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

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