idea with the best of intentions.  I thought surely I would qualify, but I didn’t.  Your car had to be a certain age ( I qualified there), but it had to get 18 MPG or less WHEN IT WAS NEW.  What is wrong with that picture?  I consoled myself with the idea that the government got even worse cars than mine off the road. Maybe.  The cars were supposed to be destroyed once you turned them in.  That didn’t turn out to be true either.

But I digress.  The second downside to the Camaro was that it was so low to the ground that it was apparently invisible to other drivers.  I mean that as a joke.  The reality was that other drivers, especially those with big pickup trucks and SUV’s ignored it.  They figured you couldn’t do any damage to them, so they just barreled right on through, regardless of the right of way or any other considerations (you know, like being polite).  If anyone is going to get hurt, it’s going to be you.  I will say, it does teach you patience, even if you have to grit your teeth.  It’s probably good that I had to give way, because if I had a bigger car, I swear I might have rammed your car just for the justice of it. Insurance be damned.

I learned this when I lived in Des Moines.  We had a work truck, a Dodge Ram  1500 that I would sometimes drive when it snowed, as long as it didn’t snow heavily enough for us to need the truck for snow removal.  Hauling stuff and removing snow were its jobs.  So I discovered that when I was driving the truck, everyone gave way.  Amazing.  It wasn’t me.  It was the truck.

I loved that truck.  It was hunter green. It was my job as chief bottle washer to go buy a snowplow attachment for it.  Imagine how fun that was. I know as much about snowplows as I know about quantum physics.  I came to Iowa from New Orleans.  I had never lived anywhere with snow since I became an adult.  So I went to this snowplow place, which had a bumper sticker on the door which said “Snow Happens”.

The truck was 4-wheel drive.  My boss purchased it, and I had to drive it from St. Louis to Des Moines, a 7-hour trip.  I wasn’t even out of St. Louis before I had a screaming headache from bouncing up and hitting my head on the roof.  When I finally made it back, the chief maintenance guy said, Oh yeah.  I should have warned you about that.  You should have put weight in the truck bed.  Several five-gallon bottles of water, or sandbags, or bags of ice melt.

But I learned that lesson.  My Camaro was a rear-wheel drive, so it would fishtail if the streets were icy.  So every winter, we would pile its trunk with four or five hundred pounds of ice melt.

But after 7 hours on the road with that truck, we had bonded 🙂  I loved that truck.

A Visit From Yard Guy

When I realized that Yard Guy (Tom) was outside this morning, it made me sad.  Because it’s October 15th, which means I won’t see him again for probably 5 months.  Which is sad in itself, but worse, it’s a harbinger of winter. It by no means is winter yet, and won’t be for another 2 months, but stuff has mostly stopped growing.  I so dread it.  I’m like the poster child for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  If I could just find something I LIKE about winter, or could look forward to, to balance it out. ..then.  But I can’t think of a thing.  About the only good thing is that about two weeks after it really gets cold, the days will already be getting longer.  Which will make me think of spring, and cheer me up considerably.

One of the best things about Yard Guy’s visit was that I finally remembered to get an update on the Camaro.  Turns out, it didn’t need a new engine after all, dammit.  It had a blown head gasket, and needed a new water pump, and a few other things I forgot.  Then it turned out the AC didn’t work, and he didn’t want to spend the money to fix that, so he sold it to an auto AC guy.  Then that guy sold it to a young couple with a new baby, who were in desperate need, for that reason, of transportation.  Yard Guy said he kind of got the impression that AC guy may have just given it to this young couple.  Sometimes you come across surprising examples of goodness and compassion in the most unexpected people and places. 

Yard Guy said he told AC Guy, “Are you crazy?  You sold a CAMARO to a young couple with a new baby?”  He said that once he got the engine fixed up, he took it out a couple of times to see what it could do, and his comment:  “Man, that thing would FLY!”  Um, I said, I know 🙂

It turns out the young couple live somewhere near Yard Guy, because he sees them driving down Highway 20 a couple of times a week.  The young man is driving, and he is always driving cautiously. 

