18 September 2007

Here in my blog, I feel safest of all

Picking up where we left off, we're now at September 2000. I'm looking to trade in the '97 Nissan Altima for a new ride. Seeing as how I'm making at least one monthly trip to Alabama, I wanted a vehicle that was within warranty. (The Corsica experience has cast some long shadows; today I don't like driving a car outside of any covered breakdowns)

After moving to Savannah, I had a pretty decent change of salary. No longer was I making ramen noodle pay at Troy "State" University; now I was flying high on a Kraft Mac & Cheese budget! Yeah, boy!!

I had my eyes set on a Toyota Camry -- I liked how it looked, it was a bit larger than the Altima, and it was a solid, dependable and reliable auto. I looked first at Savannah Toyota, just around the corner from the apartment where we were living. And I got my first dose of The Toyota Games. They wore me down, but I didn't give 'em the pleasure of pulling my credit report. I'm sure F&I would've had the same reaction as I did when I first laid eyes on Seraphim nine years ago. 20% subprime interest, and it's all mine. All. Mine. Swoon.

I walked. And went straight to the other Toyota dealership, at the time a small and unassuming place called Harbortown Toyota in Garden City. There weren't many games here, I have to say. But I could see the writing on the wall. When I was there buying the car, they were holding training sessions for about two dozen new salespeople. They were building a new building at the intersection of Chatham Parkway and I-16. In 2001, Harbortown would move and become Chatham Parkway Toyota/Lexus. Pretension doesn't even begin to cover it. And, you guessed it, the building is a humongous monument to mind games. They've since become worse than Savannah Toyota. And probably gaining on Stokes-Brown.

Anyway, that is now. This was then. The salesperson at Harbortown was nice and down-to-earth. I told him about the situation with my credit, and hoped they could work something out which wouldn't leave me completely raped -- just .... partially so.

Southeast Toyota Finance gave the green light. But I had to list my Dad as a co-signer (which he graciously did). Even then, my interest rate was a whopping 14.9%. "Cost of rebuilding credit," I told myself. So, on September 19, 2000, I said goodbye to Goldie and hello to my next car:

2000 Toyota Camry LE.
Color: Mississippi Imperial Wizard White.
Nicknames: White Bird; It's NOT An "Old Persons' Car", Seraphim!; Deer Slayer

Owned: September 2000 - September 2004.

The Camry served as our 'getaway car' after the wedding reception in January of 2001. As you can see, no shoe polish was harmed in the defacing of the car; everybody instead covered the vehicle with sticky-notes. "Warranty's over, you can't return her" is one message I remember (Not that I'd even want to think about it).

It also marked a return to having a CD player. The Altima had a basic AM/FM/cassette stock receiver. I would've put in the Panasonic CD deck I'd taken out of the Corsica before they took it away, ha-haaaa, but replacing the radio would've involved a great deal of taking-apart of the dash (a/k/a "off-the-chart expensive labor"). So I bought a cassette adapter and Discman unit and was digitally serenaded as such. The Camry had both CD and cassette, so I was well-set. That is, until the cassette deck's pinch rollers started deforming. And the CD player would start skipping when the heater was going and the dash began getting hot. Toyota radios, I soon learned, were crap. Oh well, at least the car was reliable.

It took me through a number of years and miles. The ride was almost as 'floaty' as my old '89 Celebrity. It did very well on the interstate. The worst thing to happen to her was early one morning in April 2003. It was about 5:30, I was on the way to work and I encountered three (3) deer in the road. I tried moving to the left in order to scare 'em off the pavement. Wasn't working. There was no stopping, so I had to brace myself and hit one of 'em. And I chose bachelor number 1. Bam!

It could've been worse. The airbag didn't deploy, and I still had both headlights. Mostly; the right high-beam wasn't working. I could hear the bumper scraping the road as I continued. Shaken, and stirred. As I reached the driveway toward my workplace, the bumper finally came off. Damage: bumper was toast. Hood was slightly buckled. Grille was gone. Right high-beam needed replacing. That was about it. Fortunately, the car was still driveable, so I kept it until there was an opening at the body shop.