I can’t lie, I felt a little pang to know that the Camaro was working now, and I don’t have it.  On the other hand, if I’d been able to shell out the money to repair it, and been able to wait while it was repaired, I would still have a car that is now 17 years old.  So I decided to be glad it’s still doing good work for new people in its second incarnation. 

My old boss in Iowa used to call the Camaro The Rocket, which makes me think of this song.  Now the song is about an Oldsmobile, and has some unkind things to say about Chevrolets, but still–the spirit is there!

Goodbye Camaro

I mentioned that recently I made this deal where my next door neighbor’s son would take care of my yard for the rest of the season, and in return, I would give him the Camaro.  It’s been sitting in my driveway since November 16th of last year, and during that time I’ve had ample opportunity to say goodbye to it.

At first, I just couldn’t bear to part with it.  I so, so did not want it to die.  Never mind the emergency other-car purchase.  Then I so, so did not want to part with it anyway.  There was something comforting about seeing it in the driveway every morning when I left for work, and seeing it still be there in the driveway when I came home in the evening.  Good dog. 

But at last it became annoying.  You know, I said to it, if it weren’t for you, I could park the new baby Toyota in the spot closest to the door, and you are in my way.  So I bartered it away.  But it stayed in the driveway until yesterday. 

I really am not one to put a whole lot of emotional investment into material things, especially cars.  The Camaro never had a name, and I didn’t talk to it (with that one exception when I said it was in my way).  On the other hand, I spent fourteen-plus years in its company, and it was a sort of companion, in its own inanimate way. 

So it wasn’t the car…it was the fourteen years I spent with it.  A lot can happen in fourteen years. 

I bought it brand-new in 1995, when I was living in New Orleans and my existing, love-of-my-life, two year-old car drowned in the May 9th flood.  I bought it because I saw an ad on TV for it and I liked the way it looked, plus it was only $15,995.  (Which I later learned must have been minus the optional engine.)  My friend Lebron said, Please don’t buy a Camaro.  Only rednecks drive them.  Well, I thought…well…perhaps the shoe fits.  But really, that was the year they changed the body style and it was a lot sleeker-looking and less Dukes of Hazard-looking. 

I drove the Camaro to Iowa a year later, with a dog and two cats and some houseplants packed into it.  Two years after that, I moved to Norfolk, Virginia.  This time the Camaro was loaded onto a moving van, under my watchful and hysterical eye.  I flew to Norfolk and drove a rented car for a bit.  Ah.  Those were the good old days, when the company I worked for would pay to ship my car, pay for a rental car, pay for me to live in a hotel for 3 weeks, and break the written company policy by paying for my dog and two cats to board for 3 weeks, then fly them to Norfolk.  That was when they thought I was a wizard.  Now I operate under the “What Have You Done For Me Lately” rule. 

In Norfolk, I acquired another dog, and the Camaro faithfully ferried us back and forth from his obedience training classes…over the river and through the trees, or in the case of Norfolk, over the bridges and through the tunnels.  The dog and I both pretty much sucked at obedience training, but the Camaro was steadfast. 

A year later, things were seriously going south in my job, so I surreptiously got another one and shipped my original dog and two cats to Fort Lauderdale on my own dime.  Then I followed in the Camaro with the Norfolk dog.  Try driving 1,000 miles or so with a Rottweiler in a Camaro.  It gets a little crowded. At the time, the Rottweiler had just entered adolescence, and was just discovering the pleasures of being protective.  We stopped overnight at a hotel room somewhere in South Carolina, and he spent much of his time standing on the bed, barking at the “other” Rottweiler in the mirror over the dresser. 

Then we all moved to Tallahassee.  I, of course, had to take charge of the Rottweiler and the Camaro, while the other dog and the two cats rode in the U-Haul with my perfect angel of a friend Lebron, who helped me move on Thanksgiving weekend, at great risk to his Significant-Other relationship.

Tom, the guy who took the car, warned me yesterday that he was probably taking the car that day, but when it happened, I didn’t even know it.  It was very busy and noisy outside at the time.  Tom was doing yard stuff out front, and his truck was parked in the street.  Across the street, Randy was mowing the neighbor’s lawn on his riding mower, and his truck was parked on the street in front of her house.  I know it seems impossible to believe that I missed it, but I did. 

Once everyone left, I went outside to inspect…and the Camaro was gone.  And in spite of myself, I literally felt a pang of sadness.  I’m actually glad I didn’t see it go. 

Both the dogs and both the cats who spent time in the Camaro are now dead, as was the Camaro.  The difference is, the Camaro may possibly be brought back to life.  So you see, it isn’t the physical object, the car itself, it’s the history.  Losing it was just one of those reminders that I’m getting old.  Time cannot be reversed, and neither the dogs or the cats or myself can be revived with a new engine.

I Am Sad

Fakename has had a bad week, for many reasons, but it started Monday morning while driving to work.  The BP station I pass daily about halfway between my house and my office was empty and shuttered.  The sign which normally says something like “Mechanic On Duty” read “Closed”.  I had a bad feeling about this, because I was pretty sure that station was owned by the same people who own the BP station downtown where Jeff the Mechanic works.  Sure enough, my worst fears were confirmed. 

Plastic bags covered the hose nozzles.  No lights in the tiny “store”, and all the shelves were empty.  Doors into the repair bays closed and padlocked. 

I most recently mentioned Jeff the Mechanic in my post Worm Grunting Part 2, Dilbert, and PSI.  I took the Baby Toyota by to introduce him to it (and to get air in the tires).  This is the guy who kept my dying Camaro alive for at least a year past its expiration date.  Who said when pronouncing its death sentence…I could fix your latest problem, but I don’t want to.  It would be like stealing your money.  You need a new car. 

He’s the guy who oohed and aahed over the vvti (variable valve timing with intelligence ) engine technology in the Baby Toyota, and tried mightily to explain it to me.  It has something to do with cams.  He probably didn’t notice my eyes rolling back in my head.  As I finally understood it, vvti has something to do with the car’s ability to exert power when needed and to save power when it isn’t needed.  Ergo, the gas mileage thing.  At least he never treated me like an idiot. even though he should have.  He did yell at me a time or two, but we got past that. 

He was also a blue-collar philosopher.  He had an opinion about everything.  He, like me, was an Obama supporter before it was cool.  One day he said, “What this country needs is protectionism!”  I refer you to the State of the Union address, where now President Obama said, “We need to reward companies who keep jobs here, rather than giving tax breaks to companies which ship jobs overseas.”  I don’t claim to know if that would work or not.  It’s a complex issue.   What I’m lauding is the fact that Jeff the Mechanic gave it some thought.

I don’t really know Jeff the Mechanic personally.  The sum total of what I know about him personally is that he’s married and his wife drives a Volvo.  I think, but don’t know, that he was an independent contractor in his position as the mechanic for this BP station.  I believe that his future is safe, since in light of the economy, people are keeping their cars longer.  Perhaps the BP station will even reopen under new ownership and he will be back.  But I’m not counting on it. 

Operating a service station, at least in Florida, is one of the riskiest things you can do besides operating a restaurant. 

The important thing is, I was seriously pained by seeing that Jeff the Mechanic was gone.  Despite not knowing him personally, he was one of those people who brightened my workday world, just knowing he was out there.  I spent many hours in his company, back in the Camaro days.  He worked, and I sat in a greasy canvas chair in the repair bay reading a book.  Occasionally it would be over lunch, which would consist for me of peanut butter and cheese crackers and a Yoohoo from the store attached.  Now and then one of us would raise our heads and say, “Did you ever think about….?”