And Bambi died for her sins. Serves her right. (Sorry, but I am very much in favor of eliminating all limits for deer hunters. They should be allowed to jacklight to their hearts' content. Deer should be mass-killed; they're a clear and present danger to the roads. End of hyper-conservative rant.)

Now, we're to a different dynamic. It was time to retire Seraphim's ride, the one she brought into our marriage. Her name was "Henryetta" and it was a '95 Hyundai Accent. Forest green. As 2002 began, it was time to car-shop again. Credit was improved, but I wasn't there yet. At least I had about 18 months' worth of prompt and timely payments to Toyota on my side.

To the tune of 11.9% APR, we financed Henryetta's successor:

2003 Toyota Corolla S
Color: Silver, dammit! SILVER, SILVER, SILVER!!!!!!!
(Toyota called it "Lunar Mist")

Nicknames: Luna the Moon Buggy, then shortened to just "Luna.
Owned: March 2003 - August 2005.
We bought Luna on St. Patrick's Day. If you're familiar with Savannah life, you know full well why we wanted to be as far away from that place as we could. Our destination was .... Stokes-Brown Toyota in Beaufort, S.C. Again, a smaller and less-pretentious dealership (today, they're in a cathedral along US-278! Wi-fi hot spot. Coffee bar. Wow. Somebody's got to pay for all those extras. Lowball trades, anyone?)

The Corolla was a new version of an old favorite -- it was a sported-up "S" model, and the 2003 redesign had barely been out a week before we bought it. It drove beautifully for a small car, the gas mileage was superb (36-37 on the highway), and the radio/CD combo was a piece of schitt. Yup, typical Toyota.

Seriously, we loved ol' Luna. And at the beginning, it turned heads. People commented on how the new Corollas looked, and they were all impressed.

So, for the next 2-1/2 years, the Glecks were an all-Toyota family.

As the Summer of 2004 drew to a close, we were looking to trade the '00 Camry. What we both were seeking was a small SUV, so Seraphim could more easily tote around cakes she was now baking on the side. We had two models in mind: the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

Stop #1: We test-drove the 2004 Toyota RAV4 at Chatham Parkway Toyota. The salesman who'd sold me the Camry four years earlier was still there, and once we got into his 'man cave', I could see that he'd been drinking the Cathedral Kool-Aid. My guard was down. And faster than you can say "What's it gonna take?", I'd been roped into the four-square sheet trick. And they gave me a lowball trade-in value for the Camry.

Hah! You think I'm gonna take that for a trade, especially after I had a maintenance paper-trail to prove how good it was?? He then implied that if we walked out that door, the Camry was gonna break down any day. I said, "You have faith in your Toyotas, don't you pal?" And I then continued, "You all have turned into Savannah Toyota!"

The look on the man's face was friggin' priceless. I think I hurt his feelings. He replied, "That's low." Sorry, but that's the truth. We walked.

There's nothing like Toyota dealers to remind me of how much of a wimp I can be sometimes.

Up the road we went to Grainger Honda, where we looked at the CR-V. They had a few 2004 models left, and everything about it had our name on it. That is, until we got in to test drive. Holy crap on a swiszle stick, it was tighter up front than the Corolla!!

Scratch the CR-V. But the salesperson at Grainger asked if we'd looked at the other SUV they had in the same price range. No, we hadn't. He took us to one of two 2004s they had left. One was a hideous shade of phlegm green, and the other was blue. Color aside, I said my first impression out loud to him, "That's the most butt-ugly thing I've ever seen in my life!" (and that's coming from a guy who started out driving life behind the wheel of a golldurned AMC Pacer!) He asked us to test-drive it. So we did. We both liked how it felt, and how it drove. The turning radius was awesome. Seriously. That thing could turn around in our driveway without leaving the concrete.

Everything about that SUV was good, except for the look. I just wasn't cottonin' to it. But I'll never forget the salesman's remark: "C'mon, Elements need love too." Okay, I had to say my ear's heart was beginning to go 'hubba!' over the sound system. 270 watts. And AN AUXILIARY JACK. It's becoming very common today, but that was the first I'd heard of 'em in 2004. "Hmmmm, I've thought about taking the MP3 player plunge one of these days," I said to myself. Maybe I could look past this Neo-AMC hideous thing and concentrate on all her amenities. Seraphim, on the other hand, seemed to be less repulsed.