My suspicion is that I will never see him again.  It’s not like I’m living in a city teeming with millions of people, but the odds remain great.  Tallahassee has about 190,000 people in the city proper and 250,000 or so with the city and county population combined.  Plus, I don’t need to frequent mechanics anymore.  I won’t be dropping in to some other service station where I will accidentally run into him. 

My feelings about this are a serious window into my emotional life, and reveal a lot more about me than I usually care to share.  Connections, in my opinion, are both rare and fragile.  Once I make one, I can’t bear to give it up, as the people who know me best and for the longest time can attest. 

So, Jeff the Mechanic is a broken connection.  I’m highly unlikely to run into him again unless he shops at Publix.

Worm Grunting Part 2, Dilbert, and PSI

PSI, as in “pounds per square inch”.

In my original post about worm grunting, I learned that reader ptfan1 attempted to teach his daughter to worm grunt while living in Blountstown.  Then I learned that my good friend Judith’s father taught her and both her sisters to worm grunt while living in Marianna.  Apparently this is a rite of passage I somehow missed out on.  Frankly, I never learned anything that could be called “useful”.  I’m pretty good at applying nail polish, but I haven’t found that skill to be particularly transferable.

In real life, I’m a manager, and you know what that old saying is:  “Those who can, do, those who can’t–manage”.  One of my former employees gave me a card once for Boss’s day which asked, “How many bosses does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”  The answer was something like three.  One to write a memo documenting the malfunctioning light bulb, one to requisition the new light bulb, and a third to hunt down an employee to screw it in.  Of the “How many…” jokes available, I like this one, which Fakesister will also appreciate:  How many computer programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Answer:  None.  That’s a hardware problem. 

Which brings me to Dilbert.  Employee goes to the weird-haired boss and says, “If I don’t seem to hear what you’re saying, it’s because I lost my hearing aids.”  Boss:  “I didn’t realize you had a hearing problem.”  Employee:  “What?  Eh? You can try to send me an email, but I have my spam filter set to ‘Taliban’.”

Which brings me to PSI.  I guess you were wondering how I was going to tie all these seemingly disparate topics together, right?  My guess is that by the end of this post you’ll still be wondering.  But there really is a theme here. 

So on Christmas Eve, I paid a visit to Jeff the Mechanic, another of my most favorite downtown people along with Officer Mike.  The occasion for the visit was that the little icon thingie came on telling me I had low tire pressure in the baby Toyota.  At first, I thought it was just because the weather had turned colder.  (“Yes!” said Jeff the Mechanic.  “You lose 2 PSI in cold weather!”)  But then it warmed up and the icon was still on, and btw the icon is very curious.  It looks exactly like this:  (!)  So after about 3 days of the icon being on, I decided I might have an actual problem.  (That’s me:  always swift to react at the first sign of danger. This is one of the first things they teach you in manager school.  Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.  Make a to-do list, then label the items on the list A, B, or C.  The stuff you don’t want to do goes into the D file.  After a week, you’ll forget why it was there and it can be moved into the T file, for Trash.  If, however, it continues to flash an icon at you or starts beeping or something, it will have to be upgraded to at least B status).

So I said to Jeff, the sign on the inside of the door says the tires should have 32 PSI.  Nonsense!  he said.  Never pay attention to the sign on the door!  Or to the owner’s manual!  This car should have 35 PSI in the front and 32 in the back!  So as he began checking (the left front tire had 29 PSI), he said in a casual and non-judgemental tone, “I guess you don’t do air pressure.”  I said, “Are you kidding?  The only thing I know how to do is check the oil–and I can also add oil–but that was in the Camaro.  I don’t even know if this car has oil.  Does it, you think?”

See?  I am a one-woman stimulus package.  Of course, Jeff did not charge me for this service, but I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.  After the air was checked and added to Jeff the Mechanic’s specifications, we had a brief chat about the hulking Nissan SUV he had just completed a $300 repair on.  The part it needed was under warranty, but the owner said he would gladly pay $300 out of his own pocket rather than take it to the Nissan dealer.  Jeff said this was not the first time he’d encountered this scenario.  Also participating in the chat was the clerk from the “store” in this particular BP station, where you can buy beer, lottery tickets, and a dizzying array of candy bars.  He said, “We think the local Nissan dealer has a torture chamber in the basement for their customers, with Dick Cheney in charge.”  I started laughing so hard I thought I was going to have to call 911. 

So here you have the essence of Fakename:  can’t do anything useful, has brief encounters with relative strangers (real life tweets), and finds humor everywhere.  Humor is like misery:  if you look for it, you’ll find it.  My way is a lot more fun.

Tips From the Owner’s Manual

You know, they say that life doesn’t come with an owner’s manual.  But I’m no longer sure that’s true.  I believe that <insert name of  automaker, which Fakename has excised to prevent getting sued, in case they don’t have a sense of humor> has covered every possible scenario a human being is likely to encounter in the matter of car ownership, but much of their advice is applicable to other aspects of life, no matter how long and disaster-filled that life may be.  I’d like to share some of their advice with you, as a public service. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, becoming involved in an accident can cause death or serious injury; therefore, you should avoid them.  You probably knew that already.  But what you may not realize is how very many seemingly innocent things you can do that will greatly increase your chances of having an accident.  Driving a car is one of those things.  Therefore, you should avoid driving a car.  However, if you insist on doing so, <name withheld> is committed to keeping you safe, for a small fee, such as $373 per month for the rest of your natural life. 

Some things are self-evident, such as, you shouldn’t drink or text while driving.  But it turns out that many accidents are caused by trying to adjust things in the car while driving.  Do not, under any circumstances, try to adjust the position of the tilt steering wheel, the headrest, the position of the seat or the seat back.  And don’t open the doors while driving.  If we find out you’ve done any of these things after the fiery crash that results in your death or serious injury, we guarantee your family will not get one red cent out of us.  <Okay, so they didn’t really say that last part.>

How, you may be asking, is this relevant to other aspects of life?  Consider this:  in addition to auto accidents there are many other types of accidents, for example, falls, and falls are caused by walking.  It is extremely rare for a person to fall while standing in one place, unless that place is at the bar after your 14th shot of Jose Cuervo.  Therefore, you should avoid walking. 

It turns out that one of the most dangerous things you can do with a car is put fuel in it.  Therefore, I advise against it.  When you buy a new car, they will give you a full tank of gas before you drive off the lot.  When that runs out, you should time it so the car ends up in your driveway, where you can admire it each day for a small fee, such as, $373 per month. 

If you absolutely insist on putting fuel in it, the best thing to do is hire an expendable person to do it for you–say, your mother-in-law.  If you have to do it yourself, at least heed the following warnings: 

  • First, touch the vehicle or some other metal surface to disharge any static electricity (sparks may cause fuel vapors to ignite).
  • Turn the fuel tank cap very slowly.  If you hear a whooshing sound, wait until you can no longer hear it before fully removing the cap.  (In hot weather, pressurized fuel may spray out and cause injury.)
  • Do not allow anyone who has not discharged the static electricity in their bodies to come close to an open fuel tank. 
  • Do not inhale vaporized fuel.  <These people are no fun.>
  • Do not smoke while refueling the vehicle. 
  • Do not return to the vehicle or touch any person or object that is statically charged. 

That last one is another good reason never to refuel.  Since you can’t return to the vehicle, you have to leave it at the gas pump and walk.  We have already noted the dangers involved in walking. 

The refueling process is comparable to another life activity:  eating, or the refueling of the human body.  Eating is very dangerous, so I advise against it.  Food contains all sorts of bacteria, dirt, pesticides, fat, sugar, and various chemicals with names you can’t pronounce to “preserve flavor and freshness”.  If you insist on eating, the safest way is to hire someone to do it for you. 