With my Chapter 7 even further behind me, and more of a history of Johnny-on-the-spot car payments, Honda Finance approved us for the promotional rate they were running for the '04 Elements. 2.9%! That, and they were very, very generous in trade-in for the Camry.

2.9 percent??!! Shit, where's that pen??? We took it. Even though I remain convinced to this day that Honda employed the old R&D team from American Motors to design the Element, I was elated that I could again be approved for a 'real' car note, and not one from a subprime bottom-feeder. The date was September 11, 2004. And we had our first SUV:

2004 Honda Element
Color: Blue/Gray ("Border State Brother Against Brother")
The Psychedelic Milk Truck; The P.M.T.; AMC's Design Department Refuses To Die
Owned: September 2004 - August 2007.
On the CAR TALK website, they made a reference to the Element resembling something they termed a "Psychedelic Milk Truck." And that's what we took to calling it. It would become "The PMT."

People at gas pumps asked me about it. Admittedly, I was a bit self-conscious about the Element at first. That's what driving a Pacer will do to a person. I eventually got used to it, but as my manager later said, "You never became one with that Element, did you?"

I'm afraid I didn't. Hate to say. It drove wonderfully (except for the road noise), and the audio system was awesome. We took it to Arkansas in 2006 and to West Virginia early in 2007, and it proved a hardy and loyal companion.

A year later, I began wondering out loud about hybrid cars, thinking it might be just what the doctor ordered for a couple of people who were making daily trips from Rincon into Savannah. 45 MPG on Abercorn Street was music to my ears, that's for damn sure. So we started looking at 'em. Besides, it was time to retire Luna .... and another thing was driving my desire: I felt that my credit had built up enough that I could now qualify for something better than subprime. That said, I wanted desperately out of that double-digit car note on the Corolla. It's all psychology, friends. That's all it is.

We had two options: 1) The Toyota Prius, and 2) The Honda Civic Hybrid. The Prius was out. Not just because of the Toyota dealer games®, but because the Priuses were on back order -- it was tough finding 'em in 2005, and those that did pop up were selling for thousands above sticker. Oh, and there was the small matter of the Prius looking, shall we say, hideous. The last damn thing I wanted was another ugly car in our driveway.

So the Honda Civic Hybrid it was. We made a beeline to Grainger, where the same salesperson made the deal happen. We tested out the one model they had, a navy-blue 2005 model, and after the appraisal on Luna (again, good and well above what we owed on it), the Honda Finance Gods approved us for 5.5 percent on:

2005 Honda Civic Hybrid
Color: Dark blue.
"The Hybrid"; Our Blue "Green" Car; Gas Stations? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Gas Stations; Looking For Mr. Aamco.
Owned: August 2005 - September 2007.
We closed the deal literally days before Katrina tore into Mississippi and New Orleans, and gas prices spiked well past $3.00 a gallon. Talk about good timing!

Overall, the mileage was 40 in town, and about 38 or so on the road. And we got a decent little tax deduction off of our 2005 taxes. Not too bad, considering. It was a reliable ride, until hints of transmission failure began lapping at our feet.

Which takes us to the present day. In the course of less than one month (!!), we went from being an all-Honda family to - in a technical sense - being all-Ford. Who'd a thunk?

Today, it's a 2008 Escape and a 2007 Mazda3. Kitt and Rupert. They formally met for the first time tonight, and I think I'd better check up on 'em, to make sure there aren't any untold stains in the driveway from automotive passion.

Yeah, I know that was a sick and gross way to close this post, but just deal with it.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "I don't want to go near a car showroom for a long time!" Gleck

17 September 2007

'I can lock all my doors / It's the only way to live'

All this thinking about vehicles has started me on a nostalgic tangent.

[The Peanut Gallery can just shut up now; I know a bunch of wise-asses when I hear 'em. Perish the very thought of Talmadge getting all nostalgic on everyone. Never happens. Uh uh.]