I’m not even halfway throught the manual yet, so I’m sure I will have other handy tips to pass along at a later date.  I really started reading it to find out how to set the radio stations.  There is only so long a person can press “Seek” to get from one station to another without exploding.  Especially since changing the radio station constitutes an adjustment, which requires pulling over into a safe area and waiting for the vehicle to come to a complete stop.

New Car Reviews: You Say Tomato, I Say…

I’ve  now owned my 2010 Yaris for exactly a week, which makes me qualified to say almost nothing of substance about it.  That scarcity of substance, I think, makes me eminently qualified for a new career as a reviewer for Car and Driver. 

However, I’ve been doing two things (besides actually driving it) to become more familiar with it.  One, I’ve started reading the Owner’s Manual.  So far, the most important thing I’ve learned from it is that if I’m involved in an accident,  it could result in death or serious injury.  Thank God they warned me about this.  I always thought if you had a really bad accident, you sprouted wings and flew effortlessly and painlessly through the roof (or the floorboard, depending on the position of the vehicle after the accident).

Second, I’ve been belatedly doing some comparative car shopping, by reading reviews.  This isn’t to say that I gave no thought to buying the Yaris.  I’ve been thinking about it for four months.  I wanted it because of the price, the gas mileage, and because it’s a Toyota. 

But yesterday, Comcast posted a story on its Homepage about the 10 cheapest cars available in the U.S., and I couldn’t resist reading it.  It turned out to be a review by Car and Driver of the 2008 models.  I then tried to find more current comparisons, but there isn’t a lot out there yet about the 2010’s.  Besides Car and Driver, I also looked at reviews by Motortrend, Edmunds, and a few other fly-by-night sites.  Some reviews, like the Car and Driver review, compare the cars by price range; others, by size and style.  In the latter category, the Yaris is compared to the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa, and the Kia Rio.

Pretty universally, the Yaris is deemed “middle of the pack” and is damned by faint praise:  despite the fact that it has the best gas mileage and the most safety features.  And…it’s a Toyota.  Six of those ten cheapest cars were either Kias or Hyundais. 

Here are a few of the things the reviewers don’t like about it: 

It’s small.  Duh.  I really got that part when test-driving it on the Toyota dealer’s lot.  My salesman, D.J., was in the passenger seat, and while shifting gears–especially when shifting into reverse–I became intimately acquainted with D.J.’s knee. 

Cruise control isn’t standard.  How will I ever be able to bear it?  The Camaro had cruise control, which isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I can count on less than 10 fingers the times I used it.  Be honest.  If you have it, how often do you use it?  Not in a city, and not even on an expressway in a city.  It assumes long stretches of open road.  How rare is that these days? 

The dashboard displays (tachometer, speedometer, odometer, clock, etc.) are all together in the middle of the dashboard.  As one reviewer said, “It just doesn’t feel right”.  Please.  It’s new, it’s different?  Go review a 1979 Buick Park Avenue already. 

Power windows and doors are not standard.  Fakename could not be happier about that, as she has a previously mentioned aversion to those features. 

Design.  The appearance of the Yaris I’ve seen described as “eccentric”, “quirky”, and my favorite, “Euro-cute”.  I think it is the sleekest of its comparable cars–that is, the hatchback is, which is what I bought.  As coincidence would have it, I saw a Honda Fit in the parking lot of PetsMart yesterday and thought it was hideous.  I wanted to give it a little paper hat and whistle and teach it to sing “Auld Lang Syne”. 