I've had quite a few cars to call my own over the 26-1/2 years I've held a drivers' license. I didn't get my first car, however, until after I turned 18. But I did get something for my 16th birthday, lucky lucky me:

1976 AMC Pacer.
Color: Whatta Maroon.
Nicknames: Pisser; Bubble Machine; Butt-Ugly Laughingstock.

Owned: February 1981 - March 1983.
The person who designed this piece of skunk vomit should've been strapped to the gas tank of a Ford Pinto ahead of a car with malfunctioning brakes. My maternal grandparents gave me this thing for my birthday, and I had to endure a buttload of grief from other kids. You've seen what a Pacer looks like. It's so over-the-top, even for 1970s sensibilities. And I was driving a Pacer nearly 10 years before Wayne and Garth 'legitimized' it ... not to mention Goofy.

It was a source of some family tension. My Dad, years later, tipped his hand as to exactly how often he had to bite his tongue. It was his wife's parents, after all, who chose it.

Fortunately, the Pisser began falling apart well into my senior year, and Dad picked out something else for me:

1982 Mercury Capri.
Color: Silver & black.
Nicknames: Silver Bullet; Love Stains? No, That's Just Horsey Sauce; My First Car.

Owned: March 1983 - September 1987.
The Capri - not to be confused with the '90s reincarnation - was Mercury's twin to the Ford Mustang. It looked good. And, despite a few problems of its own, was a great car. The backseat folded down, implying opportunities aplenty for moral turpitude. And I bought a wonderful stereo to go in it -- a Pioneer SuperTuner III cassette deck, complete with Clarion speakers.

"The Silver Bullet" took me from 18,000 miles in March of 1982 all the way to 97,000 miles as I began my last semester in college. In September 1987, I was given a choice of cars as a semi-present for college graduation. A 1988 Mustang, but that one was at a Ford dealership a little farther away ... and for some retarded reason I wanted a trunk instead of a hatchback, which I had with the Capri and the Pisser before that.

So I went with the car closer at hand. I drove my Capri -- which by then was beginning to shake worse than our dog when we take her to the vet -- from Pine Bluff, Ark. to Arkadelphia to take the wheel of my next car:

1987 Mercury Topaz.
Color: Kyle Edwards Powder Blue.
Nicknames: The Tope; The Grand Mal Seizure; Proto-Corsica Piece of Raccoon Feces.
Owned: September 1987 - March 1991.
Well, it had a trunk. It also had an aftermarket Sony stereo installed in there. Sorry, but it was a cheapest model and the Ford people who wired the speakers were total Dee d'DEEs. Left and Right are supposed to be on each side of the car, using the fader to control "front L/R" and "back L/R." Not in this car ... both left channels were on both front speakers while the right channel was in the rear deck.

I remember getting my beloved Pioneer SuperTuner III out of the Capri, and had it installed in the Topaz. It was at a small car stereo garage off Bridge Street in Jonesboro. Bolivar followed me there, and while they went to work correcting the inbred stereo miswiring, we went to Burger King for supper. I remember we were listening to the new Yes album, Big Generator.

The Topaz is the only car in which I've had a real accident. My fault. I changed lanes on a one-way street in Pine Bluff, not noticing the '72 Ford Maverick that was coming up the left lane. I sideswiped it ... and tore off the entire front end and banged up the left-front fender too. And the damage to the '72 Sherman Tank--um, I mean Maverick? It mangled some of the decorative chrome trim, but that's about it. The body had next to no damage!!!

It earned its sub-nickname Grand Mal Seizure because the fuel injector crapped out on it, and every time I was at an intersection it would begin vibrating something fierce. Gas mileage plummeted to something like 15 on the highway. Eventually that was fixed.

Then the alternator went. And, finally, the A/C. By then, I was in Troy, Alabama, and was beginning to drink the Kool-Aid. My grandparents mercifully offered to take that clunker off my hands, and trade it in for their next car. In return, they'd give me their current car which they bought, not realizing it was a step down from their usual Buicks. In March 1991, with a mere 74,000 miles on it, I retired the Topaz and began driving my grandparents' car, which at the time had logged just 17,000 miles:

1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.
Color: Navy Blue.
Nicknames: Mr. Midnight; The Un-Pacer.
Owned: March 1991 - November 1993.
I was more than a little leery about taking on a GM car. My Dad has had nothing but trouble with the few he'd ever owned. Every one of 'em had oil leak problems .... the first thing out of Dad's mouth when he sees a GM car: "Where's the drip?"