Am I totally happy?  Well….no.  My biggest complaint is that I’m having trouble adjusting to the clutch.   It’s fine when switching gears after first, it’s just starting off in first.  I am a very (VERY) long-term manual transmission driver, and many people who have been my passengers have said I’m the best driver they’ve ever seen with a manual transmission.  If you didn’t see me shifting gears, you would never know it was happening.  I can switch gears seamlessly so the passenger never knows it’s happening.  Hills are no obstacle.  Until now.  I have killed this car countless times in only a week.  So I don’t think it’s me…I think I will take it up with Toyota. 

Or…I could keep reading the Owner’s Manual, which has a section called “Driving the Car”.  This begins with “Start the engine”.  (Instructions are on page 129).  And here are the instructions for starting on a steep hill:

Step 1.  With the parking brake firmly set, and the clutch pedal fully depressed, shift the shift lever to 1.  <They must be kidding me.  The parking brake?>

Step 2.  Lightly depress the accelerator pedal at the same time as gradually releasing the clutch pedal.  <Dang!  Why did I waste all that time taking Driver’s Ed?  I could have just read this manual.>

Step 3.  Release the parking brake. 

By using this method, I can guarantee you that your Yaris will shoot forward like it’s been propelled from a slingshot, because it’s very zippy.  Per the reviews, it will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, and I believe it, though I haven’t officially tested it myself.  Now I know I shouldn’t, since the Owner’s Manual tells me that for the first 1000 miles I should avoid sudden acceleration and driving at extremely high speeds. 

Apparently there is some saying that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.  I learned this from the reviews.  And I could not disagree more strongly.  I want a fast car, which I will then drive (relatively) slowly.  With a slow car, you can’t get out of the way fast enough.  If you see my point. 

Zip is good.   To illustrate, I leave this post with a comment by the Car and Driver reviewer who noted this about the Chevy Aveo (one of the cheap cars presumably comparable to the Yaris):  Make sure you get the manual transmission instead of the automatic, if you want to make it up an onramp to the expressway before both polar ice caps melt.

Back To The Future, Carwise

I’ve now owned my Toyota Yaris for almost 48 hours, and every time I look at it, I think it looks like a toy car.  It doesn’t feel that way from the inside, but from the outside you think all it needs is a little toy house to park in front of, and a little toy dog and a little toy child to sit in the vestigial back seat. 

But I am no stranger to small cars.  The Camaro is, that is WAS (oh, how I hate talking about it in the past tense) the largest vehicle I have ever owned, I think.  It was at least the longest.  But it took me until today to remember that I previously owned a Toyota.  Not for long. 

It was a Corolla FX, which looked just like this, except it was red: 

I used that car to move from Memphis to New Orleans in the summer of 1992, and in the spring of 1993 it met a spectacular end.  I was trying to cross Elysian Fields from Burgundy Street when out of nowhere I was hit by a speeding Buick Park Avenue, circa 1967 (translation:  tank).  I saw him coming at the last minute and swerved just enough that he hit the left front hood of the car instead of hitting me squarely in the driver’s side door. 

It nevetheless spun the car around 180 degrees and propelled it headfirst into a tree, across three lanes of roadway.  The front of the car accordioned, and was spilling every fluid contained under the hood.  I was stunned, and I don’t mean that in the emotional sense.  I was not wearing my seatbelt, so as I recall, the first thing that happened was that my head hit the roof.  Then I was thrown forward and my head hit the steering wheel.  I remember sort of coming to my senses, after what I think was only seconds, and staring out the windshield at maybe 50 people gathered in front of my car.  Then I got out of the car, and they erupted into applause.  They rushed to tell me to take care, not to move quickly, that they had called an ambulance for me.  But really, I was fine.  I had a bump on my forehead, that was it. 

The ambulance arrived, and I declined care.  Meanwhile, the tank driver was moaning.  Oh, he said, my back hurts.  So get this:  the ambulance the bystanders called for me took away the driver of the car that hit me.  Literally within hours, my insurance company got a call from his lawyer.  I’m happy to report that went nowhere.  In Louisiana, though, you would never want to pass up the opportunity to sue your victim.  It might work.