The engine had more oomph than the plastic four-banger in The Tope. It also drove as if the highway was a continuous cloud. But I wasn't that fond of the bench seat up front, though.

Except for a radiator fan going south at 27,000 miles and the alternator no longer alternating at 81k, it was a pretty reliable car -- as far as GMs go. But after the alternator, I started having visions of this car disintegrating before my eyes (my Dad's experiences with GM were vividly clear ... my family had a '74 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon, our own "Wagonqueen Family Truckster").

So I went car shopping. The back of my mind was yelling out "Honda! ... Toyota! ... Japanese! ... Japanese!" But I ignored it. And the first car I bought on my own would prove to be a doozy.

1993 Chevrolet Corsica.
Color: Silver & Black.
Nicknames: Son of Silver Bullet; Son of a Bitch; The Car That Personifies Most Which is Evil About Detroit; Country Time.
Owned: November 1993 - November 17, 1997!
It was comfortable. Honestly, it was. The seat felt right. The (V6) engine had pickup. The whole layout seemed to be calling my name. And the color scheme ... identical to that of my old Capri. It was a combination guaranteed to make Talmadge Gleck sign on the dotted line. It was a "program car" - an Avis rental - and it had 16,500 miles when we took delivery.

And the people who drove that car when it was under Avis' ownership must've driven it hard. Either that, or else the Mexicans who built it were .25 BAC full of tequila.

It was a lemon and I could write an entire post about how often this car left me stranded. The cooling system had to be rebuilt twice. It went through two A/C replacements. Something like two radiators. Two alternators. A starter. A fuel pump. A couple of water pumps.

My son has indelible memories of this car, as we were both on the side of the road one day north of Montgomery. "Dad, why is green stuff coming out of our car?"

From 1993 through 1997, I drove a lemon while my then-"wife" drove her 1992 Geo Metro, which had very little trouble about it. Those little Briggs & Stratton three-lung engines do quite well ... until about 75,000 miles. By then, it was the Spring of 1997, and it began sprouting lemons worse than the Corshitca ... only this time, the engine died while Josiebelle was in Pensacola one weekend.

We salvaged the Metro, managed to get enough for it to buy a supersized combo for Tiger, and in May 1997 -- vowing never again to go near Detroit -- we bought our first "Japanese" car:

1997 1/2 Nissan Altima.
Color: Gold.
Nicknames: The Solid Gold Wagon; Goldie; My Friend And Companion Through The Biggest Transitions Of My Life.
Owned: May 1997 - September 2000.
Bought it brand new and it was a solid puppy. I loved it from mile one.

Less than six months later, its two owners would divorce. The decision as to who got which car turned out to be such a no-brainer. Okay, Josie, do you want a car (Corsica) with only nine more payments of $245 .... or one (Altima) with 57 more payments of $331?

I reminded her how often she bitched and moaned about having to drive an automatic because I was "too stubborn" and "too afraid" to drive a stick. I never learned how, and frankly at this point I see no need to. As Lewis Grizzard once said, "I'm secure enough to have my gears shifted for me." I said she could trade in the Corsica for a car of her own choosing ... one with a stick! The woman loved driving a standard. Every car she'd had up to the Metro had manual transmissions.

Yes, she took the Corsica. Amusingly enough, the car she got soon after (a '93 Ford Escort) and what she drives today (a '99 Escort) are both AUTOMATICS.

Back to the Altima ... it was a great car. It got me to and from Columbus, Georgia hundreds (if not thousands) of times during my courtship with Seraphim. And when we both moved to Savannah in the Summer of 2000, it was the Altima which got me there.

But by then Goldie had 81,000 miles on her, and I set out to take a chance on seeing whether I could get a new car financed with a Chapter 7 just 2.5 years in my past.

To be continued....

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "When the image breaks down, will you visit me please?" Gleck